For years one of the biggest frustrations for CUNA CEO Dan Micawas that CUNA's annual conference never really reached the level ofsuccess and acceptance he thought it should; especially since somany other CUNA offerings, such as its multi-faceted advocacyprogram, had long ago been recognized as superior. Although CUNA isthe largest national credit union trade association, its annualgathering never reflected that fact. Year after year, the muchsmaller NAFCU organization produced an Annual Conference andExhibition that attracted hundreds more attendees, generated morevendor 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 itcame to staging a GAC in Washington, D.C. Year after year the GACdrew ever larger attendance numbers, a sell-out Expo Program, andVIP speakers actually eager to be on the CUNA program. CUNA's GACconsistently earns through-the-roof participant ratings. NAFCU onthe other hand was the undisputed champion when it came to annualconferences. Every July it earned the top spot for putting on aneducational event that outshone its CUNA counterpart in allimportant categories. About three years ago, that started tochange. CUNA once again renamed its annual meeting, this timecalling it Future Forum. With a change in leadership, Mica wasfinally 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 onboard, Todd Spiczenski. He was given a free rein to turn CUNA'sFuture Forum into a “world class meeting” (sound familiar?).Whatever it took. Last year's Future Forum in Reno had littleresemblance to previous attempts to elevate CUNA's annual event tothe lofty heights enjoyed for so long by NAFCU. By not only puttingon a fresh coat of paint, but restructuring the conference from topto bottom, creativity and professionalism became top priority. Bythe way, no one seemed to notice (or care) that all the sit downmeal functions traditional at NAFCU's big event (luncheons,banquet, etc.) were completely eliminated at Future Forums. TheHawaii Future Forum firmly established CUNA in the big leagues ofmeetings. If you were one of the 1,500 to 1,600 plus (about 150more than Reno) who were there, you know why. The 2004 Future Forumcould be summed up in two words – thoroughly professional. Frompre-Forum promotion, to the still unique (and well received) Forumregistration system, to live action staging, to first classaudio-visuals, to seemingly endless special features, to a fullrange of meeting materials, to a solid line-up of breakoutsessions, to an annual general meeting that was actuallyeducational, no detail was overlooked. Note that I didn't mentiongeneral sessions. I admit that it may just be me, but no matter howentertaining the stock presentations on leadership and creativitywere, they didn't seem to do much for helping participants do abetter job when they returned home to set policy or manage theircredit unions. With all due respect, many in the audience werebeyond needing to learn cookie cutter methods on how to becomecreative and great leaders. The timeliest general session (for CUsand citizens), featured two well-known national columnists onopposite ends of the political spectrum. It was the most relevantbecause the presidential election was only a few days away. Butsession time for this one was far too short. (Interestingly, a CUNAsurvey of participants showed 39% favored Bush; 34% Kerry, with 16%undecided.) It also bothered me that even the most conscientiousForum goer, after journeying long distances to Hawaii, could onlyattend a grand total of seven sessions (four general and threebreakouts). In an earlier column I had hinted strongly thatattendance at the educational sessions and in the exhibit hallwould start to drop off quickly after the first day because afterall, Hawaii is Hawaii. Didn't happen. The numbers at alleducational sessions and the traffic in the exhibit hall held up.Maybe it was because during the Forum the weather wasn't typicalHawaii (two large social events had to be moved inside) withovercast skies and an on again, off again drizzle. Or maybe it wassimply where sessions and exhibits were located? Utilizing on-sitemeeting facilities rather than busing every one to the HawaiiConvention Center, as NAFCU did for its most recent Hawaii annualconference, was a smart move. Although space considerations made itnecessary to split the vendor show from the meetings themselves,they were only an easy walk apart. By locating the exhibits in oneof the Hilton's main towers, for many a trip to visit vendorsentailed little more than an elevator ride. The camaraderie andnetworking missing when convention centers are used was much inevidence throughout the Hilton Hawaiian Village property. The listof what else contributed towards bringing the Future Forum up tothe standards set and maintained for so long by NAFCU is a longone. Like the baseball-themed creativity CUNA Chairman DickEnsweiler used to make his chairman's report downright interesting.Like the CD containing handout and vendor information everyonereceived. Like a four-color daily newsletter unmatched in contentand quality. Also, like the much-used Cyber Caf. Like the veryoriginal (but underutilized) Information and Energy Center (seepage 24, November 3rd Credit Union Times). Like repeating thetalented and funny puppeteer/comedian Taylor Mason as MC. Like theimproved (and still original) “ExperienceBook” for note taking. Anyblack marks? A couple, such as all CUNA officials and senior staff(not the worker bees) wearing suits and ties which sent a badsignal to Hawaiians and Mainlanders alike. They looked totally outof place. The pressure is on to keep the momentum going and makeFuture Forum 2005 in San Francisco even better! Comments? Call1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or [email protected].

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