Thursday, September 30, 2010

Convene On Site: ASAE Summit Awards

A quick impression from the ASAE Annual Summit Awards Dinner, held at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., last night: There's something to be said for matching a venue to the specific mission of a specific event. The dinner honored six associations for programs that have made the world a better place through initiatives that are flat-out inspiring, from the Food Bank for New York City's Earned Income Tax Credit program to the American Academy of Pediatrics' Helping Babies Breathe program to the American Automobile Association's School Safety Patrol program. And the venue was equally inspiring. The National Building Museum is one of D.C.'s grandest venues, a red-brick palace with a vast, soaring Great Hall dominated by eight 75-foot-high Corinthian columns; and last night, even the table settings (pictured above in a photo by Convene Account Executive Wendy Krizmanic) felt meaningfully ornate. It was the perfect setting in which to contemplate the heights of service to which all our organizations aspire.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Once Every 30 Years

In a Convene Reads item about the book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea a few months ago, I wrote about a human-rights conference at which a North Korean defector named Hyuck had testified: "[M]aybe we can take some small comfort in the fact that conferences of the type that Hyuck attended ... are helping shine a light on situations like this."

But conferences don't just happen outside the impenetrable Stalinist monolith that is the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea. Today, the Workers' Party of Korea -- the country's ruling party -- convened in Pyongyang for its first meeting in 30 years, according to The New York Times, during which Kim Jong-Il was "renominated" as general secretary. One doesn't imagine there was much debate. One also wonders about the meeting planners tasked with setting up this conference, and what that RFP might have looked like.

The Next Volcanic Eruption?

As we wrote in a story in the current issue of Convene, the airplane-grounding volcanic eruption in Iceland that seemed to come out of nowhere last spring wasn't a surprise to everyone: Kevin Mellott, president of Erase Enterprises, warned his clients that volcanic activity would probably interrupt air travel in Europe during the first six months of 2010. Forewarned, they sent clients home from Europe on prearranged alternate routes.

Now Mellott is recommending paying attention to a sister Icelandic volcano -- Katla -- which is even bigger than Eyjafjallajökull and potentially could blow in the next year. There's lots of talk about the Katla on survivalist blogs, but also at conferences like mid-September's "Atlantic Conference on Eyjafjallajökull and Aviation" in Keflavik. In a summary, the conference chairman wrote that it was generally accepted by volcanologists that the probability of another volcanic eruption in Iceland or elsewhere in the coming years is "high" -- with Katla as the primary suspect.

Some sources were downplaying the likely effect of the volcano, but not Mellott. He also wasn't optimistic that many planners were paying attention to the potential of another eruption. "The intelligence is out there," he said. "It's just a question of whether anyone is looking for it."

NASA image of Eyjafjallajökull

Monday, September 27, 2010

Convene On Site: The Peabody Orlando, Part 2

The press trip to The Peabody Orlando wrapped up in fine fashion on Saturday night, with a four-course, wine-paired, Northern California-themed dinner at the hotel's sharp new restaurant -- and it also represented something new for me. In my two-and-a-half years with Convene -- working in the meetings industry in my own way -- this is the first event to which my wife accompanied me, meaning that for the first time I didn't get to my hotel room and immediately call her to say, "Boy, I wish you were here." Instead, we were lucky enough to be able to share a very nice experience, from the site tour to that four-course dinner to the daily walking of the Peabody Ducks. In that way, the press trip did what the best meetings and conferences do -- created a sense of common history, something that a certain group of people experienced together and can look back on warmly. Especially those ducks.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Convene On Site: The Peabody Orlando

On Thursday, The Peabody Orlando officially dedicated its $450-million expansion project, and this weekend the property is hosting a press trip to show off the results. And there's a lot of new stuff to show off -- such as 300,000 feet of beautifully designed meeting and convention space, a 31-story guest tower, a high-end spa and fitness center, and a swank cocktail lounge that wouldn't be out of of place on "Mad Men." That's on top of The Peabody Orlando's existing portfolio, which includes a prime location next to the Orange County Convention Center and, of course, the ever-lovable Peabody Ducks.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Bed Bug Battle Plan?

