Following up on his participation in the American Society of Association Executives Annual Meeting ( ASAE – #ASAE19 ), Thom Singer is fired up about Plans, Passion, Purpose, and People.

Thom attended the ASAE event with his wife, Sara, who works for an association. However,  as a business motivational speaker he often works at association meetings as the opening keynote speaker or as the master of ceremonies (or both). This time while at a conference he was a participant. He followed the advice he gives others, and went in looking to soak up any ideas, information or inspiration that would show itself.

From the main stage he heard messages from the outgoing chair of ASAE, Sal Martino, the incoming chair of ASAE, Patricia Burke, and the interim president and CEO or ASAE, Susan Robertson. All had talks that were more than inspiring. Each spoke from the heart about their organization and the future of their industry.

Thom was reminded that all companies and associations thrive when they have plans, passion, purpose and people. And this is the message for today’s episode of the “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do” podcast. Immediately after getting home from the ASAE event he jumped online and recorded this episode (Episode #484) of his podcast to share his excitement.

Check out this episode!

Check out the 2017 podcast episode that was inspired by ASAE’s XDP conference.


Thom Singer is a professional speaker and EmCee.  He is the author of 12 books and is the host of the “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do” podcast.


Podcast Transcript (please excuse any typos).

Today I definitely want to talk about those four buckets that I think all the answers fall into and that is plans, passion, purpose, and people. And the reason I am so fired up by this is I just spent the last several days at a conference where as an observer I was sort of an outsider. My wife works in this industry and I tagged along as the spouse and yet I actually kind of work in the business. So I went to the American Society of association executives annual meeting. So my wife makes her living. She works for an association. She runs a there, Austin and San Antonio Chapter of a large business association. And her chapter, there’s I think 60 different chapters around the world of the association she works for. And all of their, many of their chapter administrators all flew in to Columbus, Ohio to participate in this multi-day conference for people who work in and around the association world.

Now I make my living as a professional speaker and a master of ceremonies and about maybe 60% of my work is actually with associations. So be in that trail along spouse was actually a good idea because many of my clients were there. I saw some of my longterm and favorite clients while I was there at the event, uh, as well as people who I could work with. So of course it was a place I wanted to go, but I’d never been to this conference before. I’ve actually been a member of ASAE for several years as a vendor, as a partner type company, since I do make my living working with associations. But, uh, I hadn’t really been all that active in the past couple of years. I had spoken at their smaller conference, which is called great ideas, uh, about, I dunno, five or six years ago and love the association, but you know, haven’t really been that active.

So I decided I would go along with my wife and really just observe and try and figure out, you know, what is this group all about and is it the right place for me to be focusing my attention and spending my dues money and I’ve come back entirely fired up. My enthusiasm level for what I do for a living is through the roof. I got to see some great keynote speakers and I am always inspired when I get to sit down in the audience at a conference as a participant and watch how people present because there’s no one way to do a breakout session. There is no one way to be the keynote speaker. Everybody puts their own little spin on it and people get into the role of being the expert on stage through so many different paths. So many people call me and they say, Tom, how did you become a professional speaker?

And I tell them my journey, but I always add that if you lined up 10 of my friends, you would have 10 very different journeys that led them to that stage where they’re presenting as the expert on any variety of topics. Okay. So this conference you would imagine, because there’s like I think 8,000 organizations that have members who belong to ASAE. There are so associations, and I always joke that the the associate American Society of association executives, it really is the Association of associations, which is proof. There’s an association for everyone. But that’s true. No matter what you do for a living. And if you listened to this podcast, you know I say it all the time, no matter what you do for a living, you really should be involved with your trade or technical association. Associations are there to help you be better at what you do. They’re there to support your industry and if you want to be the best of the best in what you do, you can’t do it alone.

You have to be affiliated with your association. And I believe that I’m a super active member of the National Speakers Association and in fact, one of my favorite parts of being at the ASAE event was I ran into the professional staff from the National Speakers Association and I got to spend a little bit of time with three of the people who work in the headquarters office of NSA. And I think they just do a great job. There’s some of the best staff members in the business as far as keeping an association running, growing and changing. And the world of associations, it’s morphing, associations are changing with times and that’s what made this business so or this convention. So fascinating for me. So if you’ve ever seen me speak, especially in the last two years since I have put my focus in my research and my time into this whole idea of the gap between potential and performance, you’ve heard me talk about the buckets that everything fits into and they all start with p I love alliteration, but I really didn’t do it on purpose.

