Friday, May 28, 2010

Convene Spins: Private Universe

As the roller-rink DJs (used to) say: We're gonna slow things down now -- with "Private Universe," by Crowded House. This is a contemplative, almost haunting song (with an appropriately trippy video, as you'll see above), and a personal one, too, so the challenge is making it evocative in a group setting. I'd suggest taking full advantage of its sedate, thoughtful qualities by using it during small-group brainstorming sessions or elegant dinners, or, possibly, to help set the mood for a particularly introspective keynote. But for that last option, you'd want to be careful about not killing the energy level in the room.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Tree Grows in East Harlem

This morning, after waking up at my apartment in Brooklyn, I drank a bit of coffee, showered and dressed, and got on the subway, headed first into Manhattan and then uptown to East Harlem, to cover the kick-off corporate social responsibility event for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide's new "Get More for Your Meeting, Give More to Your Community" promotion.

The event was co-sponsored by PepsiCo, which is a partner in Starwood's new promotion, offering planners 4 percent off their master account, a free PepsiCo F&B break, and a signing bonus of up to 100,000 Starpoints for qualifying meetings that are booked by July 31 and held no later than December 31 of this year. (Click here for full details regarding the promotion.)

But that's, as they say, not all!

As Starwood CEO Frits van Paasschen told the more than 100 Starwood associates who were gathered at a well-manicured, Target-sponsored community garden on East 117th Street, the rallying point for this morning's event, "I have a strong personal belief that business has not only a great responsibility, but an opportunity, to do good by doing well."

As such, Starwood is hoping to encourage that spirit in meeting planners and their organizations by running a charity sweepstakes alongside the "Get More, Give More" promotion. Planners who book a qualifying meeting will be entered into a drawing for one of four $50,000 grants provided by Starwood and PepsiCo to the planner's preferred local charitable organization.

"We are proud to bring the spirit of our new meetings offering to life today by taking time to give back to the community in a meaningful way — and hopefully, we’ll encourage others to do the same," said van Paasschen, who made it to the community service event (and gamely hoofed it around East Harlem) in spite of still being somewhat hobbled by a recent knee surgery.

Starwood and PepsiCo practice what they preach, too: After a few brief remarks, van Paasschen and Margery Schelling, chief marketing officer for PepsiCo Foodservice, presented the New York Restoration Project, an organization started in 1995 by Bette Midler, and on whose behalf the 100 Starwood associates were about to get their hands dirty, with a (big) check for $50,000.

*Starwood CEO Frits van Paasschen, far left, presents a check for $50,000 to New York Restoration Project board member Sarah Nash, second from left.

Workers for the New York Restoration Project, a non-profit "dedicated to reclaiming and restoring New York City parks, community gardens, and open space," were on hand to guide the Starwood associates in their clean-up efforts. "Color Captains" led teams of associates to five different sites in East Harlem to weed gardens, plant trees, pick up trash, and more.

One pair of Starwood team members, Trina Mapa, in revenue management, and Cecilia Rueber, a sales analyst — who, though laughing and joking with each other like old friends, had previously known each other only "through email" — had, right before I spoke to them, just planted a new dogwood tree in front of Mount Pleasant Senior Housing on East 116th Street.

Remarked Mapa, who lives on Manhattan's East Side, "It's fantastic to get out [of the office], help the community, and clean up New York." Mapa and Rueber chatted with me for a bit longer before getting back to work, patting down fresh soil around their new dogwood tree.

*Starwood associates Trina Mapa, left, and Cecilia Rueber, right, with their dogwood tree (that's a New York Restoration Project worker behind the tree).

Viva Las IMEX!

IMEX 2010 wound down in Frankfurt this afternoon, with record attendance by hosted buyers from the United States, as well as a record number from emerging markets, including Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Individual and group appointments were up by 14 percent, with a total of approximately 57,000 business appointments made between 3,800 buyers and exhibitors. And who knows how many cups of coffee and glasses of wine consumed -- the photo above was taken from a "rooftop" cafe in Monaco's booth, where visitors sipped Champagne.

Interest was high during the three-day event in IMEX America, which will debut in Las Vegas in October 2011. Ray Bloom, IMEX Group chairman, said Thursday that he expects that most destinations which exhibited this week also will exhibit in Las Vegas, along with 2,000 hosted buyers. Eighty percent will come from the U.S., Bloom said.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Parkour, Parkour!

*This photo courtesy JB London.

