Attendees Share Experiences From This Year’s Virtual Executive Leadership Conference

There’s always so much great content at our fall Executive Leadership Conference that it’s impossible to take it all in, and this year was no exception! With 22 sessions (many running concurrently), we elicited the help of some volunteer “reporters” to report on their experiences at VisionServe’s first ever virtual conference, and we received some great submissions from them!

Special thanks to our volunteer Reporters: Jennifer Brooks (Lighthouse for the Blind and Low Vision in Tampa, FL), Nillima Tanna (Low Vision Occupational Therapist in CA), and Deborah Gold (Balance for Blind Adults in Toronto, CA).

If you’d like to submit your own report on your take-aways from the VSA ELC, it’s not too late! Send them to Wendy Hymes at

Teri Yanovitch – Leading a Culture of Excellence

Submitted by Jennifer Brooks

Is your organization providing the highest level of service to every client who walks in your doors or – in today’s world – picks up the phone and calls?  Teri Yanovitch, a dynamic speaker, author, facilitator, and consultant, shared some practical (and easy!) tips that leaders can implement “to create and maintain a culture of service excellence”!  Here are just a few:

  • Recognize the emotions of the customer first. This helps the customer feel valued. Build a relationship!
    • Some easy strategies are: remember their name, have notes from prior discussions, ask questions to gain a fuller perspective of their needs.
  • Create a Service Map of the points of contact for your client. Analyze if each of these interactions created a “wow” effect. How can we understand the client’s point of view at each touch point and meet their needs fully?
  • Step back and gain a fresh view of the organization:
    • How is the environment? (clean, organized, décor?)
    • How is the phone experience? (Friendly? Explanatory? Nice hold music?)
    • How about the website? (Is it welcoming? Is it easily navigable? Accessibility friendly? Easy to find needed information?)

And finally, my favorite:

  • “Take Five” Challenge for all employees: Take just 5 minutes out of your day to “wow” the guest.
    • Not just meeting their expectations, but EXCEEDING their expectations!
    • Leave it open for creativity!
    • In the next agency meeting, have everyone share their “Take Five” ideas and successes!

Check out a recording of Teri Yanovitch’s full presentation here and implement some strategies in your organization today to exceed your clients’ expectations!

Lots of Fun at the Virtual Trivia Night

Submitted by Wendy Hymes

Screenshot from Trivia Night of Host Joe Bogart's many hats

VisionServe held its first virtual Trivia Night as a fun opportunity for networking Monday night during the ELC. We were hoping that this would attract attendees looking for adventure and a little competitive fun during the ELC, and we weren’t disappointed.

Our MC for the evening, Joe Bogart, entertained us with his winning charm and by wearing a different hat – 5 in all – one for each round. 22 participants joined in and through the magic of our Zoom break-out room facilitator, Gobika Sithamparanathan, were whisked into Zoom rooms where they got to know each other and decided on team names. Teams were: COVID Cooties, the Macular Degenerates, The Amazing Five, Dazed and Confused, and Disappointed Tourists.

We had four rounds each with five questions. The categories of the four rounds were: Famous Movie Quotes, Food, Fifty Nifty States, and Blind Trivia. The Disappointed Tourists came in 1st place with a score of 15, followed by a 3-way tie for 2nd place by the COVID Cooties, the Macular Degenerates and The Amazing Five, all with 13 points, and in 3rd place was Dazed and Confused with a respectable score of 12 points.

Many thanks to Balance for Blind Adults whose team leant their training support to the facilitators for VSA’s Trivia Night, and to Joe Bogart for being our MC. I hope that we can do this again. It was a lot of fun!

Vision Rehabilitation Promotes Improved Independence and Quality of Life

Submitted by Jennifer Brooks

This is not *Breaking News* for those of us working day-in and day-out within the field!  However, how do we get this message out to the general public? How do we reach those who need our services? How do we bring this message to the policy makers and legislators? How do we advocate for the essential supports necessary for us to continue these vital services to individuals with visual impairments?

Check out the important work that the Aging and Vision Loss Coalition is completing and join in the discussion! Visit the AVLNC page on the VisionServe Alliance website.

My Take-Aways from Four VSA ELC Sessions

Submitted by Nillima Tanna

I heard the first speaker, followed by another impressive speaker. Wow! The sessions have consistently had rich content by a tremendous line up of speakers. Over the past 3 days, I have learnt a lot about a range of topics from C.H.A.T. communication model to Culture of Excellence, Branding and technology. Shout out to the VSA team for the excellent lineup of speakers!!


