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Top 5 Takeaways from ASAE Annual 2022

(Pictured from left to right: Beth Surmont, Jack Macleod, Tara Burgess, Bill Zimmer, and Brooke Wilson)

Wow—what a great week in Nashville at ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo! It was amazing to see the association community back in action for the first time since 2019.  

The feeling was energetic and optimistic throughout the event. We met a ton of smart, ambitious leaders, and we reconnected with partners and colleagues we haven’t seen in person for three years.  

In case you missed it, here were the top 5 takeaways from the event:

1. Beth’s Takeaway: Two words: Don’t wait.

We are at an important moment in time for association events.  

After years of uncertainty, a lot has changed and we need to be more nimble and flexible than ever. Now is the time to look at our event portfolios holistically and understand how to prioritize our resources and investments through short, quick experiments in format, messaging, and new products.  

Shortages in the workforce and a complex political environment are two things that are keeping most association executives and event planners up at night. We need to bring the right people to the table to solve things, and that might mean new types of audiences, partners, and even competitors.  

The world is different, people are different, and expectations are different. We can’t just go back to the ways we were doing things in 2019. We have to take a fresh look at everything we have going on, prioritize according to our resources and impact, and be strategic in our decision-making.  

Don’t be afraid to try and fail. Be afraid to not try.  

2. Bill’s Takeaway: People are ready for change.

I noticed a pattern in my conversations with attendees on-site in Nashville. Everyone was talking about the future!  

For the first time in years, the conversations weren’t about getting through the pandemic—they were about looking ahead to what’s next. New marketing strategies, new event design formats, new brands, and new revenue strategies—attendees came ready to talk about how to collaborate and achieve great things moving forward.

I left Nashville feeling inspired, connected, and optimistic about the future.  

3. Brooke’s Takeaway: Invest in involvement.

What associations can learn from ASAE and from the Annual Meeting is how important it is to invest in their members and get them involved early.  

The earlier someone builds their network and community within an organization, the more likely they are going to be lifetime members (and dedicated lifetime members at that). I felt more at this event than at any other like it is a true family reunion – people were excited to see each other, excited to find their next way to get involved and they come to ASAE to fulfill that need.  

Even from something as “traditional” as the awards presentations, you learn that there is this notion of paying it forward – you have mentors before you that showed you how to get involved, and you do the same for those coming up.  

If associations can find a way to bring this level of investment in their members and enriching that volunteer experience, they’ll have loyalists for life.

4. Tara’s Takeaway: The association community is stronger than ever.

What an amazing experience! This was my first ASAE Annual Meeting, so it was great to see the association community come together and prove that meetings are safe, powerful, and important for their organizations and members.  

It was also encouraging to see how connected and supportive the association community really is—attendees weren’t afraid to discuss the most challenging issues facing our nation. These association executives were open to having tough conversations to make not only their organizations stronger, but also the members they serve, in order to ultimately have a positive impact in the world.  

I am looking forward to seeing how those conversations and ideas impact our culture and economy over the next year.  

5. Jack’s Takeaway: It’s time for growth.  

The theme (Disruption = Opportunity) and keynote content appropriately addressed the imperative for associations to innovate their business models and revenue streams based on the unique circumstances created by the disruption of the pandemic. Attendees seemed to coalesce around this and buy-in to the need to innovate and do things differently.   

For me, the real question now is whether or not that will happen, or whether association professionals will revert to more familiar ways of working. Will they enlist the outside help they need from experts in order to innovate and change? Will the budget challenges they face make it clear to decision makers that this is the kind of moment in history for which their reserves exist? Those reserves are saved for ‘a rainy day,’ and it’s raining right now for a number of great organizations. 

I’m eager to see how attendees return to their teams and activate real, meaningful change.  

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