Attendees flying in early, on June 6th, for the 8th Dusseldorf Breast Cancer Conference should be on the lookout for people running crazily through Area C of Dusseldorf International Airport.

Why? Because (unless, of course, they are just very late for a flight) they will be doing parkour, which American Parkour, "the leading freerunning community in the world," defines as the "physical discipline of training to overcome any obstacle within one's path by adapting one's movements to the environment."

Sounds a lot like learning one's way around the meetings industry — or, more broadly, the obstacle-littered business landscape of the past two years — doesn't it? If you like that analogy, you might want to consider having a parkour team, like The Tribe, perform at your next meeting.

Click here for more info on the Dusseldorf Airport event, along with a promotional trailer (the video takes a little while to get to the good stuff, and product placement in Germany seems to be far more blatant than it is in the good old U.S. of A., but it's still a pretty cool video).

Can you imagine seeing this happening at, say, O'Hare? Me neither. To say nothing of a convention center.

If you do host The Tribe or another parkour team at a future event, let's hope that your attendees don't get too inspired, and end up looking like these guys (apologies for the brief advertisement that NBC makes you watch before you get to the clip proper ... but trust me, it's worth it):

A Tree Grows at IMEX

This afternoon, I sat in a chair made of recycled cardboard at the Corporate Social Responsibility Centre at IMEX, to hear how Frankfurt became a finalist for an award recognizing excellence in creating a sustainable stand. Some of their actions would be familiar to anyone who's been keeping track of green meeting trends: Frankfurt rented furniture, printed their banners on cloth, and used recyclable carpeting, along with other measures.

But I also heard some fresh ideas that not only were sustainable, but played on the popularity of a local specialty: apples and Apfelwein -- apple wine. Central to their efforts, literally, was a live apple tree, which sat in the middle of the booth and is scheduled to be replanted after the end of the show. Gifts were fresh red apples, embossed with the city skyline and the slogan that carried the city's, ahem, core marketing message: Fresh & Tasty.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Walk on the Wild Side at IMEX

The running joke at IMEX 2010 is that many of the exhibition stands are so large, well-finished, and inviting, attendees are tempted to move right in. You wouldn't lack for nightlife: the Paris CVB has built a sidewalk cafe, complete with pink neon signs, and the German CVB has created a beer garden -- with wooden tables, beer, and pretzels -- as well as a 100-person rooftop restaurant.

As IMEX and its reputation has become firmly established, exhibitors have become more willing to invest in making their presence felt, said Carina Bauer, CEO of the IMEX Group. (Japan, for one, doubled the size of its stand this year.)

But with so much competition for attendees' attention, it is nice to know that there's also a place for newcomers who never before have exhibited at a major trade show.

Every year, IMEX chooses three destinations as "IMEX Wild Cards," and gives them free exhibition space, complimentary accommodations, discounted airfare, a ticket to the IMEX Gala, and marketing support. The 2010 winners were Uganda; Morzine, France, an alpine village; and Hof Conference and Cultural Centre, in Akureyri, Iceland.

I stopped to chat with Saevar Freyr Sigurosson, who was promoting the Hof Center, which is in northern Iceland and will open in August. The good news was that the volcano has stopped spewing ash two days ago, Sigurosson said. "If it just stays calm, fantastic."

Along with the striking, round conference center, which can accommodate meeting groups of up to 500 people, Akureyri offers out-of-the ordinary adventures, including tours of the Northern Lights and of the lunar-like landscape in interior Iceland where NASA trained Apollo astronauts. Sigurronson, who also works as a guide, told me his surname means "son of the one who goes into battle with god and the winds."

Not a bad guy for a meeting planner to have in his or her corner.

Monday, May 24, 2010

IMEX 2010: The Curtain Goes Up

I'm attending IMEX 2010 in Frankfurt this week for the first time. Along with spectacular weather, I had the good luck of meeting Tom Hinton, the President and CEO of CRI Global in San Diego, this morning at the Messe Frankfurt exhibition grounds.

Hinton is one of a group of 14 hosted buyers invited to IMEX by PCMA. I couldn't have asked for a better introduction to the vast show floor than to walk around with Hinton -- we dodged the construction crews who were working to be ready for the show's 7:45 a.m. opening Tuesday as Hinton talked about why he makes a point to come to the show.

"IMEX is one-stop shopping for guys like me," said Hinton, who is interested in both traditional and more exotic venues. And with 3,800 hosted buyers and 150 countries exhibiting at IMEX (the most ever), I could see Hinton's point.

