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For months, CUNA made a lot of noise that a new name wouldn’t be the only thing different about their 2003 Future Forum (formerly Symposium) just concluded at the cavernous Reno Hilton Hotel. The first hint that this year really was going to be different came at the CUNA Welcome Center. The traditional booths were conspicuous by their absence. The old rental counters with initials above them, and manned by local convention bureau types, were nowhere to be seen. Instead, “uniformed” CUNA staffers greeted each person at the door and escorted them to one of a series of executive desks spread strategically around the center. At each desk was a well-informed CUNA staff person who spread out the bag generously full of timely and useful conference materials (many unique), explained them, and answered any questions. The next day, after watching Future Forum spring to life with one of the best overall opening general sessions I have witnessed in many years of putting on and attending national credit union conventions and expos, I began to realize that CUNA just might be geared up to meet pre-Forum hype expectations. One of many examples: CUNA loves to use meeting MCs, for introducing those who will introduce speakers and to serve as a bridge between sessions. It is a technique I have always found to not only be boring (reading a prepared and stilted script), but completely unnecessary. But no longer. Taylor Mason, the MC throughout the Forum educational program, changed my mind. A professional stand-up comedian, musician, and puppeteer, Mason got the assembled masses into the swing of things in a nanosecond. (“I’ve got the kind of face that wherever I go people think I work there and ask me questions.”). He not only got the audience loosened up and involved, live and in pre-recorded hilarious videos of participants filmed at random throughout the hotel, but he managed to work in the right words and music to cover the basics of the speakers’ intros. Every person who took to the stage came through with interesting, unscripted remarks supported by outstanding audio-visuals and staging (a lectern sign that rotated.another first). Marcus Buckingham, a Gallup Organization senior consultant and author with a delightful British accent, did a masterful job of explaining how to build through strengths and what makes every person in the audience tick personally and professionally regardless of their credit union connection. Excellent! Later, David Landis (a.k.a. Senator George Norris) received a standing ovation after delivering his powerful scenario (think Mark Twain) describing the birth of credit unions leading up to the tension surrounding the signing of the Federal Credit Union Act as the session closing gavel was about to fall. Double excellent! Prediction: he will be invited to keynote dozens of league annual meetings. There was more: A creativity jam session that had audience members shaking a variety of borrowed musical instruments and their own booties in time with live music and narration as a new way to handle change and team building. Open forums facilitated skillfully by veteran presenter and CU executive vice president Patrick Adams including a popular one designed to explore with the audience what random, on stage, consumers thought (if anything) about credit unions. Want to rock climb? Ogle Marilyn Monroe? Bowl with colleagues for a good cause? Experience hands on the branch of the future? Pick up a free E-Scan book? Hold an on-site board meeting? Read a daily, comprehensive, four-color conference newsletter? See meeting highlights on closed circuit TV? Take notes in an inspirational Experiencebook? Win a trip to Future Forum Hawaii in `04? Guess what logo wear CUNA staff will be wearing each day? Those in Reno did all of that and much, much more. Was there anything not on the positive side of the ledger? Sure. The perfect national convention has yet to take place. Despite many new crowd pleasing features added this year, traffic in the expo hall (renamed the CU Marketplace) was disappointing to the assembled exhibitors. Those slot machines down the hall were irresistible to some. But by far the biggest down side of the Future Forum can be expressed in the form of a question, this year and past years as well. Where were all the people? No matter whose numbers you take as gospel, overall attendance was down. That’s disappointing any year, but especially when CUNA delivers an exciting and fresh meeting like they just did in Reno. More CU folks should have been there to see it first hand. Why weren’t they? There are probably the usual reasons, like location, date conflicts, perhaps disappointment with predecessor meetings, the new name itself which although carried out graphically to perfection (even airport signs and room keys featured the new name) is not unique and still doesn’t accurately describe the largest industry trade association’s major educational event. But there is a related and much more important reason why this meeting has always had difficulty drawing the kind of numbers CUNA’s GAC gets every February in Washington, D.C. It is a reason that CUNA decision makers won’t acknowledge and refuse to do anything about. It is what has plagued this particular meeting since it was created back in Atlanta many years ago as an expansion of the old CUNA Annual General Meeting. To many, especially the veteran attendees, it still is thought of and even called the CUNA Annual Meeting regardless of whatever new moniker it is given. In Reno, the actual annual meeting took up the better part of a morning. Although holding one is necessary and it was well orchestrated, people normally don’t pay a registration fee to attend an annual meeting. CUNA needs to remove the actual annual meeting from the Future Forum and replace it with an info packed session by President/CEO Dan Mica whose report on CUNA’s past year’s accomplishments was the highlight of an otherwise pretty routine annual meeting. The annual meeting is the one thing that never changes, even this year when the meeting was otherwise completely redesigned and really did live up to its advance promos. Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected]

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Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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