Chapter leaders turn it on, tune it in and turn it up

Brian Van Norman, CAE
Director of Chapter Relations
APWA Kansas City Office, it was "show time" when 96 leaders from 48 APWA chapters gathered in Kansas City, February 8-10 for the 2007 Chapter Leaders' Training Conference. The staging for the television-themed event "Turn it On, Tune it In, Turn it Up - Building High Definition Chapters" gave attendees a first-hand experience of television's most thrilling moments—from the famous Red Carpet walk to participating in a live gridiron game of football.

Working together as a "cast," chapter leaders develop a "script" of programs and services to benefit members at the local level. The biennial leadership conference enables chapters to network and exchange ideas and best practices while gaining information on APWA resources and programs.

Quiet on the set...the show began with APWA President Bill Verkest opening the conference with a video presentation and inspiring words to leaders to remain steadfast in their determination and imagination of the possibilities for their chapters. Building chapter capacity is a priority and focus for Verkest during his term as president. "By working together, we all can take part in moving APWA from good to great to a WOW association," stated President Verkest. Through his experience in APWA leadership, Verkest shared three questions members will consider before engaging in volunteer activities at the chapter level: Can I trust you? Are you committed to excellence? Do you care about me? In closing, Verkest stated, "Be mindful of these questions, and remember that leadership is making decisions other people decide to follow."

On the opening day of the conference, chapter leaders worked through a self-discovery session using the DISC survey.

Local and national speakers were part of the conference program schedule. The opening afternoon feature presentations focused on the important role of leaders working with volunteers. Ralph Johnson, Ph.D., led participants through a self-discovery session using the DISC survey. This survey was used to identify the behavioral styles of the leaders, as well as offer insight on understanding and best approaches when working with others who have a different behavioral style. Leaders were encouraged to seek diversity among volunteers with differing styles as to capitalize on the strengths each can offer.

"Take time to get to know your volunteers, their interests and opportunities for personal and professional growth and enrichment" was the suggestion offered by Pat Cundiff, the next presenter from the Heart of America United Way. Chapters rely on members to become involved in taking on volunteer opportunities. Through the behavior profile and education sessions, chapter leaders gained perspective on understanding and adapting to generational and personality characteristics which can increase opportunities to provide rewarding volunteer experiences for members.

On the night of the opening reception, Kansas City became "Tinsel Town" as current and former television stars (aka APWA staff) made an appearance to walk with conference attendees down the Red Carpet. What Red Carpet walk would be complete without Joan Rivers (aka staff member Ann Daniels)? The reception allowed for ongoing networking as chapter leaders met the APWA Board of Directors and staff. From Ugly Betty to Lucy Ricardo, the stars were out in Kansas City.

Nationally-known speaker Mark Levin was on hand for the second day of the conference. Through interactive sessions and exercises he reiterated the importance for chapters to engage members through active volunteer participation. Recognizing volunteers and meeting their needs is key to a positive experience for both the volunteer and the chapter. Leaders were encouraged to interview rather than orientate new members to the chapter. Taking time to get to know members and their interests will enable the chapter to match its needs to the interests of the members to become involved. During his presentation Mr. Levin stated, "Both new and experienced members have talents to be offered. Be prepared to answer questions that members will ask before they get involved."

Chapter leaders had fun during the problem-solving session on Friday afternoon.

Chapter leaders were invited to attend screening room sessions during the afternoon of the second day. Three sessions, "The Pilot Episodes - New Blockbusters at APWA," "Prime Time Programming - For the Advanced Chapter Leader" and "In Syndication - Established Programs Still in Demand" were offered. Each screening studio provided presentations from members and staff on APWA resources and programs. APWA President-Elect Larry Frevert and APWA Executive Director Peter King spoke with leaders on the importance of creating a legacy for the chapter and credibility in building chapter capacity.

Screenwriters are constantly thinking outside of the box as to develop that next blockbuster hit. The same can be true for chapter leaders, as Dr. Johnson returned to the conference stage to share insight and tips on creative thinking and problem solving. Attendees were encouraged to actively engage in brainstorming opportunities when looking to plan for their continued chapter successes.

Chapter leaders discuss their strategy during the APWA trivia football game on the final day of the conference.

The final day of the conference began with a presentation from APWA staff outlining the chapter's financial reporting and event insurance coverage requirements. Following this session it was "kickoff" time as the nine APWA regions battled each other on the field during an APWA trivia football game. Following a competitive battle, and a few penalty flags being thrown, the team from APWA Region VIII came out victorious in claiming their championship rings.

Chapter capacity building takes commitment on the part of the leadership to self-reflect as to its current practices and determine through strategic initiatives as to the course of direction the chapter will embark upon. At the conference, each chapter was asked to complete the self-review "Best Practices for APWA Chapter Capacity Building." In completing this review chapters were able to identify areas of focus for the coming year. As they say in show business, it is not what you know, but who you know. Networking with fellow chapter leaders was ongoing at the conference. Whether it was through formal or informal opportunities, the exchanging of ideas and best practices among chapters continued to be offered. An organized session for chapters to share its best practice ideas was provided during a roundtable session on the last day of the conference as it was the buildup to the final scene for the conference—preparing the chapter script.

Leaders were charged with preparing a chapter action plan script for the year. Before developing a plan, each chapter identified potential goals, challenges and evaluated the challenges specific to their situation. Chapters worked on developing targeted goals, objectives and strategies for the year. Planning takes time, support and commitment from the leadership. Commitment to implementing and evaluating the plan is what will move chapters from good to great to WOW.

Brian Van Norman, CAE, can be reached at (816) 595-5260 or