If you didn't make to Frankfurt, I'll be blogging from IMEX all week. And if you are here, I hope we can connect.

'The Mentalist' Goes to a Meeting

The jumping-off point for this season's next-to-last episode of "The Mentalist," which aired recently on CBS, was -- wait for it -- a meeting! The (fictional) 2010 Global Human Rights Conference kicked off the plot, which involved the murder of a high-profile crusader against human trafficking moments before he's scheduled to deliver a keynote at the conference. During the course of the show, the (also fictional) California Bureau of Investigation interviews conference organizers, sponsors, and attendees -- exactly as I imagine (nonfictional) police would do if someone were actually murdered at a (nonfictional) meeting.

The episode raises a number of questions for our industry, including: What should you do when a TV news crew ambushes your keynoter as soon as he enters the building? If a serious crime happens during the course of your meeting, should you tell attendees about it? And, perhaps most important, how can I get a head of hair like 'Mentalist' star Simon West has?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Convene Spins: The Whole of the Moon

Convene Reads has been so much fun, I've decided to create another recurring feature for our blog: Convene Spins. Every Friday, we'll share a favorite song and also suggest how you might use it as part of a meeting program. Up first: "The Whole of the Moon," by the Waterboys. This is a great up-tempo number that would be perfect for the soundtrack during your opening general session, as attendees are filing in and you're trying to establish a positive, exciting mood. Especially if you have an upbeat or inspiring keynoter, "The Whole of the Moon" would be a strong lead-in.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dateline: Everest

Here's a riddle: What do Montreal's Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel and Convene's June issue have in common?

Answer: Both will showcase adventurer Jamie Clarke, who recorded the following message to PCMA Education Conference attendees (which is being held at the aforementioned hotel) while at his Mount Everest base camp. Education Conference attendees will of course hear more first-hand about his climb, as Jamie will be speaking on the topic, "What is YOUR Everest?"

Not only did Jamie record this message for PCMA members and EduCon attendees, he also took time out of preparing for his climb to answer questions for Convene's new "Frame of Mind" series from Ray Kopcinski, CMP, director of meeting services for Million Dollar Round Table, who is himself an avid mountaineer (and who, in turn, was interviewed by Convene Editor in Chief Michelle Russell in our May issue).

But the "Frame of Mind," that's in our June issue, which should arrive in your mailbox in a few short weeks. Until then, good luck, Jamie!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cutting to the Chase

True confession. Being as glamorous (ha!) as Christopher Durso says I am takes a little work. I'm way too fidgety to sit for manicures, pedicures, facials, and even massages. But getting my hair cut and colored is a treat, because my hairdresser has become my friend. I go to her home at night to get the job done. So last night I'm there with another one of her clients and we strike up a conversation. Turns out she helps manage events for the March of Dimes and receives Convene. My Andy Warhol moment.

Okay, on to more interesting topics than myself ... According to my daily Fast Company fix, a new study by IBM reveals that the most important leadership quality for CEOs is creativity. It even beats integrity and global thinking. As the article goes on to say, "Steven Tomasco, a manager at IBM Global Business Services, expressed surprise at this key finding, saying that it is 'very interesting that coming off the worst economic conditions they'd ever seen, [CEOs] didn't fall back on management discipline, existing best practices, rigor, or operations. In fact, they [did] just the opposite.'"

I think that's why I like our Innovative Meetings column so much, because each case study of sorts demonstrates how scrappy meeting planners are, coming up with the small and big ideas that make their events succeed, even in a down economy.

And in keeping with our magazine, the Take Away for me? Humility made the list of leadership attributes in the IBM study. Something to keep in mind for my next Andy Warhol experience.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Give a Woot

You might know Wil Wheaton as an actor -- he played Gordie LaChance in the movie "Stand by Me" and Wesley Crusher on the TV show "Star Trek: The Next Generation." And while he still does regular work on TV, lately he's been much more active as a writer and speaker, especially on topics such as gaming, comics, and other geek pursuits. (Some of which, you may have noticed, are not unfamiliar to me.) Recently, he's co-produced and co-hosted w00tstock, a three-hour "special event for geeks of every stripe" that last weekend was held in Seattle and Portland, and in coming weeks is scheduled to hit Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Chicago, and Minneapolis. Billed as "a night of songs, readings, comedy, demonstrations, short films, special guests, and other clever widgets," w00tstock is especially notable for meeting professionals because it's released under a Creative Commons license, meaning that attendees are free to record the show and pretty much do what they want with it. As Wheaton writes on his blog: "We want you to record the show, use your recordings to get excited and make things, and share them with the world."

