Friday, April 30, 2010

World Party

Opening tomorrow (or, as they call it in China, today): Expo 2010 Shanghai China, which involves more than 190 countries and is expected to draw 70 million attendees during its run from May 1 to Oct. 31, making it the largest World Expo in history. Expo 2010's theme -- "Better City, Better Life" -- "represents a central concern of the international community for future policy making, urban strategies and sustainable development. ... Through different sub-themes, Expo 2010 will create blueprints for future cities and harmonious urban lifestyles providing an extraordinary educational and entertaining platform for visitors of all nations."

That's the China Pavilion pictured above. The magnificent red structure at the center is called "The Crown of the East," and was built in the dougong style, which uses interlocking wooden brackets, and which dates back more than 2,000 years. So perhaps when it comes to imagining the city of tomorrow, yesterday is just as important as today.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Convene Reads: Setting the Table

I’ve been meaning to read NYC restaurateur Danny Meyer’s 2006 book Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business for months. And now that I’ve finally picked it up, I can hardly put it back down.

The story of how Meyer built one of the most successful restaurant organizations in the country from scratch makes for compelling reading. Refreshingly, Meyer doesn’t paint himself as a genius or a saint: he tells about the time he got into a fistfight with a customer at his first restaurant (he was overworked and underfed), and admits that he spilled a glass of wine all over actress Mariel Hemingway because he was ogling her cleavage.

But it’s when Meyer talks about things like how he prioritizes business stakeholders that things get really interesting. (Seriously.)

Meyer names five primary stakeholders to which the company offers “the most caring hospitality,” and ranks them in this order: 1) employees 2) guests 3) community 4) suppliers and, finally, 5) investors.

That employees come first, even ahead of customers, in such a service-oriented field frankly surprised me a little. But as Meyer explains, his restaurants can only earn raves and customer loyalty if employees are jazzed about coming to work.
Well before our staff members can extend any kind of meaningful hospitality to our guests, they need to first understand the primary importance of being on each other’s side. Mutual respect and trust are the most powerful tools for building an energetic, motivated, winning team in any field. And the most talented employees are often those attracted to companies that can provide them with the most important job benefit of all: other great people with whom to work.
There’s so much to chew on in Setting the Table, I’m going to bring more of it to you over the next couple of weeks. In courses, so to speak.

Next up: Why reaching out to the community is in a company’s best interest.

Tech10, Take Two

ASAE has just announced that its 2010 Technology Conference & Expo (Tech10) -- which was snowed out in February -- has been rescheduled for Dec. 13-15 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. Based on feedback from the association technology community after the original Tech10 was canceled, ASAE decided to move the event "from the January/February timeframe to a November/December timeframe."

One positive aspect of the first Tech10's cancelation: It gave rise, immediately and spontaneously, to UnTech10. Read all about it in our April issue: digital version here, registration required; text-only version here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Substance and Style

One of the things that make meetings and conferences so interesting to write about is their multifaceted nature -- combining elements of education, performance, governance, hospitality, travel, commerce, and so on into one event. The Washington Post agrees with me. Or, at least, that's my interpretation of a recent package of articles in which the Post's fashion, pop-music, dance, theater, and classical-music critics offered advice to Julianna Smoot, the White House's new social secretary. Why? Because, like meetings and conferences, presidential events (including last November's state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, pictured above) are a sophisticated blend of substance and style, their character and content shaped not just by who attends and what they talk about, but also by the clothes they wear and dozens of other verbal, visual, and subliminal cues.

In a thoughtful essay on what Smoot might learn from the fashion industry, the Post's Robin Givhan wrote:
What if White House staffers swore off tuxedos at the next dinner? What if they wore something more surprising? Or more casual?

If the White House is charged with celebrating the best of American culture, why not use designers' skills to ensure that every detail of an event speaks to our contemporary style?
That's a question for meeting professionals, too. Do you consciously use dress codes, music, production design, etc. to communicate a specific message about your organization and your event? Or are those things simply about making sure that everyone has a good time?

