I had the best time at the annual meeting of ASAE (American Society of Association Executives) in Los Angeles in August. It had so many of the right ingredients: memorable speakers, good education and networking opportunities, and really, really fun events. The keynote — Bill George, author of 7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis and True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, one of our 40 top speakers on the association meetings circuit, managed to inspire me. George, a Harvard Business School professor, grew Medtronic market capitalization from $1.1 billion to $60 billion in the 1990s. He spoke about leading with integrity, which can't be easy for a guy who headed up a medical-device company through some pretty rough patches of government-regulated product liability and compliance. I may not head up an association, or a Fortune 500 company, but I do lead a staff and a group of magazines and Web sites. I like to think I lead with integrity. His message continues to resonate with me — not something I can say for many keynotes.

Speaking of being inspired: I was impressed with then ASAE Board Chairwoman Velma R. Hart, CAE, the national finance director/chief financial officer of AMVETS, who graced the stage in the general sessions with a gift for public speaking and a lot of charisma. Wow, I thought. A woman, of color, chair of ASAE.

But that was nothing compared to my jolt of sheer joy when I watched the “NBC Nightly News” on September 20, and thought, I know that person speaking out at a televised town hall on jobs with President Obama — it was Velma! Her comments representing the beleaguered middle class made headlines and fodder for the anti-Obama camp in cable news corners (if such an ardent supporter is questioning him, his economic policies must be failed). And even though she was not representing the association or meetings world, I was again awed by her intelligence, heart, and ability to represent Everywoman and Everyman.

There were more “real” celebrities at ASAE, featured appropriately: Joy Behar was brought in to add humor to an often tedious session recognizing dozens of CAEs. Imagine the star quality some planners enjoyed when attending receptions with Melissa Etheridge or Cyndi Lauper (who performed on separate occasions, and were sponsored by LA INC., The Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau, and AEG, developer of LA Live.) Now there's a city that knows how to put its best foot forward with some of its best customers.