ASAE, the Center for Association Leadership, welcomed over 6,000 delegates to its annual convention in Dallas, August 11-14. The mood among association executives and suppliers to the meetings community seemed ebullient after a tough couple of years of economic uncertainty, with attendees noting a good buzz on the exhibit hall floor and many educational sessions overflowing with interested delegates. It was ASAE’s highest attended event since 2007 in Chicago.
ASAE introduced a number of new learning formats at the conference, including Game Changer sessions, which featured innovative minds in business and finance, such as Jean Chatzky of NBC’s “Today” and Money magazine; Mobile Playground sessions that immersed participants in hands-on exercises and encourage them to share their tips and tricks for mobile devices; a Story Slam/Coaching Jam session, where attendees could share a story (up to five minutes long) about association leadership; and a Green Safari for meeting planners, which gave them a behind-the-scenes look at sustainability at a local hotel.
Dallas put is best foot forward, having made a promise to ASAE when it first bid on the annual meeting some six years ago that a new convention hotel would be open when ASAE arrived. The stunning Omni Dallas hotel opened in November 2011.
Jerry Jones, owner, president, and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys and Legends Hospitality, put on an incredible opening night party at Cowboys Stadium, which has one of the world’s largest video boards. ASAE took over the entire stadium, and enjoyed viewing the players’ locker rooms, taking photos with the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, and taking part in a number of events and photo opps on the playing field. A rocking performance by Big and Rich, a country duo, completed the evening.
Tuesday night’s entertainment was to have featured a performance by Randy Travis, who was arrested just a few days earlier. He was replaced by Jack Ingram. Vanilla Ice and KC and the Sunshine Band headlined the closing night party.
At a press conference on Monday, ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV, CAE, said the association and meetings community faced a huge challenge with the recent General Services Administration meeting scandal, which has resulted in government scrutiny of its employees attending meetings and events. “We need to make it clearer that face-to-face meetings have real value. We will be meeting with our industry sisters soon to address just that.”
On a happier note, ASAE expected to donate at least $61,442 to the North Texas Food Bank’s Food 4 Kids program. Phillip Jones, president and CEO of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, donated $15,000 to the cause in lieu of an attendee amenity. ASAE will also plant more than 5,000 trees for every one of its attendees in a partnership with American Forests through its new Meeting ReLeaf program, which offsets the carbon footprint of the meeting and augments ASAE’s broader sustainability efforts. All the trees will be planted in Texas in honor of the host state for this year’s annual meeting.