Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rematch for a Good Cause

Full disclosure: I know about this story because it involves my second cousin, once removed. As we continue to explore social responsibility at organizations in our Giving Back series in Convene, this story reminds me that charity starts with one individual before it can spread to an organization. And also, just as the best CSR programs connect with their organization's own goals, people are most inspired to give back to causes that have touched their lives. That, and every once in a while, you can turn back the clock.

So, for the story: You need to go back to 1989, when New Jersey's No. 1 ranked high school hockey team, St. Joseph Regional (that's the team in the photo above, with my cousin Dave in the second row), made it to the state finals to play against the state's No. 2 ranked team, The Delbarton School. Just as excitement for the match was reaching a feverish pitch, it was announced on the eve of the game that it was canceled — done in by a measles outbreak at Delbarton.

Flash forward 21 years to the present — and this weekend, when nearly all (40 of the original 46) high school players from those two teams will play a reunion match. Proceeds from the event will go to three cancer charities (one in honor of one of the players' mother, who is battling brain cancer). "That was critical to making this event meaningful," one of the players, James Olsen, told The New York Times. "We're going to do some real tangible good for people who are suffering. I like the fact that people are going to use this opportunity to support a good cause."

For the full story, go to

No Business Like (Trade) Show Business

One of the blockbuster season's most anticipated movies is "Iron Man 2" -- and to help promote it, what is Marvel Studios leveraging but the power of trade shows. Marvel has created an elaborate Web site for Stark Expo 2010, an exhibition run by Stark Industries, which is the multinational company owned by the movie's hero, Tony Stark. The make-believe expo seems to be set on the grounds of the 1964 New York World's Fair in Queens, and, perhaps coincidentally, is scheduled for May 7, the very day that "Iron Man 2" opens in theaters.

Watching the trailer for "Iron Man 2," it seems that Stark Expo plays a small but pivotal role in the movie, helping establish Tony Stark's rock-star standing within his industry. The Web site includes a map of the expo grounds that mixes pavilions for fictitious Stark Industries product and systems (there's a particularly cool monorail and a space-age Port Authority) with structures devoted to some of the movie's sponsors. Hollywood calls that "product placement." We call it "partner benefits."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Face Time. It Matters. Sometimes, I Guess.

Last week, American Express Business Travel launched a new online travel management scorecard, and the results of a survey, Managing Travel in the New Normal. The 169 respondents polled for the survey are directly involved in managing corporate travel policies and budgets across 30 industries. The research sought to gauge "attitudes and actions companies have taken to scale back travel and plan for the future."

Here's one result I found especially telling: While companies have been scaling back on travel costs, many are investing in virtual meetings technologies. According to the summary:
Survey results showed that more than 40 percent of C-level executives are willing to spend on new virtual meetings technologies. This finding indicates that top decision-makers likely view the concept of virtual travel as a beneficial investment and supports the idea that companies are transitioning from targeting cost reductions to a strategy built around more thoughtful spending to connect employees.
  • 74 percent said their companies use or plan to use audio-conferencing as an alternative to travel.
  • 15 percent of respondents are currently researching broadband collaboration options.
  • 10 percent have no alternative technology strategy to replace in-person meetings.
I don't know about you, but that last bullet point raises a few questions for me. Does it mean that 90 percent do have an alternative technology strategy to replace face-to-face meetings? And how do organizations decide whether a particular meeting is best held in person or not? If face time is still considered the best way to do business, is there a matrix to determine when second best is good enough?

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Travel Promotion Act, or, Now What?

The news from this afternoon's free PCMA Webinar -- "How to Make the Travel Promotion Act Work for You!" -- was hopeful but also sobering. Hopeful because until now, "We have had to do the entirety of marketing on our own as destinations," said Webinar speaker J. Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau. The Travel Promotion Act, Perry said, "will provide for the first time unified, cohesive American branding."

But the legislation is also sobering because the situation that at least partly inspired the meetings industry to support it so strongly hasn't changed all that much. "We have a job as an industry of really convincing elected officials -- especially on the home turf, with our representatives and state senators -- of why travel matters," said Webinar speaker Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. "I think it's a darn shame that we had to fight for so long [for funding] to get people to come to the United States. But that's all a symptom of our elected officials thinking that what we do is frivolous."

What do you think? Are you expecting the Travel Promotion Act to give your meetings a boost -- especially when it comes to attracting international attendees?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Convene On Site: CGA Focus Forum

The topic at yesterday morning's Convene Green Alliance (CGA) Focus Forum, held at the Renaissance Washington, DC, Downtown Hotel, was "Raising the Game: Taking large-scale sporting events to a greener level and what it means for your convention." And while the speaker -- Michelle Travis, vice president of sales for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association -- offered a lot of fun, valuable insights based on her city's experiences hosting gigantic events like the Indianapolis 500 and (in 2012) Super Bowl XLVI, the real appeal of her session came from its small-scale approach. Attendees were sitting in rounds, and throughout her presentation, Michelle threw out "hot topic" questions about holding sustainable meetings for each small group to chew over.

Particularly interesting responses came when Michelle -- who is second from the right in the photo above, with the International Economic Development Council's Jackie Gibson, CGA Executive Director Tracey Messina, and the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association's Aaron Riggins -- asked what environmental initiatives attendees had seen at large sporting events that they might apply to their own meetings. Three possibilities: using paperless tickets (downloaded to iPhones, BlackBerrys, and other handheld devices), displaying sponsors' names on LED boards instead of banners, and offering bulk food-service items, such as ketchup from a dispenser instead of in individual packets.