By now, you've surely heard about the first Annual North American Bed Bug Summit, held Tuesday and Wednesday at the Hyatt Rosemont in Chicago. The meeting brought together 14 of the world's leading entomologists to discuss the battle against bed bugs, which have come back with a vengeance in recent years, due most likely to the ban of pesticides like DDT.

Bed bugs are bad news for everyone -- they have closed down more than one store here in New York City, the bed-bug capital of the U.S. And, as a Wall Street Journal blog post points out, infestations inflict both physical and mental suffering. Although experts say that personal cleanliness is not a factor in infestation, there is considerable stigma attached to having bed bugs in your home or hotel.

Bed bugs are of particular relevance to the meetings industry because they can be spread, among other ways, through rented furniture, hotel mattresses, and luggage. So far, I haven't heard of any industry-wide campaign to address the bed bug surge, but it seems to me that a proactive, transparent, unified strategy would be a very good idea.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Welcome, Beck/Stewart/Colbert Nation!

I've written before about the pluses and minuses of living in a premier meeting destination like Washington, D.C., but I'm having problems figuring out whether the trio of "populist outrage" style events coming here over the course of two months is a plus or a minus. Glenn Beck kicked it off with his Restoring Honor rally, held at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, and Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are following up with their own "dueling" events on Oct. 30 -- Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity and Colbert's March to Keep Fear Alive.

Leaving politics completely out of the equation: It's pretty cool to live somewhere that's identified as a symbolically important place to convene, even if Stewart and Colbert are mostly riffing off Beck for as many laughs as they can get. The flip side is that, depending on who's holding a symbolically important rally here, there's a segment of the population elsewhere that equates D.C. with everything that's wrong with the country. You try not to take that personally, but sometimes it gets to you.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Context and Content

In her excellent post yesterday about a recent TEDTalk by TED founder Chris Anderson, Barbara Palmer wrote: "That serious magic, it seems to me, occurs between the speaker and his immediate audience. Would TEDTalks be as popular as they are without TED conferences?" It's a good question -- with implications for hybrid meetings (as Barbara pointed out), and also for the nature of conferences themselves, because it makes you -- okay, me -- think about whether they're defined more by their programming or by their format. In other words, content or context?

Extra, Extra!: Convene Newsstand

Welcome back to Extra, Extra!, Convene's weekly special supplement to our ThisWeek@PCMA newsletter. (Click here for the ThisWeek archive.) Let's see what's news:

The Wall Street Journal has a fun, splashy review of the decadent new 160-room Armani Hotel Dubai, the first such property by Giorgio Armani — where, because "Mr. Armani doesn't believe in waiting in lines," reception takes place in the guest's room. (Which begs the question: Would you want this amenity? We editors for Convene travel quite a bit for work, as you might imagine, and this writer, for one, isn't so keen on the growing encroachment by staff into guest space. No, I don't need a tour of the room, thanks; I can figure out how to operate the television all by myself.) At any rate, the Armani Hotel Dubai isn't alone: It will soon have fashion-world competition in the form of an 87-room Gucci property and a Palazzo Versace, both in Dubai.

Monday, September 20, 2010

When Is Video Face-to-Face?

Adrian Segar has written a very thoughtful post about the story about crowdsourcing I wrote for our September issue, and on a story on the same topic by Michelle Bruno.

Adrian’s post also tipped me off to a newly posted TEDTalk by TED founder Chris Anderson. In it, Anderson talks about the significance of the growth of online video and its revolutionary potential for "crowd accelerated innovation."

It's good stuff. Anderson includes some wonderful stories about how video is fueling innovation in fields as diverse as dance and community development.

But Anderson’s points about video also got me thinking about the definition of "face-to-face" communication. People watch TEDTalks as much for the non-verbal information they contain as for the ideas, Anderson said. Most of the speakers' ideas have already been expressed elsewhere, he said, but it is in the nonverbal portion of TEDTalks that there is “serious magic.” That magic occurs, it seems to me, between the speaker and his immediate audience. Would TEDTalks be as popular as they are without TED conferences?