PHOTO: Lawrence Jackson / The White House

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

'A Large Source of Visitors and Revenue'

In response to Arizona's controversial new immigration law, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) has called for an economic boycott of the Grand Canyon State -- especially as a meeting destination. Grijalva said in a statement:
We are calling on organizations not to schedule conventions or conferences in the state until it reverses this decision. This is a specifically targeted call for action, not a blanket rejection of the state economy. Conventions are a large source of visitors and revenue, and targeting them is the most effective way to make this point before it's too late.
Well, if anyone still needs a reminder that meetings mean business, there it is. As Steve Moore, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau, tells Convene: "This issue clearly demonstrates the volatility of the convention and visitor industry. In this economy, it is more important than ever that we do everything we can to attract visitors to Arizona, not discourage them. Like conventions, visitors also have choices, and we will never know the full impact critical issues have on those choices."

Indeed, I can't help but wonder if meeting professionals should be, well, flattered. Because look at the economic and political muscle their conferences and conventions are perceived to have! But as a matter of policy, does Grijalva's idea make sense? Would it send a clear, powerful message, and garner the results that Grijalva is seeking? Or is it likely to do more harm than good, possibly opening the Pandora's box of unintended consequences?

Banning Bullets

"PowerPoint makes us stupid."

That's Gen. James N. Mattis, Joint Forces commander speaking at a North Carolina military conference, as reported by The New York Times.

Another leader, Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster, went so far as to ban PowerPoint in his campaigns:
“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in an interview. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”
That the military can become mired in bureaucratic, inefficient systems isn't exactly new news, of course. What is fascinating to consider are the alternatives to "Death by PowerPoint."

How can we best and most efficiently pass along complex information?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Coffee Talk

This morning I had coffee with a mom from my older daughter's elementary school -- someone I've seen at drop-off and pick-up more or less every day for the last two years, and maybe greeted with a smile or a wave, but otherwise didn't know anything about. But a week or two ago, we started talking while we waited for a red light to turn green, and it wasn't long before we realized we had something in common besides our neighborhood school. Yes, that's right: meetings.

The mom, Sherri, is a meeting planner by profession, preparing to rejoin the workforce after spending seven years at home with her two little girls. When she found out what I did, she suggested we get together so she could pick my brain about the latest trends and other developments in the industry. (That sound you hear is my boss, the talented and glamorous Michelle Russell, guffawing over the idea of me passing myself off as some sort of expert.) And that's how we found ourselves sitting down over coffee this morning, talking about Web 2.0 and 3.0, the AIG Effect, ROI, and everything else I usually try to keep to myself when I'm meeting people for the first time. It was a nice time -- a real back-and-forth conversation, with tangents and surprises and, on both sides of the table, lattes.

Close readers of this blog might have figured out that I like to write about the power of meetings. And I suppose this morning's coffee talk demonstrated that yet again -- the pervasiveness of meeting planning as a profession, the importance of face time, etc. But I think it's also an example of something else I've blogged about -- the role that serendipity plays, intangible but undeniable, whenever you meet with someone in the flesh. I mean, I wouldn't have had coffee with Sherri today if that traffic light hadn't turned red and kept the two of us from crossing the street after we dropped off our daughters a few weeks ago.

'Get Rid of the Crappy Stuff'

Now here's a meeting I wished I could have sat in on: Fast Company's Innovation Uncensored conference, held last Wednesday in New York City. According to Fast Company, "it was a tough ticket to score," but the magazine is offering highlights of the conference throughout this week. The first installment is a fun bit of advice Apple CEO Steve Jobs once shared with Nike President and CEO Mark Parker.

And I'm loving the fact that the water bottles on the table at this conference are the same ones I blogged about here last month.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Not to Kick an Industry While
It's Down, but Come On

You'd think Wall Street would have a bit more sense, given that legislation regarding its regulation — including that of derivatives, a potentially risky financial instrument which Wikipedia says "can be thought of as bets on the price of something" — is currently, if contentiously, working its way through Congress; but, according to this story in Friday's New York Times, describing a recent International Swaps and Derivatives Association conference held in San Francisco, not so much:

By Thursday night [conference attendees] needed to put out of their minds the specter of sweeping legislation to regulate the derivatives.

They escaped to Supperclub, a bar and restaurant, where some plopped on the beds that covered the floor while a waiter in denim short shorts, suspenders and a scarf delivered drinks. The truly relaxed turned over on their tummies and received back massages from a dreadlocked member of the Supperclub staff.

By midnight, others ended up in the S & M chamber with a bed-to-ceiling stripper pole and videos of dominatrixes playing in the background.

Oy vey.

