Conferences: Making the Most of Them

Every CEO knows the lament: Conferences and meetings are important, often very valuable, but they take away time from operating the credit union. Sometimes it seems as if they take away far too much time. Some of these conferences are very difficult to forego. They have been around forever (teachers’, telecoms, GAC, etc.) and there are vested interests in keeping them going. Even when CEOs decide a meeting is not going to be particularly worthwhile, the Board might say he or she has to go. That’s lots of time in airports, on planes and in convention hotels.

 
 

Every CEO knows the lament: Conferences and meetings are important, often very valuable, but they take away time from operating the credit union. Sometimes it seems as if they take away far too much time.

Some of these conferences are very difficult to forego. They have been around forever (teachers’, telecoms, GAC, etc.) and there are vested interests in keeping them going. Even when CEOs decide a meeting is not going to be particularly worthwhile, the Board might say he or she has to go. That’s lots of time in airports, on planes and in convention hotels.

“Webinars” are becoming more of an acceptable substitute for these time-gobbling conferences. Webinars allow for the discussion of a topic and points to be made, even consensus and action. They seem to be most successful when they focus on a specific content issue.

Body Language

But face-to-face meetings — being there in person — is exceptionally valuable, if not immediately, then at least over time. We believe this owes basically to two things: ideas best percolate face-to-face, and relationships develop that will serve the movement in unforeseen ways.

Conferences normally have a prescribed agenda, often including speakers whose task it is to inform with news or offer perspectives on novel methods. These are helpful to a point. In fact, many people make decisions about going to the meetings once they have convinced themselves that they will come home with, say, two “deliverables for each thousand dollars spent.” If they don’t see something on the program for their credit union, they won’t go.

But the best value is usually not in the program anyway, or even in engaging with people who are fixated on “deliverables.” It is in the confluence of good people and free time. This is when the ideas bubble up, get kicked around and get mentally tested, and when preliminary plans are laid for putting those ideas in place. Webinars cannot replace face-to-face. The force of an idea is often initially the function not just of the idea itself – which can sometimes sound fantastic, even incredible — but of the tone of voice, body language and eye contact. Given enough “brainstorming time” – and often meeting planners set aside too little for this – you can never predict the benefits that are going to come out of a conference.

People need to engage, and they need to know what is happening in other parts of the country and what the people are like who are making those things happen, along with what makes them tick. Even if you see a person once a year at a conference and speak casually for a bit, you are going to feel more comfortable telephoning that same person five months later and more assured that your point will be made.

Knowing people, and brainstorming with them, has been a credit union hallmark for a hundred years. We believe it has made us more nimble and flexible than our competitors in the financial services industry. It’s not just our small size that makes us better able to react when challenged or lead the way with new services. We can also get on the telephones and know whom we are talking with, whom we can count on and for which skills. Our people pool has been invaluable, and it cannot be built by electronic communication alone.

Still a Problem

That said, how does this solve the “time dilemma” forced upon CEOs? It doesn’t. CEOs need to get out and talk, and find out what is on the minds of others in different regions.

So CEOs still have to choose their meetings with care and budget their time. They also have to hire subordinates (CFOs, CIOs) who not only have good skills in their principal areas but also the talents to be able to take the place of CEOs at conferences, to speak for the CEOs and the credit unions and to absorb as much as the CEO would, then be capable of reporting all of the information back to the CEO. There is the brainstorming element, too. Subordinates need to be able to usher up those good ideas not only from themselves but also from others they meet at conferences. That increases the pool of idea people, broadens the coast-to-coast people network and strengthens the whole movement.

 

 

 

May 24, 2004


Comments

 
 
 
  • It's a CEO's job to "get out & talk" If the credit union wanted someone to just stay in their office the field of qualified candidates would be larger. A CEO has to be able to speak in public, share ideas, and most importantly, be an ambassador for his (or her) credit union and the credit union movement. This is especially true for mid to large credit unions.
    Anonymous
     
     
     
  • It's not just the CEO/CFO types that benefit. I've built a great network of marketing people and use them often. I've saved time and money through these contacts.
    Anonymous
     
     
     
  • Part of the CEO job description/contract should be "get out and talk" "broaden the coast-to-coast network"!
    Anonymous
     
     
     
  • I just attended a conference for my CU. I wish I had read this article just before, but I think I still did a pretty good job doing what the article points out a subordinate should do for his/her CEO. I thought the last paragraph did a good job of summing this up well. For conference planners, I think this article brings up a good point. A good conference must provide an open forum segment where both the consumers and providers of the "deliverables" can share that brainstorming time and a dialogue can form. However, there must also be some informative sessions (which might be done nearly as well in a webinar) that will draw in those who might not come otherwise.
    Anonymous
     
     
     
  • There is tremendous value to CEOs and to others in the system. Interaction in person and being an ambassador are key elements!
    Anonymous