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For years one of the biggest frustrations for CUNA CEO Dan Mica was that CUNA’s annual conference never really reached the level of success and acceptance he thought it should; especially since so many other CUNA offerings, such as its multi-faceted advocacy program, had long ago been recognized as superior. Although CUNA is the largest national credit union trade association, its annual gathering never reflected that fact. Year after year, the much smaller NAFCU organization produced an Annual Conference and Exhibition that attracted hundreds more attendees, generated more vendor interest, featured big name speakers, and more importantly, drew outstanding ratings that CUNA could only dream about. Observers like me felt that CUNA was clearly number one when it came to staging a GAC in Washington, D.C. Year after year the GAC drew ever larger attendance numbers, a sell-out Expo Program, and VIP speakers actually eager to be on the CUNA program. CUNA’s GAC consistently earns through-the-roof participant ratings. NAFCU on the other hand was the undisputed champion when it came to annual conferences. Every July it earned the top spot for putting on an educational event that outshone its CUNA counterpart in all important categories. About three years ago, that started to change. CUNA once again renamed its annual meeting, this time calling it Future Forum. With a change in leadership, Mica was finally given the support that he had long sought. At long last, adequate resources to put on a top notch meeting were allocated. And a staffer with considerable meeting planning moxie came on board, Todd Spiczenski. He was given a free rein to turn CUNA’s Future Forum into a “world class meeting” (sound familiar?). Whatever it took. Last year’s Future Forum in Reno had little resemblance to previous attempts to elevate CUNA’s annual event to the lofty heights enjoyed for so long by NAFCU. By not only putting on a fresh coat of paint, but restructuring the conference from top to bottom, creativity and professionalism became top priority. By the way, no one seemed to notice (or care) that all the sit down meal functions traditional at NAFCU’s big event (luncheons, banquet, etc.) were completely eliminated at Future Forums. The Hawaii Future Forum firmly established CUNA in the big leagues of meetings. If you were one of the 1,500 to 1,600 plus (about 150 more than Reno) who were there, you know why. The 2004 Future Forum could be summed up in two words – thoroughly professional. From pre-Forum promotion, to the still unique (and well received) Forum registration system, to live action staging, to first class audio-visuals, to seemingly endless special features, to a full range of meeting materials, to a solid line-up of breakout sessions, to an annual general meeting that was actually educational, no detail was overlooked. Note that I didn’t mention general sessions. I admit that it may just be me, but no matter how entertaining the stock presentations on leadership and creativity were, they didn’t seem to do much for helping participants do a better job when they returned home to set policy or manage their credit unions. With all due respect, many in the audience were beyond needing to learn cookie cutter methods on how to become creative and great leaders. The timeliest general session (for CUs and citizens), featured two well-known national columnists on opposite ends of the political spectrum. It was the most relevant because the presidential election was only a few days away. But session time for this one was far too short. (Interestingly, a CUNA survey of participants showed 39% favored Bush; 34% Kerry, with 16% undecided.) It also bothered me that even the most conscientious Forum goer, after journeying long distances to Hawaii, could only attend a grand total of seven sessions (four general and three breakouts). In an earlier column I had hinted strongly that attendance at the educational sessions and in the exhibit hall would start to drop off quickly after the first day because after all, Hawaii is Hawaii. Didn’t happen. The numbers at all educational sessions and the traffic in the exhibit hall held up. Maybe it was because during the Forum the weather wasn’t typical Hawaii (two large social events had to be moved inside) with overcast skies and an on again, off again drizzle. Or maybe it was simply where sessions and exhibits were located? Utilizing on-site meeting facilities rather than busing every one to the Hawaii Convention Center, as NAFCU did for its most recent Hawaii annual conference, was a smart move. Although space considerations made it necessary to split the vendor show from the meetings themselves, they were only an easy walk apart. By locating the exhibits in one of the Hilton’s main towers, for many a trip to visit vendors entailed little more than an elevator ride. The camaraderie and networking missing when convention centers are used was much in evidence throughout the Hilton Hawaiian Village property. The list of what else contributed towards bringing the Future Forum up to the standards set and maintained for so long by NAFCU is a long one. Like the baseball-themed creativity CUNA Chairman Dick Ensweiler used to make his chairman’s report downright interesting. Like the CD containing handout and vendor information everyone received. Like a four-color daily newsletter unmatched in content and quality. Also, like the much-used Cyber Caf. Like the very original (but underutilized) Information and Energy Center (see page 24, November 3rd Credit Union Times). Like repeating the talented and funny puppeteer/comedian Taylor Mason as MC. Like the improved (and still original) “ExperienceBook” for note taking. Any black marks? A couple, such as all CUNA officials and senior staff (not the worker bees) wearing suits and ties which sent a bad signal to Hawaiians and Mainlanders alike. They looked totally out of place. The pressure is on to keep the momentum going and make Future Forum 2005 in San Francisco even better! 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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