Monday, October 26, 2015

Your Association in Three Slides?

My association organized a conference a few weeks ago in which one of the highlights was a series of commercialization "pitch" presentations. Graduate students working on research relevant to our industry were given the opportunity to pitch an idea to our industry members--an idea based on their research which could possibly be turned into a real product and commercialized. To help focus their attention, each was only given five minutes, and no more than three Powerpoint slides, to make their case.

It got me thinking. Could I do the same thing with my association? Could I "pitch" it, in five minutes and with the help of no more than three slides? Forget about trying to make a sale, of trying to convince a non-member to become a member; could I just do it? Could I pitch my association in five minutes and three slides? What would I say? What would I include? And, perhaps more importantly, what wouldn't I say? And what wouldn't I include?

In fact, I have been trying to move myself more and more in this direction. Crafting and crystallizing a clear message about my association--what it's for, what it's trying to achieve, how it goes about doing it, and the value it delivers to its members in the process of doing this. I've already got it down to two basic slides--one on our mission and vision, and a second on the various programs we run and are trying to create to make the vision a reality. So check, I've got the visual aids in order. But the presentations I saw at our conference made me realize that the place where I would still struggle is in only getting five minutes to speak.

The mission and vision piece is already fairly tight. We've done a good job defining who we are, what we want to achieve, and the envisioned impact we'll have when we're successful. That's probably two minutes, and it seems to resonate strongly with the members and prospects that I've already presented it to. The tough part, then, is in describing the how--the programs and activities, and the ways companies can leverage them for their own on-going success. If I've only got three minutes left to talk about that, I'm going to wind up giving something short shrift. Something is not going to get said and, for all I know, that something may the the most important program or activity from the point of view of the person I'm speaking to.

Near as I can tell, this is a common problem for associations. We do so many different things--many of them not as well as we would like--thinking that an expansive menu of activities is the only way to maintain and grow a participatory membership base. And when you try and summarize all that activity, you wind up either missing something, or not connecting it meaningfully to your audience.

It's a daunting challenge--this "pitch" presentation. In my experience, in order to sell our association to a particular prospect, I generally need to allow for some give and take. Give them the overview and then either listen for clues or ask directly which area is of greater interest to the candidate. Then, deep dive into that area and show them how other members just like them are getting value out of those program and activities. Don't sell them, in other words, on the entire association, just on the program that is the closest match for their needs.

Ultimately, like many of the student presentations I saw at our conference, you can only whet your prospect's whistle with five minutes at a podium.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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