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Speak Easy

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Last week, I was at a board meeting – for a board on which I serve, rather than one of the client association board meetings I have the honor of attending throughout the year. As ongoing proof that there is an association for everything, I serve on the trade association board for association management companies, and the time spent with a smart and collegial bunch of colleagues several times each year is always beneficial.

On the final evening, we went to a food hall that has a secret speakeasy on the ground floor. For a bunch of people that work with organizations and societies, a speakeasy is just too tempting – take cocktails (we go to a lot of association receptions in our line of work) plus the added bonus of clearing entry prior to being allowed into a dark, secret place to consume them…to say we were a determined group is an understatement.

Our group of six was told to come back two times, each with a 30-minute interval. We allayed the delay via bowls of ramen and dumplings, as I eyed the gelato-on-a-stick booth with increasing interest. On our third try, the “Guardian of the Secret Door” went into considerable detail as to why we couldn’t enter – the number of seats, rules, minimum cocktail consumption, and reservation policies – to name only a few.

In the end, we walked up a flight of stairs and went to an open cocktail vendor that made delicious drinks. We were all able to sit together – and see each other. It was a nice time connecting with friends.

We spend a lot of time with the associations we serve looking at membership models. What kind of barriers to membership need to be in place – and which ones can be knocked down? How much content should be display to all who visit – and what needs to be behind an elusive members-only door?

My two takeaways from this experience? The first was a great reminder that a little exclusivity can create some initial interest. However, make it too hard, secretive, or lack clarity around the entrance requirements, and people will throw up their hands and go elsewhere for your content, services, and community.

The second? Grab that gelato-on-a-stick when you see it, because you will really regret not getting one later on.

Erin Fuller serves as the president of MCI USA’s association management and consulting business unit. One of her favorite things is to name the signature cocktails for client events.

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