Friday, July 30, 2010

The Oil Spill Gets an X Factor

How cool is this: the latest X PRIZE competition, just announced yesterday, is for oil cleanup. Funded by Wendy Schmidt, president of the Schmidt Family Foundation, the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE offers a $1.4-million prize to whoever is the first to develop "innovative, rapidly deployable, and highly efficient methods of capturing crude oil from the ocean surface."

Specifically, this is cool in two ways: 1) It's a laudable goal, for obvious reasons. 2) We profiled Peter Diamandis, founder and chair of the X PRIZE Foundation, in our Leading by Example feature last year. Back then, he told us: "The very first step in creating a breakthrough or having an innovation is believing it's possible. ... By announcing a very large, funded, clear-objective prize, people believe, 'Wow, okay, it's gonna happen. How would I do it?'" Doesn't seem like he's changed much since we talked to him, does it?

TEDWomen Talk

Interesting and intense discussion happening around the just-announced, first-ever TEDWomen conference, which is happening here in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 7-8, organized around the question: "How are women and girls reshaping the future?" Writing in The Huffington Post on Wednesday, leadership and organizational behavior consultant C.V. Harquail didn't pull any punches:
The TEDWomen conference finally puts women and women's ideas in their proper place: at the margin.
TED, the digital world's most prominent aggregator of big ideas, thinks it can resolve complaints that its programs are male-dominated by creating a one-off conference, TEDWomen, that focuses on ideas by and about women. From an organization that claims to be all about cutting-edge ideas, TED's decision displays simplistic, outdated, and unenlightened thinking. Despite its good intentions, TED's women conference demonstrates the very discrimination it is supposed to address.
Association blogger Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE, was even more withering the other day:
I'm actually pretty annoyed that TED is ghettoizing women. I think more women should just be on the regular TED program, rather than this BS "well, the ladies weren't good/smart/innovative enough to make the REAL TED program, so we gave them their own event -- which will also ensure that they're only talking to each other and don't bother us BIG IMPORTANT MEN with their silly little ideas."
TED has also involved itself in the conversation. June Cohen, executive producer for TED Media and one of the producers of TEDWomen, sent a thoughtful response to Harquail's blog, which Harquail then commented on. And Cohen posted to the TED Blog:
Now, I understand (after reading some insightful comments) that the launch of TEDWomen raises the question: Are we segregating women? The answer is "No." We're not launching TEDWomen instead of balancing out our speaker lineup. This is a "Yes, and" rather than an "either/or." We generally have 30-40% women speakers at all TED events. Though this isn't ideal, it's improving, and we're proud of that. ...
So why launch TEDWomen? Because we wanted to have a long and thoughtful conversation. We've been discussing these new ideas about women at every TED, but we know there's more to say.  
I get the feeling that the debate will continue right up through Dec. 7-8. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Old Spice? Really?

Am I reading this right?

The wildly popular Old Spice advertising video channel, the source of a series of videos now rocketing around cyberspace, has been uploaded more than 117 million times. The popularity of the campaign apparently is not just an online quirk, as sales of Old Spice have increased by 107 percent in the last month. (It's not clear, Ad Age writes, how much of that is due to a coupon campaign, but Old Spice sales improved as soon as the campaign began last February.)

What it tells me is that absolutely everything and anything can be reinvigorated. I would not have bet that there was life left in the 71-year-old men's fragrance. When I was a kid, which was not recently, Old Spice was considered to be hopelessly old-fashioned, like horehound drops (whatever those are), or hot-water bottles. (And given Old Spice's recent performance, I am not counting either of those out.)

I love this kind of story and what it says about the potential of all those projects that seem to be dragging a little or lacking in zing. Creativity, imagination, and the willingness to take risks, it seems, really can work magic.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Comic-Con Too Far?

Somehow I made it from July 22-25 without posting anything about San Diego Comic-Con, and given my well-documented proclivities in this area, I'm not at all sure how this happened. But, anyway, trying to play catch-up today, I'll note that it seems that it was as fabulously well-attended as ever, so much so that debate has been underway for a few years now as to whether Comic-Con is a victim of its own success. Here's an interesting quote from an article in Saturday's Washington Post:
"It's become much more akin to a film festival like Sundance or Cannes," says Jace Lacob, a journalist who has covered several Comic-Cons for his Web site, Televisionary, and who contributes to the Daily Beast. "And I think that Sundance analogy is a good one, because that also was a much more grass-roots event that suddenly became a very Hollywood and celebrity event."
It seems to me that your event has arrived when people think it's gone commercial, sold out, and/or jumped the shark. And that there are worse problems to have. But obviously I'm being glib. In all seriousness, have you ever had to deal with sort of double-edged feedback about one of your meetings? Have you ever been accused of growing an event too big and losing sight of your original mission -- and your core attendees?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Everybody Comes to Washington, D.C.