Is that the approach you take with the content at your meetings? If not, but you'd like to read a compelling argument about why you should, check out our interview with James Boyle, a founding board member and former chair of Creative Commons, and the author of The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind. And, on a related note, one of our recent Point/Counterpoint columns addressed the question "Should meeting content be available to anyone who wants it?"

So what do you think? Does your content want to be free?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Confidence is Contagious

PCMA member Jean Tracy, senior national sales director for the George Fern Company, is living proof that confidence and compassion are contagious.

Tracy is a longtime volunteer for Healing Hands for Haiti, a non-profit organization which provides rehabilitative services to Haitians, It was Tracy's idea that I accompany the group to Haiti, and she convinced me, with a couple of phone calls and e-mails, that such a trip was possible. In Haiti, whether it was reorganizing overflowing pharmacy shelves or figuring out a way to salvage construction supplies amid post-earthquake wreckage, Tracy boldly moved forward toward solutions, without a lot of fanfare. After spending an hour in Tracy's company at a Haitian orphanage, a volunteer from the U.S., a teacher from New Hampshire, looked over at me and declared: "I'm just going to follow Jean around."

I concluded the story I wrote about Healing Hands for Haiti with a note on Tracy's continuing relief efforts in Austin, where she lives. She was purchasing a shipping container and was collecting tents and clothing for the Haitians left homeless by the quake. You'd think I would have learned something in Haiti about how Tracy's unshakable confidence inspires others to get on board. But I got a lump in my throat, thinking of Tracy in Austin, spending her spare time collecting tents and clothing. It seemed -- like so much of what I saw in Haiti -- to be like bailing out a boat with an eyedropper.

So I was delighted -- and had to laugh a little at myself -- when she forwarded me a message from the George Fern Company COO Aaron Bludworth to his employees. Bludworth is making Tracy's tent drive a company-wide effort. He's even sponsoring a friendly contest to spur participation: whichever of the company's two dozen branch offices bring in the most tents to ship to Haiti will be treated to a barbecue. "It doesn't take much," Bludworth wrote to employees, " to make a difference."

Especially when mixed with confidence and compassion.

May 2010 Issue: Live!

The digital edition of Convene's May 2010 issue in now available, with an interesting and fun cover story (if the author does say so himself) that looks at how four cities with outdated, negative reputations have shown the world -- and the meetings industry -- their bright new realities.

Also in this issue, we're proud to debut four new departments: PCMA Planner's Notebook, in which PCMA Vice President of Meetings and Events Kelly Peacy, CMP, CAE, offers a monthly look at the planning process for the PCMA 2011 Annual Meeting; Frame of Mind, a short Q&A with someone connected to meetings (this month: Animal Planet host Jeff Corwin, who in June is speaking at the PCMA Education Conference); Backchannel, an opinion column that replaces Point/Counterpoint, and this month tackles the question "Are big-name speakers worth the money?"; and Other Duties as Assigned, our lighthearted new back-page column, which kicks off with a funny story from Kirsten Olean, CMP.

Other highlights from our May issue:

"Community Services": A Q&A with David Radcliffe -- a veteran destination marketing executive and industry consultant, and co-moderator of the CEO Summit at the PCMA 2010 Annual Meeting -- about challenges and opportunities facing DMOs.

One on One With: Ray Kopcinski, CMP, director of meeting services for Million Dollar Round Table, and an ardent mountain climber -- who explains what his profession and his passion have in common.

Leading by Example: A profile of a week-long medical mission to Port-au-Prince with a nonprofit organization called Healing Hands for Haiti, whose volunteers include seasoned meeting professional Jean Tracy. Senior Editor Barbara Palmer went along on the trip, and the article she wrote -- and the photos she took -- are unforgettable. She's already filed previews of it here, here, and here; you'll definitely want to read them, too.

"Pursuing a New School of Thought": A feature article about second-tier cities that are forging partnerships with the first-class colleges and universities located there to identify new meeting and event opportunities.

Look for the text-only version of the May issue to be posted on Convene's homepage within the next few days.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Airline?

*This photo courtesy Luis Argerich.

According to ABC News, the Obama Administration is getting tough on one aspect of the meetings industry that often proves frustrating to many. And no, we don't mean rubbery chicken, housing poachers, or freezing breakout rooms. We mean the airlines. And the president means business.

