CUNA Aims To Overhaul Conference Format With New Forum

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Go climb a rock. Bang on drums. Have your golf swing analyzed. Learn how to nurture your inner spirit. And, if your really want to challenge yourself, join the Xtreme Team where you will, among other things, build a watercraft with limited materials.

Has CUNA gone bonkers?

Not at all, says Mike Miller, Senior VP of Association Services. It's all part of the trade association's new and improved annual meeting and exhibition being held this week in Reno.

The four-day CUNA Future Forum has borrowed the Disney approach in planning the event, designed to "engage'' participants via fun and games as well as interactive break out sessions and workshops on everything from how credit unions can benefit from the secondary mortgage market, to fighting identity theft to technology trends and check cashing.

Miller said from the time participants step off their planes at the Reno airport, they will know they are in "CUNA Future Forum central.''

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Posters and signs carrying the conference logo have been strategically placed throughout the airport and city, he said.

CUNA decided to steer away from the "cookie cutter'' type conference to one that was more hands-on, interactive, enlightening and fulfilling professionally and personally.

"We felt that conferences, not just ours, in general have fallen into a rut,'' Miller said. "While we have not completely departed (from past formats), we are filling those sessions in ways that are rather unique.''

Gone are the three-inch binders filled with print outs of power point slides, he said. And gone are the speakers who talk (and talk and talk) for 60 minutes on a particular topic, leaving little or no time for audience participation.

Miller said the goal is to allow participants voice and discuss their ideas through the various workshops, breakout sessions, even the games.

"It's about honoring the past, managing the present and preparing for the future,'' he said.

He said CUNA didn't necessarily seek out new speakers; rather it changed the way it managed the speakers hired. In-house curriculum designers worked with speakers to ensure their workshops would include interactive exercises rather than just an overhead projection of slides.

In addition, Miller said, staff acting as "event weavers'' worked with the speakers to tie some of the content of separate breakouts together.

He said each attendee would receive an "experience book'' that includes statistics, reference materials and facts related to credit unions. In addition, there will be "lots of white space'' on which to record those "aha'' moments.

Among the sessions will be a Credit Union Sound Off during which the audience can ask questions and express their opinions, all of which will be recorded on video and rebroadcast throughout the conference and available in hotel rooms via a special Future Forum television channel.

Even the exhibit hall will have a new feel, he said. Instead of that "boring strip mall'' approach where the only highlight is collecting as many free pens, pins and peppermint candy as possible, the new "Marketplace'' will feature a fully functional branch of the future with hands-on, interactive displays and demos of products and services members will come to expect in the future.

For the fun of it, the hall will offer a golf swing analysis (back from last year by popular demand), a rock-climbing wall and lessons on how to create a family website.

For those members ready to push themselves to the next level both physically and mentally, CUNA is once again offering the Xtreme Team Workshop where early morning and late evening "outward bound-type'' activities stress self-discovery and teamwork.

Miller said he expects a turnout similar to last year, about 900 to 1,000 people, and hopes the "buzz'' about it afterward will make CUNA Future Forum the springboard for future conferences.

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