Notwithstanding the ongoing controversy within the financial industry and the federal government regarding the practice of derivatives trading, what do meeting planners think about the choice of venue for this conference's evening event? What guidelines do you use to decide whether or not an off-site event is appropriate? Does it depend on the city — i.e., would what flies in San Francisco seem inappropriate in, say, Kansas City?

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Nice Thing About Meetings Is ...

Do face-to-face meetings make people nicer? That's one way of looking at an article about the frequently vicious nature of anonymous Internet comments that was published in The New York Times the other day. What really jumped out at me was a quote from Kathleen Taylor, author of Cruelty: Human Evil and the Human Brain:
"We're evolved to be face-to-face creatures. We developed to have constant feedback from others, telling us if it was O.K. to be saying what we're saying. On the Internet, you get nothing, no body language, no gesture. So you get this feeling of unlimited power because there is nothing stopping you, no instant feedback."
It's similar to what Richard D. Arvey, Ph.D., head of the Department of Management and Organization at the National University of Singapore, wrote in a recent Point/Counterpoint column for Convene about whether virtual events are an acceptable substitute for face-to-face meetings (digital version here, registration required; text-only version here):
Real-time, face-to-face interactions also allow us to develop strong relationships, obligations, and social identities that are often hidden in virtual environments. Moreover, face-to-face meetings set up expectations regarding future obligations, social support, and opportunities.
Are in-person meetings inherently more civil than pretty much anything that happens online? Is there anything you do at your face-to-face events to ensure that? Or by dint of seeing each other in the flesh, do your attendees always behave themselves -- even when they disagree?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Lights! Camera! Act Green!

As crucial as they may be toward making meetings sustainable, low-flush toilets and double-sided copies aren't exactly ... fun. But these fake movie trailers created by the fertile minds at Travel Portland are. This is just one of a handful of faux trailers that will make you laugh while making the point that Portland puts a high priority on sustainable meetings. Find more on the Travel Portland website.

The Secret History of Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! Now let's talk about what really matters: how meetings played a crucial role in its creation. To tell the story, we need to (a) consult the University of Wisconsin's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, and (b) travel back to Sept. 20, 1969, when, during a speech to "a fledgling conservation group in Seattle," Sen. Gaylord Nelson proposed that the United States hold "a national teach-in on the environment to send a message to Washington that public opinion was solidly behind a bold political agenda on environmental problems." He repeated the idea "six days later in Atlantic City to a meeting of the United Auto Workers." The idea picked up steam, became the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, and eventually spread around the world.

But for our purposes, it's enough to know that Earth Day happened because someone with a good idea had a forum in which to express it -- a meeting. Or two meetings, as the case may be. And, on this 40th Earth Day, we here at Convene take some comfort in the fact that we recently retired our Green Meetings department because specific initiatives to make meetings and conventions more environmentally conscious have become, if not common, then certainly not unusual. They're just not news anymore.

We keep this up and pretty soon we won't need Earth Day at all.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Today on Yesterday on Tomorrow

I love retrofuturism, so finding out about the blog Paleo-Future -- which offers "A Look Into the Future That Never Was" -- has had a truly threatening effect on my productivity today. Paleo-Future is full of old newspaper and magazine articles, advertisements, artwork, and other past media predicting how life would be lived in the years to come. And, amid the piles of things that never came to be -- the flying cars and moon outposts and robot servants -- are some things that kinda, sorta have, such as "laser-holography," whose development was predicted in a 1979 book called Future Cities: Homes and Living Into the 21st Century.

The specific technology for laser-holography, "which creates 3-D pictures apparently out of thin air," according to Future Cities, might not be here quite yet, but see if the applications foreseen by the book's authors, via the illustration and caption above, don't ring a bell:
On the left the heads of a branch office have just come in to their boardroom, first thing in the morning. Across their table is their boss. He is in the head office of the company in the centre of a major city thousands of miles away. ... 3-D cameras hanging from the ceilings of each room create the illusion of a complete room with the two sides present.... Electronic conferences like this would save enormous amounts of time, money and energy.
This sounds an awful lot like high-definition videoconferencing, which I wrote about for Convene a few issues ago (digital version here, registration required; text version here). Certainly the goals of laser-holography and, say, Tata Communications' Telepresence program are similar. As John Landau, Tata's senior vice president of global managed services, told me: "We telecom people used to talk about how the world is shrinking. Planes did a lot of that. This is shrinking the world that much more."

