From the Podium of the Board
21st March 2023 | By Joanne Lockwood
Dear Member of the PSA,
It is hard to believe it is almost six months since our Global Speakers Summit in Dublin last October when I took over as Chair of the Board for our Association.
As I commenced my new position, I discovered we had been doing so many things well as an Association. We had dealt with the COVID lockdown, with the immediate priority of renegotiating venue contracts or walking away entirely. We had worked diligently to reconfigure our regional membership events to be exclusively online and work with our regional teams to run meetings fundamentally differently. All while recognising that their own businesses also had to undertake necessary changes and face uncertainty.
Two and a half years later, the world started to open up. But as we are all aware, our sector and industry have still not reverted to pre-pandemic practices, which may never be the case; the world of online or hybrid speaking is here to stay. Moreover, the impact of BREXIT continues to complicate our ability to work with our European Neighbours. If that wasn’t enough, we now have the War in Ukraine and global economic uncertainty to contend with.
As an Association, we have been navigating all these challenges with you. The PSA Foundation, led by Foundation Director Mike Pagan, has provided vital support to many of our members through this time and continues to be an essential resource.
Let me touch on where I see the opportunities for growth and development within the Association.
Firstly we do not have an up to date strategic plan in place – My first task has been to dedicate a large amount of our board time to developing our thoughts and priorities for this strategic plan. At the heart of this plan is you… you, the member, and your “Membership Experience” (MX). We are concentrating on delivering an association that focuses on the needs of the one in balance with that of the many. Like every organisation, we cannot be everything to everyone and recognise that with the best will, we may not be the right fit for all.
Next, we realise we need to be able to listen. Listen to the needs of our members and create a communication channel that is open and bi-directional, being transparent as a board and willing to be held accountable for the decisions we make on your behalf. This brings forward its own challenge – explaining too much or too little can expose us to time-consuming justification over minor details, or we will be challenged for being not open enough. We are working on this balance and will continue to work on it. I intend to utilise our regional teams through the Regional Presidents (RPs) and our Regional Director, Alastair Greener, to build these feedback and communication channels.
As I write, we are about to launch our annual membership survey – we want to hear your views on a wide range of topics. I would love this survey to achieve at least a 50% response rate and be meaningful and informative to drive our decision-making process. We have outsourced this to Compass Research, an organisation specialising in this field, and have a track record of confidentiality and professionalism. We will be sharing the result at Impact! our Spring Conference in April, and these insights will form a core part of the PSA Strategic Plan. I would encourage you to have your say.
Nurturing our culture and values
As a board, we are embedding a “you said… we did…” ethos into the strategy – that’s not to say we will act on every thought, but we will consider it. We are now utilising a platform called Trello, where our workstreams, projects, and tasks are tracked through to completion. We will respond with what action we are taking or feedback on alternative schools of thought.
Now we come on to the future of our membership; what does the association look like in 2030? What are our purpose and our target demographic? At our heart, we are passionate about ensuring that our MX delivers events and environments where everyone feels psychologically safe and will not be apprehensive about sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism, or other levels of discrimination, inappropriate behaviour, harassment, or bullying. We will hold a zero-tolerance line and strive to walk the talk. We won’t get this right each and every time; we will, however, listen and make sure that every concern is taken seriously through to a satisfactory conclusion. Our Ethics Policy has been published for several years; this emphasises the responsibility each of us must comply with the law of the land, the values of the PSA, and your own personal integrity. In addition to this Ethics Policy, we are in the process of producing our Safeguarding Policy. This document will detail the process and expectations that you, as a member, can expect if you experience a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, bullied, discriminated against, or unsafe at one of our events or by any association member in person or online. You have a right to feel safe by default. We will provide training to board members and RPs on safeguarding to back up our commitment to this.
Broadening our appeal
We recognise that as an association, we could be more diverse than we are; our age demographic is well above where we would like it. Our ethnic diversity isn’t representative of our locales or potential. Building an open and inclusive culture is vital to ensuring we are appealing to more people across the spectrum. This is another focus of the board and our strategy.
For our events to work for everyone, our DEI Director Jackie Handy is working with our venues on accessibility. We will ensure that if any member or visitor has accessibility needs, they will be considered as a minimum expectation. Of course, we know that not every venue is perfect, but in each case, we will ensure either a “plan b” is in place or the limitation is recognised and understood. Jackie is also working on guidelines and speaker considerations to help you think about being more inclusive to your audiences.
Understanding and managing risk
We have also identified, along with a strategic plan, our need to identify and manage risk. Our Finance Director, Willian Buist, is developing our Association Risk Register – balancing impact, likelihood, and visibility. The Risk Register will then become a key element of the board meetings and strategic plan. Once agreed upon, we will make this available to the membership.
One of the risks we have identified is Cyber Security. We have started to talk to our members who specialise in this field to take advice and guidance. We will likely need to take out some insurance to protect us, review our systems and processes, and provide training to board members and our Regional Presidents. More information to follow on this when William has something more to report.
Knowing our numbers
I mentioned the “return to the room” challenge earlier on. We know that many regions are still not back to pre-pandemic numbers. Part of our work with our RPs now is supporting them in looking at their venues, programme, speakers, content, and format. You will start to see micro surveys appearing at the end of each meeting to gather your feedback. We are focusing on simple metrics that start with visitors in the room and the conversion of those visitors into members as a snapshot. We are looking at the number of attendees at each meeting, ensuring that the trend is upwards and sustainable. Support and training are being provided to our RPs and regional teams, which is crucial to building successful meetings. The board and operations teams are fully committed behind the scenes to sorting out venue contracts and supporting your teams.
