Speaking the Language of Leadership

10th September 2019

The inaugural AC Forum and Leading Centres of Europe (LCE) collaborative learning experience in July took the theme of the language of leadership, with delegates joining forces to improve their communication skills.

Clear, authentic communication is essential in the associations sector, so mastering how to get your message across effectively is a must – especially for those in leadership roles. The first AC Forum and Leading Centres of Europe (LCE) collaborative learning experience from 1-2 July united a small group of 20 members from both organisations to spend two days at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow honing their communication skills.

The event marked the culmination of months of planning and discussions between the two bodies, which started with a speculative phone call. “AC Forum was looking for new avenues to collaborate with industry partners. They contacted the SEC to discuss possible partnerships, and I suggested that the Leading Centres of Europe might be interested. After a number of exploratory conversations, we came up with the idea of a long-term partnership focused on a one or two-day educational event, with content that was of mutual benefit. By learning together, we build even greater industry insight from which we all benefit,” says Kathleen Warden, Director of Conference Sales at the SEC.

Pink Elephant

The content of the inaugural event was designed to improve the performance of the individuals in both their business and personal lives through learning the ‘language of leadership’. Both organisations agreed the theme would offer value to their respective members, and would provide a strong start to their events partnership: “We wanted to have something that was beneficial for both the AC Forum members and the LCE attendees,” explains Carola van der Hoeff, Secretary of the AC Forum and COO & Congress Director at the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP). For me it was a well-invested time to be with everyone – meeting my peers, networking, learning and reconnecting with all the members.

After arriving at the SEC Campus and checking into the on-site hotel, delegates enjoyed a brief welcome reception before getting down to business. Glasgow-based communications consultancy Pink Elephant, led the learning experience, beginning with an introduction to ‘the golden rules of communication’ – a set of rules with a purpose of helping those that use them to communicate effectively and with confidence, no matter what the situation. “The most important one for me was ‘get to the point quickly’ – within the first seven seconds of your communication ideally,” says van der Hoeff. “Also, eliminate ‘pink elephants’ from your communication. We learned that ‘pink elephants’ are unnecessary negatives,”she adds.

The second day of the event was all about delegates putting what they had learnt into action. Will Whitehorn, chairman of the SEC, kicked off the morning with an inspirational breakfast talk. In it he spoke about 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 advisor to Sir Richard Branson.

Delegates were split up into pairs – with one LCE representative and one AC Forum representative – and interviewed on pre-agreed scenarios relevant to their working environment, giving them the opportunity to practise their new skills. “They really had to trust each other to manage their way through the testing interviews,” says Warden. “It also helped to break down the sense of buyer and supplier – everyone was equal, and that felt like true partnership.”

The interviews were filmed, then played back in front of the whole group to be constructively analysed. “Being interviewed live, and filmed, and critiqued in front of your peers pushed everyone out of their comfort zone. And everyone rose to the challenge,” says Warden. By the second round of interviews all of the participants had improved their performance, demonstrating that new knowledge had been acquired and new skills had been developed. The whole exercise inspired ‘true learning’. “When you are out of your comfort zone, your primal instincts kick in – fight or flight – and flight was not an option. So everyone had to rise to the occasion and there was a great feeling of achievement from all of the participants,” says Warden.

Educational ambitions

The feedback from the first event has been extremely positive, from both sides of the table, as new skills, that will benefit the participants in their business as well as in their personal lives, were learnt collaboratively.

As Adrian Ott, President of the AC Forum, concludes: “The virtual world has developed extensively, and the format in which people want to learn has also changed. As an organisation, we want to link strategic and operational considerations together. Through this experience in Glasgow, AC Forum’s educational ambitions came a big step closer towards a natural synergy which fosters peer-to-peer education, innovation by sharing good practice, expanding thinking, and finally, neutrality by providing a forum free from commercial influence.”

Plans for the next event are already underway. In October, the collaborative learning experience will travel 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.In 2020, AC Forum and Leading Centres of Europe will organise another workshop in the city of Milan at MiCo MILANO.

This piece was written by Boardroom Editor Chantelle Dietz. The right to use, part or all of it in subsequent works has to be granted by the Publisher.

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