Which is pretty cool, even without the flying cars.

Thanks to Very Short List for introducing me to Paleo-Future.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cold Comfort

My friend and former coworker Erin Fuller is an accomplished association executive and strategic consultant. Today she spoke to the National Association of Home Builders. This was her status update on Facebook just before she did:
Erin M. Fuller is about to speak at the Natl Assn of Home Builders' conference... In a very chilly room.
Yes, that's right: People will always notice if the room is too cold. But, say Erin had tweeted this and tagged it to your event, and you were monitoring the backchannel, so you found out about it as soon as she did. Isn't it pretty cool (no pun intended) that you'd be able to respond to speaker feedback almost immediately? If you couldn't bump up the temperature, you could at least bring her a nice cup of hot tea. And then it would be your turn to tweet.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Beginner's Mind

Change -- galloping, exhilarating, stomach-churning change -- has made most of us beginners again at some aspect of our jobs. No matter how many years you have invested in becoming really, really good at what you do, chances you are now having to learn new things -- and learning to think differently -- in order to remain effective.

And you're probably going to stink at the new stuff for a while. That's according to Ira Glass, the extraordinarily successful host and producer of "This American Life." But being able to tolerate being not-so-great at something while you work to become as skilled as you want to be is not only okay, it is absolutely necessary, Glass says. In the second part of a three-part video on storytelling, Glass generously shares some of the not-so-great work that he did on the way to becoming a master.

The segment brought to mind some of the ideas we've presented in Convene, including my talk with Stanford psychology prof Carol Dweck about the difference between a "fixed" and a "growth" mindset, and Chris Durso's exchange with author Malcolm Gladwell about the ingredients of success.

And, come to think of it, my yoga teacher, who said this morning as I lost my balance in a challenging pose: "Falling is doing."

Convene Reads: Nothing to Envy

In Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, Barbara Demick sketches a portrait of life inside North Korea by profiling six people who have managed to defect to South Korea -- including Kim Hyuck, who spent 20 months in one of North Korea's unforgiving labor camps. Demick writes:
"Nobody ever thinks they are going to die. They all think they will survive and see their families again, but then it just happens," Hyuck told me years later when he was living in Seoul. He had returned not long before from a human rights conference in Warsaw where he testified. Afterward he toured Auschwitz and noted the parallels with his own experience. In his labor camp, nobody was gassed -- if they were too weak to work they were sent to another prison. Although some were executed and some were beaten, the primary means of inflicting punishment was withholding food. Starvation was the way the regime preferred to eliminate its opponents.
Hyuck's story is harrowing, as is Demick's entire book. But maybe we can take some small comfort in the fact that conferences of the type that Hyuck attended in Warsaw are helping shine a light on situations like this.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The (Pillow) Case for Face-to-Face

Proof that people will do just about anything to get together and have a good time: The World's Largest Pillow Fight, in Union Square in New York City, on Apr. 3, in honor of International Pillow Fight Day. Full disclosure: I went with friends (and a pillow) and had a blast -- even if I only lasted ten minutes and couldn't stop apologizing ...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reflections on the Nuclear Summit

The Nuclear Security Summit has just wrapped up, and it was interesting to see how this extremely high-profile, two-day international conference was treated here in the Washington, D.C., area. On the one hand, obviously, it was a story with global relevance -- a historic gathering of world leaders convened by President Obama himself -- and it was covered as such by, for example, The Washington Post. But it was also a big local story, mostly because of its impact on traffic, thanks to the cordoning off of streets around the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the diverting of more than a dozen bus lines, and the closing of a key Metro station downtown.

Living through this dichotomy -- massive universal import, mundane local inconvenience -- has made me think about the meetings professionals who work backstage at events like this. Is it any different putting together something like the Nuclear Security Summit than, say, an annual trade show for the construction industry? Do the potentially world-changing implications lend it an emotional resonance that's lacking from an everyday convention? Might there even be something like stage fright involved, given all the heads of state walking around and the relentless scrutiny of the international media? Or is a meeting pretty much always a meeting? The sum total of the planning and organization that goes into it?

PHOTO: Chuck Kennedy / The White House

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Leading by Example" Subject (and Marine Corps WWII Veteran) R.V. Burgin on the Today Show

As we've mentioned before in this space, Convene's April issue contains a riveting (if I do say so myself) "Leading by Example" profile of R.V. Burgin, a World War II Marine veteran who last month published a memoir called Islands of the Damned: A Marine at War in the Pacific.

