Monday, January 31, 2011

Take It to the Bank (Your Meeting, That Is)

An Umpqua Bank in Portland's Pearl District.
When I hear "alternative venue," I usually think nightclub or museum or performing-art center or, I don't know, bowling alley. But then I listened to a report about Portland, Ore.-based Umpqua Bank on the public-radio show "Marketplace" the other day, and discovered that the true meaning of alternative venue is "about the last place you'd imagine would be interested in hosting your meeting." Such as Umpqua Bank, whose branches are modeled on traditional storefront shops on the outside -- connected to the streetscape and designed to entice walk-in traffic. And, "Marketplace" reports:
Inside the bank, it's more like a trendy cafe -- no brick-bunker security walls, just comfy chairs, bar tables, laptops. Also free cookies and Umpqua's own blend of coffee.
It sounds like the exact same trends that are transforming traditional meeting facilities such as convention centers into more livable, multiuse public spaces. And, yes, Umpqua hosts community meetings. "Every month we hold a Wii bowling night," one branch manager told "Marketplace." "We just took on some homeowner association meetings. The Metropolitan Youth Symphony will be performing down here." But I'm thinking no matter what your meeting's subject matter, the vault is always going to be off limits.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Snow That Binds Us

If you live on the East Coast or anywhere else in the mid-Atlantic region, chances are you're looking at a scene just like this right now. Here in Arlington, Va., a biblical combination of sleet, rain, and thundersnow (yes, that's a real word) knocked out our power at around 7 p.m. last night; as of now, it's still out. So this morning we packed up our daughters and headed over to the house of some friends who are still on the grid. A few other powerless friends did the same thing, and now there are five different families in this beautiful, cozily roomy home -- the kids outside, playing in the snow, and the adults inside, sprawled in every corner, laptops open, cellphones nearby. We all seem to be getting some actual work done, and having a good time, too. It's like the snow-day version of a working vacation.

There's probably some sort of greater lesson in there about the power of spontaneous gatherings and the importance of combining work and play at your meetings, but I'm too busy contemplating the calm, porcelain beauty of the view from my window. Sorry!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Michael Gehrisch: "A Trusted (Online) Source"

Convene's Editor in Chief Michelle Russell spoke with Michael Gehrisch, CEO of DMAI, at PCMA's 2011 Convening Leaders in Las Vegas about topics including the future of digital content for CVBs.

Kelly Peacy Looks Back

Less than 24 hours after the close of PCMA's 2011 Convening Leaders, Kelly Peacy, PCMA's vice president of meetings and events, sat down with Convene's Editor in Chief Michelle Russell to talk about the meeting that just ended, and the meeting -- in 2012 -- that she is already planning.

Friday, January 21, 2011

January 2011 Issue: Live!

The digital edition of our January issue is now up -- with a distinct and wholly different cover image, at least for us. Our cover story -- "Can Meetings Save the World?," by Barbara Palmer -- looks at "big-tent, big-idea" meetings that "bring together the world's leading thinkers to address its biggest problems," so it seemed appropriate to capture that in words. Lots and lots of words. Other highlights in this issue:

"No Small Change, Part 2": We warned you last month that we dug up too much good material for our cover story -- about meetings that have used incremental change to big effect -- to get it all in one article. So here's the rest: profiles of nine more meetings, by Michelle Russell and Barbara Palmer.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Social Media Makes Some Noise

Packed TweetUp at the MGM Grand. Photo by Jacob Slaton
Not long ago it seemed like only the most tech-savvy groups were realizing the potential for social media to keep conversations and education buzzing after a meeting's end.

But the week that has passed since the end of 2011 Convening Leaders has brought such a constant stream of online conversations and tweeted blog links about the experience, that I'm convinced that social media has made a significant slide toward the center. Not quite mainstream. Not yet.

Here's a sampling of the blog posts I've seen in the last week:

Millennial blogger Josip R. Petrusa, from the PCMA Learning Lounge, continues his thoughts about
"What Millennials Want."

One of the most heavily retweeted posts has been event technology consultant Samuel J. Smith's post deconstructing the PCMA Learning Lounge. Smith included great filmed interviews, and analysis in the

Monday, January 17, 2011

Small-Town, Not Small-Time

The digital tools that make it possible to engage in virtual conversations anywhere mean that there are very few places left that truly are in the middle of nowhere. Guest blogger Sheila Scarborougha writer and speaker specializing in tourism, travel, and social media, brings us the story of how Hutchinson, Kan., pop. 41,000, became host to a conference previously held in New York City, Los Angeles, and London — and more than held its own. 

If there was ever a barn-raising event using the Web instead of wood, it was the 140 Characters Conference SmallTown in Hutchinson, Kansas. Part of an ongoing series of conferences launched by tech strategist Jeff Pulver, SmallTown explored the effects of real-time Web communications on the people, businesses and agricultural issues tied to rural areas and smaller towns. The format is rapid-fire short talks, similar to Twitter, without PowerPoint.