These are all simple enough things to implement that maybe you're doing them already. But that's part of the appeal of going green, isn't it?


I've lived in Bergen County, N.J., for nearly 30 years, and I've never gotten used to the chlorinated taste of the tap water here. Just over on the other side of the Hudson River, New York City has great-tasting tap water, but for us in the burbs? Not so much.

Knowing the impact of bottled water on the environment (every year nearly 1.5 million barrels of oil are used to make plastic water bottles), it has bothered me that I have to buy individual water bottles for drinking for me and my family. Which is why I'm excited about my latest find: Bobble, a BPA-free water bottle made from recycled plastic, with a built-in charcoal filter. It makes my tap water taste every bit as good as bottled water. Since I can fill it up about 300 times before I have to replace the filter, that's 300 water bottles that don't end up in the recycling bin (and at under $10 a Bobble, anywhere from $70 to $300 saved). My thirst is slaked and my conscience soothed.

Since the first rule of green meetings is to eschew individual water bottles, this seems like it would make a great — and sponsorable — giveaway.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

When Thought Leaders Are Just That

Yesterday, I attended the International Association of Conference Centers' (IACC) Thought Leader Summit at Workspring in downtown Chicago. The theme of the panel discussion was "incorporating advancing technology into the meeting experience," and eight terrific panelists brought a variety of perspectives to the table.

Have you ever put together or attended a "thought leaders" session which turned out to be less than thoughtful? This was one session — Webcast live for 2010 IACC-Americas Summit
attendees — that was aptly named. It was three hours long, but when you have eight insightful people feeding off each other, the time passes quickly. And that, not surprisingly, was one of the biggest takeaways from the session: Meetings today have to be much more about collaboration than one-way content delivery.

As panelist Mark Greiner, senior VP and chief experience officer for Steelcase, said, "The reason why collaboration is coming into play so much now is that the problems are too big to solve in a cubicle. The world of work has shifted. It used to be very linear, procedural. It fit the work model. Work has evolved, so what is left are the tough problems, the creative problems that demand collaboration to create generative work, to create new knowledge."

New knowledge. The kind of thing you hope comes out of meetings and conferences, and what I got out of yesterday's session.

How Not to Win Friends and Influence Others

It's no secret that social media is big in the meetings industry, with capacity-crowd educational sessions at conferences devoted to the often amorphous topic.

What is the best use of social media? What can it do for my meeting? Who should be allowed to tweet, and when? Will it increase attendance? What are the dangers associated with having a social media presence? Or, simply, what is it?

Convene covered this topic extensively in our February issue's cover story package (which you can read here), including discussion of a higher education conference at which the tweets got downright nasty. Unfortunately, it seems that many associations and organizations have to learn things the hard way when it comes to social media.

Or you could pay attention to some high-profile social media belly flops on the part of major corporations, all of which have recently handled (sometimes poorly, sometimes skillfully) online conflagarations.

The five lessons that can be learned from social media public relations disasters, according to a recent Atlantic blog post, are:
1. Don't get defensive
2. Closely watch social networks for complaints
3. Don't stalk your customers
4. Be vigilant of how employees use social media
5. Don't insult a cohesive community
For more on this — including discussion of the companies' boneheaded moves that launched a thousand tweets — click through here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Grocery Bag Epiphany

Yesterday we put the finishing touches on the May issue of Convene, including a special section on sustainable meetings. I was struck by how, as these convention centers, hotels, and destinations continue to find innovative ways to minimize the environmental impact of meetings, they've also kept slugging away at the basics, including recycling paper and cutting energy use.

I stopped for a few items at a popular grocery store in Manhattan on my way home and pulled out the nylon shopping bag that I sometimes -- but not always -- have tucked away in my purse. "Thanks for bringing your own bag," the cashier said. "Guess how many paper bags we use a week?" she asked me. I really had no idea. "Five tons," was the answer.

I haven't been able to stop thinking about that number. Five tons of paper a week for one (granted, very busy) store just for grocery bags. It put the issue of making sustainable choices in terms that is hard for me to ignore -- and illustrated how critical it is to keep working on the sometimes unglamorous, but very neccessary, work of changing behaviour.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Convene On Site: DC Convention Center

The Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., is the same size as it ever was, but has a lot more space. It only sounds like it violates the laws of physics. Actually, the new space is the result of a recently completed retrofit project that has transformed unused and underused areas around the building into 48,000 square feet of additional meeting space. During a tour this afternoon, Washington Convention and Sports Authority President and CEO Greg O'Dell, along with Vice President of Facility Operations John Collins and Vice President of Communications and Marketing Chinyere Hubbard, took me through the results -- on what happened to be move-out day for the high-profile AIPAC Policy Conference 2010, one of the first events to take advantage of the convention center's enhancements.

Thanks to the $14-million retrofit, Walter E. Washington now boasts two glassed-in meeting rooms overlooking the building's Grand Lobby (that's Greg and John standing inside one of them in the top photo), plus a series of "skyfold walls" that deploy quietly down from the ceiling to subdivide the wide-open East and West Registration areas into as many as six more rooms (see the photo directly above). But what I saw this afternoon was ... not too much of that. The retrofit project has been integrated almost seamlessly into the existing space, meaning the Grand Lobby is still a cathedral of light and air, and the building's elegant framing and its overall sense of flow are undisturbed.