On top of all this (the 87-year-old Texan gets around!), Burgin is at the moment co-starring — well, sort of — in the new HBO mini-series The Pacific. When I say "sort of," I mean that Burgin, as played by Northern Irish actor Martin McCann, is a prominent character in the show.

As such, click "play" below to see a fun, four-minute interview with both Burgin and McCann on a recent edition of the Today show. When the tall Burgin was asked what he thought when he learned that the somewhat more diminutive McCann would be playing him, the wry, spry vet replied, "I thought they needed to stretch him out a little bit."

Watch on below, and then click here for the digital edition of Convene's April issue, where you can (after logging in or, for non-members, simply entering your email address) read my profile of Burgin on p. 60.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Convene Reads: Tokyo Vice

Last summer I blogged about an offhand reference to big, important exhibitions that I came across in a book I was reading at the time. It's happened frequently enough since then that I'm inaugurating a new feature on our blog -- Convene Reads -- where you'll find passages related to meetings and conventions from all different kinds of books that aren't specifically about meetings and conventions. Such as Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan, by Jake Adelstein, who went from writing articles about human trafficking in Tokyo to working as an anti-trafficking activist:
I felt gratified in another sense: when the U.S. Embassy [in Tokyo] held a symposium on human trafficking at the United Nations University later that month, I was invited to be a panelist. Not a journalist, but a participant. I felt honored.

At the conference, the National Police Agency representative gave a speech outlining the amazing things Japan had done to combat human trafficking. I couldn't resist raising my hand during the Q&A, and I went on a tirade. I related my experience dealing with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, and then, using as an example the same roadblocks thrown in my face, I proceeded to explain why the NPA directive was a worthless piece of self-serving crap. The questions after my questions were only slightly less brutal.
Talk about the power of meetings.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Convene On Site: Change at Hand

Today I left the beautiful Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Golf Club in Aventura, Fla., where I'm attending the PCMA Education Foundation Partnership Summit, for an informative and inspiring trip to the Everglades Safari Park (above).

Back at the hotel, on my nightstand, is the book I brought along for my trip, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. I chose it deliberately so I could stay on topic during this trip. Over the past two mornings, the summit's speaker, Pat Zigarmi, has helped us explore just why organizational change is so hard — and how we can make it go down easier. (See my interview with her in the April issue.)

Zigarmi identified three different kinds of concerns people have when faced with sweeping changes at the organizations they work for: information concerns (leaders try to sell their people on the change rather than giving them the rationale for that change), personal concerns (the single-most important reason why change fails at organizations is that the people responsible for carrying out that change are not enlisted in the process and feel they have lost control), and implementation concerns (what do I do first?).

A diverse group of meetings industry professionals shared how they addressed those kinds of concerns while implementing recent major changes at their organizations during this morning's panel discussion. David DuBois, CMP, CAE, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau, discussed how he was able to get buy-in from city council members for bureau funding and create metrics for measuring against aggressive sales goals. Christie Hicks, senior vice president of global sales for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, talked about how the economy required her organization to do business differently by reorganizing the sales force. Sherry Romello, CMP, vice president, meetings & conventions, National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), revealed how her association embarked on a major cultural overhaul. And Lisa Schelle, director, global meetings & events at Nike, took us through the "Just do it" company's strategic meetings management program initiative.

Hopefully, we all left this morning's panel discussion a little wiser about what it takes to change our organizations for the better. Those of us who took the Everglades tour right after the session got the chance to view firsthand, right outside our bus window, what it takes to undo unwise changes in a different environment, with a capital "E." During the 1950s, we learned, non-native species of trees were planted to soak up the Everglades in preparation for a building boom. Thankfully, the boom didn't take hold, but unfortunately, the trees did. It is now costing the state billions of dollars to painstakingly destroy those trees in order to restore the Everglades ecosystem.

Friday, April 9, 2010

On Primate Behavior

By any measure, primatologist Jane Goodall has changed the world for the better, through her revolutionary chimpanzee research and pioneering conservation work. I heard Goodall speak at a conference years ago -- I was a chauffeur for a science-class field trip -- but her words made an indelible impression on me (and got the attention of the much-harder-to-impress seventh-graders I was riding herd over).