A small group of people connected to make it happen (here's why SmallTown ended up in Hutchinson and highlights included using an historic downtown Art Deco venue, the Fox Theatre, to host a very 21st century tech event.

Photo by Becky McCray
Any town can bring in tech- or social media-based conferences; the beauty of them is that while the number of attendees may be small by traditional standards, each person tends to have online networks numbering in the hundreds (or thousands) through their blogs, Facebook presence, Twitter, video channels, podcasts, etc.

Some tips on using a small town venue for digital gatherings:

1) Don't make assumptions about which places can and can't host. The 140 Characters conferences, for example, "are usually and most effectively held in theaters; in fact, the very first one in New York was based on the idea of [a Twitter-like] one hundred and forty characters gathering together in an off-Broadway theater," said SmallTown's lead organizer Becky McCray, who has also spoken at 140 Conferences in London and Detroit. "All we had to do was bring WiFi (wireless Internet) into Hutchinson's Fox Theatre, and it was perfect."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Convening Leaders Scorecard

A long, long time ago, during the closing moments of last week, before 2011 Convening Leaders came to encompass everything that was or ever would be, I wrote about five things I was looking forward to during PCMA's annual meeting. Since our meeting just wrapped up yesterday, and Virtual Edge Summit 2011 is well into its second day, I think this is a good time to see how those five things worked out. So, here we go:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Backstage Passes

Photo by Jacob Slaton
Last May, in her "Planner's Notebook" column, PCMA's Vice President for Meeting and Events Kelly Peacy confided to our readers that, in the planning for 2011 Convening Leaders in Las Vegas, she was wrestling with a problem presented by the vast MGM Grand Garden Arena:  "How in the world are we going to physically shrink the MGM Grand's Grand Garden Arena - a venue that seats 16,000 people - so that our general session audience of 3,800 to 4,000 individuals won't feel lost?," she asked.

Constraints fuel creativity, the saying goes, and Peacy's creative and  buzz-producing solution was unveiled this week: she and her team divided the arena and created the PCMA Learning Lounge behind the stage. Filled with short talks, hands-on social media expertise, a live-streaming theater and much more, the Learning Lounge greatly expanded opportunities for education and networking.

And, in another inspired touch, the meetings team didn't hide production teams and other backstage operations, but rather opened them up as a learning opportunity.

Peacy's "problem" turned out to be a big hit with meeting attendees: Here's what Philip Arbuckle, president and CEO of  MeetingTrack, Inc. had to say about the solution:


A view of the "Tradeshow Trends: New Revenues" session at PMCA Convening Leaders.

Yesterday, during day one of PCMA Convening Leaders in Las Vegas, I experienced one of those moments of serendipity that social-media boosters mean when they talk about social networks increasing connectivity and community, rather than the other way around.

"If everyone always has their noses buried in the phones," naysayers say, "how is anyone ever supposed to meet someone new?"

Monday, January 10, 2011

Chairman's Award

Colin Reed, with Kati Quigley, left, and Deborah Sexton.
When I attended the Gaylord Opryland Resort’s grand reopening in November, I happened to catch Gaylord Chairman and CEO Colin Reed standing in one of the property’s hallways, talking on his cellphone. I went up to him, but waited off to the side until he had finished his call. When he saw me, he immediately cut his call short to shake my hand. He instantly remembered from my name badge that I had interviewed him for a Convene article.

From that experience and our interview, I knew how human — and humane — Reed is. So I was delighted to see him accept PCMA’s 2010 Chairman’s Award at this morning’s Opening General Session. 

When I spoke to Reed about the hotel's response during the Nashville flood and its aftermathlast May, he had told me: "We have this very strong, people-centric culture, where we say that the people who come to work every day in our company come first." 

In accepting the award, he had the same message: "These buildings that we hold meetings in are just buildings. It's the people who work there who bring them alive."

Well-deserved, indeed.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

24-Hour Party People

Kelly Peacy, CAE, CMP, PCMA's vice president of meetings and events, has written a column, Planner's Notebook, for Convene over the last few months, where she has given readers an inside look at the process of planning 2011 Convening Leaders. With this guest post, Peacy continues the backstage tour:

One thing I've learned is that Las Vegas knows how to throw a party.

King Dahl, executive director at MGM Grand Resorts, and Lenny Talarico, CSEP, MGM Grand Resorts director of events, are two amazing event professionals. Dahl and Talarico designed the "Las Vegas ... Then and Now"-themed Opening Reception, which if you attended on Sunday night, you know was phenomenal.