Huh? It’s a that’s, there’s that “p” again,  I really was looking at what is it that is making people get ahead. When I do interviews here on this podcast, one of the questions I often ask all of the really successful people who come on the show is why do you think some people have an easier time of getting across that gap between potential and performance? And the answers that they give are fascinating there, right? They’re varied, but they always can sort of be placed into these four buckets. And those buckets are your plans, your passion, your purpose, and the people who you surround yourself with. So in a minute I’m going to jump into those four buckets and then sort of my take on that just to give you a little inspiration in this short episode here of cool things entrepreneurs do. But I want to tell you why I was so inspired by it.

By being there at ASAE, there were three people I saw speak, uh, to in the opening session and once in the closing session that were leaders of this organization, but listening to their presentations. Now I go to a lot of conferences, probably 40 plus a year as a speaker. And so I get to see board chairs and staff members speak all the time. But I was so enthralled with these three people and the message is that they had in the things that they shared, because everything about it was plan’s passion, purpose and people, it just oozed of every single one of their presentations in a way that got me fired up about the work that I do. So the outgoing board chair, I don’t know him, but boy, what a friendly and nice guy. Uh, Sal Martino. He got up and started the conference and he talked about the fact that associations, and especially the ones he belongs when he belongs to and his lead are really important when it came to sort of inclusion and diversity and people, and he gave a very moving talk, but it wasn’t just about diversity and inclusion.

It was passion it, but it was passion about people. He leads an organization that knows its purpose and as they now enter their hundredth year, think about that for a minute. The American Society of Association Executives, – ASAE – is about to celebrate their hundredth birthday at their next convention next year in Las Vegas and they’re fired up for it. But this isn’t just something that’s going to happen by accident. They have a lot of plans. The other person was their interim president and CEO, Susan Robertson, and she talked about how associations play such an important role in the future when it comes to how we deal with civil discourse. And she said, we’re not getting that from our government leaders. And she wasn’t being political. She wasn’t pointing any fingers at one side or the other, but I was so taken with what she said that I actually had the opportunity to sit down with her for 10 minutes. I actually conducted an interview for a Facebook group called association chat where I got to ask her specifically a little bit about this and to watch her face and to see her light up when she talked about how important it is for associations to really help people come and have those hard discussions instead of being polarized and pulled apart.

We really need to have those discussions and I agree. I think that associations and they are in every industry that’s out there have to step up into this role of really making sure that people can connect, learn and listen. But again, both when she was on stage and when I got the chance to sit with her, seeing the passion and the purpose inside of Susan about how she felt about this, it reminded me that that’s why we’re all here and it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. And then finally Patricia Blake, who is the new board chair, she took over at the end of the conference, she gave her sort of welcome speech, sort of the state of the association speech, but she also talked so much about the power of people and she cited how as a young woman she got into this industry of association management and how it has been a full lifetime career for her working in different areas.

And here was one of the things that stood out to me is, is she mentioned the fact that there’s a lot of people out there who don’t even realize that association management is a career opportunity and yet thousands and thousands, tens of thousand, hundreds of thousands of people are employed in this world of association management. Over 8,000 different associations have employees who are members of the American Society of association executives. That’s a lot of people who are out there working in jobs that are like this. And, and you could tell when she talked did this wasn’t just some speech that someone wrote for her as the incoming board chair, this connectivity to people and how people have impacted her career and how she wants to serve and impact those in the future. It was a true passion. So as I sat on the plane home and I thought about today’s podcast, I thought that’s what I want to talk about.

I want to talk about plans, passion, purpose, and people. Okay. And I’m so thankful to the days that I spent at this conference because it reminded me of what I, what I teach. I know this stuff. I talk to groups all the time. Tomorrow I will be speaking to a group of business professionals specifically about this and I think they’re going to get like the triple energy speech because I just have that little fire underneath myself about it. So I’m just going to take a minute and talk about each one of those and why I think it’s so important for you. If you’re listening, no matter what you do for a living, to make sure that you’re excited and you understand everything you can about your plans, where your passion is, your purpose and your people. So let’s start with plans. It’s really comes down to goal setting.

Now, I’ve been speaking for a long time and in a lot of the topics that I’ve covered over the course of my career, I’ve always talked about how important it is to have a target, to have goals. And I’m always surprised when I get pushed back. There are people out there who roll their eyes at me or who raised their hand and say, I don’t believe in goal setting. I have a friend who, one of the things he talks about, his goals are bad. I don’t think goals can be bad. I think obsession with goals and you know, not looking at what’s around you and, and losing sight of what’s important is bad. But having a goal, having a target, having plan of where you’re trying to go and what you’re trying to achieve as an individual and as an organization, I think it’s really important.

