Friday, February 26, 2010

You Are What You Eat -- and Where You Meet

In an e-mail exchange earlier today, my boss -- Convene's talented and glamorous Editor in Chief, Michelle Russell -- ended up asking, "Chris, is it always about you and your stomach?" And I told her the truth: Yes. It is always about me and my stomach.

Which perhaps is why my chief takeaway from Wednesday night's elegant Destination & Travel Foundation Dinner & Dream Auction at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center was a cameo appearance by Ben's Chili Bowl, a D.C. institution and temple of gastronomy. The D&T Foundation honored the Travel Channel with its Spirit of Hospitality Award, and part of the show was a clip from an episode of Travel Channel's "Man v. Food" show in which host Adam Richman visited Ben's -- with Washington and Sports Authority President and CEO Greg O'Dell and Destination DC President and CEO Elliott Ferguson spliced in so that it seemed they were sitting at the counter, knoshing on chili dogs, during Richman's segment. It was a smart gag, allowing two of the evening's hosts to pay tribute to both the honoree and their own city.

I'm joking about always thinking with my stomach, but only to a point. Because I do think that for many people -- and lots of meeting attendees -- destination is culture, and culture is food. And when you're visiting Washington, D.C., in addition to world-class restaurants, that means a transcendental chili half-smoke.

PHOTO: Courtesy Ben's Chili Bowl

Work Into Play

It was on my calendar Monday to log into Virtual Edge 2010 to hear Stanford professor Byron Reeves talk about how online computer games will revolutionize work and make meetings more engaging. (Reeves has a thesis that’s hard not to like: “Play is not the opposite of work.”)

I also wanted to listen in on as a panel of experts talked about what has changed in the hybrid-events world since last spring. (Skeptics move over, one said. We are now in the knowledge-building part of the game.)

But when Reeves began to speak, I was on an important call with my boss. And during my second session pick, a source called me back with information about a story I was working on, so I missed the panel introductions.

Enter what I like to think of as TIVO for conferences. Virtual Edge Summit has made the entire conference available online, so I could go back and re-watch the portions of those sessions I missed. And drop in virtually on a couple of others. It’s not new technology, but it was a new experience for me to have a virtual conference feel so comfortable.

Thanks to Twitter, I now feel part of a larger community in the hybrid-event world. I read and tweeted on the conference backchannel during the panel (#VE10) — and seeing familiar Twitter handles pop up felt a lot like seeing familiar faces. Reeves' research at Stanford bears that out: when people engage in collaborative online games, their neurons fire in ways very similar to the way that neurons fire during face-to-face encounters.

It was fun and that — as Reeves said — leads to engagement. Putting people into environments that capitalize on emotional engagement and fun experiences can be drivers of serious business.

The Virtual Edge Summit wasn’t seamless: there were some bumps, particularly when we virtual attendees first tried to log in. But it’s easy to see why this particular conference grew by 50 percent in face-to-face attendance over last year, and many more times that in virtual participation.

Why We're Excited About Going Mobile

Those of us on the Convene team straddle two industries: media and meetings. We can't do our best by readers unless we're continually in the know about both. Technology is quickly changing the way the meetings industry works, yes, but its impact on media and print is nothing less than huge.

A recent article in Forbes solidified for me — albeit on a grand scale — why it's important that the digital version of Convene is now accessible on Apple mobile devices (and in the works for those of us with CrackBerries):
Through mobile devices, the Internet is now becoming the "system of communication" needed to truly connect the entire world. Two-thirds of the world's population now uses mobile phones, with the strongest growth in developing countries. We are connected to the wider Web and to each other in ways never before imaginable, and the size of that market, combined with the low cost of immediate global distribution, means there have never been greater opportunities for media businesses, especially those that are able to apply the lessons of history toward understanding how to prepare for the future.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

We're (Now) a Mac. Are You?

Apple-loving meeting planners will be pleased to hear that PCMA and Convene magazine have just released a brand-new mobile version of Convene's digital edition for the iPhone and iPod Touch (and, when it's released in late March, Apple's new tablet computer, the iPad).*

“I’m happy we’re able to continue to offer an increasing number of ways to make it easy for our readers to access and engage with Convene content,” said Editor in Chief Michelle Russell. “Whether it’s with our blog or this new mobile site, we are delivering content how, when, and where people want it.”

IPhone and iPod Touch users can access the new mobile digital edition by pointing their mini-browsers to (For more information about this initiative, see the PCMA press release at

* Fear not, BlackBerry addicts! A mobile digital edition of Convene is under development for you, too.

Live From Washington, D.C.

President Obama's Bipartisan Meeting on Health Reform is happening from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the White House today. It's being covered live on all the cable-news networks, and also streaming live on the White House's Web site. Which is amazing, for all the usual reasons -- giving ordinary people a prolonged look at government in action -- but it also lends the event an element of performance that seems to position it somewhere between Important National Conversation and Political Kabuki Theater.

