AC Forum Delivering Cutting-Edge Education

Author: Chantelle Dietz       

AC Forum

AC Forum will offer its members a July workshop at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow. (Kenny Lam/VisitScotland)

A platform for peer-to-peer exchange on all things association-related, the Associations Conference Forum (AC Forum), has a forward-thinking approach to education: “People don’t work and learn the same way as they did 10 years ago,” explains AC Forum President Adrian Ott. “The virtual world has developed extensively, and the format in which people want to learn has also changed. As an organisation, we wanted to link strategic and operational considerations together.”

Mindful of this shift, AC Forum is committed to seeking out innovative learning opportunities and organising joint learning activities with non-commercial partners which align with its four key principles: education – specifically in terms of learning from each other and external experts;excellence – raising standards in association and congress management; innovation – sharing good practice and expanding thinking; and neutrality – providing a forum free from commercial influence.

In 2017, AC Forum announced its alliance with the Leading Centres of Europe (LCE) – an informal alliance of 10 of Europe’s largest venues – and the Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau (SCIB). Through these partnerships, it aims to present a different value proposition to its members, combining education and discovery in the form of two workshop events: the first at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow in July and the second in Switzerland in October, the venue for which is yet to be confirmed. “Both of these will reflect the societal changes in learning and personal development by challenging us to move out of our comfort zones and discover new opportunities and challenges put into context with partners that many of us work with,” says Ott.

Language of Leadership

The LCE has ambitions similar to AC Forum when it comes to advancing association leadership and congress management through networking and learning: “Our aim is to work collectively to forge greater relationships with our conference clients around the world through informal networking and educational events,” explains Kathleen Warden, director of conference sales at SEC.

AC Forum

Adrian Ott

In its twelfth year, LCE now has over a decade worth of combined knowledge and expertise under its belt. We are like-minded in our ambitions and have a shared view of excellence in the meetings industry. This allows us to develop a deeper understanding of our clients, so that we are better placed to help them deliver stronger and more successful events,” says Warden.

Warden says she believes AC Forum and the LCE have a natural synergy, and she is eager to help deliver a great learning experience for everyone involved: “Already the relationships between the members are strong,” she says. “This learning collaboration will build even greater trust, as well as provide valuable development for everyone who participates.”

The theme of the first AC Forum and the LCE collaborative learning experience is “The Language of Leadership” and it will start with an introduction to the golden rules of communication. Participants will be interviewed in pairs on pre-agreed scenarios as a way of pushing out of their comfort zone while working collaboratively. The interviews are being filmed so that they can be played back the following day for analysis. Will Whitehorn, chairman of the SEC Board of Directors, will also host a session exploring the value and importance of brand and innovation, drawing on his experience working with major brands including his time as president of Virgin Galactic and as a special adviser to Sir Richard Branson. At the SEC event, delegates will stay on-campus for the entire event, maximising the amount of time they get to spend learning and collaborating as a group.

Congress Management

The collaborative learning experience in Switzerland will combine visits to Geneva, Lucerne, and Basel and has been specifically designed for senior-level association professionals, with the exception of a featured workshop on congress management geared towards junior members.

Configured to be highly interactive, the programme will focus on developing creative approaches towards site inspections and exploring new territories. It will start with a scientific visit, followed by an overview in VAT treatment, and will close on a topic on meeting design and the challenges of exhibitors’ concepts, inspired by real case studies and opening the debate for new approaches and dynamism. Key players from the sector will talk about trends and share their knowledge. This will be complemented with pre- and post-event tour opportunities to allow delegates to familiarise themselves with Switzerland as a destination for congresses.

Barbra Steuri-Albrecht, head of SCIB, says AC Forum’s innovative educational formats align with the bureau’s goal to deliver “top quality” service across all areas of the business. “Delegates will exchange with key players from international institutions based in Switzerland, learn … different subjects covered in a series of educational sessions and reflect on those learnings with their peers while networking and discovering three congress destinations in one country in a different format as well,” she explains. “They will come away with new skills, inspiration, motivation, business-relations and additional destination know-how.”

Walking the Walk

Numerous studies have found that, when compared to competitive and individualistic efforts, collaborative learning typically results in higher achievement and greater productivity. Collaborative learning, by its very nature, is also conducive to a more caring, supportive, and committed working environment. In a business operated by people for people, Ott said he believes it is vital that the association industry lead by example. “We keep advocating that our respective congresses and other educational live events are also networking opportunities. So let’s walk the walk and not just talk the talk,” he says.

This article was contributed by Boardroom. It was edited for use in Communique.