Last updated: August 21. 2014 8:18AM - 516 Views
Tonia Stephenson Chamber Chat

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Last week, I was in Cincinnati for a conference for the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. I had an amazing time, met people from across the world, and learned an overwhelming amount of information. There were speakers who are famous authors, television personalities, and even a comedian-turned-host for a Food Network Show call “Eat Street,” James Cunningham. It was four days spent hearing intelligent people share their knowledge with all of us who were there to be a sponge to soak up the information. Of course, I was one of those sponges. It was great too, to be able to share my knowledge during our casual time with others who are new to the business.

This was the first time I had attended this conference and I hate that I haven’t been in the past, because it was invaluable. I went to one class for new CEOs, during which four experienced CEOs who gave us pointers to help us begin our careers as a CEO of a Chamber of Commerce, which is a very different business/non-profit than any other. I learned lots from these amazing leaders and made some new friends who I now feel comfortable picking up the phone to call for questions and support in the future.

I chose a session to attend that discussed “Inclusion in the Chamber.” That is a topic that really brings out the passion in folks and that day was no different. It was an awesome two hours of honest conversations of making sure that everyone, and I mean everyone, feels included in the business of chamber work. This is certainly a passion of mine and it was great to have these conversations — I learned a great deal from that time of sharing. It was refreshing and certainly gave me ideas for our community. It is definitely one of my goals for all businesses to know they are welcomed in the Chamber of Commerce and we are here to serve the entire business community.

I attended so many other sessions and learned about social media, unique marketing tools, leading in the best light, human resource issues, keeping your chamber financially stable, and much more. We had many meals together, lots of breaks with great conversations, and I met many vendors for chambers. In all, there were over 1,000 chamber professionals working to be the best chamber executive that we possibly can be for our respective communities.

The highlight of my week, of course, was being called to the stage during the awards night, when I officially became a “Certified Chamber Executive.” This is such an honor in the chamber world. In the 40-year history of the program, only 500 people have completed the process to put those three letters, CCE, behind their name. Less than 250 are active throughout the country and that is out of over 7,000 Chambers of Commerce. I’ve worked hard for this honor and the ACCE staff and volunteers made it a very special night.

Again, last week was a special week for me and I am grateful for an Executive Committee who encourages me and allowed me the opportunity to go to this phenomenal conference. I hope to use a lot of the information I gained last week to help make our Scotland County chamber stronger, as well as better serve our business community.

I was amazed at how many people from across the world I talked with last week, with whom I had the opportunity to share the Scotland County story. Most people, as I expected, had no idea where we are located, but many of them know a little about us now.

Tonia Stephenson is president of the Laurinburg/Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce.

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