Said L. Nick Lacey, a former director of flight standards for the FAA, "The previous administration, after 9/11, pretty much called the watchdogs off in terms of enforcement actions or things that would cost the industry any money at all."

Not so with the Obama Administration, which has ramped up fines against airlines for safety infractions and other violations. In 2009, the Department of Transportation (DOT), which oversees all non-safety related airline issues, fined the airlines a total of $2.6 million, or three times what it did in 2008, in the last year of the Bush presidency. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is responsible for safety issues, fined the airlines $14.7 million, nearly double 2008's total.

It is arguable that the Obama Administration's stance — as well as public outcry over the mid-February 2007 JetBlue tarmac delay incident, in which nine aircraft full of passengers were stranded for more than six hours apiece — also led to the new tarmac delay rule, which took effect at the end of April and promises to fine airlines $27,500 per passenger for any tarmac delay of more than three hours.

And who knows? Not sparing the rod might be having an effect. According to DOT statistics released today, "the nation's largest airlines" had an overall on-time arrival rate of 80 percent this past March, besting both the on-time arrival rate for a year ago (March 2009, 78.4 percent) and the month prior (February 2010, 74.6 percent).

If the Obama Administration could only do something about the lack of legroom — now that would be a miracle. But seriously: What is your impression of the airlines' performance, both now and under the Bush Administration? Are you seeing any difference? Do you think these fines and new rules will help change airlines' behavior? Or are you more or less happy with America's air carriers?

Monday, May 10, 2010

In Praise of Logistics

Meeting planning is not all about logistics.
But logistics have never looked so good to me as it did in Haiti, where I traveled in late March with Healing Hands for Haiti, an organization that provides physical therapy, prosthetics, and other rehabilitative services to Haitians with disabilities.

Promoting healing in post-earthquake Haiti was the heart and the soul of the mission, and most of the Healing Hands volunteers were doctors, nurses, and physical therapists. Their skill and compassion amazed me, as they worked long hours in difficult conditions – in tent hospitals and clinics in the tropical heat, with too many patients, and too few clinicians.

But I was struck, too, at the layers of effort that were added to relief work by the demand for coordination. Of airport arrivals, meals, transportation, security, and endless more arrangements. The need to move things from here to there, to make lists and plans, and then more plans. All things that meeting professionals do so exceedingly well that they make it look effortless.

It didn’t look easy in Haiti. And it meant the difference between having a doctor or nurse where they were needed or not. And helped remind me to thank those who do the hard work of logistics for making life better for the rest of us.

Convene Reads: Contested Will

Maybe you haven't heard of the Shakespeare authorship controversy -- but it certainly has heard of you. Scattered throughout an interesting new book on the subject, Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, by James Shapiro, are references to meetings and conferences at which the question of whether William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon actually wrote the plays that are attributed to him has been discussed ad infinitum. Shapiro thinks Shakespeare himself wrote them, and makes a strong case. Sigmund Freud eventually came to believe he didn't, but not before putting one of Shakespeare's greatest creations on the couch -- and on the dais:
Followers and patients flocked to Freud, and psychoanalysis thrived. Hamlet became a canonical psychoanalytic text as well as a favorite subject of the Wednesday Psychological Society meetings, where Freud explored with his disciples how Shakespeare had written the play as "a reaction to the death of his father."
Shapiro even gauges the success of an "anti-Stratfordian" organization by tracking attendance at one of its conferences:
Membership in the Shakespeare Oxford Society now stood at eighty -- and an attempt to generate new ideas and enthusiasm through a conference in 1976 drew only twenty members. Oxfordians would subsequently speak of this postwar period of decline and stagnation as their "Dark Ages."
As someone once wrote (sort of): "There are more face-to-face meetings in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Climb Every Bridge

We receive so many invitations to visit such wonderful places around the globe, that all four of us on the Convene editorial staff could easily be on the road or in the air every week of the month. But then, there are those pesky monthly magazine deadlines to deal with.

So, to give us and Convene readers a window on the world by visiting the places we can't, we rely on a small group of freelance writers with experience in the meetings industry. Maureen Littlejohn is our most intrepid reporter. Maureen always jumps at the chance to stick another pushpin in her personal travel map of the world. To cover fam trips for us, she has flown around the United States and Canada, as well as to Scotland, South Africa, Dubai, and Australia — twice. Several years ago, she went to Melbourne, and this week, she's in Sydney, on a trip hosted by Business Events Sydney.