I wasn't surprised to read recently that, in persuading others of the need for change, Goodall leans less heavily on her intellect than on her ability to make connections. She told the Harvard Business Review:
It’s important to tell stories. Sometimes you're told, you'll never change so-and-so's mind. But if you can be one-on-one with that person and tell a couple of stories… You usually can't change people's minds by the intellect. You’ve got to find something that reaches into their hearts.
You can read the entire interview with Goodall here.

Convene On Site: DigitalNow

(The above is from DigitalNow's opening general session on Thursday morning.)

Yesterday afternoon, on the first day of DigitalNow 2010 ("Association Leadership in the Digital Age"), I sat down for an interview with Don Dea, co-founder of the meeting design and production group Fusion Productions — which, along with the Disney Institute, "a recognized leader in experiential training for business professionals," created and continues to produce the conference, now in its 10th year. This year, as in every year since its creation, DigitalNow is being hosted by Disney, at its Contemporary Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida (a.k.a., just down the road from the Magic Kingdom).

I kicked off my interview with Don by asking him whether he felt that DigitalNow had stayed true to the mission that its founders set for it a decade ago. His reply ranged widely, touching on how in the late 1990s associations reacted to the dot com boom (and subsequent bust); how they have matured in the years since; and why DigitalNow is committed to remaining relatively small. I asked Don several more questions — which may possibly appear in a future print edition of Convene — but I thought it might be good to post his answer to my first question here:

Right from the beginning, the critical tenets that both George [Aguel, Senior Vice President of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts] and Hugh [Lee, President of Fusion Productions] articulated I think focused around leadership, focused around management issues, in the context of a digital world. So, from a content perspective, I think that that piece has gotten crystallized. I mean, we talked about it at that time, but what does it really mean?

You know, I think that we’ve been able to really bring that piece to life, I think very clearly over time, and we’ve gotten better and raised the bar on understanding. I think initially, because you also have context at that time — 1999, 2000 — you still had the dot com piece, so there was clearly a very different sense of urgency. You know, people had a very ... there was that piece of fear and uncertainty. You had very clear external variables that people could kind of hang their hat around. So people kind of said, “Hey, there are these people who are out there" — WebMD was coming in, people didn’t know what these things were going to do. All they knew was that people were approaching them and saying either you play with me or you don’t.

And then at the same time, there had been enough traction out there where people saw where the carcasses were. Because at that time, you know, while the dot com period was going up there, clearly people were running out of cash, and then all of a sudden the stories started coming out. “Well, we didn’t know, we gave them our data and they went belly up and now it’s in receivership, it’s in bankruptcy, we can’t get our information, etc., etc.” So I think at that time it was very clear, there was a mandate about, well, “How do we think through that?” I think over time, as we’ve kind of — as the external world kind of continued to evolve and we went through the dot com period, people kind of said, “Whew!” So I think we’ve gone through various cycles, but I think [DigitalNow’s core principles] have always been very clear: focused on leadership, focused on management, in the context of a digital world.

And while that period of time has gone on, you also have not only the external world, you have associations becoming more mature. You have a whole new generation — because there were a lot of people who didn’t know how to talk the vocabulary, things like that. So now all of a sudden you get another generation of people, and both boards [of directors] are getting a little smarter, the staffs are getting a little bit smarter, so now they are experimenting with more and more things. So the content focus, I think, over time has continued to evolve, but I think the basic tenets of it are there.

The other basic elements we talk about, in terms of the conference, the scope of the conference, I think they were very structural pieces that have really stayed very true. There have been times when there’s been pressure to really expand the base, and every time we do that we do get a pushback from people saying, “Well, we’ll lose the personal-ness about the community; we’ll lose the ability to reach out and talk and have that intimate atmosphere — to be able to respond. I mean, we do a lot of things here ... You know, when we do meetings other places, for other organizations, and, you know, other organizations have different kinds of attitudes in terms of how they manage expectations, how they respond, levels of service ... and that’s fine.

[DigitalNow] is really around the notion of being responsive to the community. And that takes a different aura, and we’re very fortunate that Disney has the same set of shared values around content and being very focused to be able to be responsive ... and also live within some of the basic parameters. Because, for many people, Disney and ourselves, it would be probably helpful, certainly financially, to have a broader mix of folks in the equation. But then you start getting into situations where it becomes, you know, many, many more concurrent workshops; you have much larger groups for people to manage. Our advisory group has kind of served to be that soul or conscience behind us.

