Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Year in Blog Posts

Photo by Fabrizio Pincelli
There are a lot of ways to mark the end of a year. We decided to look both backwards and forward at the same time, by sharing some of the blog posts we wrote in 2011 that hit on topics or trends that we'll still be talking about in 2012. We chose one for each month:

1. Making Lemonade. Kelly Peacy, PCMA's vice president for meetings and events, took on what could have been a real headache and came up with a solution that was a runaway hit with attendees. (Why it's buzz-worthy now: Her innovation was a keeper, and will return at Convening Leaders 2012 Jan. 8-11.)

2. By the Numbers. When the Convention Industry Council (CIC) revealed the results of the landmark study, "The Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy," jaws dropped: Meetings contribute $263 billion in direct spending and 1.7 million jobs to the U.S. economy each year. The CIC study kicked off a wave of new meetings-industry research initiatives.

3. SXSW Cared About Japan. The world watched in sad horror as Japan was devastated in March by an earthquake and tsunami, followed by severe damage at a nuclear power plant. The meetings industry acted quickly, including attendees at SXSW in Austin, who began raising funds to aid in the disaster hours after it began. The Japanese National Tourism Organization reported rising numbers of visitors later in the year.

4. So Long Bubba. It's not really news anymore that iPads can be a meeting planner's best friend. Mandi Kasper, CMP, a member of PCMA's meetings and events team, made this great little video about how she and fellow team members made the leap from paper to tablet.

5. Got Geek? There is a constant churn of new applications created to enhance the productivity and effectiveness of meetings and meeting planners. Planner Liz King hit on a great idea — a meeting! — to test them out. Planner Tech took off in New York, and was repeated in Washington, D.C.

6. Serious Fun. Games, as a way to both connect and educate attendees, came on strong this year, including the pioneering game played by attendees at the Green Meeting Industry Council's annual meeting in Portland.

7. Huyang Is in the Details. Global trends and government policies continue to affect the world of international meetings in big ways, but little things mean a lot, too.

8. Smart Ways to Fight 'Decision Fatigue'. Research into how our brains work has huge implications for how we design and run meetings. (Look for more about brain-friendly meetings in the January issue of Convene.)

9. A Turning Point for Hybrid Meetings? We had it wrong, it turns out, when we predicted that sharing meeting content online would decimate our meetings. Done right, it can have just the opposite effect.

10. "The Future is Crashing Into Us." There was plenty of straight talk when more than 200 attendees gathered at the PCMA Masters Series in Washington, D.C., to discuss what the future of convention exhibits and trade shows might look like.

11. "In Your Mind's Eye." Why meeting planners may be the most imaginative people around, live from our inaugural Convene Forum. Stay tuned for word about where we will meet in 2012.

12. Doing Good by Doing What You Are Good At. CSR is not only not a fad, but is becoming more aligned with business goals. Imagine what could happen if you were to leverage, not just the energy of your attendees, but their deepest expertise. What could they learn from one another while they are giving back?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Doing Good by Doing What You're Good At

courtesy NONDC
When it comes to doing good, sometimes the hardest part is choosing the right idea. But when a plan to tackle a social problem aligns with a business interest, things start clicking, Margaret Coady, director of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), told USA Today earlier this year.

It also works that way when an association or organization lines up its public-service projects at the "sweet spots" where their own areas of expertise intersection with social needs. A perfect example was the decision by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to create a project that would address the rebuilding of post-Katrina New Orleans, the site of AIA's 2011 National Convention and Design Exposition.

Knowing the needs of New Orleans, "we can't not do something," Joel Mills, director of AIA's Center for Communities by Design, told Executive Editor Chris Durso, who wrote about the project for Convene. (The project outline is available here.)

Another great example is the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) decade-long commitment to building safe, accessible playgrounds in the cities where they hold their annual meetings. It resonates with AAOS members, public relations director Sandra Gordon told me, because  orthopedic surgeons have first-hand experience with injuries that children can suffer on unsafe playground equipment.

Nearly half of all conferences now include volunteer experiences, according to research conducted at the University of Florida. Just think of all that could be done, and the rewarding experiences that could be created for meeting attendees, if conference-related projects unleashed the full talents of their members.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Hybrid Meetings: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

"Most hybrid events are like bad cable access TV."

That's from consultant Sam Smith, managing director of Interactive Meeting Technology, and a co-founder of the successful hybrid meeting, Event Camp Twin Cities.  And I know exactly what Sam means, having suffered through a dismal livestreamed event this week. I actually didn't suffer for long -- after just a few minutes, I turned to something more interesting.

That's one of the points that Sam makes about creating effective hybrid events: People have a lot to distract them, and meeting organizers are not going to engage viewers by simply sticking a camera in the back of the room and switching it on.

For guidance on how you can do a better job, check out the following presentation by Sam and  Event Camp Twin Cities co-founder Ray Hansen.

View more presentations from Samuel Smith

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Get Out!

This morning, in the New York Times' Frequent Flier column, I came across a somewhat-more-urban follow-on to Convene Senior Editor Barbara Palmer's recent blog post, "The Nature Break-Out."

Basically, the Frequent Flier column is an "as-told-to" story from a frequent business traveler — in this case, Jennifer Davis, a marketing executive for a digital display company.  Davis does signage, and attends meetings.  In discussing how to beat jet lag, she suggests taking a walk outside prior to whatever it is, business-wise, for which she's flown to a destination.  She relates a great anecdote:
One afternoon in Albi, France, before some meetings on our video wall technology with our European team, I discovered an awesome formal riverfront garden behind the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum. No one told me it was there, and it was so incredibly beautiful that it brought a smile to my face. That’s a great way to start a meeting.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Nature Break-Out

Discovery Green in Houston, Project for Public Spaces
If your meeting is in a destination with ready access to a park or beach, that may seem like a nice frill. (Maybe even too nice of a frill, depending on your industry.)

But being able to get in touch with nature creates tangible benefits for your meeting attendees: Research from the University of Michigan shows that a walk in nature can actually boost cognition by 20 percent.