The whole project was designed to meet a need that Greg told me an increasing number of events have -- same amount of exhibit space but more educational programming, which means more breakout rooms. Not that you'd notice them at Walter E. Washington.


Friday, March 19, 2010

SXSW: Top Ten (Slightly Heretical) Networking Tips

Don't bury your face in your iPhone.

Don't be too cool to carry business cards.

Don't be too quick to ask someone to be your Facebook friend.

Speaker Thom Singer offered these and seven other tips for networking at South by Southwest (SXSW) 2010 that make for good advice for attendees at any conference.

Convene On Site: Meet Me in Hawaii

This guest post, and all the pictures contained herein, is by Convene freelance writer Jen Dienst.

It’s only day two of the Starwood-sponsored “Meet Me in Hawaii” Honolulu FAM trip and I’ve had to forcibly stop myself from gasping overwrought exclamatory adjectives every five minutes. The views — mountain-punctuated stretches of pure, sparkling turquoise — are hard to take your eyes away from and the weather — breezy, comfortably warm, and humidity-free — is perfect.

My group, a few members of the media and a handful of meeting planners, is staying at the Sheraton Waikiki, a newly renovated 1,636-room property perched on a popular stretch of Waikiki Beach. After three years and $187 million worth of upgrades, the hotel’s new pool complex, four restaurants, Spa Khakara, and revamped 45,000 square feet of meeting space are a stunning departure from the Hawaiian hotel of yesteryear — when flower prints bigger than your head and kitschy, splashy colors made your eyes sore.

Refurbished guest rooms, lobbies, and meeting spaces are outfitted in clean, dark woods, soothing neutral colors, and local artwork. Bliss amenities line the sinks (flanked by plantation shutters if you like to peek at the ocean while you get ready), while open-air lobbies and plenty of retail shops on the main floor provide a bustling hotel center.

 Fortunately the property has not lost its marks of local culture: Sustainably farmed produce from nearby farms dominate the menus at the new Kai Market and Rum Fire restaurants and traditional ukulele concerts and hula dances are daily events next to the infinity pool.

Next door, the famed 529-room Royal Hawaiian, reopened in 2009 after a $60 million renovation and rebranding, is a historic treasure with an Old World ambiance that has hosted everyone from Agatha Christie to Elizabeth Taylor. Much of the hotel’s design and architecture from its 1927 opening has been painstakingly maintained and the fun pink theme running throughout (everything from the bathrobes to the exterior are pink) makes the property an easy one to spot on busy Waikiki Beach.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Testing the Upper Limits of "There Is No Such Thing as Bad Publicity"

Above, a photo of the 2010 Philadelphia Flower Show (courtesy Flickr Creative Commons user Berrihol), which apparently isn't thrilling enough for newspaperman Steve Young.

In a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial published earlier this month, Steve Young made an impassioned (albeit tongue-in-cheek) argument for holding the upcoming Khalid Sheikh Mohammed "terror trial" at — get this — the City of Brotherly Love's Pennsylvania Convention Center. Young writes:
All [Philadelphia Mayor Michael] Nutter has to do is invite the trial to the Convention Center, home of the (yawn) Home Show, Auto Show, and Flower Show. The Mohammed Show would top them all for family entertainment.
I can't help but feel for the planners of the Home, Auto, and Flower shows. How could they hope to compete — excitement-wise, at least — with the trial of a terror mastermind?

But at least Young is thinking outside of the box — or maybe he's thought himself right off the reservation. For instance, get this suggestion:

During weekends and nights, meanwhile, there would be plenty of room for Mohammed at the abandoned 53,000-square-foot Levitz furniture showroom just off Route 95 in Levittown — a quick commute from the Convention Center. This temporary Bucks County Gitmo would be the perfect complement to Sesame Place.

A room night is a room night is a room night, after all. Young even closes out his smart-aleck editorial with a tip for the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau marketing team:

I can see the marketing campaign now: "Have your next terrorist trial here. With love, Philadelphia XOXO."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Value of Values

Fast Company has a nifty chart in its March issue, comparing Hulu and Netflix. I read it with interest — my nephews love Hulu — but it would take a lot to lure me away from Netflix. Here’s why:

In 2003, a colleague was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and took immediate medical leave for treatment. In the office, we tried to think of any and all ways we could help: James loved movies, so we signed him up for the biggest monthly package Netflix offered, so he always had a stack of new movies to watch. To our great sorrow, James succumbed to the disease seven months later. When I eventually remembered to cancel the Netflix subscription, the final statement showed that several discs had not been returned.

I couldn’t see calling James’ grieving partner to ask about the DVDs, so I called Netflix to explain why I would need to pay the replacement costs. Their reply was immediate: “Don’t worry about it,” the Netflix representative said. “We’ll take care of it. I’m very sorry for your loss.”

It was an unexpectedly kind response that came at a hard time. And from then on, I began to think about Netflix, not so much as the huge corporation that it is, but as a place where real people, with values I admire, work. Nothing — not even the occasional flurry of bad publicity — has changed my mind about the company in the years since then.

It made me curious about company policy and I wasn’t surprised when I found a slide presentation Netflix CEO and co-founder Reed Hastings created about what he calls Netflix’s “Freedom and Responsibility Culture.” The first of seven points is: “Values are What We Value.”

"Values" could be said to be the tie that binds together the stories in our new “Giving Back” series, which highlights ways that organizations and companies demonstrate their commitment to, not just the bottom line, but to the local and global community. (This month we talked to hotel chefs who had installed beehives on their properties' roofs, to simultaneously boost the bee population and harvest homegrown honey for their kitchens.)