That's Maureen in the photo and here's the e-mail she sent me this morning:

Hi Michelle! I'm in Sydney right now and it is stunning. A gorgeous city. They had us climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge the same morning that we landed. I've attached the photo — luckily the jet lag hadn't hit yet!

It is so like Maureen to throw herself into the place she visits with such enthusiasm. When she went to South Africa, I was told by the fam trip organizer, she was the only member of the press on the trip willing — actually eager — to try a local village speciality, made with fresh insects.

You go, Maureen! As for me and my staff, we've got our own climb ahead of us. Something to do with one of those pesky magazine deadlines this week.

Look for Maureen's write-up of her Sydney trip in our July issue.

Friday, May 7, 2010

UPDATE #2: Arizona Boycott

DMAI, ASAE, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have come out against the economic boycott of Arizona -- with an emphasis on meetings and tourism -- proposed in response to the state's new immigration law. (Click here for a previous update.) From DMAI:
"More than anything, travel boycotts hurt the local communities and the workers who rely on jobs in the travel and tourism sectors," said Michael Gehrisch, president and CEO of DMAI. "In the case of Arizona, the Arizona Office of Tourism estimates that a boycott would affect 200,000 industry workers -- and their families."
According to ASAE:
A meetings and tourism boycott doesn't hurt the state legislators who drafted the bill; it punishes an entire industry that played no role in the measure's conception.
And the U.S. Chamber makes it three:
"It is very bad policy to boycott the businesses and harm the workers of Arizona based on actions of the state legislature," said R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president of Government Affairs for the U.S. Chamber. "The travel and tourism industry is essential to growth and job creation throughout this country. The last thing we need to do is punish those who are working hard to create the jobs that our nation's economy desperately needs."
None of these responses is what you'd call a surprise, coming as they do from organizations that are part of the meetings industry and/or the business community. But I don't think Rep. Grijalva and his followers would disagree with them, because ultimately, that's the point of a boycott: apply enough pressure and inflict enough damage until the other side caves in. At least one rank-and-file segment of the travel and tourism industry has aligned itself with the boycott: Service Employees International Union, which has announced that "the 2.2-million-member union will boycott conventions and meetings in Arizona in an effort to denounce the extremist, anti-immigration law 'SB1070.'"

This issue remains a moving target, so keep checking back for updates.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

There Will Be Blood*

*Unless your attendees get enough sleep.

Meeting professionals who have scheduled an opening keynote too early in the morning, or failed to account for the circadian rhythms of international attendees, know that people who don't get the sleep they need can be ... difficult. But they could also be dead. A new study in the scientific journal Sleep that analyzed the health effects of not getting enough sleep on otherwise healthy people offers a chilling conclusion: "Both short and long duration of sleep are significant predictors of death in prospective population studies." Or, as The Guardian newspaper puts it, the study "found that those who generally slept for less than six hours a night were 12% more likely to experience a premature death over a period of 25 years than those who consistently got six to eight hours' sleep."

For more info about accommodating the circadian rhythms of your attendees, check out this article that Jeanne Martinson wrote for Convene last year. Beyond that, what am I saying? Simply this: Moving your networking breakfast from 7:15 a.m. to, say, 8:30 a.m. and/or moving your opening general session from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. won't just make your attendees happier. It will also save their lives.

Thanks to Slate for tipping me off to the Guardian article and, by extension, the Sleep study.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

UPDATE: Arizona Boycott

Arizona's new immigration law is continuing to ripple through the meetings and hospitality industry, with U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva's call for an economic boycott of his state further muddying the waters. Last week, The Arizona Republic reported that "six groups have canceled meeting or convention plans in the state" because of the law. The U.S. Travel Association has called for an end to "counterproductive Arizona travel boycotts," while the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association (AzHLA) is urging residents to avoid "driving our state's economy even further into decline and punishing the 200,000 families who rely on tourism for their livelihoods."

And today, the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau released a new statement to Convene:
Unfortunately, the Arizona convention and visitor industry is being used as leverage in a political issue with no direct connection to our industry. Anything intended to hurt the state's will directly impact 200,000 Arizonans and their families who rely on tourism for their livelihood.

The industry is an integral part of our State's economy, and in today's economic environment, it is more important than ever that we do everything we can to attract -- not discourage -- visitors to Arizona. Organizations choosing convention sites and visitors have choices, and we may never know the full impact that all the publicity surrounding the passage of Senate Bill 1070 will have on those choices. We urge any individuals or groups that are considering boycotts not to do so.
Is this issue going away any time soon? Should it?