Nature can offer benefits even if you don't make it all the way outside: Outside Magazine cites a study that reports that office workers who had views of trees and flowers were sick less often.

White River State Park, Visit Indy
In the future, convention centers and other meeting venues could be asked to add another metric -- green space -- to their stat sheets. Houston, for example, would position the 12-acre Discovery Green Park, across the street from the George R. Brown Convention Center, not as an attraction, but as a necessary resource for meeting planners and attendees.

And Indianapolis would list the 250-acre White River State Park, adjacent to Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indianapolis Convention Center, right along with the number of meeting rooms.

All of this is contingent, of course, on planners scheduling meetings that actually give attendees the time to take a restorative break. And on attendees using the time to reconnect with themselves, not with their laptops.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Idea File: Connect Your Speakers With Your Attendees

Even if you're not a Lyle Lovett fan, there are some great takeaways from this interview, which was conducted by venture capitalist Roger McAnamee, at the 2011 Techonomy conference that wrapped up earlier this week in Tucson.

Talking to  Lovett, it turns out, was the sole reason that venture capitalist Roger McAnamee came to the conference, McAnamee told the musician. He'd been to a lot of great conferences and heard a lot of great speeches and great ideas over the years, "but the number of things that are really new are farther apart than you'd like," McAnamee said. "I'm about the experiences in life," and interviewing Lovett was the lure. "But in that classic serendipitous way, I came here for that, but I am also going to get all these other benefits ...  I wasn't going to be here, but I am really, really glad I came."

Chances are that some of the entertainers or speakers you invite to your conference are heroes to your attendees. So why not give attendees to interview them, and then post videos on YouTube and your conference website? 

If you are a Lyle Lovett fan, like I am, you probably went straight to the video. My favorite Lovett quote: "Technology supports the humanity in all of us -- and makes it more accessible."

In Your Mind's Eye

This is the image I snapped on my iPhone earlier this week — and the spectacular view the editorial team enjoyed as we mapped out our January issue poolside at the beautiful Le Blanc Resort in Cancun. We were there to help host the inaugural Convene Forum, a hosted-buyer conference with a focus on shared learning. (Look for us to tell you more about our successful forum on upcoming blog posts and in the January issue of Convene.)

I've been to Cancun three times now since I first visited this beautiful tropical paradise 30 years ago on my honeymoon. At that time, there were two hotels in Cancun and a dirt road took us from the airport to ours, a Hyatt. I never could have imagined how this quiet vacation spot would take off to become Mexico's most popular resort destination, and how those two hotels dotting a pristine shoreline would multiply into hundreds, one after the other. But that's only because my capacity for imagination is not so great — because it was clear back then that Cancun's white-sand beaches and emerald-blue ocean were a treasure to be mined.

It struck me that imagination is probably a trait that planners learn to cultivate — to be able to see in your mind's eye how a space can be transformed, set up, or reconfigured to suit your group's needs. That capacity is tested even more when planners book a future meeting at a venue that exists only on a drawing board, the topic of our October issue cover story.

Sandy Biback of Imagination+Meeting Planners read that story and shared with me her own this week: She had suggested to a client several years ago that the Scotiabank Convention Centre of Niagara Falls would be a good place for their January 2012 conference. At that time, it was barely a hole in the ground that she and her client overlooked from a hotel room. She said: "Our sales manager did an excellent job of getting us to visualize the space, using the hole in the ground, actual architectural drawings, and of course a PowerPoint presentation (which today would be on an iPad, I suppose)."

Fast forward to two months from now: "Based on good faith and good financial decisions, our conference will be moving in January 17," Sandy wrote. "It can be done, with a lot of homework." Plus imagination, I'd say.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Extra, Extra!: Convene Newsstand

Welcome back to Extra, Extra!, PCMA Convene's semi-regular weekly news supplement.  Lately it's been more semi than regular, and for that we apologize — the Convene editorial staff have been busy putting together our November and December issues, always the biggest of the year, in addition to helping plan our first-ever Convene Forum, in Cancun next week.

But enough prevarication.  On to the news!

When booking flights recently, have you gotten the feeling that more and more seats are off-limits — unless, of course, you're willing to pay an additional fee?  Well, it's not just a feeling: According to the Wall Street Journal, airlines are increasingly charging passengers not only for choice seats (such as those in the exit rows), but even pretty much any assigned seat — other than, say, a middle seat in the back of the plane, snuggled right next to the bathrooms. And it's not just comfort (such as it is) that's at stake: As the story reports, passengers who come to the airport with unassigned seats — i.e., those who decline to play the airlines' game of musical chairs and pay the fee — are more likely to get bumped, in the event of an oversold flight.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Modest Proposal

I recently talked to Jane McGonigal, one of the world's foremost experts on games and the author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Makes Us Better and How They Can Change the World. The interview will appear in the November issue of Convene; McGonigal will speak Jan. 9 at Convening Leaders 2012, in San Diego.

I liked a lot of what McGonigal had to say, but perhaps nothing more than what I didn't hear her say: gamification. A quick flip through the index of her book turns up the terms "game communities," "gamer regret," and "gameplay emotion," but if the term "gamification" appears in the book, it's fleeting.

I was happy, because I don't like the word at all. It sounds to me like a chemical process, like liquefication, which happens independently, without human interaction. Or maybe we reach for the machine-like word gamification because the modern focus on games most often seems to be on those played on computers.

But nothing could be more human or deeply rooted in our social natures than playing games.  Among the most illuminating pages of McGonigal's book were those in which she retells a story first told by Herodotus, about how the ancient Lydians got through an 18-year-long famine by inventing games that we still play, including dice and ball.
Herodotus tells us that in the past games were created as a virtual solution to unbearable hunger. And, yes, I see a future in which games continue to satisfy our hunger to be challenged and rewarded, to be creative and successful, to be social and part of something larger than ourselves. But I also see a future in which the games we play stoke our appetite for engagement, pushing and enabling us to make stronger connections -- and bigger contributions -- to the world around us.
So my proposal is this: if McGonigal, not to mention Herodotus, can manage to talk about games without using the word gamification, so can we in the meetings industry.