My wife and I had dinner with two sets of friends this past weekend -- one on Saturday night, another last night -- and in both cases, someone was in town for a conference. It's a nice benefit of living in a premier meeting destination: Sooner or later, everybody comes to Washington, D.C. And, despite D.C.'s reputation as a one-industry town, no two people seem to come here for the same thing. One of our friends is a law student in Arizona interested in a career in animal rights, and she was here for the Humane Society of the United States' Taking Action for Animals conference at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. Another friend is a U.S. Navy officer serving a one-year posting in Baghdad who was here for a senior-level conference on Iraq at National Defense University.

You know what they say: The next best thing to going to an interesting meeting is having dinner with someone who went to an interesting meeting. Or two people who went to two interesting meetings.

Extra, Extra!: Convene Newsstand

It's Monday, the day I scour the Web, press releases, Google Alerts, and tips from co-workers and alert readers to bring you the news featured in PCMA's Tuesday e-newsletter, ThisWeek@PCMA.

Here's the archive for ThisWeek@PCMA.

And here are ThisWeek's Extra, Extra! top stories:

Last week the Presbyterian Church became the newest group to boycott Arizona as a result of its new immigration law, reports the Arizona Republic. The church's General Assembly voted 420 to 205 to "refrain from holding national meetings in states where travel by immigrant Presbyterians or Presbyterians of color might subject them to harassment due to legislation." Meanwhile, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has said that work will soon begin on an ad campaign designed to push back against the boycotts.

The International Convention of Acrophobics can probably scratch this hotel from its annual meeting short list: The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, opening this December, will occupy the floors 102 to 118 — i.e., right up to the very top, making it the world's highest hotel — in the city's tallest building, the International Commerce Center. Click through to the Huffington Post for renderings of the property, including its top-floor (hopefully non-infinity-edge) swimming pool.

From the "No, This Isn't a Google April Fools' Joke" department: A Canadian company has released a Microsoft Outlook add-on called ToneCheck that — no kidding — acts like a spelling- or grammar-checking tool, but for emotions: "The application gauges words and phrases against 8 levels of connotative feeling, enabling end users to make real-time corrections and adjust the overall tone of messages using a simple menu system," according to the blog TechCrunch.

Chris Durso on Chris Durso

A few weeks ago the excellent Joan Eisenstodt sent me an e-mail with the subject "There is another Chris Durso in our industry," and darned if she wasn't right: this guy on the left -- Chris Durso, vice president of operations for Rim Hospitality. Sure, he's from Detroit and I'm from Philadelphia. Sure, he's a senior-level hotel executive and I'm ... a magazine editor. But otherwise, it's like we're separated at birth. And, since I've never interviewed someone with my last name before, let alone someone with my full name, let alone someone with my full name who works in my industry -- the opportunity was too good to pass up. So, here we go -- Chris Durso on Chris Durso:

How did you end up having a career in the hospitality industry?
I was studying a vocational program in restaurant management at Tower High School in Warren, Mich. My instructor, Dave McNamara, took a liking to me and steered me in the direction of getting a degree in hotel and restaurant management at Michigan State University, where he had attended school. So I did! I am a proud graduate of what is now called The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University and was recently honored as an Emerging Alumnus of the Year.

What do you like about it?
The variety, for sure. No two days are ever the same. Even though my current role as VP of operations has me traveling all the time, it's the guest and staff interactions at the hotels that keep me grounded and energized.

What emerging trends in hospitality are you most excited about?
Social media and the transparency of rates and guest feedback is something that is here to stay. Hotels had better embrace it. Your competitors certainly are.

How closely to do you work with meeting and convention planners in the course of your job?
Really close -- I  married a longtime HelmsBriscoe associate, Patty Hunt Durso! In all reality, I don't personally work closely with meeting and convention planners, but I work with and stress to our sales managers at our hotels to always respond promptly to leads, even if they are leads that you don't think are a good fit. Know your meeting planners. Invite them to your hotel. They can be very strong advocates for your property if they know you and your property. Even if a meeting may be too large this time around, you just might be remembered as a good option when a smaller one comes around.

Has being named Chris Durso been beneficial to your career?
Hah! Yes. I was able to be interviewed for this blog and be read by thousands of people, wasn't I?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Convene Reads: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

You don't have to look hard to find meetings all over a book like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, a graceful and absorbing biography of both a woman and the "immortal" cell line  -- the first ever in the world -- that she unknowingly contributed to medical research, and that would play an instrumental role in the development of the polio vaccine, gene mapping, and countless other life-saving cancer treatments. The topic is medicine and medical ethics, after all, which means that much of the history of HeLa -- the cell line that was grown, and still grows today, from cells taken from the cervical cancer that killed Henrietta Lacks in 1951 -- played out in a veritable Petri dish of conferences, symposiums, panel discussions, and congressional inquiries.

