Take-Aways from the Brussels International Association Forum

19th December 2022

Boardroom Senior Editor Vicky Koffa reports on the second edition of the Brussels International Association Forum (BIAF) which took place in a Christmas atmosphere this December at the decorated Maison de la Poste in Brussels.

Organized by ASSOCIATIONWORLD, BIAF brought together global destination partners of the organization (Abu DhabiBarcelonaIrelandMontrealSingaporeBrussels) and international and European-based association executives with the goal to provide knowledge transfer, enable peer-to-peer exchange and share best practices.

The two days of the event were filled with captivating keynote speakers, interesting panels of experts and a surprisingly large number of interactive workshops to choose from tailored to the delegates’ needs and interests. The topics covered were mostly what associations and non-profit organizations find challenging this period. From Emerging Trends in Leadership and Financial Management to Digital Events Marketing and Executing Impactful Public Affairs Campaign, attendees gained insight from best practices and failed attempts shared by the speakers.

Embrace Failure and Expand Your Mindset

The learning experience began already with the first keynote speaker of the day, Cedric Dumont, pioneer in base-jumping and wingsuit flying, who kicked off the presentation by explaining the difference between healthy versus dark performance when leading an organization. A leader with the sole goal of taking themselves or their organization too far up the ladder and too fast is doomed to reach a standstill at some point and is quickly led to fatigue and negative results. Understanding one’s needs and having targeted focus on a few small goals at a time connecting them to one’s passions is a healthier way to achieve lasting high performance.

According to Dumont, “most people live with and are driven by the fear of failure or judgement by others. The key to overcome this fear is to accept the failures you come across as part of the process to reach a successful outcome.” Embrace the mistakes and move on from them swiftly; challenges bring innovative ideas and opportunities which the leader can focus on and bring the organization to new levels. In fact, this notion of accepting failure was encountered throughout the BIAF in sessions like Wouter Lox’s (Secretary General, AIJN European Fruit Juice Association) presentation on the Transition in Public Affairs and Colm Clarke’s (Exempla Management & Consulting) valuable content creation advice.

When organizing an event, Dumont highlighted that uncertainty of the new and unknown (new business models, new spaces, new content) sets unnecessary limits to the goals an association can achieve. “Mental flexibility is an acquired skill. You learn to ‘read’ your members, understand your assets, and deliver what is expected all while keeping the element of surprise, which keeps members interested and excited.” Focus on specific topics paired with out-of-the-box activities in an unexpected venue can intrigue and inspire members.

One of the biggest assets an association can have is its reputation, which is cultivated through trust. An organization is a team working together; all team members need to trust each other in order for the process to function properly. Sharing his personal experiences, Dumont stressed that inclusion at the workplace (understanding that everyone in a team matters) is the key to success. Through dialogue within the team, a leader can create psychological safety, reach new goals, and improve the associations reputation (possibly leading to increased member attraction).

Are You Using Your Digital Tools Properly?

Among the hot topics of discussion and of associations’ (especially the most ‘traditional’ ones) concerns were all things digital. Online campaigns, lobbying, promotion of ideas and content as well as attendee attraction to events were all on the table at BIAF, with present associations trying to fit it all in the vast world of digitalization. 

Second day’s keynote speaker, Liora Kern, Senior Director, Communication Expert, and Marketing & Business Development Leader at ZN Public Relations and Communication Services, made an attempt to cut through all the digital noise. Her educational presentation showed us how to utilize and maximize the digital tools available to achieve the best results and why that is so important.

An important tip was to adopt a strategic plan and specific KPIs when deciding to use social media. Posting randomly on different channels will not attract a lot of attention; consistency (publishing a post per day/week/etc.) and the right channel selection adapted to the needs and profile of one’s organization are instead more effective ways of keeping the readers engaged. 

The right visualization and content of each post are just as important. “Think about what your followers/members/stakeholders would be interested in hearing from you. Shift the focus from what the organization wants to share to what is trending among the readers at a specific time and adapt your content accordingly,” says Kern. Dress the post with a video or an attractive photo or turn it into a story; this will have a wider outreach.

When planning an event, social media can be a game-changer when used before, during and after. Before the event, the event planner can gradually build the anticipation to the actual moment by spoon-feeding information (e.g., surprise is coming, stay tuned for an intriguing program/speaker). During the event, delegates will be a lot more engaged if the element of experience is present. Think outside the box and create an unexpected experience (an online quiz, a poll, an award to the most hashtag users etc.). “People use their phones anyway during a presentation. Why not give those phones an active role for participation?”says Kern. And, of course, do not stop there. Follow up with your target audience with content from the event, build long-term relationships, create a KPI report; the list is endless.This year’s BIAF gave the audience valuable practical information and new ideas. The well-organized event kept participants engaged through the many interactive workshops and presentations. Along with the knowledge acquired, BIAF 2022 will be remembered for its closing live concert with a Christmas feel and an anticipation for next y

Hit enter to search or ESC to close