I think it will help us remember that it is we who are playing the games, not the computers, and for what purposes.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Convene On Site: PCMA Masters Series

Great conversations begin with great questions, and yesterday's PCMA Masters Series program at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., kicked off with 10 of them. Presenters Jeff Leitner and Bryan Campen cut right to the heart of the topic -- "The Bold New World of Convention Exhibits and Trade Shows." Leitner, founder and dean of Insight Labs, which "deconstruct[s] things for a living, and then we reconstruct them," told the more than 200 attendees: "This is a conversation about 2016, and the bad news is that no one knows what is coming in 2016. ... But we have to try, because your companies and clients all depend on you to have a sense of what's coming so you can help prepare them for it."

Why do we need to have this conversation? "To get people to realize that the future" is much closer than it used to be, said Campen, social media director for Manifest Digital, which is conducting the Future Meet project (co-sponsored by PCMA). "The future is actually crashing into us at this point."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pulling All The Triggers

Sally Hogshead
In Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation, brand consultant Sally Hogshead examines the meaning and mechanics of fascination, and offers seven ways for individuals and organizations to increase and improve upon their ability to get attention and keep it, as well as to influence others.
            Hogshead’s book is the result of multidisciplinary research, but fascination, it turns out, is as much art as science  — to be most effective, you have to know how and when to use the triggers. And it is generally best, Hogshead advises, not to use all the triggers at one time.
But there are exceptions, including when Hogshead is speaking and wants to prove her points. When I interviewed Hogshead for the November issue of Convene, she employed me how she uses all seven triggers when she speaks. It's also a sneak preview: Hogshead will speak Jan. 9 at Convening Leaders in San Diego.
1. Passion. “It is very important for the audience to feel that they are bonding with  me from the second I walk out on stage, I want them to feel like we are  we are doing this together.”
2. Trust: “As soon as I walk out there, [the audience] knows I am a leader in my field, they already know I have done a tremendous amount of research. Trust is not something I can build on stage, trust is something that can be built through experience and repeated exposure. I make sure that audience knows that everything I am saying is not  my opinion, but is backed up by research.”
<--!more-->3. Prestige: Every aspect of my keynote is polished to a perfect degree, my slides have all been developed by award-winning designers. I make sure that every piece of the experience, from the way I am introduced, to the way my  materials are handed out gives a very high-end experience for the audience.
4. Power. “When I speak, I am in command and control of what I am talking about . That helps {the audience] understand that this is a message that they absolutely need to hear — that this is urgent."
5. Alarm: "I used the alarm trigger to explain what happens if people don’t fascinate. I want them to really understand that it used to be okay to not fascinate ... but today there is too much competition. I use the alarm trigger to get people really plugged into the problem. I need them to be a bit uncomfortable hearing my speech, so I can give them the solution and so they understand that there is a lot at stake here."
6. Rebellion: "This trigger is one of my favorites. Rebellion is about creativity and surprise. While I am talking, I love to give the audience either a surprise or do something in a completely innovative way. I love walking out into the audience and asking people to join me on stage for an exercise  or challenging the audience in a way they didn’t expect … I love pushing the boundaries of how a speech would normally go."
Mystique: "When an audience is curious, they want to know more. I give them enough information to understand the insight. But I don’t want to spell everything out to the nth degree."
Find this fascinating? You're in luck: Hogshead is speaking on Jan. 9, 2012 at PCMA Convening Leaders.  You can also take "brand personality" test on Hogshead website to find out your our natural strengths and how to use them. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What's Green and 86 Stories Tall?

Photography by Daniel Schwen
One of New York City's most iconic buildings has now become one of its greenest: the 80-year-old Empire State Building has been awarded LEED-Gold for Existing Buildings certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

But it's also serving as a example for other large and drafty old buildings: the strategies used in the project, which will reduce the building's energy use by 38 percent and save $4.4 million in energy costs annually, have been published as an open-source model so that the results can be replicated in other buildings.

Although the project will reduce greenhouse gases, that wasn't the primary motivation of the building owners. With the help of the Clinton Climate Initiative, they put together an engineering dream team and set out to either prove or disprove the cost-effectiveness of energy retrofits, according to a white paper about the Empire State Building's sustainability program.

The results were definitive: The retrofit will pay back the costs of the project in just three years, making the Empire State Building one of the largest and splashiest examples around of the economic viability of sustainability, even for old buildings.

Information about the project, including the analytical model and specific money-saving projects can be found on the website,, created by another of the project partners, the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Wonder what convention center might be up for a similar project?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Extra, Extra!: Convene Newsstand

Surely most of you read a couple of weeks ago (either with horror or amusement — or more likely a mixture of both) about the now-infamous $16 muffin at a recent Justice Department meeting at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, D.C. Well, the ombudsman for the Washington Post, which brought the Justice Department inspector general's report that cited the costly pastry to the public's attention, recently revisited the issue, and determined that the reporting wasn't entirely accurate.

Patrick B. Pexton, the newspaper's ombudsman, writes: "[A]s a journalist, my instinct tells me that the muffin story was just a bit too good to be true."

Friday, September 30, 2011

That Awkward Stage

Photograph courtesy USDA
As we lurch forward into the digitally enhanced future in the meetings industry, I keep thinking about a long-ago afternoon when I was working at one of my first jobs, for a magazine published by a state tourism department.

Desktop computers were still rare, and a few of us had gathered in front of a computer to take a  look at something then brand-new: a website created by another state tourism department.

The site itself didn't make a big impression on me, but this did: The state's governor had recorded a  personal invitation to visit, which we could listen to only after many long minutes spent downloading an audio file via dial-up access. As I recall, it took longer to download the short message than it did to listen to it. The whole experience was so underwhelming, that we just laughed and went back to work.

Nobody would say now that it is a bad idea to promote destinations on the Web. But initially the  technology—  as well as knowledge about how to use it well —had not yet caught up with the vision for its potential.

I sometimes think of that afternoon now, when I encounter an awkward or frustrating digital meeting platform. Not many are as clunky as that first destination website I saw, but it helps to remember that the individual experience that I am having isn't a reliable reflection of the potential of the medium. 