All of that gets due mention throughout Skloot's book. But what's really impressive is that HeLa itself has its own annual meeting: the HeLa Cancer Control Symposium, first organized in 1996 by Roland Pattillo, MD, an obstetrics and gynecology professor at Morehouse School of Medicine who during his medical training worked with the Johns Hopkins biologist who first cultivated HeLa:
[Pattillo] was the first in his family to go to school, and when he learned about Henrietta as a postdoctoral fellow in Gey's lab, he felt immediately connected to her. He'd wanted to honor her contributions to science ever since. So on October 11, 1996, at Morehouse School of Medicine, he organized the first annual HeLa Cancer Control Symposium. He invited researchers from around the world to present scientific papers on cancer in minorities, and he petitioned the city of Atlanta to name October 11, the date of the conference, Henrietta Lacks Day. The city agreed and gave him an official proclamation from the mayor's office.
This snippet in no way does justice to this deeply researched and elegantly written book, which starkly contrasts the multibillion-dollar industry that has grown up around HeLa with the plight of Henrietta Lacks' family, many of whom live in and around Baltimore today and can't even afford health insurance.  It offers no easy answers, but gives you plenty to think about -- which is another way that it naturally intersects with meetings and conferences.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Emotion at Work

We've written a lot in Convene about the power of storytelling (including here and here), and have also blogged about it, but last week I experienced it first hand during a "Face to Face With Keppler Speakers" webcast featuring Stan Slap, a corporate strategist and author of the new book Bury My Heart at Conference Room B: The Unbeatable Impact of Truly Committed Managers. (Click on the video above to watch an edited version of his "Bury My Heart at Conference Room B" speaking presentation.) One story in particular that Slap told during the webcast was powerfully emotional, and has stuck with me -- a testament both to the art of storytelling and to Slap's message about the importance of personal values and beliefs in forging a connection with people, even in a management setting.

I can't do justice to the story or Slap's telling. Suffice it to say that it involves a woman, Florence Taylor (not her real name), who, growing up in a small town in the deep South, was one of the first black children to attend a white school, where on her first day she sat next to a white, red-haired girl who immediately became her new best friend. During recess, four masked men rode into the school's playground on horseback; one of them grabbed the red-haired girl because she'd been playing with Florence. Without thinking, Florence ran at the man, who dropped her red-haired friend, picked up Florence, and dragged her outside the schoolyard and along the concrete for two blocks. Florence spent five weeks in the hospital, and when she got out, she went right back to the white school. Today a successful executive at a well-known company, Florence tells Slap in Bury My Heart at Conference Room B:
"In this life I have had an opportunity to learn what is most important to me. What is most important to me is loyalty. The little white girl from that school is still my best friend today. I'm not willing to live without loyalty in my life and I'm not willing to have people I care about living without it. ... If you are working for me, and you ever get into trouble trying to do the right thing... I'm coming back for you."
I don't think I'll ever forget this story, or Slap's underlying point about forging a bond with the people who work for and with you based on those things that are most important to you. So I think I'd call that a successful (Web-enabled) meeting experience.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cheeseburgers and Other Open Secrets

When a meeting is working really well, it makes attendees feel like they're part of an exclusive club -- like they all share a secret that no one else in the industry knows. A little insider knowledge goes a long way, making a person feel special, privileged, accomplished. Or, sometimes, just cool, which is how I felt when I had dinner at Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien hotel after the author appearance I attended in New York City last week. (Hat tip to my colleague Hunter Slaton for the recommendation.) Burger Joint is a deliberately low-rent, uh, burger joint that's hidden in plain sight behind a red curtain in a corner of the hotel's elegant lobby -- a cramped dive with scarred wooden tables, a cash-only policy, and a handwritten menu that's limited to burgers, fries, shakes, and Sam Adams. You pretty much have to be looking for it to find it, which of course didn't stop the line of customers -- split pretty evenly between Manhattan scenesters and tourists -- from snaking out the door last Thursday night at 9.

So with Burger Joint, Le Parker Meridien has done two things: (1) stuck to the basics, offering killer burgers and fries, and nothing else); and (2) involved customers in its conspiracy of silence, making them accomplices and, ultimately, proselytizers. It's (2) that particularly interests me when it comes to meetings. How do you make attendees feel like your entire event exists behind a velvet rope? When they leave, do they feel like the rest of their industry needs to catch up with them -- and it's their duty to share what they've learned? 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Rolling on the Floor, Meeting

If any more proof were needed that technology can lead to the creation of events, ROFLCon seems tailor-made to provide it. The conference, which was first held in 2008 and was reprised this spring on the MIT campus to a sold-out audience, is named after the acronym,"rolling on the floor, laughing" -- Internet-speak for "That was really, really funny."

The idea spun out from a tweetup of Harvard undergraduates who founded the conference as a way to meet their online heroes, such as the viral phenomenon known as The Tron Guy. Attendees seemed to have had a good time -- who wouldn't get a kick of out of meeting the creator of Clippy? -- while tackling serious subjects, like how the Internet is changing cultural notions of celebrity, and race and the Internet.

What really struck me is how durable the concept of meeting face-to-face is proving to be. For ROLFCon's attendees, who are utterly at home in cyberspace, meeting face-to-face still is something to get excited about -- even when the subject is cyberspace.

Convene Reads: Last Call

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, by Daniel Okrent, is one of those great books that's about so much more than its ostensible subject. In telling the story of the Eighteenth Amendment -- which from 1920 until it was repealed in 1933 made it illegal for alcoholic beverages to be manufactured, transported, or sold within the United States -- Okrent also tells the story of women's suffrage, the federal income tax, international trade, organized crime, the Ku Klux Klan, immigration, Democrats and Republicans, men and women, sacramental wine, Welch's Grape Juice, and cigarette boats. And, of course, meetings and conventions, which over the course of decades is where Prohibition was discussed, debated, extolled, condemned, enacted, and repealed. Indeed, more pages than not in Last Call seem to mention a meeting of some kind, somewhere.