Culture of Excellence by Teri Yanovitch

Teri’s talk truly resonated with me, as I believe in providing the highest quality service to my clients. I appreciated her practical tips on improving our clients’ service experience. Highlights for me were many but here is a list of my top 3:

  1. The concept of “Take 5” was unique.
  2. Leadership action for Service Philosophy and standards.
  3. “Enculturating” Service Excellence throughout the organization.

C.H.A.T. Communication model by Claudia Virga

Understanding the different communication styles made me think of some of my co-workers. Wish I knew the model and tips shared by Claudia, it would help tremendously in developing inter-personal and professional relationships.


Your Brand, Your culture, your bottom line by Mark Freid

Absolutely enjoyed his presentation.  Highlights were the follows:

  1. Managing the messaging – Fantastic information, practical tips that are easy to implement!
  2. “Values have to be connected to specific behaviors”
  3. Spelling out the Organization’s personality


I was impressed to hear from Virginia Jacko, President and CEO- Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, about their Accessibility scorecard. They have been using it, especially during the pandemic to assess the accessibility features on the websites of grocery stores and pharmacies. Companies then get the opportunity to fix the issues. The Accessibility scorecard was also used during the Presidential elections!

Take-Aways from the First Three Days of the VSA ELC

Submitted by Deborah Gold

It’s Wednesday now and after a few solid days of taking in so much relevant knowledge, my mind is buzzing with acronyms from C.H.A.T. to RSO to DEI and more. It’s filled with a bunch of wonderful “service” and “success” ideas like “service excellence”, “service maps”, “service philosophy”, “service standards”, “success stories”, “succession planning” and more. My notebook is filled with key take-aways about leadership, diversity, and governance; my hand aches from writing, and my staff already have an assignment due next Friday (and a shared folder where they can file the 3 behaviours they believe stand out for each of our 5 organizational values). Here are some “little WOWS” I picked up from several sessions, and am hoping to incorporate into our work, making us better and stronger as a team and organization:

  1.  Networking Your Way To Success Even In A Virtual World: Make Valuable Connections Easily When You C.H.A.T. Your Way Through The Virtual Conference – Well, from the above, you’ll know I lead with Action! So one thing we’ll be doing together as a staff team is figuring out our communications styles through the CHAT system, and then working together (and on our own) on how we can work better with clients if we think about THEIR communication styles when we are teaching them.
  2.  Leading A Culture Of Excellence – Teri Yanovitch, Author, Former Disney Institute Trainer – I learned that at BALANCE, we already have quite a decent culture of service excellence. BUT, we can do better! We are going to work together on a service philosophy statement (something we don’t really have yet, although we have contributed recently to a new vision and mission statement). And, we are going to do some work to look at what we do through the lenses of our clients. I want to make sure I’m always collecting great ideas from my staff that we can incorporate across the organization and across our service disciplines.  And, we’ll start working on modelling service excellence throughout the staff recruiting process…we can do better…we will do better. This session was so helpful.
  3. Non-Profit Marketing In The New Reality – Mark Freid, Founder Think Creative – Mark Freid’s session on branding was superb. His messages echoed Teri’s, and I found that I could immediately ask my staff to start thinking about our values and our behaviours. I loved his story compasses, and could see how, as we enter a new strategic planning phase next winter, we can implement the idea of 3 specific outcomes we are posed to have an impact on. It struck a chord that these outcomes need to be empowering INTERNALLY while also being exciting EXTERNALLY. “Branding IS Strategy.” We knew that of course, but Mark drove the point home well.
  4. The sessions today were wonderful examples of calling on the lived experience of some of our colleagues, and combining that experience with terrific panel moderators and expert consultants. The sessions on Succession Planning, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Governance (Board-CEO relations), ALL spoke directly to the work I am doing (perhaps many of us are doing) every day and RIGHT NOW in our organizations. So relevant. Having been hired into a position that had been vacant for 8 months, and to lead an organization that was somewhat troubled at the time, I could identify with what several of the panelists were talking about, and, like them, I want to ensure an excellent succession plan is in place for when I depart (and also for if I have to step away temporarily). In terms of Governance, I learned much about working with my Board in a remote/virtual context, and it was good to hear that we are doing a great deal RIGHT, and pick up some tips for how to do even better (I quickly learned how to run a virtual Board Retreat!).
  5. Discussion Of Diversity, Equity And Inclusion In The Field Of Blindness – Finally, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion session was perhaps the most important session of this conference. If we cannot build truly equitable and inclusive organizations that are also diverse, given the societal context we are all living in, and given the extent of institutional oppression and systemic racism that is baked into our societies, then we will fall short of our aspirations and dreams of inclusion and equity for people who are blind. The intersectionality of the challenges we face (and lived every day by our clients, volunteers and staff) came through in this session. I have been working since early summer with my board and staff on the challenge of bringing an anti-racism lens to our work through a number of possible initiatives. The conversations have been meaningful, and have opened people’s eyes in ways they have not been opened before, including my own. I find that it has not always been easy, and when David talked about taking risks with this, to stand up for what is right, as the CEO, it touched me emotionally because I realized that was exactly what I needed to hear-acknowledgement that this work isn’t easy…and why should it be? Our societies (both in the States and here in Canada) are interwoven with multiple oppressions and white supremacy in all it’s insidious forms doesn’t like to be challenged. It’s not supposed to be easy. But it can be oh so rewarding, and I was so very grateful this session was held, that these panelists could give us so very many ideas to think about, and were so articulate, and that I could participate.