And if you want to do something new, you sometimes have to just keep going through the awkward stages.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Convene Reads: Life Itself

One of the fascinating things about this industry is that it's seemingly impossible to find its boundaries; there's always another epic, high-profile conference that's gone on for years but that somehow you've never heard of. Such as the Conference on World Affairs, which is the subject of an entire chapter in Roger Ebert's warm, generous new memoir, Life Itself:
For sixty-six years, this annual meeting at the University of Colorado has persuaded a very mixed bag of people to travel to Boulder at their own expense, appear with one another on panels not of their choosing, lodge with local hosts who volunteer their spare rooms, speak spontaneously on topics they learn about only after they arrive, be driven around town by volunteers, be fed at lunch by the university and in the evening by such as the chairman, Jane Butcher, in her own home. For years the conference founder Howard Higman personally cooked roast beef on Tuesday night. The hundreds of panels, demonstrations, concerts, polemics, poetry readings, political discussions, and performances are and always have been free and open to the public.
This reminds me of two things: the cover story in our January 2011 issue, which was all about "big-tent, big-idea conferences"; and the One on One interview with TED founder Richard Saul Wurman in this month's issue, in which Wurman discusses the importance of operating outside your comfort zone, because "you don't get your best work when you pursue comfort." That seems to be the approach that the big-tent, big-idea Conference on World Affairs inflicts on its speakers, and it resonated strongly enough with Roger Ebert that he attended -- and spoke there -- for 40 years.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Turning Point for Hybrid Meetings?

The conversation about digital events is making a U-turn, we report in the September issue of Convene.

Instead of fearing that digital extensions will take attendees away from face-to-face events, meeting organizers are beginning to appreciate the ways in which they can bring more awareness -- and ultimately more attendees -- to meetings.

There's a similar shift toward hybrid in  higher education, where educators have long debated the effectiveness of online classes vs. traditional classes. A recent study by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University shows that students complete online-only classes as a lower rate than students enrolled in traditional classes.

However, the same study reports that students enrolled in hybrid classes, which mix online and classroom instruction, complete classes at nearly the same levels as students  in traditional classes.

The study focused on community college instruction, but elite universities also are experimenting with hybrid models. This fall, students enrolled in an introductory sociology class at New York University will watch lectures online and then use classtime for  discussion, the Village Voice reports. (Convene columnist Jeffrey Cufaude wrote about a similar model last December.)

Lesson learned: As part of an overall strategy, digital content is a tool, not a threat. Instead of online vs. face- to-face, the new question is, "How do we leverage the strengths of each?"

Extra, Extra!: Convene Newsstand

Welcome back to Extra, Extra!, the Convene blog's semi-weekly news supplement.  So what's news?

IMEX America, scheduled for this coming Oct. 11–13 at the Sands Expo in Las Vegas, has released its full-show preview. Highlights include 1,800 exhibitors and 2,000 hosted buyers. A fifth of the total space at the show will be occupied by European destinations, including Croatia — which, Convene read elsewhere on the Internet, just founded the new Croatian Meeting Professionals Association (CMPA).

In a pair of news items from IAEE, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, the association has partnered with Prometric "to develop the exhibitions and events industry’s first definition of core competencies in the exhibition management field." Sounds interesting! IAEE President Steven Hacker, CAE, FSAE (who recently announced that he would be stepping down from his position this month, after 21 years with IAEE), said, "This unprecedented initiative ... will provide thousands of exhibitions and events industry professionals a standard for their chosen careers."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Meeting in E-stonia

Wireless sign in Estonia; photograph by Knoerz
Estonia? Really?

That thought crossed my mind last spring, when I overheard IMEX attendees discussing the virtues of the former Soviet bloc country as a meeting destination.

Most of what I knew then about the Baltic country was by way of a former colleague, who spent part of her childhood in Estonia. Lisa talked often about the beauty of Estonia's capital, Tallinn, but also regaled me with stories of her relative deprivation. (For glitter, Lisa told me, her mother saved broken Christmas ornaments and crushed them into shiny bits.)

So how did Estonia become the talk of the IMEX shuttle bus? 
One answer: Wi-Fi. 

Estonia, a country that is slightly smaller than New Hampshire and Vermont combined, is blanketed in free wireless Internet access. Much of that is due to the work of Veljo Haamer, who founded the nonprofit association to promote free Wi-Fi access after visiting free Wi-Fi-enabled Bryant Park in New York City.

The successful wiring of Estonia has put it in the digital vanguard -- it was the first country to offer Internet voting to its citizens and gave the world Skype. And it's made it a growing hotspot for IT-related meetings.

Wi-Fi is not just an issue at tech industry conferences, of course. Increasingly, free Wi-Fi is seen by attendees as a necessity, not a frill.  But among the biggest challenges reported by the meeting planners surveyed by Convene for our September issue, was the "atrocious" cost of providing Internet services to attendees. Only 37 percent of respondents said that their organizations provided free Wi-Fi to their attendees at their meetings.

The question of who pays for Internet access is a thorny one. But Estonia offers one clear lesson: Free public Wi-Fi is possible.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

About Those $16 Muffins ...

Three years ago it was the AIG Effect. Today it's called Muffingate. Literally today -- with a new report from the U.S. Department of Justice's inspector general decrying "wasteful or extravagant spending" at DOJ conferences, splashed on the front page of this morning's Washington Post. ("Muffingate" comes from a CBS News report on the same topic. Funny!)

Titled "Audit of Department of Justice Conference Planning and Food and Beverage Costs," the report offers an audit of Department of Justice conference planning and food and beverage costs for 10 meetings that DOJ held between October 2007 and September 2009. It follows up on a similar review conducted in September 2007, which found that "DOJ had few internal controls to limit the expense of conference planning and food and beverage costs at DOJ conferences," and which issued 14 recommendations to help "implement stronger oversight of conference expenditures." The new report finds that, as far as the inspector general is concerned, nothing much has changed. Two headline-ready takeways:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Roger Ebert Finds His Voice

I just came across a TEDTalk that Roger Ebert gave back in April. It's extraordinary. Ebert, as you might not know, has been left unable to talk or to eat solid foods after complications during surgery to treat cancer in his salivary gland about five years ago. The TEDTalk he wrote was actually read by the computer voice he uses and by his wife, Chaz, by educator John Hunter, and by Dean Ornish, M.D.