Here are just a few examples, beginning some 70 years before America went dry:
"[Susan B.] Anthony had given her first public speech in 1849, to a group called the Daughters of Temperance. ... In 1852 she was not allowed to address an Albany meeting of the Sons of Temperance specifically because she was a woman. "The sisters," said the group's chairman, were there not to speak but "to listen and learn." The same year, at a New York State Temperance Society meeting in Syracuse, the same result. It happened again, at a World Temperance Society convention in New York City.... Finally Anthony cast her lot with [Elizabeth Cady] Stanton (who had declared alcohol "The Unclean Thing") and proceeded to give half a century's labors to the cause of suffrage."
Around the turn of the century, as the Anti-Saloon League (ASL) gained ground:
"Thomas Gilmore, [United States Brewers' Association Secretary Hugh] Fox's counterpart over at the liquor distillers office, told his employers at their 1908 convention in Louisville that the ASL was 'the most remarkable movement that this country has ever known.'"
During World War I, when Prohibition forces attacked the German-American-dominated U.S. Brewers' Association:
"'Does anyone doubt,' [ASL Superintendent Purley A.] Baker asked an ASL conference in Columbus, 'in the light of the immediate past, that if there had not been a strong, virile Prohibition movement to combat the propaganda of this disloyal but well-financed organization, that American would have been sufficiently Germanized to have kept her out of the war?'"
In 1924, four years into Prohibition, when the Democratic National Convention was held in New York City:
"Official 'reception committees' could direct the visiting delegate to Manhattan's five thousand speakeasies; unofficial hosts -- hotel bellmen, cabbies, prostitutes -- knew where to get a bottle a delegate could enjoy in his room. 'Good rye is hardly obtainable,' Variety had said in one of its regular market reports, so Democrats had to make do with lesser merchandise. Wet operatives kept dry leaders entertained at endless social events, almost as if trying to seduce them with the wonders of Sodom."
And in February 1933, when the Twenty-First Amendment, which repealed Prohibition, was ratified:
"The remaining two clauses outlawed the transportation of intoxicating liquors into states that chose to forbid it and stipulated a ratification process requiring approval not by state legislatures but by state conventions called for this specific purpose."
Today, of course, the relationship between intoxicating liquors and meetings is better, shall we say, understood.

Extra, Extra!: Convene Newsstand

It's Monday, and that means extra (Extra, Extra!) news from around the meetings industry.

Bass Pro Shops has signed a 20-year lease to redevelop the ill-fated Memphis Pyramid, turning it into a $100 million "outdoors superstore." According to a hotel consultant, "If Bass Pro goes forward, there will be a fair amount of redevelopment ... and some of that will be hotels." The Memphis Business Journal also reports that Bass Pro taking over the Pyramid could prompt an expansion or replacement of the Memphis Cook Convention Center. Could these developments, with buzz from the new Memphis Beat TV series, kick off a renaissance for groups in Memphis?

"White Tea"
it wasn't: At the Palms hotel and casino in Las Vegas, an experiment at perfuming the property with a "teakwood" scent recently came to a screeching halt, after visitors pretty much roundly panned the aroma. The Las Vegas Sun reports that one online commenter wrote, "The place literally stinks. I'd almost rather smell the smoke."

According to USA Today, a number of Gulf Coast hotels — as well as big hotel companies including InterContinental, Marriott, and Hilton — are offering "oil-free beach guarantees." The story doesn't say whether this guarantee applies to groups, but it's worth asking, for any planner who is considering booking a meeting at a property possibly affected by the oil spill. (Of course, the point of the guarantee is that, in large part, the beaches are just fine.)

Used to, you could only talk to your seatmate. But now, reports the New York Times, with Twitter and other social networking programs, you can talk to anyone at the gate or on the plane. This recently happened to Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do?, who found himself trading tweets before a flight with another passenger who knew him from his writing.

And last but not least, the quote of the week award goes to this story from United Press International, about Toronto hosting the International Medical Marijuana Expo last week:
"We're not trying to promote, 'Come down to the convention center and get stoned.'"
Still, it's not a half-bad tagline.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Convene On Site: Vienna

In his last post, Chris Durso asked, "Have you ever heard of an event that began as a labor of love, a passion project created and staffed by a single dedicated volunteer, that has made the leap to professional stage, with paid staff members, sponsorships, and so on?"

Well, yes, Chris, I attended just such an event last night — the 18th Annual Life Ball, one of the most glittering and spectacular charity events in Europe. I'm here in Vienna as a guest of the Vienna Convention Bureau and Vienna Tourist Board, representing the North American meetings industry trade press, along with meetings industry media from the U.K. (Martin Lewis of CAT publications), Italy (Marco Biamonti of EDIMAN Srl.), Germany (Kerstin Hoffman of T&M Media), and Belgium (Marcel Vissers of Meeting Media Company).

