5,000 attendees gathered in Atlanta to prepare for the future of associations

The second in-person ASAE Annual Meeting and Exposition since the pandemic landed this week in Atlanta at an expanded Georgia World Congress Center. It was fitting for a program with the theme of Shaping Your Purpose to be in this progressive, fast-growing city where new hospitality infrastructure in the form of a convention hotel and diverse restaurants is taking shape.

man smiling and posing for picture
William Pate

Discover Atlanta President and CEO William Pate shared that 60% of events in the city are association conventions and he was eager to help attendees visualize what event might look like in the new Signia by Hilton Atlanta scheduled to open in January with direct connections to the convention center and access to Mercedes-Benz Stadium (which rocked Atlanta’s own TLC band for the opening reception, displaying the full flavor of local hospitality). A total of 13,000 hotel rooms and 300 restaurants are within walking distance of this meeting treasure trove.

The estimated 5,000 people in attendance had their choice of education sessions focused on everything from AI to Gen Z while the keynotes narrowed in on how leveraging what makes you special is the key to success.

“We are living in dynamic times. This is a pivotal moment for associations as the world is changing and the role of membership groups must change as well,” said Michelle Mason, CEO of The Center for Association Leadership, addressing the crowd at the opening session. “Trust your inner voice; believe in your instincts and deliver,” she advocated. The goal of the event, for Mason, was for attendees to find one new peer, learn one new thing and, most importantly, understand how their missions are driving societal change to have a global impact.

The business of associations also took center stage with updates on programs such as Tomorrow’s Workforce Coalition, which recently launched with more than 500 member organizations to advocate to pass the Freedom to Invest in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act, a bid to transform 529 accounts from “college savings plans” into “career savings plans” to pay for education, training and credentials.

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Another new resource, micro-credentials in DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility) and Conscious Inclusion will arm meeting professionals with the tools they need to be more effective. Plus, a new ReadyMe program will help associations fill gaps in DEI training and NextGen will help under resourced schools prepare students for dynamic careers.

Go Beyond

man speaking on stage
Daymond John

How do you go from a kid in Queens with a hip-hop dream to a celebrated angel investor? If you are Daymond John “The People’s Shark” from the hit show “Shark Tank,” you focus on being great at doing what you can do and finding partners who are great at what you can’t do, something associations were built to facilitate. “That is how you can go beyond your limitations,” he said.

Then he shared five tips for succeeding in even the choppiest of waters.

5 Shark Points

  1. Set a goal. You become what you think about the most. If you don’t set a goal, others will set it for you. Take inventory of yourself, your assets and your liabilities. Right now, there is a level playing field. Everyone can learn artificial intelligence in their spare time. Figure out how to make whatever is threatening you, work for you.
  2. Homework. There is nothing new, just better, faster stronger. Associations help members research to understand what came before and figure out how to add value in the future. We need other people’s mind power. 
  3. Amor—love what you do and give back.
  4. Remember, you are the brand. What are your 2-5 words that define you? Ask your members, friends and kids. Do their responses align with what you want your mark to be? 
  5. Keep swimming.

Blind Ambition

“Resilience revolves around our perspectives,” wise words from keynote and entrepreneur Chad E. Foster, who went blind when he was in college and used the insight his condition provided to excel. “The best way to see the world through a different lens is not to look all around you, but inside you,” he said.

“Excuses are for losers,” Foster cautioned. “Wouldn’t you rather be someone who broke through barriers?” He reminded the audience of association professionals that while the facts may be unchanging and no one is responsible for their circumstances, your attitude is up to you.

He continued, “Happiness is not a feeling. It is a decision you make every day. You hold the power to choose your perspective, your response or your attitude. We will all become our stories, so choose them wisely.”

The behavioral trick he was describing is cognitive reframing. The practice is based on visualizing greatness and not letting others tell you what you are capable of doing—or not doing. “Innovative leadership requires taking some chances; the willingness to try attracts support.”

Finally, he advocated for getting comfortable with discomfort. “A life without obstacles removes the opportunity for growth. Turn disadvantages into advantages.”