Brand Connection

10 Things I Learned at ASAE Annual

/ Sep 4, 2019 (Getty Images)

New insights that can apply to work and life from ASAE Annual 2019.

By Beth Surmont

Another Annual has come and gone, and I was reflecting on what has become one of my favorite events of the year. This is the community that my career grew up in, it’s my professional home. I always walk away with a few new insights to apply to my work and my life. Here are the 10 things I learned (or was reminded of) this year:

1. Greetings matter. Arriving at the Columbus airport after a five-hour delay, I was not in the best mood. But that quickly changed when I was welcomed every few yards by smiling volunteers, and then given my choice of snacks and bottled water. I bopped along with a DJ and impromptu dance party while waiting for my bag and my mood was improved before I left the airport. It’s a small thing, but it made me enter the city with a smile on my face.

2. You get what you give. I’ve been lucky enough to be a volunteer with the Meetings & Expo Professional Advisory Council, and it’s been my best career-building experience. (It is, after all, where the idea of Otters was born). I give my time to work on tools and projects, and I get back ideas, friends, and a tight professional network. It’s a good reminder for me that giving yourself opportunities to contribute is a great way to grow.

3. Pause. The time is hectic, and it seems like there is always somewhere to be, or some work to catch up on. On Saturday I signed up for the kayaking tour and almost cancelled because I was having trouble juggling everything I needed to do. But I wouldn’t let myself give in and forced myself to prioritize this treat for myself. I’m so glad that I did. The time allowed me to breathe and relax my mind, which put me in a better state for the rest of the conference. And you can’t underestimate the importance of fresh air, blue skies, and a little exercise.

4. Sometimes the how matters more than the what. At the opening reception they served local pizza. But it wasn’t just sitting out on a plate, you had to go up to a (fake) brick wall and call out a “secret” code and then they stuck the pizza out to you through a slot on the wall. A little silly, a little unexpected, and a lot more memorable than picking something off a buffet. There was also a cool station where you could screen print your own shirt. I wanted a shirt but didn’t want to wait in the line. Turns out they had pre-made shirts ready for people like me. Giving the thought to the “how” of the delivery really made me appreciate the experience.

5. A new-to-me method for idea generation: the question burst. This is a great method to spur some new thinking. Whatever topic you are working on, take five minutes and write as many questions as you can about it. We did this in teams and when we were sharing our questions it sparked ideas about the direction we wanted to go. I’m currently incorporating this method into my event design workshops.

6. We have to fix death by 1,000 receptions. The Sunday night at ASAE Annual is an open evening, so it’s when all of the multiple receptions and parties are scheduled. After two full days of networking, with two more stretched out in front of me, my inner introvert can barely summon the energy to participate. We have to find a way to redesign events so that taking care of your introvert doesn’t mean you miss out on key networking opportunities.

7. Transform your audience by giving them the unexpected. At the Classic reception, we were inside the Nationwide Arena and suddenly it started snowing. The snow fell from the ceiling and it was lit by spotlights and it was so beautiful that I froze in place, transfixed. Music played and there was ballet dancing and for the duration, the snow fell. I just stood and watched. I’ve been trying to unpack that moment to understand it better, and I think it was that I was completely taken out of where I was, and it caused me to stop and appreciate what I was experiencing.

8. Find your quiet. The time was a whirlwind of meetings and sessions, all while trying to keep up with what was going on back in the office. On Tuesday morning, I forced myself to get up an hour earlier than I needed, so I could have some quiet time before the day started. It made a huge difference in allowing me to finish the event strong, instead of as an exhausted over-exerted introvert mess.

9. Stay present. Annual is a reunion event for me, with the chance to catch up with a lot of people that I only see once a year. I found that even when it was a quick “run-into” in the exhibit hall if I stayed focused on the person in front of me instead of where I was running to next, I got a lot more out of that moment and I left it feeling happy and connected.

10. Columbus is cool. For real y’all. It’s like the next Austin. I’m even considering buying real estate there. If you haven’t checked it out, you really should.


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Beth Surmont, the Director of Experience Design for 360 Live Media, has nearly 20 years of professional planning experience. A Certified Meeting Planner (CMP) since 2008 and Certified Association Executive (CAE) since 2016, Beth has worked in both the corporate and nonprofit sectors and has a wide range of knowledge, with experience in almost every aspect of meeting planning, from registration, to logistics, to program management and production.