Know of any interesting or innovative ways that individuals or organizations are giving tangible expression to the greater social good and community and sustainablity? Please share.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Saving Face

We Convene editors all work remotely from our homes, but lately we've been seeing a lot of each other -- at a sales and editorial conference in Chicago a month ago, an editorial retreat in North Jersey the week before last, and editorial closing for our April issue in Manhattan yesterday and today. We'd only been sitting around the table at our design studio for a few minutes yesterday morning when Hunter Slaton, one of our senior editors, looked up from the page-proofs stacked around him and said he wished we had more time to just talk -- because when the four of us are together, the ideas fly pretty quickly, especially when we don't have a set agenda.

This is our own version of "Face Time. It Matters." More than that, it speaks to the importance of not just face time but unstructured face time -- the kind that respects the power of serendipity, so you don't know who you're going to run into or what you're going to talk about. Do you allow for that at your meetings and conferences? And, while it sounds paradoxical, can you formally schedule it? Can you plan for unplanned experiences?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

The other night my wife and I attended a PTA fundraiser for our older daughter's elementary school, and during the course of things I got to talking to the father of one of our daughter's best friends. He's a fifth-grade teacher in our school system with a passion for math and science who runs an after-school Lego robotics club, and who has been teaching long enough that his first class of students is graduating high school this year. One of them, he said, recently visited her old grade school and told him that he was her favorite teacher and that thanks to him she was planning on studying physics or chemistry in college. Part of what she remembered so fondly was the Lego robotics club.

How did my daughter's friend's father come to start a Lego robotics club in the first place? He'd always been interested in robotics, but it was only a few years ago that he heard about a robotics-in-education conference. His principal scraped together the money for him to attend, and while he was there he met everyone from fellow elementary-school teachers to master's-level professors -- all working on the educational applications of robotics. When he got back to his school, he asked his PTA to fund a club. And that was that.

My point is this: Never doubt that what you do makes a difference. People get introduced to other people, and learn new ideas, and become inspired to do things that change other people's lives -- all at your meetings. What's better than that?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Music City Center Construction Cam

Nashville's new convention center, the Music City Center, has been a long and often politically bitter time coming — but ground has now been broken on the 1.2-million-square-foot development, which is set to open in early 2013. Music City Center, a pet project of Nashville Mayor Karl Dean for several years, will when it opens sport more than 50 meeting rooms, two ballrooms, 36 loading docks and a 350,000-square-foot exhibit hall "acoustically designed to double as a concert hall." The new convention center will even have a park-like "green roof."

This past week, according to Nashville TV station WSMV, "construction crews [began] blasting and drilling on the far side of the Country Music Hall of Fame to remove about 360,000 tons of rock before work begins on building the new convention center."

As such, convention center geeks might be interested to know that a fun "construction Web cam" is available via OxBlue Construction Camera Service. Click here to see how the new Music City Center is coming along. (Answer: Not much just yet, but there's a cool time-lapse option so you can watch the progress thus far.)

We'll all have to watch and see whether Music City Center lives up to this quote by Mayor Dean:
"Modern convention centers don’t have to be big boxes. They can be architecturally attractive buildings that fit into the fabric of a neighborhood."

All a-Twitter

JetBlue created a mob scene in Manhattan on Wednesday, when it used its Twitter account to create a sort of scavenger hunt/giveaway to celebrate its 10th anniversary. According to a CNET News article, JetBlue announced on Twitter that it would be giving out about 1,000 free round-trip tickets at three undisclosed locations in Manhattan that day.

There was a catch: In order to claim the tickets, people had to bring something with them. At the first spot, a birthday card for JetBlue; at the second, an item of blue clothing and something related to planes; and at the third, a postcard depicting the mystery 10th city out of which the carrier started operating flights.

The tickets — around 300 at each location — were gone less than 30 minutes of each Twitter announcement.

Wouldn't this — a scavenger hunt with clues and a prize, announced via Twitter — be a great way to get attendees on the trade-show floor? Or a fun way for them to explore your meeting's host city?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Signs, Signs, Everywhere There's Signs

For the last week and a half, Slate magazine has been publishing an interesting series about signs. That may sound like an oxymoronic concept, but really -- the articles are quite good, with lots of cool details about the growing importance of "wayfinding" in all sorts of environments. Including a certain type of facility with which meeting professionals just might be familiar:
Why has there been such growth in the field? One cause is the remarkable pace of economic development over the past half-century. Developed countries have been building increasingly complicated spaces -- shopping malls, multiplexes, convention centers, multi-terminal airports -- that require good navigation systems in order for people to use them. In addition, businesses and municipalities alike have realized that well-oriented people are calmer, happier, and more likely to spend money (and plan return visits) than people who are lost. Investing in a good wayfinding system has real financial rewards.
Meeting planning often means people management, which means people moving -- nicely, smoothly, and subtly, but people moving nonetheless. And that means good signage. Assuming you want attendees to get where they're going.

Lessons from 'Lost'

Jimmy Wales wasn’t at the 2010 Media Summit in NYC this week to talk about Wikipedia, the giant, user-created encyclopedia he created nearly a decade ago. Instead Wales – joined by Internet all-stars including Caterina Fake, the founder of Flickr – talked about another massive, user-generated encyclopedia, the Web site Lostpedia, and what it says about the future.