Friday, September 17, 2010

In Defense of PowerPoint

We've gone on record as saying the Prezi presentation application is terrific, which, let's face it, carries with it an unspoken assumption that the dominant presentation application -- PowerPoint, of course -- is less than terrific. But Farhad Manjoo, writing in Slate, defends PowerPoint by identifying some of the common mistakes people make when using it and offering tips for avoiding those mistakes. He writes:
When people write annoying e-mails or make inscrutable spreadsheets, we don't blame Outlook and Excel; we blame the people. But for many of us, PowerPoint is synonymous with the terrible output it often generates. Because we've all been bombarded by so many awful PowerPoint-enabled talks, we've come to assume that slide software is a fundamentally bad idea -- that PowerPoint is a tool mainly for obfuscation and boredom, and that no good can come of it.
One of Manjoo's suggestions: "Skip the bullets." Yes. Any thought on how to diplomatically communicate that to your speakers?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Where Would Robert Redford Meet?

If you were one of the world's best-known environmentalists, how would you go about building a conference center?

One answer can be found at the new Redford Conference Center, opening today at Redford's 5,000-acre Sundance Resort.

The resort already has in place an impressive set of green policies, which includes an on-site glass kiln (installed because of the difficulties of recycling in a remote mountain location) and car-pooling incentives, as well as a full-time naturalist and staff who carry out ongoing environmental restoration projects.

The new conference center is notable for its use of green building materials. The wood in the ballroom and pre-function areas is reclaimed barn materials, and staircase panels area from old Wyoming and Montana. A fireplace hearth was locally quarried, and 95 percent of the lights are LED or fluorescent.

It also uses geothermal heating and cooling, which pulls heat from the ground in the winter, and disperses heat into the ground in summer.

“This conference center will foster more people into collaborative ventures, more new ideas to flow, and more creativity to thrive on the mountain," said Redford, "all without overwhelming the natural space it inhabits."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I Prezi, You Prezi, We Prezi

Prezi, the fun slide-presentation application we spotlighted a few months ago, has taken things to the next level with Prezi Meeting, which allows up to 10 people to collaborate on a Prezi presentation in real time. (Click on the video above for a quick tutorial.) The operative advantage: "Text, images, and videos added to the prezi are visible to everyone, giving remote team members the sensation of being in the same creative space together." As part of a creative team whose members -- editors and designers -- all work in separate locations, I find that aspect of Prezi Meeting enormously appealing, because at some point in the creative process there's no substitute for sitting around a table with your team and collectively ripping something apart and putting it back together. That's not exactly what Prezi Meeting allows, but it's a welcome step in that direction.

Putting the Cart Before the Audience

In just five years, the Brooklyn Book Festival has become one of the biggest and most popular book festivals in the country. The 2010 festival, held last weekend, featured 200 authors of multiple genres -- from Salman Rushdie to Sarah Silverman -- and more than 175 exhibitors.

The booths, mostly tables under blue tents, were lined up on Cadman Plaza behind Brooklyn's Borough Hall. In such a densely packed setting, how can any one exhibitor set him or herself apart?

Children's book author Darren Farrell came up with a whimsical solution: His "Hot Doug" Cart, named after the wooly sheep who is the protagonist of Farrell's children's book, Doug-Dennis, and the Flyaway Fib. The Hot Doug Cart is the genuine article, a rolling hot dog cart, complete with umbrella. Farrell stashes books, crayons, and drawing paper in the food compartment. The sign on the front is simply a printed panel, which can be easily changed.

Sunday's book festival was the cart's inaugural appearance, and it attracted a lot of attention from children and their parents, beginning the moment Farrell popped open the umbrella. The cart fits inside Farrell's Mini Cooper, he said, and he plans to take it everywhere a car will go -- to libraries, bookstores, even setting up for impromptu reading on city streets and parks.

Farrell's book -- his first -- came out in March. Before its debut, the author sat at a table to display books. The cart is much more fun for everybody.

Extra, Extra!: Convene Newsstand

Welcome back to Extra, Extra!, after a one-week hiatus. We've got lots of interesting meetings-industry news that we didn't have room for in this week's edition of ThisWeek@PCMA, so let's get to it!

