AGMs and quarterly membership meetings are often regarded as boring snoozefests. In fact, the volume of financial data and policy information to be covered makes it tough to attract attendees in the first place. The Toronto branch of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) faced this challenge. Only a few dozen of its thousands of members attended meetings.
In 2001, under the leadership of Brian Topp (who had joined ACTRA Toronto as Executive Director), meetings were transformed through a model that he had seen effectively implemented when he was Senior Vice President (Trade Services) at Credit Union Central of Canada. Instead of a stand-alone AGMs and quarterly meetings in a cramped room at ACTRA Toronto headquarters, meetings were incorporated into 3-day Member Conferences. A university campus was selected as the venue. The model sparked member interest in meetings and attendance exploded so much that events have been moved to larger venues twice.
Last week, from February, 20 - 22, 2013, I attended the ACTRA Toronto's Winter Member's Conference at Ryerson's Ted Rogers School of Management. The conference and annual ACTRA Awards, which take place at The Carlu during the winter conference, are free for ACTRA Toronto members thanks to the generous support of 40 sponsors, supporters and friends.
ACTRA Toronto's re-engineered meeting format is a significant departure from typical AGMs and member conferences. For example, the conference is always kicked off with a breakfast session with a successful Canadian actor or the cast of a popular TV series. This year, a breakfast with Tanto Cardinal, a National Aboriginal Achievement Award winner, launched the winter conference.
Instead of opening keynotes, participants immediately attend morning breakout sessions, which have used a variety of formats and explored various topics of interest to performers:
- panel discussions with talent agents, producers or casting directors
- master classes to build their skills in auditioning, scene work, film and television performance or voice-overs.
- simulated casting sessions
On Day 1, after lunch (which is included) there are 2 more breakout segments. Over the years, topics have included everything from social media to how to shoot your own films and digital auditions. Last year, in a highly interactive workshop, casting directors gave members honest feedback about their headshots and suggested improvements.
Special workshops for child performers, parents, youth, stunt performers and background performers have been introduced. Diversity is a key component of the program. The planning committee is diverse and, regularly, workshops focusing on diversity are regularly included in the conference agenda. The wheelchair accessible venue is on the subway line. Sign language interpreters ensure accessibility during major sessions and the ACTRA Awards.
On day 2, plenary sessions are scheduled immediately after lunch. During the winter conference, the plenary is the AGM. There are year-to-date updates during the fall conference. Presentations by ACTRA Toronto Executive members are brief and to the point. Financial highlights are presented briefly and full financial statements are accessible to members on-line. Question periods are structured and brief (i.e. members could step up to one of the mikes throughout the auditorium). To encourage attendance, there is a draw for some valuable prizes that have been donated at the end of the plenary session. Members must be present to win.
Each day ends with a networking wine and cheese reception.
During the ACTRA Awards gala, following comedy and musical entertainment, ACTRA members recognize their peers who have given outstanding performances, and one member receives the ACTRA Award of Excellence. Two days ago, Kiefer Sutherland was in attendance when his mother, Shirley Douglas, a well-respected Canadian actress and social activist, received this honor. (Last year, the ACTRA Award of Excellence went to Christopher Plummer.)
Educational content, training and development workshops, diversity, sponsorships to reduce or eliminate attendance fees, networking receptions, a gala and peer recognition...it's a winning formula that can help corporations and associations transforms their annual meetings and significantly boost interest and attendance.
For affordable venues for AGMs, also read Back to School: Best Kept Secret for Corporate Event Venues.
Photo Credits: Executive Oasis International