By Alicia Disantis, Brand Manager
I survived the most extreme conference schedule known to man: the CO-OP THINK! 2019 Crasher schedule. Imagine three 16-hour days – 7:30am to 10:30pm, with a one hour break in between to change and regroup (“regrouping” meaning a variety of things depending on who you talked to, but more on that later).
It is exhausting enough to attend THINK as a general attendee, with the incredible back-to-back headlining speakers and afternoon of breakout sessions and master classes. As a Crasher, I was to attend these general sessions, followed by a whole other schedule of Crasher-specific events. Today, I would like to give you a glimpse into the world of the illusive THINK Crasher. First thing’s first though: what the heck is a THINK Crasher?
The Cooperative Trust and Filene Research partnered together to offer a scholarship program to up-and-coming leaders in the credit union industry to attend conferences, like THINK, GAC, etc. Samantha Paxson, Chief Experience Officer at CO-OP Financial Services writes about the program, “The THINK Crashers program is a dynamic experience designed for young professional education, leadership development, mentorship and networking. In addition to having full access to conference content, we will be providing specifically curated content for the high-potential, rising stars who will make up the THINK 19 crashers.” This curated content included interacting with THINK 19 keynote speakers and being mentored by leaders in the credit union space.
A mix of ten credit union/CUSO employees were chosen as Crashers this year. I was excited to represent nearly 200 credit unions we do business with across the country at the conference location in Miami Beach. I was actually so excited to be a part of this program that I flew into Miami two days early to acclimate myself to the (I am not kidding) 80% humidity difference between Miami and Denver. For those of you who have not experienced such a sudden change in humidity: you sweat, a lot. For no reason. Unnecessarily. You look like you are on something. I looked like I was on something.
So, now that you are up to speed on the glory that is the Crasher program, allow me to share with you a snapshot of a Crasher schedule:
6:30am: First Alarm
6:45am: Second Alarm
6:45-6:55am: Lay in bed and contemplate becoming a drifter/hobo/tramp to not have to get up early anymore
7:30-8:30am: Breakfast and Crasher-specific morning breakout with industry leader
8:30-11:30am: Headlining speaker sessions
11:30-11:35: Desperate bathroom/COFFEE break
11:35-12:00pm: Crasher photos
12:00-1:00pm: Lunch of some sort & networking & COFFEE
1:00-3:30pm: Product sessions & master classes
3:30-3:40: Desperate bathroom/COFFEE break
3:40-5:00pm: Crasher-specific breakout/mentoring sessions with industry leader
5:30-6:30pm: Break and “regroup” (more on that later)
Many of the Crashers went out after the networking events. I truly have no idea how any mortal creature was capable of doing this.
Crasher Event Highlights and Breakout Sessions
One of the components I found most compelling about the crasher program was the addition of industry leaders integrated into the schedule. For my style of learning, I found it valuable to attend the main speaker sessions and then meet with some of these very speakers to address what was presented in a more intimate setting. We were able to take the knowledge we had just learned and discuss it with experts in a way to make it practical and possible. I was determined on leaving this conference with ideas I could implement in the near-term, not lofty concepts to write down and stash away to gather dust.
Day One Alicia Highlight: Breakout Session with Jim Nussle, President/CEO of CUNA
Jim had just taken the main stage to present on the CUNA “Open Your Eyes” national credit union marketing campaign. I am fascinated by this campaign, which I have been following since it was introduced at the 2018 GAC. At the THINK Conference, Jim discussed credit union perception research findings from consumer surveys, which were the backbone of the “Open Your Eyes” campaign message. The campaign is currently being run in four states, and many more are in process.
Afterwards, at our breakout session, I was chomping at the bit to learn more about this national endeavor from Jim himself. As a Marketing Manager, it was only fitting for me to be deeply curious about this undertaking – because it wasn’t the first time an organization has tried to create a national ad campaign for credit unions. Jim was candid in his responses to the challenges facing credit unions: the average ages of CEOs, Boards, and members and the general “aging” of the credit union industry. We discussed the challenges of creating a campaign that had to appeal to a wide variety of credit unions in order to invest in it and feel comfortable with its message.
Have you heard or seen the Open Your Eyes campaign? I am curious to know your thoughts on it.
Day Two Alicia Highlight: Breakout Session with Doug Leighton, SVP of US Community at Visa
Doug was a special guest at CO-OP THINK and shared a message with me that resonated. He spoke at length about the philanthropic side of credit unions and how needed they are in communities. He also discussed some of the activities Visa is doing globally to improve merchants’ quality of life in developing countries. One example he gave was a recent program in Kenya that provided payment options to Kenyan merchants, improving their small businesses and ability to sell.
And – forgive me for the fogginess – I believe it was Doug who spoke around finding your professional passion: the tasks you do that time seems to fly by as you are doing them. His message was this: find these takes and work on including them into your professional life.
Day Three Alicia Highlight: Breakout Session with Ronaldo Hardy, President/CEO of Southwest Louisiana CU
As a young professional, Ronaldo Hardy’s story was incredible to me. He became a credit union CEO at 28 and is currently serving as President/CEO at 36 years old. He grew up poor and was not able to get his degree until he was actually serving as the CEO of a credit union. His ability to take risks and dive into the unknown was commendable. His message for young professionals was to not be afraid to do the tasks no one else wants to do and to take risks in spite of the “fear of change.”
Furthermore, he has four children and is the pastor of his own church. And he commutes over two hours a day to his credit union. Who is this man??? (Meanwhile, I am having trouble getting up at 6:45am)
Strangely enough, one of the biggest takeaways I received from Ronaldo’s breakout with us was body language. He shared the most psychologically powerful body language pose, which he uses often. Do you want to know what it is?
He shared with us, as part of a larger topic, that your body language as a young professional is hugely important. This pose may feel outrageously uncomfortable, but it makes you look confident and welcoming.
Remember when I mentioned “regrouping?” Mine consisted of squeaking in a swim in the ocean for about 25 minutes in between sessions and lightning strikes, so I apologize to anyone I met for the seawater smell I was emitting.
Below is a photo of my coworker Trisha Wiggin-Fausnaugh, Operations Manager and I. This was taken at the closing reception/party, which was held in a parking garage (I am not kidding.)
What an incredible event to be part of. I am honored to have been selected and able to attend. I was inspired by so many of the individuals I met while I was there. There is strength in the credit union movement and strength in philanthropy.