In addition to being an interesting story told with skill and sensitivity, Ebert's presentation offers a few relevant points for planners: Don't be afraid to shake up the way you deliver information; understand the importance of your participants' voices (in every sense of the word); and give some thought as to just what virtual and hybrid platforms are bringing to attendees who simply can't join your in-person meeting. "I feel as if my blog, my email, Twitter, and Facebook have given me a substitute for everyday conversation," Ebert said. "They aren't an improvement, but they're the best I can do. They give me a way to speak."

Monday, September 19, 2011

Convene Reads: In the Garden of Beasts

If you've ever thought that a diplomat's life involves anything besides meetings -- and conferences, receptions, cultural events, and tete-a-tetes -- In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, by Erik Larson, is here to set you straight. In Larson's telling, William Dodd's time as U.S. ambassador to Germany -- during the beyond-crucial years of 1933 to 1937, when Hitler first came to power and then got busy consolidating it -- was nothing but face time. Ditto for his 24-year-old daughter, Martha, who cut a swath through Berlin's social scene, and was rumored to have had an affair with the head of the Gestapo. Throughout this engrossing, superbly detailed book, Larson uses meetings and other get-togethers to show how the politics of the day were playing out; it's fascinating to see the many different uses to which live events can be put, and how often what's happening publicly on stage can mask or diverge from what's actually playing out behind the scenes. Such as:
Dodd too was fast gaining an appreciation of the prickly sensitivities of the day. No event provided a better measure of these than a speech he gave before the Berlin branch of the American Chamber of Commerce on Columbus Day, October 12, 1933. His talk managed to stir a furor not only in Germany but also, as Dodd was dismayed to learn, within the State Department and among the many Americans who favored keeping the nation from entangling itself in European affairs. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

La Raza Lifts Arizona Boycott

The National Council of La Raza -- one of the country's most prominent Hispanic advocacy groups -- has lifted the boycott of Arizona that it called for last year to protest the state's then-new immigration law, according to the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau. The CVB reports:
La Raza announced the decision on Sept. 9 in a letter to the Real Arizona Coalition, a diverse collection of businesses, interfaith groups and community leadership organizations -- including the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau -- that had asked for the boycott to be lifted. 
In its letter to the Real Arizona Coalition, La Raza stated: " ... We understand and appreciate the reasons why you believe the boycott should end. In that vein, we are also aware of the hardship it has imposed on many of the workers, businesses, and organizations whose interests we seek to advance. We are hopeful that the more respectful and civil tone that you and many others have worked so hard to establish in recent months will continue. 
"In that spirit, effective immediately, our three organizations will suspend the boycott and cease all efforts to discourage conventions or meetings in Arizona, or to discourage our partners from participating in such meetings. In addition, we will communicate our decision to our allies and partners who supported the boycott in the hope that they will join us."
In its own statement, the Greater Phoenix CVB said:
"The lifting of the boycott is clearly a step in the right direction. It acknowledges that illegal immigration is not just an Arizona issue but a national one, and it makes it easier for our community to get back to the business of booking conventions."
It's unclear how much the widespread calls for boycotting Arizona ended up costing the Grand Canyon State in lost or canceled meetings business. A report from the Center for American Progress last fall -- which we reported on in Convene -- estimated it could be more than $200 million in direct spending.

Songwriting, Storytelling, and Team-Building

Billy Kirsch is a classically trained pianist who spent the early years of his career as a jazz pianist in New York City.  Now based in Nashville, Kirsch, a Grammy- and Emmy-nominated songwriter, is the president of Kidbilly Music, which creates music-based team-building and icebreaker sessions for conferences and events of all sizes.

I met Kirsch at the PCMA Education Conference in Baltimore, where I was struck by his warmth and intelligence, and intrigued by the range of his musical expertise. I could see a natural link between his skill at jazz improvisation and the collaboration inherent in team building. But where exactly did country music fit in, I wondered?

Kirsch answered that question in a recent blog post. “What sets him and his company apart, he wrote, is “our tradition as Nashville songwriters, hit songwriters who have cut our teeth on the art of telling a story through song … We can rock, we can rap and we can twang. But we’re songwriters first and foremost, Nashville songwriters.”

I caught up with Kirsch between his conference gigs, and we talked about his career and his business by email:

Convene: How did your songwriting career lead to team-building?

I've always had an avocational interest in education and lifelong learning. I helped found a school many years ago, and I just completed a 2-year term as a Parent Teacher Organization president for a high school here in Nashville. Several years ago I had an opportunity to perform at a convention and I spontaneously decided to ask the audience to help me write a song about what they all had in common. It was fun and the experience intrigued me. Fast forward six years and Team Building Through Song has become a passion, an obsession and a full time career.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September 2011 Issue: Live!

Hot on the heels of the cover tease for our September issue, you can now read the whole enchilada -- via Convene's digital edition. For our cover story (and CMP Series feature), Barbara Palmer looks at "the art and science of attendee acquisition" -- with an emphasis on how "the formula for identifying and capturing attendees is changing." Other highlights:

"Destinations Unknown": Hunter Slaton embarks on a globe-trotting tour, talking to planners about what you need to know to meet in Asia, South America, the Middle East, and other hot emerging international destinations.

Industry Report: Our latest-epanel survey tackles AV and Internet services -- and finds that while meeting professionals understand the importance of both, many of them struggle to keep their costs in line.

Extra, Extra!: Convene Newsstand

Welcome back to "Extra, Extra!", Convene's weekly news supplement to PCMA's ThisWeek@PCMA newsletter. Let's get right to it, shall we?