"Augmented reality" — no, it's not some sort of Star Trek-like "holodeck" (although it's getting there). Rather, it's a newish smart phone technology that uses a phone's built-in camera, GPS, and web access to scan whatever's in the camera's field of vision, and then display that image on the phone's screen with added information — such as, in the case of destinations or venues, food and beverage options, facts and figures, and other information that might be helpful to someone who is unfamiliar with a particular place (such as, say, meeting attendees). Currently this tech is most widely available on the iPhone, in the form of an app called mTrip (which we learned about from this Associated Press story). But who knows what the future may bring?

Monday, September 13, 2010

September 2010 Issue: Live!

The digital edition of our September issue is live, and, boy, is it a doozy. The cover story (and also this issue's CMP Series article), by Senior Editor Barbara Palmer, is about crowdsourcing -- and part of it was crowdsourced, with readers of the ThisWeek@PCMA e-newsletter voting on one of two possible cover illustrations. The winning illustration ended up on our cover (at left), while the second-place illustration opens the cover-story layout inside the magazine. Other highlights in this issue:

Update: Checking in with destinations along the Gulf Coast right after the oil leak had been plugged, we find that at least one CVB didn't have enough hotel and meeting rooms in the immediate aftermath of the spill -- and that all of them have been busy letting the world know they're still open for business.

"Off the Grid": Barbara Palmer scores big again with a feature article about meeting in remote, primitive, and/or dangerous locations.

One on One With: Maarten Vanneste, president and CEO of Abbit Meeting Support and founder of the Meeting Architecture movement, which wants to do for meeting content what the CMP has done for meeting logistics.

"Causes for Celebration": Talented and glamorous Editor in Chief Michelle Russell and equally talented if somewhat less glamorous Senior Editor Hunter Slaton team up to profile two giant international meetings held this past July -- the International AIDS Conference (in Vienna) and the International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous (in San Antonio).

Industry Report: The results of Champion Exposition Services' new Exhibitor Trends Survey, which finds that more than half the exhibitors who participated in fewer trade shows because of the recession regret that.

International Meetings -- Asia Rising: Our seven-part department about venues and destinations throughout the world's most populous continent kicks off with a look at Seoul -- #11 on ICCA's city rankings for 2009 and host of the G-20 Summit this November.

Other Duties as Assigned: Our new column charting the lighter (and frequently stranger) side of meeting planning continues with BreAnne Clark's memorable account of running out of pigs' feet at a medical conference.

Look for the text-only version of the September issue on Convene's homepage within the next few days.

Three Days in Dublin

I had a whirlwind visit to Dublin last week to participate in the grand opening celebration of the Convention Centre Dublin. I had an absolutely wonderful time during my brief stay and enjoyed spending time with about two dozen international journalists.

My favorite comment came from a trade media colleague from Belgium. Our group was taking a tour of the spectacular, brand-new Aviva stadium, a futuristic swirl of glass and steel, which offers meeting space on five floors. One of our planned activities there was a short wine-tasting session, and as I peered over my wine glass, I noticed that my Belgian co-participant looked confused. I asked him what he was thinking. He told me he was trying to wrap his head around the fact that we were in a sports stadium where an Irish sommelier was explaining the difference between a Spanish red and Italian white wine.

That gave me a good laugh, but I was struck by two things. One is that, as the only American in the group, perhaps the scene didn't hold as many obvious contradictions for me. The other is that it somehow captures the Irish, who hold tight to their unique heritage (showcased for our group by the traditional Irish music and dance entertainment on both evenings of our trip), while embracing a more continental approach to food, wine, and events themselves. Plus, I just think it's part of the Irish people to hold a few surprises up their sleeve.

Like this statue of Irish writer Oscar Wilde that I snapped a photo of when we hopped off our bus at Dublin's Merrion Square for a quick look. This likeness of Wilde, as our wonderful guide Josephine pointed out, isn't as it seems. From the right, he is lighthearted and smiling. From the left profile, he is somber and serious. Two sides of the same person and both things at once.