The Life Ball — designed to "fight AIDS and celebrate life" — was organized and founded by one individual, Gery Keszler. His vision was to make the charity event part of the Viennese ball tradition, with a modern twist. What began as a small event from the gay community — the first Life Ball took place in 1993 with only two sponsors, and raised under 80,000 euros for the non-profit organization AIDS LIFE — last year raised more than 1.6 million euros, and has been embraced by worldwide celebrities and dignitaries alike. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, whose Clinton Foundation Access Programs are dedicated to expanding access to care and treatment for HIV/AIDS in the developing world, has become a regular at the event. (That's him in a photo I snapped on my BlackBerry last night.)

The spectacular ball takes place at Vienna's glittering City Hall and includes a red-carpet, two-hour open-air celebration, which, unfortunately, was cut short by a thunderstorm last night. When the rain first started, thousands of guests threw on festive pink plastic ponchos donated by T-Mobile, happy to sit out the rain. But when lightening threatened, the festivities were cut short and guests made a beeline for the City Hall. (Takeaway for planners: pocket-sized plastic ponchos are a great idea and smart sponsorship opportunity for outdoor events when there is a threat of inclement weather.)

At the ball, we circulated throughout the beautiful Gothic building among throngs of wildly costumed attendees (this year's theme was Earth). The Life Ball was even more spectacular this time around, serving as the kick-off to the 2010 International AIDS Conference, held for the first time here in Vienna and starting today. It will be the first time that I attend an international conference of this size — 25,000 attendees — and I'm looking forward to learning all I can about how this event moves the world forward in the fight against AIDS.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

From Self-Publishing to Self-Meeting

I'm in New York City today and tomorrow to help close the August issue of Convene. After I left our design studio tonight, I went off to a reading by David Carnoy, who has just published his first book, a thriller called Knife Music. (By day, Carnoy is executive editor for CBS Interactive, where he works with a good friend of mine, which is how I ended up at his reading.) I haven't read it yet, but the story behind the story is a thriller in its own right: Before the Overlook Press released Knife Music in hardcover this month, Carnoy published it himself -- as a print-on-demand title and a free iPhone app. His marketing savvy (and the quality of the book itself) attracted enough attention that he landed a two-book deal with Overlook.

At his reading tonight, Carnoy was lighthearted and self-deprecating. More than anything, he seemed tickled that so many people had shown up as Barnes & Noble on Broadway and 66th to see a first-time novelist. But he had a serious message for wannabe authors: self-publish. He's even written a 25-tip column on the topic for his day job. Because, Carnoy wonders, what do you have to lose?

It makes me wonder if the self-publishing model is in any way applicable to the meetings industry. Have you ever heard of an event that began as a labor of love, a passion project created and staffed by a single dedicated volunteer, that has made the leap to the professional stage, with paid staff members, sponsorships, and so on? Even if you haven't, I think there are things that meeting professionals can take away from Carnoy's 25 tips, starting with the first one one: "Self-publishing is easy" -- thanks to a variety of online applications that walk you through the process. So, too, are videoconferencing and virtual meetings. What are you doing to compete with -- and co-opt -- them?

Name That Tune!

One of the sources that I talked to for the July cover story "More Than a Feeling" -- about how appealing to meeting attendees' senses can not just improve their experience, but help them retain knowledge -- was Chris Brewer, an expert on using music in learning environments. Chris and I talked about how useful music can be in regulating mood at meetings, and also about how important it is to think about your audience and your objective when selecting which tunes to play. Be careful not to get stuck in the groove of the music your own generation or cultural background, she advised.

I asked Brewer if there is one song or piece of music that seems to transcend all boundaries, that everybody likes to hear. And she said, "Yes, there is."

And, that's all I am going to say about it. For now.

In the coming week, you're invited to drop by and nominate the song that you think Brewer suggested as the sure-fire crowdpleaser. Add videos, if you like, and maybe even tell us about the time you used the song successfully.

We'll unveil Brewer's pick in an upcoming blog post.

And here's one hint: It's not "More Than a Feeling."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

One Final Lesson From the Voice of God

A few different associations that I've worked for have used the same term to describe the unseen announcer at their meetings who asks attendees to take their seats and then introduces the first speaker: the Voice of God. It's as good a name as any for someone who is authoritative, omnipresent, and unseen. The name was also given to Bob Sheppard, the longtime, legendary public-address announcer for the New York Yankees, who died on Sunday at age 99. (It's been a tough week for the Yankees. The team's equally legendary if not quite so longtime owner, George Steinbrenner, died yesterday.)

In its obituary, The New York Times describes Mr. Sheppard's "precise, resonant, even Olympian elocution," and if you ever watched a ballgame at Yankee Stadium between 1951 and 2007, when Mr. Sheppard was on the job, you know what they mean. His delivery was distinct and memorable, with a sort of low-key grandeur. (Click on the video above to listen to him recreate the starting lineups for Game 6 of the 1951 World Series.) But Mr. Sheppard also knew enough to stay out of his own way:
"A public-address announce should be clear, concise, correct," he said. "He should not be colorful, cute, or comic."
Meeting professionals probably know what he means, since their jobs tend to be about setting the stage and then receding into the background. Because when you're the Voice of God, you don't need to take a bow.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

July 2010 Issue: Live!

