by Sarah J.F. Braley | August 21, 2018

The American Society of Association Executives' Annual Meeting has drawn 6,068 people to the Windy City, based on preliminary numbers, thus topping the group's previous record of 5,972, reached at the 2007 event that also was held in Chicago.

According to the group, which has more than 43,000 members, the meeting brings almost $20 million in revenue to the city, and about 20 percent of the association professionals in attendance will book Chicago for a meeting in the next 5-10 years. Having the members experience Chicago firsthand is critically important, said David Whitaker, president and CEO of Choose Chicago, the city's convention and visitors bureau. "ASAE is one of our most important partners," he noted.

Among the 6,000 attendees at McCormick Place were more than 3,000 association professionals and over 2,000 exhibitors; the show floor featured 713 booths. The buyer/seller ratio was 63 to 37, and 74 percent of the attending association professionals have significant influence on or make the final buying decision. The meeting usually draws upward of 35 percent new-timers, but this year's gathering hosted a more seasoned crowd, with just 29 percent identifying as newbies.

"I'm not surprised the numbers are so high, but we didn't budget for it," said ASAE president and CEO John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE. "We estimate the revenue and we try to be optimistic but conservative, so we probably budgeted for 5,000 not 6,000 people."

At the opening general session on Sunday, Graham announced that the organization is looking to boost early numbers for its Xperience Design Program, held each spring at the Gaylord National in National Harbor, Md. Accordingly, he said, ASAE is waiving the registration fee, asking participants to pay what they think the education was worth after they have been to the event. "We're trying to provide an incentive for people to show up," Graham told M&C. "We're trying to see how it works, and how much people would be willing to pay."

For the first time, ASAE brought some of the education to the exhibit hall in the form of 20-minute Express Talks, such as "Simple Strategies to Connect to Your Loyal Members." This year's event app offered a new a grow-your-network feature, allowing users to scan other attendees' badges in order to connect. A new security measure on the app gave participants the ability to mark themselves as safe in case of an emergency situation.

The event's CSR activities benefited the Greater Chicago Food Depository as well as Little Brothers: Friends of the Elderly. GES, the global experiential event management firm, donated $5,000 to the community efforts on behalf of the attendees, and ASAE, which had pledged to donate $10 for each early-bird XDP registration garnered on the show floor, wound up adding nearly $5,000 to the take thanks to 497 such registrants.

The organization also is pushing forward with its advocacy for more welcoming workplaces. A new diversity-and-inclusion strategic plan will focus on four areas:

• Measuring commitment and accountability at the top level in associations;

• Creating guidelines and tools for organizations to implement;

• Spurring initiatives to empower women in the industry by helping associations promote them and fixing the diversity and inclusion ratios on their staffs; and 

• Championing "algorithmic responsibility" in job boards and other tech-based employee systems by eliminating language that fosters bias against race, gender and age.