Friday, September 10, 2010

My Favorite (Green) Blue Bottle

There was a discussion last week on the #eventprofs Twitter chat about green meetings, and how planners and suppliers can make initiatives both meaningful and embraceable. The discussion touched upon disposable plastic water bottles several times: Why do they keep popping up at meetings? And why haven't we all trained ourselves to carry our own bottles?

The conversation made me think my own trusty blue water bottle, pictured here on my stoop. It was a gift from the Long Beach CVB, and it looked prettier when they gave it to me many months ago. Unlike many other reusable bottles, given to me with the best of intentions, I actually carry it. It's now dinged and dented and scratched up -- because I use it all the time. I think it's a beautiful color, and it keeps water cold and doesn't make it taste funny. It is a high-quality bottle, clearly not a throwaway.

That word -- quality -- surfaced several times during the chat. Quality often is more expensive, but it holds up over the long run.

A Metro Runs Through It

I had an appointment in Tysons Corner, Va., yesterday afternoon, and driving out there from where I live in Arlington, I was struck by the progress that's been made on the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, which is extending Washington, D.C.'s subway system out to Dulles International Airport. This is a drive I make fairly often, so I've been following the project more or less since work crews began clearing trees for it two years ago. But yesterday, things that had seemed fledgling and preliminary now felt substantial -- swooping overpasses, tracks, and whole Metro stations are taking shape. (The photo above is older, obviously, but it gives you a sense of what's happening on a 23-mile-long scale.) You hear the word "infrastructure" a lot in the meetings industry, and it can refer to many different things, but how often do you get to watch a true, physical, facilities-linking piece of infrastructure being built in a prime destination? It's something to see.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Brooklyn Tale

No matter how brilliant our ideas for new ways of designing meetings or communicating with members and attendees may be, they won’t work if we don’t know our audience.

I’ve heard that a hundred times, but it was brought home to me this morning when I stopped at the drugstore in my Brooklyn neighborhood. The drugstore is part of a chain and recently removed a counter with two cash registers and replaced it with four automated checkout stands.

In theory, the automated registers provide faster, more efficient service. In practice, however, they are a big flop. From what I’ve observed, the store’s customers either ignore them, lining up to be waited on by two now very overworked cashiers, or make half-hearted attempts to use the automated registers while complaining loudly.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Convene Reads: The Passage

We already know, from a previous Convene Reads item, that meetings will be a part of our (fictional) dystopian future. Now we have evidence that meetings will be a part of our (fictional) post-apocalpytic future, thanks to The Passage, by Justin Cronin, a compulsively readable brick of a summer read that imagines the world after a military experiment has unleashed a plague of vampire-like creatures throughout North America (and possibly the rest of the world). Civilization crumbles, and a hundred years later, survivors are  clustered in small, precariously defended colonies. But we know mankind gets through it, because occasionally Cronin includes journal excerpts from various survivors that are set up this way:

From the Journal of Ida Jaxon ("The Book of Auntie")
Presented at the Third Global Conference on the North American Quarantine Period
Center for the Study of Human Cultures and Conflicts
University of New South Wales, Indo-Australian Republic
April 16-21, 1003 A.V.

"A.V." stands for "After Virus," and the outbreak happens in 2018 -- which means the "Third Global Conference on the North American Quarantine Period" is held in the year 3021. The implication for meeting planners is clear: Save your records, because you never know when future civilizations will need them to help pick up the pieces.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Do You Know Your Meeting's WalkScore?

There probably is research showing how much attendees love to meet in walkable cities, but all you really have to do is think back to a meeting you attended where the convention center and hotel was within easy range of shops, restaurants, and maybe even a little green space. Now think of a meeting where you felt more or less marooned without a shuttle bus. Most people -- all other things being equal -- would choose the first option.

If walking is important to your attendees, there is a tool called WalkScore that allows you to gauge the walkability of properties you are considering for a meeting. It's not perfect -- it doesn't factor in crime rates, for instance, or distinguish between the length of city blocks -- but it's a good starting point. (I plugged in the addresses of the last two hotels I stayed at, and WalkScore's assessment was spot on.)