The digital edition of our July 2010 issue is now live -- and front and center is a terrific cover story by Senior Editor Barbara Palmer that takes ROI to another level: "Return on Intangibles." Other highlights:

Update -- Crisis Response: Checking in with the 2010 Offshore Technology Conference, which by sheer chance convened in Houston a week and a half after the oil-rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

"State of the Unions": A feature article that uses McCormick Place's recent labor overhaul as a jumping-off point to explore union issues throughout the exhibitions industry.

E-panel -- "Trade Shows: Today and Tomorrow": Convene readers weigh in on our latest e-panel survey, with questions about their shows today and five years down the road

"4 Questions Trade Show Organizers Need to Ask Themselves": An exclusive excerpt from a white paper prepared for the 2010 Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum (ECEF).

One on One With: Ron DiLeo, the new executive director of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE).

Leading by Example: A profile of Vivian Schiller, who became president and CEO of NPR a year and a half ago -- just in time to inherit both a huge deficit and soaring listener numbers.

One on One With: Vernice Armour, the first female African-American combat pilot in U.S. military history, who will be making a keynote presentation sponsored by Convene at the DMAI Annual Convention next week.

Working Smarter: What Foursquare and other location-based applications could mean for meetings.

Innovative Meetings: Behind the scenes at the American Association of Neurological Surgeons 2010 Annual Meeting -- where every attendee got their own iPod Touch, pre-loaded with the conference's entire programming.

Backchannel: What is the best way to allocate space in an exhibit hall? Four meeting professionals weigh in.

Other Duties as Assigned: The American Camp Association, New York's Scott Rothschild on that time a SWAT team burst into his exhibit hall. And the Fonz was there.

Look for the text-only version of the July issue on our homepage within the next few days.

Haiti: A Moment for Hope

Today marks six months and one day after a violent earthquake devastated Haiti -- and exactly six months after the non-profit organization Healing Hands for Haiti (HHH) -- which provides rehabilitation clinical services and education in Haiti -- began rebuilding its own heavily damaged operations.

Convene traveled to Port-au-Prince in March, with PCMA member Jean Tracy, a HHH former board member and volunteer, to chronicle the organization's work. HHH volunteer doctors, physical therapists, and others worked long, physically and emotionally draining days as they divided their time between providing clinical care to earthquake victims and Haitian orphans, and to getting Healing Hands back on its feet.

At the six-month mark, there is no shortage of stories in the media measuring how far recovery efforts have -- and haven't -- come. There are far too many people suffering in Haiti today, and much work to be done. But there is also reason to feel hopeful, including about Healing Hands' progress. From its directors:
The process of redeveloping Healing Hands for Haiti began the day after the earthquake of January 12 of this year. Five months later, we are almost back to full service. A new prosthetic fabrication and physical therapy facility at rented quarters in Port au Prince, developed in partnership with Handicap International, has fitted and cared for hundreds of pre- and post- earthquake amputees and disabled patients. Demolition of destroyed buildings at our main campus is almost finished. Our emergency and rehab medicine tent clinic at the main site has been closed in anticipation of the opening of a new, rented facility to house a modern clinic, physical and occupational therapy rooms, classrooms and offices. We have increased our deployment of rehabilitation medical teams on a weekly rotation basis to hospitals, clinics and orphanages throughout Haiti. Among our special charges are the 150 spinal cord-injured, who suffered among the most devastating injuries in the earthquake.
The photograph above is courtesy of Handicap International, copyright: © William Daniels for Handicap International

The Subject Is Ethics

We've been sending out invitations to participate in quarterly short online surveys for a while now, and I've never received as much feedback on a topic as I did yesterday, shortly after our latest survey — on ethics in the industry — went live.

Seems like we touched a nerve. One respondent pointed out the irony of offering a drawing for a $50 American Express Gift Card as an incentive to complete the survey. The irony wasn't lost on us, but since American Express generously funds our surveys and we give respondents the option to be entered into the drawing, we didn't think it presented an issue.

But that's just the thing: Just as offering a carrot is a commonly accepted practice in the survey world, a lot of our survey questions have to do with commonly accepted meetings industry practices. What we are really after is what practices do planners think are questionable and when are they — if ever — appropriate?

Some things just aren't black and white. The subject of ethics in this industry makes for a fascinating gray area. We're relishing the opportunity to analyze the results and share them in an upcoming issue of Convene.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Extra, Extra!: Convene Newsstand

A couple of weeks ago I inaugurated a weekly companion to PCMA's ThisWeek e-newsletter, which goes out to PCMA members every Tuesday, and contains, among other things, news items for the top three or four stories in the meetings industry from the past week.

But so much else happens every week! And my Firefox is always filled with great stories. It seems that all the news that's fit to print, well ... just doesn't seem to fit. With that in mind, here's an extra helping of meetings industry news — some weird, some pertinent, and some inspiring.

