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Engaging First-Time Conference Attendees

Engaging First-Time Conference Attendees: 4 Tactics to Try

Of course you want to provide an exceptional experience for ALL of your conference attendees, but ensuring that happens for your first-time attendees is particularly important. Their decision to attend future events (and possibly even renew their membership) depends heavily on that first experience, so going the extra mile for those folks, in particular, is certainly worth it.

What does “going the extra mile” for your first-time attendees look like? Here are a few tactics worth trying:

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MC Talks to Association Leaders: Wendy Kavanagh, CAE

Posted by Lindsay Wilson


Today I’m talking with Wendy Kavanagh, CAE from Georgia Society of Association Executives (www.gsae.org). Anyone who knows Wendy knows she’s a ball of fire and her energy is contagious. She is president of GSAE and she serves the membership and community by furthering the mission of the organization “to advance the profession of association management and to enhance the professionalism of association executives.”

During her 10 year tenure, she has helped launched the highly-regarded Leadership Academy, celebrated GSAE’s 90th Anniversary, implemented a significant branding and membership marketing campaign, and created a Supplier Council for the corporate member constituency.

WOW, I’d say she has stayed busy and she keeps pushing the boundaries for her staff and members.

Lindsay Wilson (MemberClicks): I’m always curious about how individuals got started in their industry. How did you get introduced to the association space?

Wendy Kavanagh, CAE (GSAE): I was hired as a newsletter editor by the Institute of Industrial Engineers, although my title said “Technical Operations Coordinator.” I remain forever grateful to my first association mentor, Kathy Yaeger, for taking a chance on me. All I knew about the association was that its name appeared most often in the AJC in obituaries. I know it’s odd, remember this was back in 1995 before Google, but that told me the members were really proud of their connection to IIE. It was a great first job, and Kathy introduced me to GSAE through the Association Management 101 program.

LW: What a memorable story and lesson learned, if you have a good feeling about someone, don’t be afraid to take a chance on them.

LW: You've been president of GSAE since 2005 - you must really love what you do! What do you love most about your job?

WK: So many things! I appreciate most that our Board of Directors and leaders give me big, cool, innovative stuff to do to help our members be better at their jobs and to recognize the people making a difference in our community. I love that I get to work with the best volunteers around. They are committed to creating and maintaining a supportive, nurturing place for professionals to connect and learn from one another. They are generous with their time, talents and energy. It makes our job as staff that much more rewarding every day.

LW: Working for an SAE, it’s important to stay involved in the association marketplace. American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) is such a vital organization to stay connected with and be apart of.  Last month, ASAE held their annual meeting in Detroit.  What was your biggest takeaway from the ASAE Annual Meeting?

WK: ASAE generously offers the state, local and regional societies meeting space (and pretty yummy food) during their Annual Meeting & Expo. It’s a time for us to learn what’s happening nationally, but also to catch up with one another and share ideas. In addition to getting a sneak peak at the new book from our Texas SAE colleague Beth Brooks, CAE (The New CEO’s Guide), we also heard about volunteer lifecycles from Lowell Aplebaum, CAE. I value having that time with my peer group. It’s priceless.

LW: That was nice of you to give your peers a shout out and really show your appreciation for the work they are doing. With a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English, maybe Wendy will surprise us with her own inspiring book one day.

LW: You’ve mentioned several projects you’ve worked on - earning CAE designation, celebrating GSAE’s 90th Anniversary, creating a Supplier Council and more. What is the most rewarding project you have worked on?

WK: The most rewarding project has likely been the development of GSAE’s Leadership Academy. It was a three year task force co-chaired by two of our past presidents. The most interesting part was we began the project with one set of ideas and ended up in a completely different, albeit much better, place. Our CEO members were very involved in the creation process through informal feedback, focus groups and surveys. With the help of Jeffrey Cufaude, Idea Architects, we ended up with an amazing program in 2008. After four classes, over 30% of our participants earned their CAE designation, 51% volunteered in a significant way with us, and 44% became facilitators of other LA classes or taught in our CAE Study Group (several did both). Last year, we hired Cynthia Mills, FASAE, CAE, CMC, CPC, CCRC, The Leaders' Haven, to refresh the programming. We expect to welcome 20 participants this fall. It remains one of our flagship programs, thanks to the efforts of our volunteers to share their knowledge with the next generation of association leaders in Georgia.

LW: Those are some impressive statistics! It’s refreshing to have that level of drive and involvement from your members. It sounds like a great program and one that will continue to get better and better. Congrats!

LW: Let’s end this interview with a fun question. If your best friend were to use three words to describe you, what would they be?

WK: My best friend would have quoted our mantra - pretty, smart and loved. She likely would have added “goofy.”

LW: That’s a great mantra! Thanks Wendy for being apart of the MC Talks to Association Leaders blog series. It’s always great to learn more about our peers.

We’d love to hear your comments, or to give Wendy a shout out, just post below. If you would like to speak to MC Talks about your role in association leadership, email marketing@memberclicks.com

Topics: association management, association leadership, Small Staff Chatter

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