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The two-way street of deep engagement

Listen to our full interview with Jim on Engage Your Tribe:

For Jim Baty, CEO of Sauter, Baty & Bloomquist Inc. and Executive director of the Concrete Foundations Association, engagement is a two-way road. “You can have participation, you can have invitation and a decision to join the association,” Baty says, “but if you don’t have the two-way road of communication, which means not only is a member taking, but they’re also giving, you never get engagement.”

In other words, for Baty, members of the Concrete Foundations Association who are the most engaged are those who are actively involved. That might mean attending the annual conference, or leading a session at the conference, or even helping to plan the conference. The larger point, Baty says, is that members who choose to spend time engaging with the Association are more energized by what they give to the Association than what they get.

But members that highly engaged are rare, Baty says. For most members, achieving anywhere near that level of engagement is a process, and the Association has to help kick-start that process by engineering engagement opportunities designed to engage different sectors of the Association’s membership. Baty first realized this a decade ago, he says, when the annual conference he’d planned got negative feedback from newer members saying that they didn’t meet anyone at the conference and felt disconnected.

“And we’re like, that's not possible,” Baty says. “You really have to be a hermit or a severe introvert to not have met a single person.”

But when Baty and his team broke the event down, they realized that they had designed it mostly around the needs and mindsets of long-time members who’d been to the conference before. By not considering more carefully the needs of first-time attendees, they failed to understand that those folks needed to be made to feel welcome.

And so they began to plan events with an intentional focus on engaging first-time participants. For example, the next year’s conference featured “speed networking” sessions that involved attendees moving along two rows of facing chairs and introducing themselves to the person opposite them and talking for a few minutes before moving on to the next person.

“It showed members who were not used to engaging that way that by sharing a bit about themselves, they could instantly connect with people they had things in common with begin building relationships,” Baty says. “What we found from these events was a much higher form of engagement and a stronger rhythm of return attendance.”

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