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by Kyle Farmer, CAE, KCSAE Director

The theme of KCSAE’s January educational program was connecting in a post-pandemic world. Best-selling author and Certified Speaking Professional Shawna Suckow led a conversation about connecting with members in a world that looks dramatically different than it did just a couple of years ago. Gone are the days stuffy communication pieces and cookie cutter membership pitches of a one-size-fits-all world. Instead, our members and customers expect authentic messages and personal connections with our organizations and also with us as association management professionals.

Part of this move towards more authentic communication is what Shawna calls “the death of professionalism.” She argues what we used to consider unprofessional and even inappropriate is now accepted and even encouraged. One easy example is something that every single one of us has experienced since the beginning of the pandemic: the Zoom call interrupted by a dog, child, or doorbell. I suspect we’ve all seen the BBC interview that featured the interviewee’s children walking into the room directly up to their father and the woman that comes flying through the door in an absolute panic to yank them out of the room. We’ve all been that dad, and, in the beginning, we were all mortified when it happened.

At some point, though, there was a shift. Eventually we all just continued to talk and work when a child came barging into a room or a cat walked across the Zoom screen because it’s a cat and that’s what cats do. Some of us even instituted rules for our virtual meetings that required attendees to introduce their child or pet that made a cameo appearance. We came to understand these things happen, and we’ve accepted and embraced them.

Our members and customers want us to be relatable. They want to know we are human and have kids or pets and a life outside of work. Being authentic with our members and customers allows us to create a connection that simply was not an option two years ago. When a member gets a glimpse into your world and gets to learn more about your personality and interests, that member has a stronger connection to you and your organization. That member is also more likely to renew their membership when the renewal notice hits their inbox.

While some KCSAE members were not completely comfortable with Shawna’s message of personalizing our interactions with members, I don’t view this new authentic messaging to be the death of professionalism. We are still offering professional services in a professional manner. No one is suggesting you join a Zoom call with members in your favorite 13-year-old holey t-shirt with music blaring in the background and your kid practicing their new dance routine behind your head. You can still maintain your professionalism with a curated Zoom background that shows some personality and marketing materials that portray a more inviting, less formal membership pitch. The definition of professionalism has transformed and adapting to this updated version of what it means to communicate in a professional manner allows for more authentic engagement with our members.

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