UPDATE 2: AzHLA says it knows of 19 meetings that have been canceled "as a direct result" of the new law, according to the Phoenix Business Journal.

Housing Haiti

I usually love to fall asleep to the plunk of rain on the roof.

But it was a horrible sound to hear in Port-au-Prince, where I traveled in late March and saw thousands of men, women, and children living in tents and makeshift shanties following the January earthquake. People there aren't just in danger of being swept away by the heavy rains that fall at this time of year -- many of the tents are on unstable hillsides and in flood plains -- but the rain greatly increases the risk of disease.

So I'm happy to report here about a response from the meetings and hospitality industry aimed directly at providing shelter to Haitians. Orlando hotelier and philanthropist Harris Rosen, owner of Rosen Hotels & Resorts, has developed a prototype for a "Little Haiti House" -- a prefabricated, solar-powered, wind-powered 24' by 12' dwelling that can be built for less than $5,000 and erected in about two hours.

The Harris Rosen Foundation is working with several organizations in Haiti to buy land and is working with Haiti community leaders to get feedback about the prototype, before they begin to build the houses, a spokesperson for the foundation said.

The houses are just one component of Rosen's Haitian relief efforts. Harris Rosen personally donated $250,000 to jump-start a relief fund, and sent teams to Haiti soon after the disaster. More recently, the foundation delivered "Family Kits" of food and other essentials. And on May 22, the foundation is hosting a food drive on May 22 at Rosen Centre, and is pledging to personally deliver all the food collected to Haiti.

I was in Haiti to profile Healing Hands for Haiti, an organization which has provided rehabilitative therapy to amputees and to the disabled for more than a decade. George Fern Company Senior National Sales Manager Jean Tracy, a long-time volunteer for Healing Hands, is at the heart of the story, which appears the May issue of Convene, being mailed this week.

If you like to make a donation to Rosen's Relief-Rebuild-Sustain Program for Haiti, you can donate via PayPal at

Tasting Singapore, with Daniel Boulud

The high-spirited Chef Daniel Boulud was even more ebullient than usual this morning, as he welcomed press to breakfast at DB Bistro Moderne in New York City to celebrate the upcoming launch of DB Bistro Moderne at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore this summer. Last night, Boulud's Upper East Side restaurant, Daniel, was named "Outstanding Restaurant" at the 2010 James Beard Foundation Awards Gala.

Boulud is one of six celebrity chefs who are opening restaurants at the new resort, which will be Singapore's largest exhibition and meeting venue. Over breakfast Boulud, who was born in France, reveled in the strides that American cuisine and New York City restaurants in particular have made in the last two decades: "When Singapore needed a French chef, they came to New York," Boulud pointed out. "Twenty years ago, they would have gone to France."

For James Beard Foundation President Susan Ungaro's perspective on how American cuisine has been transformed in recent years, see the Leading By Example profile in the November 2009 issue of Convene.

Postcards From Shanghai

Foreign Policy has a terrific slideshow spotlighting some of the pavilions from the Shanghai World Expo -- an assortment that FP describes as "lavish, futuristic, and sometimes just plain weird." Re just plain weird: I can't help but wonder if they're talking about the U.K. pavilion, the centerpiece of which (pictured above) is "a six storey high object formed from some 60,000 slender transparent rods, which extend from the structure and quiver in the breeze."

To be clear, "just plain weird" doesn't mean bad, or stupid, or even ill-conceived. It just means extremely different, and why not? What's the point in participating in a World Expo dedicated to the cityscapes and landscapes of tomorrow if you're not going to offer people something they've never seen before? That said, I do wonder if the designer, Thomas Heatherwick, is a "Star Trek" fan -- because, well, anyone else reminded of a Tribble?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Not Ignoring Haiti

As Salon pointed out in a story last week graphing news stories about Haiti before and after the January earthquake, the media --and we readers -- have a short attention span when it comes to Haiti. It's all too easy for most of us, most of the time, to ignore the suffering of those who live in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

Not so for volunteers working with Healing Hands for Haiti, which supports rehabilitative therapy for amputees and victims of strokes and other diseases. When I traveled to Haiti last month with Healing Hands for Convene, most volunteers were making their second, or third, or fourth, or 20th visit. The organization, founder Dr. Jeff Randle, and volunteer Jean Tracy, senior national sales manager for the George Fern Company, are the subjects of a Leading By Example profile in the May issue, which is being mailed to subscribers this week.