That’s it for me this late Wednesday evening…VisionServe Alliance has really upped the ante with this conference content. Thank-you for making it happen and making it possible for me to sign my staff up to attend as well.

2020 is THE year to be prepared for anything!

Submitted by Jennifer Brooks

“To be happy and productive during these unprecedented times of change, we need to be ready for anything.” Bob Kodzis is here to give us simple human lessons on how to be prepared for anything life throws at us – during 2020 and beyond! He speaks about the pain and fear that come with new experiences and change. However, he encourages us to continue to move past our comfort zone, into -and through- that fear, in order to come out on the other side. To the other side which is full of learning and, finally, growth.  We cannot have growth if we remain huddled within our comfort zone. Bob Kodzis shared amazing tips and stories to encourage us to change our own mindsets in order to handle the changes that life throws at us.

Check out the recording of his presentation in order to learn about becoming a master of change rather than a victim of change!

Attendees Find Ways to Network and Connect Virtually

Submitted by Wendy Hymes

The virtual VSA ELC explored new ways for attendees to connect virtually during the 5-day event. As a long-time meeting planner, I knew we had our work cut out for us to succeed in this area, so our team planned and scheduled new ways to help our conference attendees connect virtually.

Our first presenter, professional speaker Claudia Virga, started us off with her presentation which offered specific advice to attendees on how to network at a virtual event. She started off acknowledging  the dislike and confusion a lot of us feel as we are trying to make new connections through a virtual event online platform, which is so different from our preferred methods at a live event like striking up a conversation during a coffee break, meal or happy hour. Her solution? Remember the Platinum rule, a modified Golden Rule = Treat others as THEY would like to be treated. She broke down the four communication styles and gave advice for connecting with each type.

Along with Claudia’s advice, attendees connected during evening events such as the Happy Hour conducted on Zoom, which attracted a great crowd. New connections were made and fun conversation ensued.

Our beloved Dine Around was held virtually Wednesday evening during the conference. Despite a few technical hick-ups finding our groups, I enjoyed getting to know some new people, hearing them describe what they were cooking/eating that night, and just relaxing for an hour of conversations on what projects they were involved in to help our blindness field. I’m always amazed at the passion of everyone and enjoy learning more and this was a great opportunity. I was impressed that reps from our sponsors OrCam and Vanda joined us too.

I attended several of the themed Networking Lounges that were offered.  The Public Policy Networking Lounge on Wednesday was focused on – you guessed it – the election results. As you can surmise from the faces in the screenshot below, all of us were pretty stressed out from not knowing the end results, but this gave us a great way to commiserate together.

I camped out here just to listen to our Public Policy panelists continue their discussion (they had just presented shortly before the Networking Lounge opened) with Paul Schroeder, Rick Webster,  Sarah Brown and Clark Rachfal.

I attended three other networking lounges – the New CEO lounge on Tuesday and the Guide Dogs lounge and Physical Fitness lounge on Thursday – and enjoyed meeting more new people. Our partners from Leader Dogs were sharing tips about their current programs and talking to guide dog lovers who stopped in for a chat. Our new CEOs were doing a great job of networking virtually during the conference.

Ultimately, I found these virtual Zoom events allowed me the proverbial opportunity to put a face with a name, something that helps me remember new connections. It helped me feel connected to a great group of passionate people that I look forward to continuing conversations with in the coming weeks and months. I know connecting virtually is still a challenge for most of us, but I believe with patience and an adventurous spirit we can make progress.