Or is that unkind? How do you manage particularly sensitive discussions at your meetings? Is it better to be as inclusive as possible and thereby involve as much of your community as you can, or to limit access and thereby create a more intimate, genuine conversation?

P.S. Yes, this is my second post in a row that links to the White House. What can I say? I live inside the Beltway, and sometimes that narrows your perspective.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

More Is Less

As conventional wisdom would have it, less is more — and, as the managing editor for PCMag Mobile discovered at a recent product launch for a new smartphone, more can also be much less.

"Trust me," writes Sascha Segan, before getting down to details about the phone itself, "you want to hear about the insanity first." He continues to set the scene for the schizophrenic launch of the Samsung Wave:
I have my limits for a tech product event. Getting us to come to a darkened, secondary convention center in a suburb of Barcelona was fine. And when we were ushered into a room the size of half a soccer field, with a catwalk stretching down the center and four full-screen "video walls" showing ocean scenes all around us, I was still on board.

But then the MC came out, an overenthusiastic (and apparently totally unironic) Brit named Jake who declared that this was "Samsung Unpacked Episode 1: Into The New Wave." I started to think of Jar-Jar Binks.

For more on this misadventure in the world of product launch event planning — including aquatic metaphors strained to the point of breaking, interpretive dancers, and the "Spirit of Bada," whatever that is — click here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

President Obama: 'I love Vegas!'

Is it time to declare victory in the war against the AIG Effect? A major battle was won on Friday when President Obama stood before the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority and the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and said:

Now, before I go any further, let me set the record straight: I love Vegas! (Applause.) There you go. Always have. Love Vegas. (Laughter.) Enjoy myself every time I've gotten an opportunity to visit. In fact, just last night, I drew a flush on the river and cut the budget deficit in half. (Laughter.) Some of you know I can play some poker. (Laughter.)

Now, I did receive a little bit of heat, I know, from maybe some in this room, when I said that folks shouldn't blow their college savings in Vegas. That doesn't mean I don't love Vegas. It wasn't meant to be a shot. I think everybody here would agree that the only place where people should spend their college savings is in college. (Applause.) There's no contradiction there.

But, look, I understand how hard things have been here. In the worst economic turmoil that we've faced in generations, Las Vegas has been at the eye of the storm. When the economy suffers, the tourism industry is deeply affected; in fact, you've seen perhaps the steepest drop in tourism in the state's history. And I know things are starting to bounce back, but it's been tough going. When folks are hurting and don't have the money to spend on a night out or a weekend getaway, that hurts the broader economy as well. So what happens in Vegas reflects what's happening across America.

Outstanding. Now we just need someone to develop a foolproof, universally accepted equation for calculating and communicating ROI for events.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Olympic Backstage Passes

Tourism Vancouver CEO Rick Antonson is giving planners a daily "mistakes and all" peek behind the scenes at the Olympic Winter Games, on a video blog created especially for planners. We talked previously to Antonson about the city's record-setting sustainability initiatives -- to receive the video blog, subscribe to

Friday, February 12, 2010

Vancouver goes for Gold, wins Platinum

In our February issue, Convene wrote about the historic inclusion of Canada’s First Nations as hosts of the Games. The city has made history again: this week, the Vancouver Convention Centre -- site of the International Media Centre where 10,000+ media will be located during the Games -- became the first convention center in the world to earn the LEED Platinum Rating.

Sustainability will be one of the legacies of the games, said Rick Antonson, president and CEO of Tourism Vancouver “There is no pride in being part of an event that creates immense clutter and garbage when massive portions of it could be recycled or not created in the first place,” he said.

“Conferences and events have a long history of leaving this downside, and leadership in the convention and meetings businesses in more recent years has rightly taken to the task of reversing that damage. Staging something like the Olympics requires more that a philosophy of environmental responsibility; it requires action.”

In Vancouver, that includes a recycling ethos that addresses everything from home garbage pickup to every hotel room. And its new (now platinum) convention centre, where every aspect of its construction, from its living roof to its use of recycled rain water has been considered from the viewpoint of sustainability.

The city also has reduced its corporate emissions for its own operations and facilities by an impressive 33 per cent below 1990 levels – which is 13 percent more than it had targeted. The city of Vancouver aims to be carbon neutral in its own operations and facilities by 2012 and is establishing 2,010 new garden plots as a legacy of the Games.

None of the athletes gathering in Vancouver trained to win a bronze medal — and neither has the city, Antonson added. When the Games leave town “what we will have left will be our reputation,” he said. “Every aspect of what we do, every service -- from taxis to restaurants, from retail to volunteers -- needs to be of the gold standard.”