by Jennifer Lee | September 01, 2017
As the United States' worldwide exhibition for incentive travel, meetings and events, IMEX America constantly updates its programming to address the needs of attendees. A new highlight of this year's show, to be held Oct. 10-12 at Sands Expo in Las Vegas, is the Association Leadership Forum, which will offer peer-to-peer networking and education addressing the most pressing issues facing association leaders. Carina Bauer, CEO of IMEX Group, recently shared some details about that initiative, as well as other goals for the event. 

The Association Leadership Forum replaces the former Association Focus program. Why the change?
The rapidly evolving landscape of meetings and events -- and what is happening in business and travel around the world -- is creating enormous and increasing demands on association leaders. It's more important than ever that they think and plan and act with strategies that are smart and innovative and geared toward progress and growth. The ability to come together as peers, and share challenges and best practices, is something they've told us is incredibly valuable. The Association Leadership Forum, created by the American Society of Association Executives, will provide a focused and dedicated opportunity to do this during our Smart Monday.

What are some of the most pressing challenges facing today's leaders?
Technology and content sharing are moving at warp speeds. The global business, political and travel scenes are going through big shifts. Budget pressures are evergreen. A new generation of members -- with a different set of needs and approaches to tech and learning and networking -- is cycling in, while senior members remain critically important. Everyone, of all generations, is pulled in more directions and with more digital distractions. Security is a growing topic. So it is, indeed, a time of dynamic demands.

What is the biggest difference between the new Forum and the old Focus program?
The Association Leadership Forum adds a senior peer-to-peer learning and networking component, allowing those at a leadership level to discuss relevant topics in depth. As in past years, all association professionals will have customized learning-session options, and everyone will join together for the popular IMEX America Association Evening networking reception on Monday night. 

Association Evening is a great way to cap off a day of learning at Smart Monday and the Association Leadership Forum. It's a fun setting to unwind, talk with old friends and new, and continue conversations you may have had during the day. Plus, it's IMEX America week's first evening party, so people don't like to miss that.

Are there any new features at Association Evening?
This year, for the first time, we are co-locating Association Evening with Meeting Professionals International's Smart Monday planner reception. The events will both be held at the Venetian-Palazzo immediately following the Smart Monday education sessions. This will make it easier for buyers and exhibitors to maximize their evening networking time, and, of course, it means that we can gather even more people together to have fun and network.

Who should attend the Association Leadership Forum?
Association leaders -- including but not limited to CEOs, COOs, presidents, executive directors, secretary generals and board members -- and aspiring association leaders from all corners of the world. The forum has been designed exclusively for all of them.

What should participants expect? 
The program will be a mixture of presentations, peer-to-peer discussions and an executive-level panel geared to discussing and tackling high-level strate­gic issues that challenge association leadership teams. Some of the key topics will include strong governance, effective strategic planning, operating in a disruptive business environment, technology for better member engagement, recruiting and retaining the right talent, and ways to attract the next generation of members.

Then there will be a series of dedicated education sessions for association-meeting buyers and planners, curated by the International Congress and Convention Association. Open to all, these will take place as part of Smart Monday -- the day of complimentary professional development powered by MPI. Association professionals also will be able to take part in Smart Monday's wider education program, which includes sessions on purposeful meetings, the latest industry trends and personal development.

The Forum was created by ASAE. What is the relationship between IMEX and ASAE?
ASAE is recognized as a group of thought leaders for the association community. We have worked closely with them for a number of years and have found it to be a very positive collaboration.

How can participants gain the most value from the Forum? 
This is their chance to enjoy exclusive, in-depth time to brainstorm with top fellow association peers -- people who face similar challenges and opportunities, who have best practices that could bring solutions to participants' unique needs and who "get" what their pressures are. 

We would urge everyone to come prepared with their top three headache items and their top three wish-list/drawing-board items for 2018 or beyond. Then once they arrive in Vegas with their smart, open and creative minds, we will invite them to make a point of connecting and brainstorming with new people for fresh perspectives. 

Do not be afraid to share successes and flops equally, as both bring valuable lessons to the table. Vow to stay connected via LinkedIn or face to face with a few people afterward to continue the most fruitful conversations and connections after the event.

What are you most looking forward to at IMEX America?
The energy, passion, resiliency and innovation of our industry always shines in Las Vegas as well as during IMEX Frankfurt, and that is what I always look forward to most. The people, the learning, the business buzz, the shared purpose and vision, yet the completely new and richly diverse ideas that always bubble up are all highlights for me.

I also love the truly global nature of IMEX America, with many cultures coming together and the wide industry representation across destinations, hotels, venues, technology providers, incentives, DMOs, and other event and meeting services, all joining in one place, moving the industry forward. It's always exciting. That sense of unity is very hard to beat!