Developer JBG Companies and Marriott International have settled a dispute that was holding up construction on Washington, D.C.'s long-awaited 1,167-room Marriott Marquis convention center headquarters hotel. Last year, JBG filed a lawsuit that accused Marriott of engaging in an irregular procurement process for the hotel. Now that the dispute has been settled, construction on the $550 million hotel should begin this fall.

Sci-fi fans who felt uneasy about the name of the digital billboard on the side of Denver's Colorado Convention Center — SkyNet; aka the name of the ruthless worldwide computer network that seeks to wipe out humanity in the Terminator movie series — can rest easy, as the company behind the billboard has gone kaput. As someone once said, "Hasta la vista, baby."

The San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau (SFCVB) celebrated its 100th Annual Luncheon last Wednesday. Congrats, SFCVB! And, can you believe it? The bureau and the city, which has won the Conde Nast Traveler Readers' Choice "Best City" award for 17 years running, has certainly come a long way since the devastation of the 1906 earthquake. At the luncheon, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and SFCVB President and CEO Joe D'Alessandro both took the opportunity to speak out against a proposed 2 percent hotel tax hike on the November ballot.

According to the Associated Press, Hyatt Hotels Corp. plans to embark upon a multimillion-dollar revamp and subsequent reopening of the 1,193-room Hyatt Regency New Orleans, which is adjacent to the Louisiana Superdome. Before it closed in Dec. 2005, the hotel served as a primary support location for government agencies when Hurricane Katrina struck the city.

Sick of what airline baggage fees? (The Dept. of Transportation recently announced that U.S. airlines brought in $770 million in checked-baggage fees during the first three months of 2010, representing a 33 percent increase over the same period last year.) Well, UPS has come up with a novel solution: The shipper has begun selling cardboard boxes that resemble luggage, complete with carrying handles, for travelers to use in shipping their excess baggage to their destination — and it will cost from $30 to $80 less than taking it with you on the plane.

Convene Reads: Metatropolis

Even in the future, when a combination of dwindling natural resources and increasingly nimble technology creates a semi-dystopian world where international borders mean nothing and some cities have swelled into self-enclosed nation-states -- even then, there will be meetings and conferences. How do I know? I just finished reading Metatropolis, a collection of short stories, edited by John Scalzi, that explore how urban environments might evolve -- and devolve -- in the coming decades and centuries. In one of the stories, "To Hie From Far Cilenia," by Karl Schroeder, people are able to use other people as their flesh-and-blood avatars -- called "cyranoids" -- anywhere else in the world. One of Schroeder's characters, who physically is in Stockholm but who has been living in an "augmented reality" city called Oversatch, describes using a cyranoid in Brazil:
"It was in Sao Paolo. You know Oversatch has been sponsoring me to attend conferences, so I was riding a local cyranoid  at an international symposium on vanishing rain forest cultures. We were off in a English breakaway session with about ten other people, some of whom I knew -- but of course I was pretending to be a postdoc from Brasilia, or rather my cyranoid was -- you know what I mean."
So not only will there still be physical conferences when everything else in the world is virtual, there will still be breakout sessions. Comforting, no? But you might want to start thinking about specific programs to accommodate cyranoids at your next meeting.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Friending Fiscal Policy in the UK

It's one thing to talk about how the social web flattens out hierarchies, but it is another thing to see Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg -- wearing a blue t-shirt -- videochat with UK Prime Minister David Cameron about using Facebook to connect with Britain's 26 million Facebook users for ideas on how to straighten out the UK's finances.

The British government is partnering with Facebook in "The Spending Challenge," which asks UK Facebook users for their ideas on how the government can reduce its spending and pare the deficit. The first phase, directed at workers in the public sector, elicited 60,000 comments, and the campaign is now open to all British citizens.

The initiative has already saved Britain millions, maybe billions of pounds, Cameron told Zuckerberg, by providing a platform for engaging the public. "That's a pretty good start."

Hat tip to

UPDATE #3: Arizona Boycott

The 2010 Border Governors Conference, which was to be held in Phoenix in September, was cancelled by Arizona Gov. (and conference chair) Janice Brewer last week after the governors of six Mexican states announced they wouldn't be attending because of Arizona's new immigration law. (Read our previous posts about the controversial law here.) But, according to The Washington Post, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who is against the law, is trying to reconvene the conference in another location -- because it offers a valuable forum to hash out the issue:
"I feel very strongly, and so do the Mexican governors, that we need to have the conference because this is a conference that has been going for 30 years," Richardson said. "It's a conference that diffuses a lot of problems."
Brewer agrees. In a letter to the Mexican governors announcing that she had cancelled the conference, she wrote:
Naturally I am disappointed by your decision, as I sincerely believed the gathering of the Governors in Arizona would have presented a great platform to initiate dialogue about the legislation and other topics of great importance to the border region.
Well, maybe it's some kind of a start when people on both side of the issue agree about the power of meetings.

Isn't That Special?

