The 2016 Associations Forum National Conference (AFNC16) was my sixth year in attendance. I have attended as both an association executive and in the last three years the coordinator of the Learning Labs. Every year, I am thrilled to participate in the conference, see old faces, and connect with new ones. 2016 was no exception as Aptify delivered its most ambitious Learning Labs sessions to date.

With so much happening in Melbourne this year, AFNC16 wasn’t all about the Learning Labs (unfortunately), here is my 2016 round-up!

Australian and New Zealand Associations Are on the Precipice of Change associations_forum_australia.png

Never underestimate what your association brethren are doing down under. AFNC16 brought together some of the sharpest association and not-for-profit minds this year to discuss how we are moving forward and how we can stay relevant to our members.

With topics ranging from governance to member engagement, Christine Nixon put it best when she walked through her 40+ year career journey. She reminded us that even the smallest associations need to take chances. With high risk comes high reward, and the Australia/NZ not-for-profit space cannot be afraid of the backlash and skepticism of our peers when navigating issues like gender quality.

As role models and influencers of the industries we represent, we must stay strong and take a stand for the necessary change our countries need to reach equality. While this seems like a big goal (it is!), standing strong together will give us the courage to make a difference.

Inspiring dinner speech from @chrisnixon1853 on leadership, diversity, courage and making a difference. #AFNC16 pic.twitter.com/rcaWbOeJ5B

— Hannah Pia Baral (@hannahpb) July 4, 2016

The Political Landscape Is More Important Than Ever

AFNC16 was in the midst of one of Australia’s most controversial and unsure elections in the last 20 years. With national voting taking place the Saturday before and no result on the Tuesday and Wednesday of the conference (or until 10 days later) political uncertainty was at an all-time high.

Advocacy was a hot topic at AFNC16 as political unrest can undo even the hardest work of an association. Associations Forum cleverly planned the closing plenary to address this exact issue with politicians at the helm. These politicians reminded us that associations play an advisory role and can incite government legislation and change. They urged us to not give into the changing political agendas or seats, but to play to our strengths and advocate on behalf of our members who can’t. 

Fascinating session on politics right now @SenPaterson @andrewjgiles @AssocForumAU @TroyBramston @theaustralian pic.twitter.com/y01JtIrUrZ

— Trisha Mok (@trishamok) July 5, 2016

Conferences Open to Different Session Formats Have a Unique Offering

If you’re not familiar with the Learning Labs format, Aptify presents twelve short, sharp 25-minute presentations over the two days of the conference, hosted in the Exhibition Hall. The idea of the Labs originated in 2013, and Associations Forum have been supportive in letting the idea grow from six speakers to twelve with varying themes and formats over its three-year lifespan.

Over the years, the Learning Labs have become a selling point for the conference—another set of sessions that play with the pre-conceived idea of what a conference can be. When planning your next event, think outside the conventional conference box and play with session formats and speaker themes. The more unique the offering—the better engagement across delegate tastes. 

#LearningLabs Panel Session on technology trends in Associations #AFNC16 pic.twitter.com/EOj56Vuj3G

— Angie Karpouzis (@angiekarpouzis) July 4, 2016

I’d love to know what you thought of the AFNC16 Conference. Send me a tweet @angiekarpouzis or leave a comment below.