What you probably didn't know is that, after the reception, our Freeman team and The MGM Grand staff worked all night to get the Marquee Ballroom ready for the Celebrate PCMA Luncheon.

The most expedient way to do this was to get the Freeman AV and production crew to dovetail their efforts with Dahl and Talrico. We used the main part of the entertainment stage for the luncheon program, and the Freeman AV tweaked the existing design to accommodate the graphics screens. We left the majority of the drape lines in place, and then the MGM Grand banquet staff went to work on table settings.

This couldn't have been a more collaborative effort and I hope you enjoy the results.

Get Up Already!

Okay, yeah, it starts at 7 a.m. on Monday morning.

But if you're attending 2011 Convening Leaders in Las Vegas, you won't want to miss the Learning Lounge, located in the MGM Grand Garden Arena. You can't miss it -- you have to walk through the Learning Lounge to get to the Opening General Session. (The photo at right shows the area under construction on Saturday.)

Monday's 90-minute Learning Lounge schedule is packed with short, rich learning opportunities, including 15-minute talks in the Big Ideas Pavilion, on topics ranging from "What Millenials Want," with Josip Petrusa and "Spheres of Influence ... Good Will You Already Own," with Carol Verret.

You also don't want to miss the innovative "Supplier Showdown Theater," where suppliers and vendors will compete for audience approval while demonstrating their solutions to problems. Tomorrow's topic is "Strategic Meeting Management," with David Peckinpaugh as emcee.

And the Social Media Lounge will feature some of the most knowledgeable speakers on the topic anywhere, including Chris Brogan on "Improve Your Influence," Corbin Ball on "Getting Started with Social Media for Event Professionals, and Rick Calvert, speaking on "Growing Attendance Through Affiliate Marketing."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

CES and the City

I'm not going to lie: When I first heard that Convening Leaders 2011 was going to overlap with the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show (whose Central Hall is pictured at left), I wondered if it was the best idea. CES is the definition of a city-wide event, a 125,000-attendee giganotosaurus with exhibit space at the Las Vegas Convention Center, The Venetian, the Las Vegas Hilton, and the Renaissance Las Vegas Hotel, meetings and room blocks at a slew of other properties, and receptions and parties at who knows how many venues. Add in a certain other high-profile event happening at the same time — this one at the Sands Expo & Convention Center, with upwards of 25,000 attendees — and you have a recipe for meetings gridlock. Or so it seemed to me.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Countdown to Convening Leaders

Tomorrow morning I leave for the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, part of the PCMA staff's great westward migration for Convening Leaders 2011, which begins Sunday and runs through Wednesday. If the Twitter feed is any indication, there's a lot of buzz around this year's annual meeting -- as well there should be, given the General Session speakers and Masters Series programs on tap, the virtual extension of Convening Leaders on PCMA365, the co-location with Virtual Edge Summit, the cognitive carnival of the PCMA Learning Lounge, and the crazy assortment of other learning, networking, and social events.

Before I begin the pre-meeting cycle of laundry and packing, I thought I'd share a few of the things I'm most looking forward to at Convening Leaders -- in no particular order, with the understanding that I'm not not looking forward to anything that I don't mention:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Convene Reads: The Sherlockian

The Sherlockian, by Graham Moore, uses meetings as a springboard, launching its fun, clever plot with the murder of the world's foremost Sherlock Holmes scholar in his New York City hotel room during a conference of the Baker Street Irregulars -- a real-life organization of Holmes devotees. The rest of the novel is taken up with the investigation of the murder by another Sherlockian, interspersed with passages about Arthur Conan Doyle himself tracking a serial killer in Victorian London. And, from time to time, Moore fills in details about how the Sherlockians convene:
The Irregulars' dinner, held this year at the Algonquin Hotel on Forty-fourth Street, fell amid a grand week of Sherlockiana. For four days around January 6, Holmes' birthday, all the world's societies devoted to the celebration of Sherlock Holmes gathered in New York. Lectures, tours, book signings, sales of Victorian antiques and first-edition printings -- for a Sherlock Holmes devotee, it was heaven.
You can do without one of your attendees getting murdered, for sure, but wouldn't it be nice if everyone else described your meeting as heaven?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Editors' Pick: 2010 Convene Highlights

As 2011 begins, the editors of Convene are looking over our shoulders to list the highlights of our 2010 coverage. You'll notice that many of the stories are the same ones now popping up on top 10 story lists everywhere, helping make the point: meetings are in the middle of everything.

1. When the Cumberland River overflowed its banks in early May, it was the worst natural disaster in Nashville’s history. But it would have been a lot worse for meeting attendees and other guests staying at the Gaylord Opryland Resort had it not been for the decisive actions taken by hotel managers, who evacuated 1,500 guests just hours before the hotel was inundated with water. Editor in chief Michelle Russell had the story in the December issue.