The Associations Forum CEO & Chair Symposium has been on my schedule for years—first as an attendee then as a presenter when I worked with Fitness Australia. In 2016, I was pleased to attend as both sponsor and presenter representing Aptify.

Sharing some of the things I learned and remembered is only fair, given the support and feedback I received. So, here goes…

CEO16.png1. The mix of association executives and sponsors/vendors presenting sessions is important.

There was a great mix of people this year, so attendees could learn from industry experts while also having easy exposure to sponsors and vendors. About 85 percent of the attendees represented associations, while the remainder were Associations Forum staff and sponsors. Now that I’ve gone over to “the dark side,” I try to reinforce that conferences are all about the content. Vendors attend to grow their pipeline and those who provide meaningful sessions stand to gain the most. At CEOChair16 there was some great content, and some ordinary stuff was presented from both attendees and other representatives. Nevertheless, the mix was the best I recall experiencing.

2. Enough with the bullet point slides!

It’s pretty obvious to the audience those presenters who developed their presentation specifically for the event and those who simply cut and paste existing content. And still, the majority of slide decks were poorly formatted, had way too many words on them, and lacked imagery. In one case a poor choice of image on one slide created a great deal of unintended consternation among the audience.

After seeing Day 1 presentations and listening to some of the “water-cooler” chat afterward, I totally reformatted mine for my Day 2 presentation on culture. So here is at least one tip I tweeted during the event which is a great place to start preparing your next presentation.

3. I was surprised that many attendees were surprised I was not presenting on technology.

I was at the conference to represent Aptify, and we offer the most flexible and innovative association management system on the market. We are also a proponent of a broader and deeper view of association success. The associations sector has access to some of the leading thinkers on technology, change management, and culture, for example. However, the traditional conference construct has attendees conditioned to believe vendors will only present about something that feeds their business (as opposed to their core purpose) more akin to a paid advertorial rather than an authentic presentation of value. Kudos to Associations Forum for having the courage to start changing the perception that sponsors and vendors are only there to peddle their wares.

4. Culture is a hot topic.

I received some great feedback, plenty of interest in my eBook, and some fantastic advice (hat tip to Dr. Robyn Cox) as a result of my presentation, The Pillars of Culture by Design. Still, I fear, most of our association colleagues will do nothing in the face of overwhelming inertia to change the way we approach managing a 21st Century Association.

5. I have a lingering question: Are we getting any closer to “association management” being a profession? 

There are many who fall into the roles from other professions or through their own professional affiliations. Where are the graduates of Bachelors of Business in Association & NFP Management in our executive ranks?

With more than 20 years in association management, I am stoked to talk to people who see the opportunity to leverage my experience and that of my Aptify team, many of whom have extensive association experience. From Culture by Design and change management to the future of engagement, there is a lot we can talk about to further advance association success.

Let’s talk more here at

The Three Pillars of Culture by Design

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