And that’s why I’m a real big believer at the beginning of the year, you should chart out what do I want to accomplish in my career or as a team or as a company this year. That doesn’t mean you have to be locked into that. It doesn’t mean that you can’t change it as you go, but if you don’t know where you’re going, it’s really easy to get distracted. I always tell people who I mentor that if you have a plan, if you have a goal, it helps you answer the hard questions that come up. So often in our life, I think about it everyday. No matter what you’re doing, you are facing choices. We are bombarded with choices. In fact, there is more stuff, more information coming at us now because of all of the social media and the Internet and all the digital tools that we have. There’s so many distractions, so many things that can make you go whoop, squirrel and totally lose sight of what you’re talking about than at any time before in history.

So if you don’t know what you’re working towards, you can easily get distracted and go down the wrong path all day long. And at the end of the day you haven’t accomplished anything that was important or that leads forward for yourself or your team. So when you have a goal, you’re able to quickly decipher what choice you should make. What I teach people is ask yourself, when you come to that fork in the road, which path takes me closer to the goal? Will this take me closer to it or will this take me farther from it? And the answers should get easier because you want to be working towards accomplishment, towards growth. So if I was to ask you, what do you want to accomplish by the end of the year, we still have half a year ahead of us or almost if you in the next five months, what would you like to accomplish in your career?

It’s gotta be realistic. I mean, I can’t become an astronaut or an NBA player. Those things aren’t ever going to happen for me at this point. However, if that was my goal when I was younger, you know, I’m six foot three, I’m not a very good athlete. But if I was and I had wanted to play basketball, I’d be on the shorter side at six foot three. But if that had been my dream, at least I, I wouldn’t maybe have had a shot. I probably would have had to have been a little bit better a player. However, if I wanted to be an astronaut, maybe a little more science classes in college, uh, there were a lot of things I could’ve done that would’ve taken me towards that cause it was realistic at 53 saying that’s what I want to do. I don’t think it’s realistic or it’s, it’s in my best interest.

However, I do have a lot of things that I want to accomplish. I have certain clients I want to be able to reach and touch and change the audiences that I speak to. And so if you know, if you don’t know what you want to accomplish in the next five months, then it’s going to be very hard when it comes time to make the choices of how you spend your day. So I think plans is really important and it’s a great place to start. The second one is passion. As I watched these people on stage who volunteer and work for this association where I was at their annual conference, I was so touched by how committed they are to what they do. Every single one of them was passionate about their own career, about the company, the associations they worked for, but also about this organization.

They were so passionate about the people who they were working with and who they got to be involved with, and it was so evident that I was reminded that all of us really should be that passionate. If you’re involved with something, you have to be excited about it. You have to look around and say, yeah, this is where I want to be. Because if you’re faking it for whatever reason, if you’re not passionate, it comes off that way. I talked to somebody the other day who has a podcast and they’re like, Ugh, they have done like maybe 150 episodes and go, I hate doing my podcasts. I’m like, then why are you doing it? And he said, cause it’s marketing and it’s, I should do it, but he really hated the experience. Hopefully you can tell him my voice when you listen to cool things. Entrepreneurs do that.

I like doing this show. I don’t care if I make money off the show. I don’t care if if you know it doesn’t work. I enjoy doing it and I love it when people who listen to the show send me an email and say, I liked the information in whatever episode it was, I get really excited. I’m really passionate about the fact that I live in an era where I can do this, but it’s not for everybody. If this isn’t the venue that you want to be on, don’t do it. You have to love what you do. When it comes to being a professional speaker and a master of ceremonies, I believe in my soul and my heart that you will never hire anybody who wants to be on that stage more. I love doing it and it’s not because of ego. Although, yeah, I have an ego.

I listened to a speaker the other day who said, I have no ego. I actually don’t believe him. I, I think that you, you can’t choose this as a path and your passion if you don’t like being up on the stage. However, there has to be more to it. It can’t just be about, hey, I want to be a star. It has to be about the fact that you like taking ideas and words and presentation and using it as an art that can touch and inspire an audience. That doesn’t happen every single time I speak, but I know that sometimes it does. So every time I speak, I get excited about the fact that I get on stage. I’m so passionate about it that I don’t want to do anything different. That’s why I know I’m in the right place and I’ve made my living doing it for 10 years.