It goes without saying that, in the decade since 9/11, many things have changed — especially for the airlines, as Joe Sharkey discusses in this New York Times article.  He writes:
Airlines in the United States lost $55 billion and shed 160,000 jobs during that decade. But the industry has worked through the economic tumult. A decade later, the system is smaller in terms of capacity, but it’s still in good working order. Last year, for example, 720.4 million people boarded airplanes in the United States, slightly higher even than the 719.1 million passengers in 2000.
Another thing that may be changing over the next decade — in this case, for U.S. hotels — is something you may have seen already in Asia or certain parts of Europe: Namely, large, refillable toiletry bottles in hotel bathrooms. USA Today's Hotel Check-in blog reports that hotels may begin moving toward this system to be green — apparently it's not any cheaper to refill big bottles than it is to provide individual bottles to each guest; but obviously the refill system produces far less waste.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Attendee Acquisition Lessons from Zipcar

A recent Fast Company blog post about how Zipcar, the web-based car rental company, has zoomed past its competitors by paying laser-like attention to its customers needs hit me where I live -- literally.

A car-free resident of Brooklyn, I have used Zipcars for years, but have only been extremely happy with the service for the last year or so, when the company added cars at a garage that's a 10-minute walk away from my apartment. As I read the post, I realized the company had been working hard behind the scenes to make Zipcar work better for customers just like me -- who loved the idea, but balked at traveling very far to pick up a car.

And Zipcar has  fun cars, too.
I am now such a fan, in fact, that it's almost startling to see Zipcar referred to as a "company." I know they charge my credit card, but I tend to think of it as a club that I belong to, a perception that Zipcar cleverly cultivates.

The post also hit me where I live figuratively much of the time -- in the meetings and events industry, where growth and customer satisfaction also are critical.

 I was struck by the decision by Zipcar's CEO Scott Griffith to focus on the company's business design rather than relying solely on advertising or other promotions to help it grow.

It reminded me of the professionals I spoke to for our September cover story on attendee acquisition, "Perfect Attendance," available here.  One after another, they told me that "attendee promotion" means more than just spreading the word about their meetings.

They work constantly to define and redefine their audiences, and then roll up their sleeves and do what it takes to match the meeting experience to their attendees' ever-changing problems and needs.

And then they bring on the marketing and advertising promotions, using everything from hand-written notes to Facebook campaigns to spread the word.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Convene On Site: HSMAI's MEET National

Even meetings about meetings have to change how they're meeting. And so yesterday morning, when the doors opened at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, people arriving for Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International's (HSMAI) annual D.C.-based event for meeting professionals found that what used to be called Affordable Meetings National was now called HSMAI's MEET National. That stands for Meetings, Events, Education, and Technology -- pretty well capturing was was happening throughout MEET, which runs through today.

Indeed, the new name was the least of the changes on display yesterday, when I spent several hours looping through the convention center -- catching up with colleagues and contacts, including the folks at Events DC, which is headquartered at Walter E. Washington, and checking out MEET's sharp, trim show floor. During the afternoon, I sat down for coffee with Fran Brasseux, HSMAI's executive vice president, to find out why, after 22 years of Affordable Meetings, HSMAI decided to create MEET.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Convene Reads: Ghost in the Wires

Considering how Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World's Most Wanted Hacker, by Kevin Mitnick, revolves around technology -- and the degree to which people like the author covet it for no other reason than the challenge of seeing what they can get away with -- it's no surprise that world-famous Consumer Electronics Show makes a cameo appearance here. But it's interesting nonetheless to get a hacker's perspective on CES from 20 years ago, and also to see the role that CES played in one of his scams:
Imagine a trade-show floor filled with 2 million square feet of space, packed with 200,000 people crammed wall to wall, sounding like they're all talking at once, mostly in Japanese, Taiwanese, and Mandarin. That's what the Las Vegas Convention Center was like in 1991 during CES, the annual Consumer Electronics Show -- a candy store, drawing one of the biggest crowds in the world. 

Dog Days of Summer

My 11-year-old cockapoo, Cocoa, rarely barks and is a calm, gentle dog. That is, until there's a thunderstorm. Then he goes into a full-blown panic attack, panting, pacing, scratching, shaking — and if it's a nighttime storm, keeping us up for hours. Nothing has helped, including trying to coerce him to swallow doggie Xanax prescribed by the vet.

Recently, we found an online ad for a "Thundershirt" — a garment that gets velcroed around the dog's torso, applying constant, gentle pressure, which, according to the ad, has been proven to reduce anxiety — and bought one for our little guy. I can't say that it's a miracle suit, but it definitely has taken the edge off and we can get him to calm down with it on.

What's this got to do with Convene? It's likely that the inspiration for this garment is Temple Grandin, the autistic animal scientist, whom Executive Editor Christopher Durso interviewed two years ago for a Leading by Example profile. Grandin invented the hug machine, or squeeze box, a gentle-pressure device that has the effect of calming hypersensitive people like herself. While Grandin is not directly credited by the Thundershirt Company, its marketing copy alludes to how "thousands of people with autism [use] pressure to relieve persistent anxiety."

So what's this got to do with meeting planning? It demonstrates how you can borrow from one field to benefit another. And it's what we try to do in the magazine, by providing real-life examples of innovation in different areas of endeavor that can be applied to meetings and conventions.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Let Them Eat Bugs

Coming soon to a food trade show near you?

I've been saying for a while now to my colleagues at Convene that virtually every story I read in the New Yorker or the Atlantic, two of my favorite magazines, either originates with or somehow touches on a meeting or conference — no matter whether it's about asteroid science, rogue waves, climate change, banana blight, or something equally exotic.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I was pleased to have my theory proven once and for all — in an article about, as you might have guessed from the title of this post, eating insects — for fun and profit!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

China Is Zooming

Convene Senior Editor Barbara Palmer is currently in Beijing, attending the China Incentive, Business Travel & Meetings Exhibition (CIBTM) at the China National Convention Center (CNCC, pictured here). She made time during her hectic schedule to send us this post:

The word of the week? Growth.

