ASAE Pulls Off Its First-Ever Hybrid Annual Meeting With Imaginative Features

August 31, 2021
Elijah Jamal Balbed. Credit: Mike Busada, Events DC

With the theme “Let’s Go UP,” the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) took hybrid to new heights for its 2021 Annual Meeting, held Aug. 13-18. Nearly 3,200 association professionals and industry partners gathered virtually through the Intrado platform and in-person through innovative Pop-UPs around the country to exchange knowledge, tap into new possibilities, explore ground-breaking strategies and learn from inspiring leaders.

Giving registrants options in the ways to access the content and solutions they need to keep their organizations relevant and positioned for prosperity was key to the success of the event, according to ASAE President and CEO Susan Robertson.

“We're really excited to have given attendees more choices than they've had before when it comes to learning, networking and conducting business during the annual meeting, which are significant upgrades to attendee engagement and industry partner opportunities,” she said. “With the uncertainty of COVID-19 and its variants, we’ve learned to be very adaptive and creative in how we present our learning and networking opportunities.”

Among the new features of this year’s hybrid meeting were the half-day ASAE Community Pop-UPs that took place face-to-face in 10 cities across the country as well as virtual opportunities including Association Solution Demos, Association Solution Chats, Association Exchange and Action Lab Design Sessions.   

Pop-UP Pizzazz

The Community Pop-UPs were very well received, according to Robertson, with more than 500 people participating in person. The Pop-UPs were hosted by the Atlanta CVB, Visit Charlotte, Choose Chicago, Destination Cleveland, Experience Columbus, Visit Dallas, Destination DC, Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB, Discover The Palm Beaches and Discover Puerto Rico.

“Our destination partners deserve all the credit for imagining these Pop-UPs, and people were really excited to be together face-to-face with so many of their colleagues again in ways that are safe,” she said.

Those attending the Community Pop-UPs in-person were able to experience keynotes and other virtual aspects of the meeting on giant screens in addition to enjoying onsite features exclusive to each Pop-UP, such as panel sessions, speakers and cultural performances.

In Washington, D.C., for example, approximately 300 top association executives gathered in Studio 801 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Aug. 16 for one of the ASAE Community Pop-UPs.

Destination DC, the official destination marketing organization for Washington, D.C., and Events DC, the official convention and sports authority for the District of Columbia, partnered on creative activations for the meeting’s DC Hub, inspired by “Experience DC,” a joint tourism recovery advertising campaign. Attendees enjoyed cuisine from local favorite Ben’s Chili Bowl and performances by Elijah Jamal Balbed, a prominent local jazz and go-go musician, and Nya Cunningham, a local ballerina.

Meanwhile, the Pop-UP’s keynote was delivered by Ambassador Capricia Penavic Marshall, former chief of protocol for the Obama Administration, and there were panel discussions, other speakers and networking opportunities.

“ASAE is a perfect example of groups getting creative to continue holding their annual meeting despite the many challenges of navigating the pandemic,” said Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC. “Partnering with them is an opportunity for us to highlight the culture that DC is known for, in addition to our commitment to work with associations on the health protocols and valuable content that will make their meeting a success.”

Education, Connection and Inspiration

Kicking off the 2021 ASAE Annual Meeting on Monday was author, activist and comedian Baratunde Thurston, who discussed “How to Deconstruct Racism, One Headline at a Time.” Thurston is an Emmy-nominated host who has produced for The Daily Show, advised the Obama White House and written the New York Times bestseller How to Be Black. The closing keynote speaker was Michele Sullivan, a Fortune 100 business executive, author, motivational speaker and strategic business advisor, who shared her insights on “Turning Obstacles into Advantages.” Sullivan, a former president of Caterpillar Foundation, is the author of the book Looking Up: How a Different Perspective Turns Obstacles into Advantages.

Given the challenges of interacting via a virtual platform, ASAE created novel opportunities for industry partners to connect with existing and potential clients.

There were 122 Industry Partner companies that participated in various exclusive engagement opportunities during the annual meeting, including thought leadership and visibility packages as well as pathway tracks, game changer and keynote speaker hosts, and via the Community Pop-UPs. The Association Solution Demos featured 40 product and service presentations from 33 companies providing tangible solutions and the latest technologies to increase productivity. A total of 10 Association Solution Chats featured engaging and relevant morning conversations from expert industry partners. Association Exchange conversations showcased the benefits of a strong partner-client relationship to carry associations to new heights. The new repurposed Association Solutions Marketplace featured nine business-focused kiosks for attendees to collect resources, share ideas and chat based on job function or interest.

ASAE also used a meeting platform to recognize and celebrate its Individual Honors Award recipientsFellows class of 2021new CAEs and DELP class of 2020-2022.

All learning lab sessions, Association Solution Demos, Association Solution Chats, Association Exchanges and Partner Playground sessions will be available to attendees on-demand through Sept. 17.

The 2022 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition will be held Aug. 20-23, 2022, at the Music City Center in Nashville, Tenn.

Photo: Elijah Jamal Balbed. Credit: Mike Busada, Events DC


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