Tim Ebner is former senior editor of Associations Now in Washington, DC.
Associations can add more structure to volunteer meetings and get better outcomes by taking a hybrid approach, adding virtual pre-meeting time in addition to face-to-face interactions.
When members gather for in-person meetings, their time together is limited and valuable, so setting the right agenda is critical. For Nicole Blankenship, CAE, and her team at the American Academy of Pediatrics, maximizing the agenda was posing a challenge for AAP’s Annual Leadership Forum, a chapter summit where volunteer leaders adopt resolutions that advise the board on healthcare policy priorities.
“We were brainstorming on ways to save time,” says Blankenship, director of chapter and district relations. “Our goal was to add more programming time for learning and to spend less time debating and talking through resolutions.”
To make the most of its meeting, AAP turned this year’s event hybrid, adding virtual pre-meeting time in which chapter leaders could debate and vote on resolutions via a dial-in or online webinar. As a result of the change, “when we got to the meeting, the resolutions had already been discussed, vetted, and polled,” Blankenship says. “That freed up time for some speakers and professional learning.” The move also produced better consensus on 10 policy resolutions that AAP and its chapters are focusing on now.
Blankenship and Jonathan Faletti, AAP’s manager of chapter programs, have three tips for any association orchestrating its first hybrid meeting.
Open invite. AAP made the virtual component of the Annual Leadership Forum open to all chapter leaders. “Keeping the online meeting open made this such a huge success,” Blankenship says. “It turned into an extra member engagement opportunity for those who were unable to attend the in-person [meeting].” And in a post-event survey, a clear majority of members, 70 percent, said they preferred the virtual event to the in-person meeting.
User interactions. Faletti says it’s important to pick a platform for the virtual event that allows members to interact and engage in several ways. The webinar platform AAP used came with a live polling feature, chat forum, and video and screen-sharing capabilities. “It was a really immersive experience,” Faletti says. “And as moderator, I could easily call on members” to encourage their participation.
Pressure testing. Every part of a virtual meeting has to be arranged carefully. Before the AAP meeting, Blankenship and Faletti did two test runs with the board and handpicked volunteers. “It was great having the team around us to experiment,” Faletti says. “The entire process took about a year to formulate and plan, and it definitely prepared us for situations where things could go wrong.”
In a post- event survey, a clear majority of members, 70 percent, said they preferred the virtual event to the in- person meeting.
[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled “Virtual Call to Order."]