Engines of Progress: How Meetings Drive the Association Community

Meeting Planning

Global Meetings Industry Day celebrates the vital role that meetings play in the economy and in the lives of people around the world. For associations, meetings bring real-time education and training to their members in every state and country. They build connections that often result in career-long alliances. Further, they bring together government and business leaders, help drive the economy and move industries forward.

Critical Role of Face to Face

The role of associations as information brokers and incubators for good ideas is more important than ever. Associations and other nonprofits hold educational programs and meetings throughout the year that are designed to improve the profession or industry they represent.

From large international conferences to small regional ones, association meetings present opportunities for business leaders and government officials to meet with experts in their field and learn the most cutting-edge science, best practices and relevant opinions. This knowledge and experience are critical to help them formulate good policy and industry practices and advance association work.

Meetings Mean Business (MMB), an industry-wide coalition that showcases the value of meetings, reports that annually more than 100 million people visit 10,900 trade shows and 273,000 conferences. Trade shows alone add $33.7 billion to the U.S. economy each year.

While associations do much of our vital work virtually, we could not accomplish all the important work we do without meeting face to face. In fact, our annual meetings, regional meetings, advocacy days and board meetings guide the work we do all year.

Face-to-face meetings and conferences develop connections and important dialogue that cannot be replicated using virtual means alone. While virtual options have vastly improved and enable online meetings across the world, associations find that in-person meetings provide the most value. “No matter how powerful the orchestrated technology platforms become, there is nothing quite as productive and enriching as real face-to-face encounters,” said Elissa Myers, executive director and CEO of Academy for Eating Disorders.

If not for these in-person gatherings, we would not be as effective in our workforce development initiatives, research projects, professional growth projects, consumer education programs and so much more. The meetings industry generates $325 billion in direct spending and $845 billion in business sales, and supports 5.9 million jobs. Associations know the power of meetings because meetings power us.

Importance of Government Attendees

“Association meetings serve an important function of bringing together members and stakeholders across society focused on specific issues,” said Jason Briefel, executive director of Senior Executives Association. ”The ability of federal agencies and federal employees to attend and participate in these meetings is critical not only for fostering interpersonal interaction and building relationships, but more importantly to ensuring that stakeholder perspectives are incorporated into agency decision-making processes.

“In today’s dynamic and fast-moving economy, association meetings are one of the most effective and efficient ways that stakeholders can come together around issues facing their sector, communities, the country and the world.”

Government employee attendance at meetings has rebounded since inappropriate spending on certain internal federal conferences led to a drastic drop in meeting attendance. Still, the reality of tightening federal budgets and decreased travel approval often leave associations without the critical dialogue that happens at our meetings, which ensures that government works with its partners in the business community.

“Government works best when it is well informed. Association meetings are the most efficient and effective means for government agencies to understand the issues that the private sector faces so that government can better achieve its mission, relative to the private sector,” writes Tom Dobbins, CAE, president of American Composites Manufacturers Association.

Essential Opportunities

In every field and industry, association meetings create opportunities for practitioners to venture outside of their offices, labs and classrooms to learn about the latest in their field, sharpen their skills and make critical connections that will advance their career and field. To create vibrant public-private partnerships and move the economy forward, we need these interactions to continue.

Mary Kate Cunningham, CAE, oversees ASAE’s advocacy efforts on behalf of 44,000 association professional and industry partner members on state and federal policy issues. She previously worked for the House Armed Services Committee. She serves as a member of the Tax Coalition and Truman National Security Project. Cunningham earned the Certified Association Executive designation from ASAE in 2017.

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