No surprise there — in contrast to the U.S., China's economy is booming, projected to grow by 10 percent in 2011, and the meeting industry is expected to increase by 20 percent. The six-year-old show, organized by Reed Exhibitions and sponsored by the China National Tourism Administration and the Beijing Municipal Commission of Tourism, also expanded significantly: the number of hosted buyers increased by 27 percent, as the number of exhibitors grew more than 20 percent.

Also up were the number of education sessions. Many were packed, particularly those discussing the Chinese perspective on domestic and international meetings, where the appetite for knowledge to help professionalize the industry was palpable.

The meeting also marked the first time that the CMP exam was administered in China — 43 people took the written examination. "There were 40 this year," said Craig Moyes, group exhibition director for Reed Travel Exhibitions. "Next year there might be 400."

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

You've Never Seen Team-Building Like This

Last week, while on a great press trip to Albuquerque, N.M. — so much cool-looking neon along Route 66! and hot-air balloons! and delicious chilies! — a former meetings-industry writer colleague sent me a link to this bizarre yet hilarious Groupon blog post about, um, clearly made-up team-building activities?  Team-building activities are beneficial, writes the Groupon blogger, because they "simultaneously [build] camaraderie and the opposite of camaraderie, loathing."  Here are a couple of suggestions:
Bike to Work Week: Over the course of three days, all of which must be within the same week, two companies compete to see which can convince more employees to claim that they rode their bikes to the office. The winning company keeps the other company’s bikes.

Blood Drive: After donating blood, representatives from two companies race to consume the cookie they were given in exchange for their vital fluids. If both finish the cookie at the same time, they must give another quart of blood to earn a second cookie and race again.
Awesome.  For the full post, click here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sneak Peek: Our September Cover!

Coming next week -- the September issue of Convene! Coming right now -- the cover of the September issue of Convene! As you can see, our cover story (also our CMP Series feature) is about the evolving practice of attendee acquisition, vividly illustrated by Gordon Studer. And from those teaser lines across the top of the cover, you'll pick up on a few other topics we're covering: hot new international meeting destinations, the results of our recent e-panel survey about AV and technology costs, and Richard Saul Wurman, legendary founder of legendary TED, whom we interviewed at some length. (For a preview of our Wurman Q&A, check out Future Meet's recent interview with, uh, well, me.)

Over the next week or two, look for the digital version of September here, the text-only version here, and the print version in your mailbox. Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Unmitigated Disasters, Mitigated

What a week we had here on the East Coast. It started with an earthquake and ended with a hurricane, and if both phenomena weren't nearly as bad as they could have been, they were plenty bad enough. And if any further proof is needed about the extent to which social media has insinuated itself into our lives, how's this: After the earthquake, the only way I could let my wife know that I was safe was via Facebook, because landlines and cell phones were either overwhelmed or incapacitated. And during the hurricane, I stayed in touch with friends and family and monitored Irene's march up the seaboard mostly through Facebook and Twitter.

Do your emergency-preparedness programs include social media? If a disaster were to strike one of your meetings, would Facebook or Twitter or even YouTube be a part of your response? Should it?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Smart Ways to Fight "Decision Fatigue"

I was excited to read the recent New York Times Magazine article about  "decision fatigue," which looks at the research behind the discovery that the sheer number of decisions we make can deplete our ability to make good ones.

There are, to use the scientific term, takeaways galore for the meetings industry.

Here are just a few:

Offer choices in meeting sessions and experiences wisely. One of the researchers mentioned in the story, Convening Leaders 2011 speaker Sheena Iyengar, talked last year with Convene about how exhausting making choices can be. What that means for conference organizers: Don't overwhelm attendees a long list of choices, she advised.  Rather, divide choices into categories and then limit choices in each category. (Here's a link to the article.)

Conserve attendees' mental energy for important decisions. Attendees shouldn't be asked to fritter away their brainpower in wondering which hallway might take them to a session, or which  building entrance they should use. It's a no-brainer to provide good signage, clear, easy-to-use communications, and lots of friendly assistance

Pay attention to the care and feeding of attendees' brains. One fascinating passage was about the recent discovery that a quick hit of glucose can restore a tired brain's ability to make good decisions. That might make it sound like a late-afternoon cookie is a good idea, but a shot of sugar, researchers say, is not as useful to our brain as giving it stable amounts of glucose over the course of a day with protein and other nutritious foods.

Luckily, Andrea Sullivan of BrainStrength Systems is ahead of the curve on advising meeting planners on how they can support attendee experience through food. She is the coauthor of a white paper that addresses the intersection of performance and food at meetings, published by the The National Conference Center.

There's sure to be many more lessons here that I haven't mentioned -- MeetingsNet Web Editor Sue Pelletier shared some of her insights about the story in a recent blog post.

And I hope you will do the same.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Print Newspapers and the Promise of the Real

Slate's Jack Shafer explains why, a year after he announced he was canceling his subscription to the print edition of The New York Times in favor of using its newly redesigned website and its Adobe-powered Times Reader, he re-upped for home delivery. Why? "Even though I spent ample time clicking through the website and the Reader, I quickly determined that I wasn't recalling as much of the newspaper as I should be," Shafer writes. "Going electronic had punished my powers of retention. I also noticed that I was unintentionally ignoring a slew of worthy stories."

Shafer's experience is backed up by a new paper on "Newsreaders' Recall and Engagement With Print and Online Newspapers," which finds that people who read print newspapers remember a lot more material than people who read online papers -- and which also has some serious relevance for the question of in-person vs. virtual events. Shafer writes:

Friday, August 19, 2011

AIHA and the Power to Change

Manifest Digital's Bryan Campen interviews Peter O'Neil, CAE, executive director of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and recently installed 2011-2012 chair of ASAE, as part of the Future Meet project, which is exploring the future of trade shows.

Peter is no stranger in these parts. He turned up in a post I wrote about a similarly themed PCMA Masters Series program last fall that addressed "Associations and Meetings of the Future: A Look Ahead to 2020." Not long after that, I interviewed him for a Convene article about the 2009 American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition (AIHce), which lost AIHA nearly a million dollars, and which Peter considers a great meeting experience. "Not that we loved losing almost a million dollars," Peter told me. "It's just that it forced the team and I to think differently -- not better, but differently."