Lostpedia was created for fans of the television show “Lost,” launched in 2005 by a fan and now owned by Wales’ company Wikia. It holds (as of last month) a whopping 5,795 separate articles related to the show’s themes, cliff-hanging plot twists, characters, and digital page after digital page of “Lost” miscellanea.

The site’s popularity is a sign of the influence that user-based communities can wield on producers of content – in response, the show’s creators began to layer in more and more mysteries for online commenters to unpack.

And interestingly, pointed out panelist David Jacobs, vice president at the blogging company Six Apart, the Internet community has contributed to fans being more likely to watch the show on television when it is first aired, rather than later on DVD or by streaming. Fans don’t want to risk being left out of the online conversation, or, for that matter, of conversations at work the next day. (At Six Apart, the show is so popular the workaholic staff schedules time to discuss “Lost” on the group calendar, Jacobs said.)

It’s a lesson that conference organizers are learning: If you make your content compelling enough, online communities will not only not replace your meeting, but will dramatically increase the appetite for it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

'A Lean-Back Experience'

As a child, I used to get scolded by my mother for spending summers with my nose buried in a book, rather than outside playing.

So, Mom, today I listened to you. I took my head out of my work and went outside — of my comfort zone, that is. I spent this morning attending the TH(ink) E-Readers 2010 Summit at the Marriott Marquis in New York City. I may not own a Kindle or any of the other 50 (yes, 50) e-readers out there, but I can read the writing on the digital wall. Experts say that in the next ten years, the e-reader market will become a $25-billion business.

Books have already made the transition. We have a little ways to go before magazines migrate to e-readers (beyond offering only plain content in black-and-white type). But soon, technology will make it possible to view magazines on e-readers in color, with images, graphics, and more. To make it, as speaker John Paris, director of mobile products for Time Inc., said, less of a "lean-forward experience" (think actively searching for information on the Internet) and more of a "lean-back experience." The value of a book or magazine, he said, "is that it is a lean-back mentality. We open ourselves up to an immersive experience."

The prospect of an immersive e-reader Convene experience excites me. Maybe that's my biggest takeaway from today's summit. That, and the fact that Convene needs to be where our readers are — and to anticipate where they might be going.

March 2010 Issue: Live!

The digital edition of the March 2010 issue of Convene is now live. Click on over there for a great assortment of features and departments -- anchored by an expansive cover story that shares the results of our 19th Annual Meetings Market Survey. (A hint about its contents: The whole package is called "Ready to Turn the Corner.") Other highlights:
  • A Leading by Example interview with Fred Luskin, Ph.D., director of the Stanford Forgiveness Projects and a pioneer in exploring the healing power of forgiveness
  • Meetings We Like profiles of two cool hybrid events that blended in-person and online attendees -- from the Virtual Edge Institute and the PCMA Greater Midwest Chapter
  • An Innovative Meetings column about the Panel Picker application that Austin's legendary South by Southwest Music and Media Conference uses to solicit public input about its programming
  • Our second Giving Back column, this one about hotels and other venues that have installed beehives on their rooftops so they have a local source of fresh honey
  • A Book Excerpt from The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande -- a new title with obvious appeal for a profession that lives and dies by its to-do lists
  • A Point/Counterpoint debate around the ultimate question for the Digital Age: "Are handwritten thank-you notes still a must?"
The text-only version of March 2010 will be posted to the Convene homepage in a few more days. But why wait? And why miss out on all the pretty pictures?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Friending Eventbrite

Facebook and the online events company Eventbrite apparently are testing a feature that would allow users to create events and collect attendee fees, via Eventbrite, right from their Facebook pages. Eventbrite would send users a check after the event, minus a service charge.

The rapidly growing Eventbrite could be a game-changer, particularly for smaller meetings and events. The online events company doesn't charge a fee to list free events, and offers a wide range of high-octane marketing and communication tools. And, as Eventbrite co-founder and president Julia Hartz told Wired last December, their focus is very broad:

"We’re not afraid of [the larger venue market], but it’s just a slice of the pie ... There’s so much else in the pie — classes, conferences, trainings, and those smaller venues, fairs and festivals that are directly in our wheelhouse right now, and we’re also really excited about the enabling and the empowering of those who aren’t [currently] using anything [to ticket their events]. You asked about our competition — it’s actually ‘nothing,’ because it’s people who are still using Excel and e-mail, with invites and checks."

The move also would knit the San Francisco-based Eventbrite and Facebook more closely together: Eventbrite already offers attendees the ability to send messages to social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter, when they register for an event.

Event Management 101: The Oscars

Cheryl Cecchetto, who for the last 21 years has produced the Governors Ball that follows the Academy Awards, has an approach to managing guests that will be familiar to any meeting professional who has faced crowds of hungry, thirsty, seat-sprung attendees. From the Los Angeles Times:
Starting with the basics, Cecchetto knows to get a drink in guests' hands right away because "they need to be doing something -- it makes them more comfortable." There should be quiet music in the background because complete quiet makes people uncomfortable. And the food should be immediately available for the hungry hordes who've been sitting at the award show for at least three hours, and very likely four. The party planner has commissioned 30 banquettes for the evening at which the expected 1,500 guests can gather and get conversations flowing.
I should stress: I do not think that meeting planning is just another form of party planning. But crowd control is crowd control. And tell me this doesn't bring to mind images of your general session letting out, or the cocktail reception before your awards dinner getting underway.