So I also know you know that, that I’ve done something well because I like what I do. I am so passionate about it and I want all of you who are listening to feel that way about what you do. Now, you don’t have to be crazy 10 on passion, but if you’re a two, look for something else. There’s so many options in the world right now that you can do for a living. Make sure you love what you do. And that’s what I saw in these people I got to be with this week was everyone there. They weren’t just working for associations. They loved working for associations. They didn’t just have members. They were passionate about serving their members and making sure that they could lift up their organizations. That’s why they attended this conference and that was inspiring. That’s what I want for all of you who are listening, no matter what you do for a living.

Okay? The next one, his purpose. Do you know why you do what you do? Or as my speaker friend Jerry O’Brien. By the way, if you don’t know Jerry O’Brien, look him up on what big brands that’s what big brands know. Dot Com. He is an amazing speaker and he used to be the marketing person for both Quiznos and for Coors light. So he’s worked for big companies in their branding departments. However, he now helps smaller businesses and individuals really grasp that. And he says, it’s not just about your why. We’ve gotten so caught up in the last five or six years about this whole concept of know your why. Jerry has a better take on it. He says, what’s your because and I think that’s what purpose is. Your purpose isn’t your why. Your purpose is your, because that goes back to what I was talking about passion.

It’s not just why you’re doing doing something. Jerry calls it the power of because, because inside of you, when you know the reason that that passion is driving you, that is your purpose. So what is your purpose now a lot of people say, my purpose isn’t at work and that’s fine. I mean it’s a lot of us, you know, I mean obviously I think my first purpose is as a husband and as a father, but when it comes to my career, my purpose is to really make events better. [inaudible] I can finish an event and somebody invites me back for the next year and I’m about to go to a conference in a couple of weeks. Will this be the third year that I’ve served as their master of ceremonies? And this is a big event with like three thousand four thousand people. And it dawned on me yesterday when I was thinking about this, doing this podcast on plans, passion, purpose, and people.

My purpose is inspired by the fact that you don’t get invited back if you suck. So I, I have to take this as something that I, I, I’m honored to be back on that stage with the, with this association and this is one of five groups that this year will be my third or fourth plus time back with them in front of their audiences. My purpose is to make sure that I’m better than I was before. That’s one of the reasons I’ve gotten really involved doing standup comedy. It’s not because I planned to go become a professional comic. Jerry Seinfeld is not worried about job security because I go to open mic night every week, but one of the things that has come out of my dedication for the last about 15 months, every single week, now over 70 times going to open mic night and putting myself out there because nothing is more vulnerable.

As a person who uses the spoken word than trying to do standup comedy, you can get up and give a speech and be okay and the audience will still say, wow, she or he was fantastic. But as a comic, if they don’t laugh, they don’t say that you either bomb or you succeed. Maybe there’s something in between where you get a few chuckles, but you’re either really good or you’re not. And I will be honest, I’m usually on the, I’m not that great side, but I’m getting better. But where it comes back to me is it’s coming back when I’m on stage, it’s connecting to that pat to that purpose piece of me. Because one of the things I want to do is I want to give every single audience and experience. And that for me has been this poof, this little piece where the standup comedy has made me, in fact, it was a client who said it to me, who had seen me speak a year earlier, hired me back to speak at their next conference and she said, you were better this year.

How come? Like I hired you back cause you were really good. How were you better? And I said, it was the standup comedy. And her show producer said, yes, because he’s more playful and he’s more courageous. And I looked at him and I said, the playful part I get, but courageous. I go, I’ve always been confident as a speaker. He goes, I did not say confident. I said courageous and there’s a difference. He said, you are willing to get up there and do those things. And so that is a really important piece of that. So it’s really, really important that you definitely think, um, that you definitely think through what it is that you’re trying to do because it’s so important that you know why you’re doing something. And it’s that playfulness is why I keep going back to the standup comedy because it is so important for me to be able to do that.

And the last of these things, his people, I will tell you that I think it is so important that you really focus on who you surround yourself with. I’ve spent most of my career talking to people about how to engage with other people in a world where we have gone to our phones and we have gone to these digital and mobile and you know, ah, Internet based ways to connect to people. And I think these tools are fantastic. I mean obviously I’m a hugely user of Linkedin and all these other tools. I think they’re great. However they do not replace that heart to heart, that face to face, that belly to belly, that really understanding that comes when you have conversations with people. So for a long time my keynote was called connecting with people in a gadget, crazy world because we’d gotten gadget crazy.