And it’s not just the advisory group: We do walk around and ask and get people’s feedback. And you know it’s always hard. Because we live in a world where — particularly with those kinds of answers — it’s around a business model, it’s around what delivers value out there. And I think very consistently we would get a sense ... I think we have enough acumen to be reflective and say, “Yeah, if we could only push it up a few, little bit more, and tweak it” — but we just have found that we need to be true to the commitment of what this thing was built around. So the size, the community I think has always been focused around maintaining the community and maintaining the level of responsiveness. I think really the critical tenets [are] the content, and then the community, and then the other pieces are ... they are important components, but I think those are really the critical things and those things have remained true.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

April 2010 Issue: Live!

The digital edition of Convene's April 2010 issue is now live. You'll find a great cover story by Senior Editor Hunter Slaton that imagines the medical exhibit hall of the future -- which actually exists in the present, albeit in decentralized form, in the ideas and innovations that forward-thinking meeting professionals are implementing piecemeal. Other highlights:

"The Cost of the Codes": Part of our cover package on medical meetings, presenting the results of a PCMA survey about the effects of last year's revisions to the PhRMA and AdvaMed codes on health-care-industry funding of educational meetings.

Leading by Example: A moving profile (by the aforementioned Hunter Slaton) of R.V. Burgin, a Marine veteran who saw some of the most brutal fighting in the Pacific theater during World War II, and who's featured in HBO's new miniseries "The Pacific." Last week Hunter posted an audio clip of his interview with Mr. Burgin, which you'll definitely want to hear.

One on One: A Q&A with Pat Zigarmi, Ed.D., founding associate of the Ken Blanchard Companies, co-author of Who Killed Change?, and a speaker at the PCMA Education Foundation 2010 Partnership Summit -- which begins today!

International Meetings: Veteran U.S.-based meeting professional James F. Hollan III, CAE, offers a candid look at the "very different expectations" with which "North American planners and European or Asian venues come to the negotiating table."

Innovative Meetings: Behind the scenes at UnTech10, an event that was spontaneously created by members of the association technology community after snowstorms forced ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership to cancel its Tech10 conference.

Point/Counterpoint: Seth Godin -- the Purple Cow guy -- squares off against himself over the question of whether big events have outlived their usefulness.

Look for the text-only version of our April issue on the Convene homepage in the next few days.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Growing South Africa

The setting, at Chef Thomas Keller's landmark Per Se restaurant, at Columbus Circle overlooking Central Park -- in April, no less -- could not have been more exquisite. But the conversation at yesterday's press luncheon hosted by South African Tourism made this guest wish to be, oh, about 8,000 miles away.

South Africa's Minister of Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk brought good news about tourism in that country -- it currently is the fastest-growing sector of the South African economy. The news reflected very well on the power of democracy: In 1994, the year that South Africa held its first democratic elections, South Africa was host to less than 600,000 international travelers. This year the country expects to break 10 million-visitors mark.

In recent years, Van Schalkwyk noted, there has been a $7 billion investment of government and private dollars in South Africa's infrastructure. In anticipation of the 2010 Soccer World Cup, the country has invested millions in the nation's three main airports, and flights operate daily between Johannesburg and New York and Washington, D.C. The event, which is being held in Africa for the first time, is expected to attract an audience of 34 million.

Although South Africa, with a 4 percent growth in visitors last year, is doing better than the global average, there is still plenty of room for more growth, van Schalkwyk said. Particularly in the area of business and conference travelers.

Once business travelers come to South Africa, they are likely to return, van Schalkwyk said. "South Africa has one of the highest rates of repeat visitors," he said. "We treat visitors well."

Eye to Eye

I've blogged before about the importance of face time for our editorial team as a group, but yesterday morning I was reminded of its power at the one-on-one level. I drove to Maryland to interview someone for a Leading by Example profile for a future issue of Convene. Because these profiles tend to go very in-depth, whenever possible we talk to the subjects in person -- for all the reasons that struck me yesterday. The person I sat down with had an emotional and inspiring story today, and making an effort to visit him at his office and look him in the eye while he told it felt somehow ... appropriate and respectful. Maybe the word I'm looking for is "communal" -- in sharing the same space, we better shared the experience he was relating. And that will make for a truer, more interesting article.