Monday, March 8, 2010

King Content

Late last week, I attended an evening presentation event at an art space and performance venue in Brooklyn, New York. (The name of the event will be kept anonymous, in order to protect the innocent from the diatribe that follows.)

The format for this ongoing series of "talks," in disciplines including technology, business, and the arts, was very similar to something called "Pecha Kucha" (pronounced "pe-chak-cha"), a quick-draw presentation format created by a pair of architects in Tokyo in 2003.

The conceit for Pecha Kucha is this: You only get 20 slides, and each slide auto-advances after 20 seconds. That's a total of 400 seconds, or six and two-thirds minutes for each presentation. The Brooklyn event was roughly the same, although each slide was only given 15 seconds on the screen.

Twelve presentations, five minutes each, on a host of topics, from socially responsible iPhone apps to orchestral transcriptions of rock and pop songs. Sounds like a can't-miss, edutaining (that's educational + entertaining, for those who were wondering) event, does it not?

Unfortunately, it was not.

The problem wasn't the format, which was clever and hip and managed to draw a capacity crowd of attendees, each of whom shelled out $10 to be there and were clearly excited for the evening.

Rather, the problem was the content, which variously seemed schizophrenically slapdash, criminally undercooked, blatantly self-promotional, and, well — just boring.

Surprisingly, not many in the audience chose to bail on the proceedings — but perhaps this is more a result of the principle by which very few people ever walk out of movies. "Sure, it's bad," you think, "but I've already invested so much time in it!"

It was easy to discern, however, that the crowd's enthusiasm, which at the beginning of the evening had been high and festive, wavered and sputtered. They didn't leave, but I'd wager dollars to donuts that they'll think twice before coming back.

So what does all this tell us, in the age of social media, Web 3.0, advanced production design, and cutting-edge presentation formats?

It tells us that content — not format — is and will remain king. No matter how hip or cutting-edge an event's packaging might be, if the speakers you feature are duds, your audience won't be coming back.

Your attendees are adults, with (hopefully) an adult's ability to discern what is smoke and mirrors and what is the real educational deal — so be sure your format and your speakers are thoroughly vetted, well-versed in their chosen topic, and prepared and practiced.

In short, make sure that they are worthy of your attendees' valuable time.

Notes From a Retreat

Even (especially?) editors who write about other people's meetings need to hold meetings of their own, and so it was that Convene's editorial team gathered at Editor in Chief Michelle Russell's cozy home in northern New Jersey for a two-day retreat last week. A few observations:
  • Retreating is a lot like house painting: It's all about the prep work. We four editors -- Michelle and I, along with Senior Editors Barbara Palmer and Hunter Slaton -- had participated in a joint sales and editorial retreat in Chicago a few weeks before, and we reviewed the action items and other notes from that in advance of our own meeting. That helped us shape some big important questions about our editorial mix. Each of us also went magazine shopping before the retreat, and brought to Michelle's house those publications that most spoke to us for a little glossy, four-color show-and-tell. All of this pre-brainstorming really helped focus our efforts at the retreat, because it felt like we'd already figured out what we didn't want to talk about.
  • The best ideas come from nowhere: Or, they don't come from where you expect them to. We ended up with a few great ideas for new feature articles and departments when we were talking about something else completely, because something somebody said made us double or triple back on a topic we thought we'd covered. It definitely made me realize, for about the 53rd time, that the true power of face-to-face meetings is serendipity. You simply don't now who you're going to meet and what you're going to talk about until you're there.
  • Kenny Rogers was right: You got to know when to fold 'em. The first day of our retreat was more like a half-day -- we started after lunch and went until dinner, and it was tremendously productive. The next day, we started right after breakfast, broke for lunch, and went through late afternoon. And while that was also productive, in retrospect I think we stayed at it for an hour or two longer than we should have. We'd already accomplished a lot, and by the end we were tired and less focused. Next time I'd be inclined to plot out our schedule for the day, then preemptively lop off the last segment.
I'm sure these are all things that experienced meeting planners know. But until I get my CMP, I'll have to keep figuring them out for myself. Or, better still, I'll keep doing what editors do -- interviewing people who know more than I do, and passing off their knowledge as my own.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Slideshow Experience

My sister just finished a two-day spiritual retreat for women. I was invited to attend the closing ceremony last night. Throughout the retreat, a photographer had taken photos of the goings-on (skits, exercises, talks, group discussion) and they were displayed on a big screen in a continuous loop in the school gym where the after-ceremony social was held. It was clear that the photographer was sensitive to the private nature of the experience (it was, after all, a retreat) and had only captured its lighter moments.

It was a great way for us to get a glimpse into how our mother, daughter, wife, friend — or in my case, sister — had spent the past two days and to see firsthand how bonds grew during that shared emotional journey.

The slideshow reinforced for me how it's expected that every get-together will be captured with digital images. Facebook has ushered in an era of rampant photo-sharing. We have a professional photographer at PCMA's Annual Meeting for the print dailies and encourage our attendees to take photos and post them to a flickr page.