Which reminds me of this takeaway from his Future Meet interview:
Decisions with association shows are made so far out (such as booking a city or venue for x years), it is hard to match that to rapid digital changes.
Hard, but not impossible. AIHA tried all sorts of new things in the months leading up to AIHce 2009 to help close the attendee gap, which suggests that in the battle between booking windows and the unforeseen, you shouldn't underestimate the power of human adaptability.

Social Media, Brooklyn-style

Patrick McGregor, at work in Brooklyn
I ran into artist Patrick McGregor in my Brooklyn neighborhood the other evening, just as he putting the finishing touches an advertisement he was hand-painting on the side of a wall.

Vinyl and electronic billboards have overtaken painted billboards almost everywhere, of course, but McGregor reminded me that older ways of communicating rarely disappear altogether.

But the immediate lesson for me was the impact that McGregor was having on the environment around him.  As I was talking with the artist, others also stopped by, to take pictures of the McGregor at work, or to pet his amiable bull-dog, Boo-Boo.

New interactions were created, bumping up the sense of community there on the corner of Warren and Court streets.

You might even call it a social-media moment. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Happy Birthday, CMP Series!

The digital edition of our August issue is live, and that can mean only one thing. Okay, two things: First, it's time for our annual Directory of Meetings Sites, Cities, and Services -- the most comprehensive, detailed, and sharpest-looking guide for destinations and venues that you'll find anywhere.

Second, it's the first birthday of our CMP Series, which debuted in the August 2010 issue of Convene. For 12 months now, meeting professionals have been able to earn CEU credits by reading one of our articles (along with some supplemental info) and answering a few questions about the material. The list of topics we've covered is pretty impressive: force majeure, crowdsourcing, ethics, co-locating, innovation, Strategic Meetings Management, fam trips, international meetings, the APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Meeting Standards, branding, F&B, social media, and, this month, the Americans With Disabilities Act. In terms of preparing you for getting or keeping your CMP credential, it's like a perfect case-study guide for the PMM5. And who doesn't need that?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Show Without Self Check-In?

My wife is helping staff her company's booth at a technology show this week. She's an executive in the government- and military-contracting industry -- an attorney by training and a project manager by profession; exhibitions are not in any way a usual part of her job. So it's a kick to be able to share with her some of the things I've learned in the three years I've been covering the meetings industry for Convene, as shown in this IM exchange she and I had yesterday afternoon:
My wife: OMG. The exhibitor registration line is longer than the line to see Santa in A Christmas Story.
Me: Really? Do you have your reg info on you phone? Can you scan yourself in?
My wife: They don't seem to have that.
Me: They should!
I'm right, aren't I? There's no reason that a tech show serving such an important market shouldn't offer self check-in for exhibitors. Or is there? Do you always want to have some sort of high-touch, human contact with your sponsors, partners, etc.?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Convene On Site: Peter Sheahan at ASAE

Okay, now we're dealing with a full-blown meme. Last week I wrote about Tina Brown's opening keynote at the ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition, in which Brown said that "the only thing that matters is telling a story clearly and cleanly." At the closing keynote a few days later, business consultant and author Peter Sheahan told his audience of association executives that members' expectations are "going toward narrative and away from facts." He said: "You're in the business of storytelling far more than you're in the business of fact-telling."

The problem, Sheahan said, is that many organizations have lost track of their own story; they're overly beholden to their founding mission and their longtime members, and can't really explain why they exist. "One of the biggest challenges facing you as an association executive," he said, "is, based on your governance structure, you're forced to meet the needs of members who have a legacy interest rather than the needs of members in the next five to 10 years."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Brené Brown: Talking About What We Don't Talk About

In our July issue, Don Jenkins, vice president of the National Speakers Bureau, shared insight on choosing discomfort over resentment from speaker Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. 

Brown takes on topics that make us squirm -- she studies the links between vulnerability, shame, courage, and authenticity -- and talks about them in a way that is funny and moving and leads to connection.

And connection, "is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives," Brown says. "This is what it's all about ... neurobiologically that's how we're wired -- it's why we're here."

You can find out more about  Brown's work on her blog, and in her books and talks, including at  TEDxKC and the UP Experience in Houston.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bringing Back Starbucks

It's a rare CEO who doesn't acknowledge the critical role that  events can play in creating a shared vision for a company.

But maybe even rarer is the CEO who not only acknowledges the key role of events, but dives into their details, from the psychology of site selection down to the messages sent by the materials used in the exhibit hall.

But that's exactly what Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, does in his book Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life Without Losing Its Soulas he describes the pivotal role that the Starbucks 2008 North America Leadership Conference played in reviving the then-faltering Starbucks brand.

New Orleans plays a co-starring role in the narrative about the conference, where, Schultz writes, "at this tenuous juncture, our partners needed to connect with me, with other Starbucks leaders, and with ones another, not online, but in New Orleans."

There was the local coffee culture, but also the city's ongoing battle to recover from the effects of Katrina. "At that time, no other U.S. city's experience seemed like such a natural extension of our values as well as our crucible," he writes.

I'll stop there, because Schultz's story about the conference is so well-told, you should read it yourself.  And you can, in this excerpt from the book in the July issue of Convene

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Convene On Site: Tina Brown at ASAE

Tina Brown is probably the most famous magazine editor in the world -- maybe the only famous magazine editor in the world -- having served memorable tenures heading up Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and her own Talk before launching The Daily Beast website and then merging it with Newsweek. But as she talked about her experience transitioning from print to online publications during this morning's opening general session at ASAE's Annual Meeting & Exposition at America's Center in St. Louis, Brown might well have been speaking as a meeting planner. Because two of her big takeaways had no small relevance for our community:

1. Story matters. "Media is always about telling stories," Brown said. "You have to make everything as personal and connected and news-driven as you can." Later, she said: "The only thing that matters is telling a story clearly and cleanly." Forget that she's talking about journalism, and imagine instead that she's telling you about something you know your attendees respond to: storytelling. Making the information and knowledge you share with them -- and they share with each other -- memorable by making it human.