The flood of doctors, nurses, and others who went to Haiti after the earthquake in January is analogous to the torrent of media coverage, now slowed to a trickle. Medical services are tapering off, although the need for medical care is acute.

Healing Hands continues to send teams to Haiti, as it has for the last ten years. The size and scope of the organization's work has been radically altered by the earthquake, but the doctors, nurses, and therapists I traveled with to Haiti would have been there anyway.

I'll be writing more here in the days to come, posting photographs from my week-long trip, as well as information about ways in which the meetings industry is supporting Healing Hands for Haiti, and other relief operations.

I hope others will chime in, sharing meaningful ways to keep our attention on Haiti.

Talking About Friending

The topic is face time, for the younger set. A recent article in The New York Times questions whether preteens' and teens' preferred form of communication — Facebook-wall posts, cell-phone texting, and instant messaging — is hampering their ability to form interpersonal (i.e., in-person) social skills. Whether "the quality of their interactions is being diminished without the intimacy and emotional give and take of regular, extended face-to-face time."

While, as the article points out, researchers believe it's too early to say for sure, it's an important question. And scanning the 66 reader comments to the article, it's important not only in terms of the health of their social relationships, but in terms of how business will be conducted in the future. For the meetings industry: What value will "digital natives" (a term for this generation that has grown up using computers) get out of face-to-face events if, as neuroscientist and U.C.L.A. professor of psychiatry Gary Small says in the article, "they are weak with the face-to-face human contact skills"?

Two comments that gave me pause:
I'm long past bemoaning the very apparent negative consequences of technology on young people's ability to form genuinely close friendships. What concerns me is what happens to American business when these kids become adults and have no capacity to sit across a table from a client or potential customer for more than a few minutes instead of the hours it often requires for business to happen? Without being able to look the other person in the eye, stopping every 30 seconds to send or receive a text message or update their Facebook page?

I hope it won't be so but I can easily foresee a future of not only disastrous personal relationships but a stunted and chaotic business atmosphere as well. Neither bode well for our country. —
"Zaphod," New York

I am a college professor. Every year for the past five years my colleagues and I have commented on how every incoming class seems to be more socially and intellectually immature than the previous one. It's not just my department. This is more often than not the topic of conversation at academic conferences that draw professors from all over the United States.

The internet, or to be more precise google, teaches the students that everything is a one-word answer, nothing in complicated, and nothing requires reflection or thinking. College is where we learn to ask questions, not where we find answers, so I don't even know why they bother enrolling.

I cannot help but also wonder if social networking has contributed to the rise in students who simply cannot look me in the eye when I speak to them, in addition to the markedly increased number of students who I would readily classify as suffering from narcissistic personality disorder.

The social networking also means that they give themselves almost zero time for personal reflection. These students have no internal lives and without that it is very difficult to think and, thus, to accomplish college-level work in any satisfactory fashion. —
"Cathy," Maine
Notice that Cathy knows that this is not just her experience, because she has discussed it with her peers "at academic conferences that draw professors from all over the United States." Face to face.

Convene Reads: Doing Good by Doing Delicious

Last Friday evening was one of the first warm evenings of the season, and hundreds of New Yorkers had the same idea that I had -- to head to Madison Square Park to the Shake Shack. The long lines of people waiting for burgers, hot dogs, and milk shakes at the 20-by-20-foot kiosk literally are a joke: Shake Shack sells baby onesies that read: "I waited 9 months ... this line ain't that bad."

In Setting the Table, NYC restaurateur Danny Meyer, who operates the Shake Shack along with six other highly successful restaurants, presents the kiosk as a prime example of "doing well by doing good." A percentage of every sale goes to the Madison Square Park Conservancy, which in turn plows it back into the park, making it the kind of safe, beautiful place where you don't mind (too much) standing in line.

Investing in the community is a core philosophy for Meyer. He hosted one of the very first food-related fundraisers for Union Square Park and has continued to be instrumental in organizing and participating in culinary fundraisers to benefit the park. (For more on Union Square Park's rebirth, see our November 2008 profile of Fred Kent, founder of the Project for Public Spaces.)
By taking active leadership roles in working to revitalize two great city parks that anchor the neighborhoods in which we do business, we've demonstrated that a rising tide lifts all boats. The component of enlightened hospitality has beautified our neighborhood, and in turn has enhanced our business.
It's nice to know that Meyer feels your pain, line-wise. The burger stand has installed a Shack Shack cam, so you can check the lengths of the line online.

(This is the second part of a series digging into Setting the Table. Read an earlier post here.)