When it comes to events, I say the more photos, the better.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Finding Your Deadheads

A few issues ago, our Point/Counterpoint department considered the question of how accessible you should make your meeting content to people who don't physically attend. One of our contributors, Wired magazine Editor in Chief Chris Anderson, used the TED conference as an example of a successful model for letting everyone and anyone see your content for free. He wrote:
Streaming content online isn't the same as being there. Watching the presentations is only part of the experience; an equal part is mingling with other attendees, who are often of the same caliber as those on stage. Come for the talks, stay for the hallway conversations.
But TED isn't the first group to figure this out. According to an article in the current issue of The Atlantic, the Grateful Dead -- yes, that Grateful Dead -- had a surprisingly sophisticated sense of how to create demand and how to grow a loyal fanbase:
In the late 1980s, Rebecca G. Adams, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who studies friendships formed across distances, noticed deep bonds between Deadheads. The bonds seemed to belie the idea, then popular among leading social thinkers, that communities based on common interest, whose members do not live near each other, lack emotional and moral depth -- that Deadheads might belong to what sociologists call a "lifestyle enclave," but couldn't possibly form meaningful relationships. ...

... Without intending to -- while intending, in fact, to do just the opposite -- the band pioneered ideas and practices that were subsequently embraced by corporate America. One was to focus intensely on its most loyal fans. It established a telephone hotline to alert them to its touring schedule ahead of any public announcement, reserved for them some of the best seats in the house, and capped the price of tickets, which the band distributed through its own mail-order house. ... They famously permitted fans to tape their shows, ceding a major revenue source in potential record sales. According to [Nova Southeastern University business professor Barry] Barnes, the decision was not entirely selfless: it reflected a shrewd assessment that tape sharing would widen their audience, a ban would be unenforceable, and anyone inclined to tape a show would probably spend money elsewhere, such as on merchandise or tickets.
Does your organization have its own Deadheads -- devoted members and other industry professionals who will show up at your events no matter what or where? If so, what are you doing to share the love with them? And how are you luring new Deadheads to the long strange trip of your meetings experience?

Temple Grandin: 'Light the Spark'

In the July 2009 issue, Executive Editor Chris Durso profiled 62-year-old Temple Grandin, who was diagnosed with autism as a child and credits her thinking style with her success in designing more humane cattle handling systems. Reread that interview first, and then go listen to Dr. Grandin's recently posted talk from the 2010 TED Conference in Long Beach. Among other things, Grandin talked about thinking styles, motivation and learning, mentors, and manners.

"The world is going to need all of the different kinds of minds to work together," Grandin said at TED. One of the things that drive her crazy, as she travels around the country speaking at autism meetings, is that no one seems to know how to engage students with different kinds of thinking styles, she said. "You've got to show kids interesting stuff to get them turned on. Light the spark."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Year of the Corporate Planner?

Could 2010 turn out to be the year of the corporate planner at PCMA? In a recent interview with Convene's editor in chief, PCMA's new chairperson Kati Quigley — the association's first chair from the corporate world, in her role as event marketing director for Microsoft — described some of the ways in which corporate and association planning are in many ways kith and kin:
The events and the meetings are very similar. Our shows [at Microsoft] contain the same components: We’ve got keynotes, breakouts, content tracks, exhibitors, F&B functions, registration. Really, an event is an event; it’s the same discipline.
Case in point, see this interview with Arthur Paton, senior learning officer for Motorola University. Paton will be a presenter at the Chief Learning Officer Summit 2010, held this coming April 11–13 at the Château Élan Winery & Resort in Braselton, Georgia. What part of Paton's observation about trends in corporate learning cannot said to be applicable to association planners?
The demographics in most companies are changing rapidly — the workforce is becoming more diverse and younger, and these individuals have different modes of learning. Many come from cultures that are more communal in learning. Therefore, we believe that social networking tools will continue to be a primary delivery methodology. The challenge for CLOs is that learning will need to be repurposed or packaged into smaller nuggets for this new environment. Think of a Google search when you need an answer to a question — this new demographic is going to expect learning to operate like that.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but this sounds just like what's happening as more and more members of Generation Y start to join associations and show up at annual meetings.

Your thoughts? Weigh in via the comments function. (Note that thoughtful responses could well show up in a future print issue of Convene.)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Turismo Chile: Earthquake Update 2

Turismo Chile has issued another update on the state of its tourism infrastructure after Saturday's massive earthquake. (Read yesterday's update here.)


March 2, 2010 – Following the magnitude 8.8 quake that hit central Chile in the early morning hours of Saturday February 27, 2010, Santiago International Airport suffered structural damage to the passenger terminal. No damage was reported to the runways and taxiways. All incoming and departing flight operations were suspended until authorities evaluated the situation in order to guarantee maximum safety for passengers. Turismo Chile would like to communicate the latest update regarding operations at Santiago International Airport provided by the airport authority, SCL Aeropuerto de Santiago, on March 2, 2010, following a meeting with Chile’s National Civil Aviation Authority and airlines operating at the airport.

Flight operations will resume in two phases:

Phase 1 – March 2 to 5, 2010 - Domestic flights will gradually resume operations with a limited schedule between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and international flights also with a limited schedule will be operating between and 8 a.m. A temporary makeshift terminal has been set up in tents in order to process departing passengers. All arriving international flights during this period will stopover in another Chilean city prior to landing in Santiago in order for passengers to clear Chilean customs and immigration formalities.

Phase 2 – March 5th onward - Domestic and international flights will be operating 24 hours. All domestic flight arrivals and departures will be operating out of a makeshift terminal set up in tents located to the east of the airport’s old terminal. International flight departures will move to the domestic flights sector of the current terminal. International arriving passengers will clear Chilean customs and immigration formalities in a makeshift facility set up in tents to the west of the current terminal.

All passengers should contact their airline for updated information on flight schedules and changes.

US and Canadian tour operators and media requiring additional information or assistance can contact Turismo Chile at

They Had Me At the Blue-Fur Hats ...