The same forces are at work on a larger scale as well, at meetings and conventions. Or at least, I think they are. Is this what we talk about when we talk about the power of face-to-face events?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Gaming Grows Up, Wears Badge

Are comic books and video games kids' stuff?*

Some might say yes — but they are also big (convention) business.

The PAX East gaming conference, held the weekend before last in Boston, at the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center, welcomed "tens of thousands" of "gamers" — as those devoted to video, board, and other similar games call themselves — who were there to socialize with fellow gaming enthusiasts and check out new products from about 70 different hardware and software companies, according to this article in The Boston Globe.

The Globe reported that the convention was too large for its current home, with a PAX East spokesperson quoted as saying that he was looking forward to next year, when the show will move to the much larger Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

Now that's a problem — not having enough space for hordes of devoted attendees — that any self-respecting convention planner would be thrilled to have, kids' stuff or no.

* This photo, of long lines at the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center during PAX East, is courtesy Kristina Drzaic. Click here for more of Ms. Drzaic's photos of the gaming convention.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Convene Voices: R.V. Burgin

For Convene's April Leading by Example, I spoke to R.V. Burgin, a Marine Corps veteran of World War II in the Pacific. HBO subscribers might recognize Burgin from the 10-part mini-series "The Pacific," which is currently airing on the network. (Burgin shows up in episode four, set to air this coming Sunday, April 11th.)

The mini-series is based on several veterans' memoirs, including Eugene Sledge's With the Old Breed and Robert Leckie's Helmet for My Pillow. Burgin published his own memoir last month, called Islands of the Damned: A Marine at War in the Pacific. It was written with retired Dallas Morning News feature writer Bill Marvel, and is available from its publisher, Penguin USA, or

The book is gripping and personal, while the mini-series (produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, who also was behind the popular World War II European-theater mini-series "Band of Brothers") is wide-ranging and edge-of-your-seat intense.

But one thing neither the mini-series or the memoir gets across is the folksy pleasure of listening to Burgin tell his own story — which I was lucky enough to do ... and now share with you here.

Click "play" on the media player below to hear Burgin tell what it was like growing up "in the Depression days." Throughout this month we'll be posting more clips of my interview with Burgin (along with, as soon as it's posted, a link to the online edition of this Leading by Example): of him reminiscing about his Marine Corps training (in which a drill instructor tells him, in no uncertain terms, "how the cow ate the cabbage"); reliving firefights on New Britain, Peleliu, and Okinawa; and returning home to Texas to marry, work for the Post Office, and raise four daughters — all with as much good humor and stoicism as he displays in this audio clip.

Convene Voices: R.V. Burgin on Growing Up During the Depression

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Feeding Conversation

Bob Sutton, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, writes often about the role that constructive conflict plays in group performance and innovation. Sutton spent three days last week at a meeting in Singapore with business and government leaders, and suggested that there are cultural differences in how easily participants openly engaged in critical discussion with other meeting participants:
One of the folks I was working with in Singapore commented that open -- even if constructive -- conflict is something that Westerners do, but Asians tend not to do (and indeed although I engaged in some open disagreement, especially with a fellow American academic, there was not much other open disagreement in any of the workshops).

BUT I am talking about in open -- if small -- public forums. In contrast, I spent a lot of time in one on one conversations engaging in quite active debate and (polite) two-way constructive criticism. Indeed, I would say that I engaged in more argument in one-on-one conversations than I would with a typical American business crowd. I would also add that these backstage conversations -- for the most part -- helped improve the workshops and sharpen my thinking. ... The amount and quality of constructive conflict I experienced was similar to what I would expect from a U.S. organization, but the difference is that it all happened backstage.
Sutton's observations track with those reported in Convene's "Meet in Asia" series: Such strategies as handing out paper and pencils in meetings with Asian attendees has helped to get discussion flowing during Q & A sessions, Kershing Goh, Singapore Tourism Board's regional director for the Americas, told Executive Editor Chris Durso.

It also reminded me of a talk I had back in 2008 with Linda Still, CMP, the director of meetings and exhibits for the American Association of Cancer Research, and a veteran of planning meetings in Singapore. Coffee and cookies don't cut it there during breaks, Still told me. Substantial spreads are laid out for attendees, even at 10:30 a.m., not long after breakfast.

And it makes perfect sense when you consider the elevated position of private conversations during meetings in Singapore. More food = more talk.