This article was originally published on CUinsight.
Over the past five years, I have had the pleasure of speaking at more than 40 credit union conferences in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Jamaica. It’s been a humbling and rewarding experience to share my stories to receptive audiences at state, national and international events. During this time, I’ve gained a lot of perspective on what makes an event memorable and worthwhile.
I am by no means a qualified event planner, but with the help of a group of credit union professionals and consultants, we launched an annual independent conference called the CU Water Cooler Symposium in 2010. At the time, we knew that the credit union conference space was filled with options, but there didn’t seem to be anything out there that catered to the online savvy, progressive and future-focused credit union employee interested in improving credit unions.
The CU Water Cooler Symposium is a different kind of credit union event. We care about content and conversations. We put together styles, speakers and topics that other events won’t touch. We’re respectful, yet challenging. We’re independent, yet collegial. We’re fun and serious at the same time. We created the CU Water Cooler Symposium not as a competitor to existing events, but a brand new approach to credit union events.
We believe that this is the most modern, inspirational and collaborative event in credit unions. The audience is a real mix—a few CEOs, mostly VPs and managers, and a few specialists and coordinators. They’re from all parts of the credit union—marketing, IT, operations and HR. Plus, there always a handful of progressive consultants and technology vendors in attendance. In 2012, we sold out with 144 attendees from 23 U.S. states and six Canadian provinces. Everyone who attends is extremely open-minded, positive and tuned in.
As we prepare for our 4th annual event this Fall in Nashville, Tennessee, I’ve learned a lot about what makes for a stellar event.
Getting the right people into the room matters. Executive education can be very expensive and tends to be reserved for the senior leadership team at many credit unions. With that in mind, we’ve always strived to run a break-even budget and keep the pricing as low as possible. Having engaged people who want to be in the room is critical.
The content matters
Speakers and topics need to be fresh, relevant, varied and challenging. We keep the sessions tight—30 minutes followed by an open interview style Q&A session. No “death by PowerPoint” presentations allowed. Educational events should be as much about allowing attendees to share information as they are about absorbing speakers’ content.
The venue matters
We’ve all been at events at a budget hotel in a cave of a conference room with zero ambiance. That’s why we’ve sought out interesting venues for the CU Water Cooler Symposium. Nashville’s First Center for the Visual Arts is a really cool space. It’s a former postal office turned museum with beautiful architecture and a fantastic vibe. Everyone in one big room with no break out sessions.
Here’s a video to give you a sense of what it’s all about.
I invite you to check out the 4th annual CU Water Cooler Symposium. It’s happening on October 17 and 18 in Nashville and I’d love to see you there. If you are a credit union employee, make sure to use the promo code “cuemployee” and take advantage of the Earlybird Discount before July 31.
Tim McAlpine lives in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. He is the President and Creative Director of Currency Marketing, an integrated marketing agency specializing in helping credit unions attract the next generation of members. Tim is best known as the creator of Young & Free and CUES Next Top Credit Union Exec, and co-creator of the CU Water Cooler.