On March 5, four of five volunteer organizers of last month’s groundbreaking Event Camp NYC will give a behind-the-scenes look at how they pulled it off, in the free PCMA webinar, “Engaging Attendees Today: How to Combine Virtual and Face-To-Face Meetings,” at noon CST. (PCMA was an event sponsor.) If you missed the event, or the online conversation about it, it was a smashing success, from start to finish. (The “unconference” was born on Twitter; co-organizer Mike McCurry tells the story here.) The 70+ participants were engaged right off the bat, in a kind of communal state of flow which lasted all day. And its extensive virtual audience was no clumsy add-on, but incorporated as a seamless part of the conversation.

I was lucky enough to be there in person and two things stood out for me. One was the attention that organizers gave to providing relevant content to attendees. The schedule was created with online input from registrants, and was adjusted throughout the day, according to attendee interest. That kind of active listening also permeated the way that speakers and moderators related to the audience. You could just see that they cared.

And, two, in their efforts to create a truly innovative event, they didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. They kept track of the basics, like breaking the ice and paying attention to pacing. By an online vote, attendees decreed that the conference should begin with the founders wearing blue-fur, horned hats, copies of the one that Fred Flintstone wore on lodge night (Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes Lodge 26). It made everyone laugh and relax, and organizers hauled them out again to close out the day. By wearing the hats, organizers made themselves a little goofy and very likeable — and instantly created a shared group experience.

The registration fee was very low – only $75 — and I wasn’t expecting entertainment at lunch, much less the excellence of The Three Waiters, a trio of comic opera singers. We happily would have blazed through lunch talking about events and social media, but the music gave our brains a chance to cruise along a different track. The whole day was like that – filled with surprises as well as structure.

If I had a blue-fur, horned hat, it would be off to the organizers. Don’t miss the webinar, on Friday, March 5.

As the White House Turns

Meeting professionals are used to being invisible at their own events -- and most of the ones I've met and worked with seem to prefer it that way. So it's not surprising to learn that, after White House social secretary Desiree Rogers drew criticism for seeming too comfortable in the spotlight, the woman who is replacing her -- Julianna Smoot -- has a reputation for maintaining a lower profile. From today's Washington Post:
Perhaps the most obvious superficial difference between the outgoing and incoming social secretaries is one of culture and style: Where Rogers was high-profile and glamorous, Smoot is low-key and a more conventional political operative. A 2007 Washington Post profile described her as having "a blend of Southern charm and brash straight talk." And where Rogers appreciated the power of the limelight, Smoot has a better understanding of the no-drama Obama ethos, several Democratic officials said.
It makes me wonder if there's ever a public role for meeting professionals to play at their events. Or is meeting and event planning strictly a backstage job?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Turismo Chile: Earthquake Update

In the wake of Saturday's magnitude-8.8 earthquake, Turismo Chile today issued a press release reviewing how the country's tourism infrastructure has been affected:


Monday March 1, 2010 - Chile suffered an 8.8 quake in the early morning hours of Saturday February 27, 2010. The cities closest to the epicenter, including Concepcion, Talcahuano and Temuco as well as a number of small towns along Chile’s central coast were most affected by the quake.

The five different tourism regions promoted by Turismo Chile are reporting the following updates:

Desert – The north of Chile was not affected by the quake and has not reported any damage.

Easter Island – Easter Island, which lies 2,300 miles off the cost of mainland Chile, a 5.5-hour flight from Santiago, was not affected by the quake. Initial tsunami warnings have been lifted and all operations are normal.

Santiago and Central Region - Santiago’s airport suffered structural damage to the passenger terminal, however no damage was reported to the runways and the airport is expected to reopen later this week. Electricity and phone lines have been restored in Santiago and the city’s public transportation including its metro is fully operational. Valparaiso and Viña del Mar have also reported damage. The annual Viña del Mar International Music festival which was underway has been suspended.

Lakes and Volcanoes – The northern part of the Lakes and Volcanoes region, around the city of Concepcion and the Bio Bio River, was most affected by the quake. Authorities are still working on assessing the full damage. Basic essential services including water, electricity, and telecommunications are gradually being restored. The southern part of the Lakes and Volcanoes region was not affected by the quake. Operations in popular tourist towns including Pucon, Puerto Varas, and Puerto Montt are normal.

Patagonia – The far south of the country was not affected by the quake and has not reported any damage.

Chile is a country with a history of seismic activity. The country’s preparedness, including its strict anti-seismic building codes, the rapid emergency response from the government, as well as the help from a number of organizations can be credited for managing the situation and help minimize the damage. The country’s tourism infrastructure has, overall, fared well, reporting little damage.

"Our thoughts and sentiments go out to the families who have lost loved ones," said Pablo Moll, executive director of Turismo Chile. "Chileans are a resilient people and we are hard at work to get the country back on its feet quickly. We look forward to continuing to welcome travelers and are making every effort to making them feel safe and secure."

US and Canadian tour operators and media requiring additional information or assistance can contact Turismo Chile at

Some Canadian Humor

I love how the technical failure during the 2010 Olympics Opening Ceremony was parodied in the Closing Ceremony last night. A clown electrician raised the fourth cauldron which had failed to come up from the floor opening night. And Catriona Le May Doan, who had awkwardly waited for it to come up the first time around, finally got her chance to light it.

As meetings and events increasingly rely on big production effects to wow and energize attendees, hopefully we can take a cue from the folks in Vancouver: When technology fails you, be the first to poke some fun at yourself.