Something for everyone
We will shortly launch a Virtual Region – work is underway by our Operations team and Regional Director, Alastair. We will appoint the first team and Virtual RP this year, and you will see email announcements coming soon after Spring Conference about how you can get involved. We recognise that not everyone can or wants to travel to in-person meetings – we have listened, and the Virtual Region is our response.
As I have mentioned several times, our Spring Conference Impact! is happening on the 22nd of April. The day before will be a Fellows Forum and a Regional President’s gathering. Our National President, Nathan Littleton, is responsible for pulling together the speaker programme and overall event timings. He is also in parallel working on our Speaker Business Summit in October. As you can probably imagine, this is taking a considerable amount of his time and that of other board members and our operations team. I encourage you to look up these events and book early, which will help us with programming and budgets.
Development Pathways and Value for our members
Nathan and Jackie Handy are working on our learning and development pathways. For example, we have identified that our Speakers Hub video library needs a refresh and rejuvenation. We are also looking at creating pathways such as “Associate to Professional membership” and “Professional to Fellow” to help our members develop their speaking businesses and grow their membership aspirations.
Speaking of Fellows, I am pleased that our co-Presidents of the Fellows’ community, Sarah Fox and Sue Evans, presented their vision for changes to the Fellowship Criteria. As a board, we met virtually with Sue to understand and suggest some ideas and changes. This is now out for review; you should have received an email. We are incredibly keen to hear from our Fellow, Associate, and Professional members, for you must believe the process is fair, achievable, and aspirational. Please have your say.
In our business-as-usual category, our Membership Director, Michelle Mills-Porter, has not only been working on the membership survey but continues to run “Why the PSA” events, new member inductions, and telephone interviews with members around their renewal time. Michelle has also been working on some new member benefit schemes, which we hope to announce later in the year.
As well as looking at learning pathways, we are also investigating a formalised process for mentorship. It’s early days, but we believe this will be a transformational benefit many will receive from their membership. We know that informal relationships currently exist, and this is a way to elevate and capture that support in a peer-to-peer manner, whatever your membership level. I hope Fellow, Professional, and Associate members will all find this beneficial.
Spreading the word
We have also identified that we could do more on social media to promote our events and membership. Our Director of Communications, Chantal Cornelius, is reviewing our Communications Strategy. This strategy is twofold – the internal message to our membership, we are examining our comms, the wording of emails, and our website to ensure our tone of voice is open and inclusive. This is a massive project in its own right, but essential. Externally we want to improve our messaging to attract more visitors and potential members to our events. Social media will form a big part of this. I am pleased that the regions have started to be more consistent and focused on their online presence, and I see this as a key area of strategy that we will focus on as a board. We must get our message out there.
Chantal and our back-office team released our new website last month. We adopted a soft launch approach focusing on critical and essential pages on day one, the ones that stats told us were most accessed – being able to book into for events for one! Over the past few weeks, we have been playing catchup and filling in the missing content as we go. There is a Trello board full of cards of even more content to bring online over the next weeks and months. Rest assured, websites are by their nature dynamic and in flux; ours will be no different. We will be updating and refreshing images, testimonials, and blogs to keep the site up to date and a resource not only to potential members and current members but also to event organisers and speaker bookers.
On the horizon, we want to move our membership system and speaker directory online, which will also process renewals and payments – you’ll be able to self-serve and advertise your profile. This will significantly decrease our processing costs and deliver an enhanced Membership Experience.
Listening to our membership
I started by talking about openness and transparency and their challenges. In order to walk that talk, the board will begin to host bi-monthly “All aBoard!” zoom calls – this is where at least two board members will be there to take your questions, answer them, or take them away. They will also be able to give updates on what is going on. Please look out for these, the first one will be hosted by our National President Nathan, the second one in May by myself, Joanne Lockwood, and I believe the third one in July will be with Chantal Cornelius and November with Jackie Handy. We will run them on a different day and time for each session to ensure we provide as much opportunity as possible for people to attend.
The next thing I am committing to you is this Chair’s blog post – I intend to push this out quarterly onto the website and sign-posted with an email.
Following on from this, we are looking for a workable solution to invite members to board meetings as viewers and publish detailed minutes, reports, and agendas from our board meetings. As you can appreciate, some items are confidential and inappropriate for publication dissemination. Some of the items are contentious, and we record our differences of opinion, but we leave the meeting united. So please leave this one with me; I’d welcome any suggestions on a workable solution. The reports and full minutes for the Association’s AGM will be published on our website.
I, the board, our operations team, your regional teams, and our volunteers are all focused on Member Experience. I don’t promise to get everything right all the time; I do promise to listen and promise to respond with what we are doing for you.
Frustratingly, we are time-poor as a team – champagne ideas and ambitions with ginger beer availability. So we will be asking for volunteers to step forward and help. Firstly we need to prioritise workstreams and projects in line with the strategic plan to avoid overloading our operations team. We aim to be “The” Association for Professional Speakers in the United Kingdom and Ireland. An association where you, as a speaker, feel a sense of belonging, shared values, and purpose with other members. Somewhere you feel you can grow your business and share ideas with others. Oh! And have fun and build lasting relationships.
Thank you for listening.
Chair of the Board 2022-2025
The Professional Speaking Association UK & I
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