Still confused about what's necessary and what's excessive when it comes to holding a special event? Yesterday's issue of Bisnow for associations and nonprofits reports on a presentation that Gloria Mobley -- grants manager for St. Ann's Infant and Maternity Home, in Hyattsville, Md. -- gave about that very topic at the Foundation Center in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. In figuring out whether you should go ahead with a gala or other high-profile event, Mobley favors the SMART system: Ask yourself if the event has a specific purpose, how you can measure its success, whether your goals are achievable and/or realistic, and does your timetable makes sense.

If you decide now isn't the time for your event, don't throw away your binder:
That doesn't mean organizations can't put things in place for a real event further down the road. "A 'no' is never a 'no.' It's just a 'not now,'" Gloria says.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Flower Power

Tipping our hand a bit, the cover story in the July issue of Convene -- mailing this week, with the digital edition following close behind online -- is about the many intangible factors that make calculating a meeting's true ROI more than just an exercise in accounting. Among the things that Senior Editor Barbara Palmer explores in the article is how aesthetics and production design affect how attendees experience an event -- something that Laura Dowling, the White House's new chief floral designer, has to think about every day. (The lavender bouquet pictured at left is from her website.) A recent profile in The Washington Post discusses Dowling's (and Michelle Obama's) penchant for "official flowers in a 'looser' garden style" -- and suggests what a presidential administration's notion of beauty can say about the administration itself:
Flowers from previous administrations can look dated in years to come, just as first ladies' dresses often do. An Eisenhower-era state-dinner photo shows rows of stiff pyramids of that 1950s favorite, the pink carnation. Jackie Kennedy brought more relaxed arrangements in a decidedly French style. The Nixons are pictured at an informal family dinner (ties for the men, headband for Tricia) with a big ball of daisies and yellow mums in the center; it looks like an old FTD special.
Do you use flowers at your meetings -- as centerpieces or stage dressing, or in some other capacity? Do you see them as an integral part of the message you're trying to communicate? Or are they just something pretty to look at? Then again, as this month's cover story suggests, there may not be any such thing.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Convene Spins: Philadelphia Freedom

On a beautiful Friday afternoon in the nation's capital, at the start of Fourth of July weekend, there's only one song that a guy from Philadelphia wants to hear: "Philadelphia Freedom," by Elton John. An obvious choice, but undeniably rousing -- especially this version, which was filmed at the Royal Opera House in London, and features a 90-piece orchestra plus a student choir from the Royal Academy of Music. Suitable music for any meeting held in Philadelphia, of course, along with legislative programs that are designed to involve attendees in advocacy, politicking, and other democratic rabble-rousing.

Happy Fourth of July!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

They're With the Banned

One of the things they tell you to do when you're starting out as a writer is "Write what you know." A good variation for meeting professionals might be "Meet as you do" -- a guiding principle that the American Library Association (ALA) put into effect at its Library Advocacy Day rally on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. As Bisnow reports, the event -- held during the ALA 2010 Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. -- was "the only rally we've ever been to that started with story time," with young-adult author Lauren Myracle reading from her book Violet in Bloom. Myracle's work is among the most frequently banned in the United States, which to me makes her reading a double-score for ALA, because (1) it was a literal demonstration of what libraries bring to people every day, and (2) it made a political statement that was in keeping with Library Advocacy Day. Meet as you do, right?

Convene On Site: London, Part 4

The Visit London press trip wrapped up this past Saturday, and after a short English holiday with my wife, I'm back at work, sifting through piles of business cards from the many contacts I made, not to mention stacks and stacks of brand-new memories. Two final postcards from the other side of the pond:

1. A world-class tennis event is a meeting with strawberries and cream. Visit London pulled out all the stops on this trip, which on Saturday culminated in a visit to Wimbledon, where we learned about ticket packages (easily reconfigured as incentive trips), toured the handsome new Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum (available for events), and watched some dazzling tennis (Sweden's Robin Soderling beat Brazil's Thomaz Bellucci 6-4, 6-2, 7-5, while Russia's Maria Sharapova beat the Czech Republic's Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 7-5, 6-3). It was particularly interesting to watch what happened around the court while a match was going on, which was both everything and nothing -- armies of ball boys and ball girls (pictured above), line judges, umpires, and other officials, all positioned exactly where they're supposed to be, moving and speaking only when they're required to and only in prescribed ways, all in service to the players. Just like meeting planning, with logistics, ground rules, regimentation, and even pageantry -- the science of an event -- setting the stage, then receding into the background while the art of an event plays out.

2. Destination marketing is older than Jane Austen. On Monday, my wife and I spent the day in Bath, the historic spa town about a hundred miles west of London where Jane Austen lived for part of her life and which featured in several of her novels. During a walking tour, we learned about Richard "Beau" Nash, who became the city's Master of Ceremonies circa 1705, when its popularity as a resort destination was just beginning to rise, and who eventually appointed himself "King of Bath." Something of a dandy, Nash introduced elegant new rules for social conduct and dress, and in 1708, he commissioned the building of the Bath Assembly House, which soon became a primary gathering place. According to a BBC profile of Nash, "Within three years, Bath was turned into the most desirable location in the country, even drawing socialites from the continent." It's not overstatement to say, as the BBC does, that "it was Bath that made the man, and the man made Bath." Could a destination marketing  executive ask for a better epitaph?