However, I ask people all the time, now that we’ve had these tools for more than a decade, do you feel like you have a bigger circle of friends? And by friends, I mean people who would invite you to their house for Thanksgiving dinner if you didn’t have, if you didn’t have plans. And most people say, no, I do not have a bigger circle of friends. Now, some people do. And I think that’s great. You’ve figured out how to use these tools and it’s changed your life. That’s what the tools are for. And that’s awesome. But I recently spoke at a convention and there were 300 people in the audience and four people raised their hands. When I asked that question, I gave them a chance. I gave people a chance to put their hands up slow. And I customize the question so that they understood what I was asking.

Four people, only 4 felt like they had a bigger circle of legit super tight friends because of social media. And they did a decade ago. Now obviously if people were 22, that that question didn’t work. I was asking the people in the audience, you know, who had been in the business world for more than a decade. And then I asked those of you who are an outwardly facing sales type job, do you feel it’s easier to get the attention of clients because of all of these digital tools? And everybody laughed because they felt it was harder than it’s ever been before because there’s so much noise out there. So the investment that you make in people is what matters. And that’s why associations exist. Everybody predicted, and, and Patricia Blake said this in her, in her, uh, uh, her speech the other day, everybody predicted the end of associations. People thought that associations were going to go away, especially back once a live streaming came in close to a decade ago, people thought, well, why would anybody spend money to fly to meetings?

Why would they want to go to cocktail parties and, and live events and see speakers when they can just download videos or live stream? People talking, the association world relied on these meetings because a lot of the meetings are a profit center for them. That would be the end of meetings, which might be the end of associations. Well associations are thriving and the meetings industry, which is part of that has grown bigger than ever. So here’s the interesting thing. In a world where we are gadget crazy, why are face to face meetings thriving and people spending a lot of money to fly and get hotels and pay the entrance fees. And it’s because we need people, people matter. And so this is the last of those four little buckets, but it’s the one that is the biggest and dearest to my heart because it’s what I’ve talked about for so long. All opportunities in life come from people.

So what are you doing about that? Are you participating in your association trade group in your, in your trade association group? Are you connecting with peers? Are you connecting with vendors? Are you connecting with clients? Are you connecting with prospects in a way that’s not just sending like a four paragraph email that says, you know, thank you for, you know, a, I ran across your email address. I think I could sell you something that would be really good. We all get those things. But are you somehow really getting that emotional connection to people? And there are so many ways to do it. There’s no right way. But I want you to think about that. Just that emotional connection part and think, when’s the last time I interacted in that way with people? Because the people you surround yourself with are the ones who are going to bring you the most opportunities.

And some people tell me, well, I don’t go to my association because that’s where all my competitors are. Well, in my association I get referred by my competitors and it’s true in so many different ways. Plus the people who are participating, they’re there to share best practices and best ideas. And I always find it interesting because associations are member driven. I have a couple of clients who only hire vendors who are active in their own trade associations. Not that they’re a member of the one they’re going to be a vendor for, but they ask them. I’ve been asked by several trade associations, are you active in a speaker’s organization or a consultants organization or a trainers organization? Because as a member driven organization, we only want to hire people who support associations because it’s about support. It’s about people. It’s about comradery. It’s about community.

In fact, I don’t think there’s a better word to sum up what I experienced the last couple of days at this group than community, and that’s another thing I want to wish for all of you. Do you have a community because without community it’s lonely. Vivek Murthy, who is the former surgeon general under president Barack Obama, wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review that’s being turned into a book that will come out next year called the epidemic of loneliness. Now, I think everyone should go look at this Harvard business review article. It came out year and a half, maybe two years ago. If you search the epidemic of loneliness, HBR, you’re going to find it in a world where we are better connected than it. Anytime in human history, more people feel alone. I don’t think that we’re seeing people. I think that we’re seeing our phones, we’re seeing our, our our task at hand, but so often we walk right past or we sit next to people and we don’t say hi, people need each other.

I tried to use the Hashtag once in awhile on Twitter called see people. The whole is put your phone down once in awhile and just notice who’s around. You just smile. So I found while I was at this conference that you know, I didn’t know a lot of people and sometimes I wasn’t with my wife, I was by myself and I found that if I stood by myself and I just smiled at people who walked by, somebody would stop and say hello. So take that minute and give somebody that eye contact in that smile because it’s becoming more rare than ever.

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