Monday, February 28, 2011

Convene at the Movies: The King's Speech

Congratulations to last night's Academy Award winner for Best Picture -- The King's Speech. So, by the way, anyone notice the event that kicks the movie's plot into gear? It's a speech that Prince Albert gives -- or tries to give -- at the closing of the British Empire Exhibition in 1925. This is how the movie chooses to demonstrate the scope of the future King George VI's stuttering problem: He can't properly address the crowd at an exhibition! It's something that the real-life figure would struggle with for years -- as you'll see (and hear) in the newsreel above, which shows George VI speaking at the 1938 British Empire Exhibition in Glasgow. A neat piece of history in its own right, but also a pretty cool indicator of the ceremonial power of public events.

This Is Your Brain On Meetings

Photo of brain blood lines by Suranga Wyesinghe
A link to a Forbes Magazine article about the benefits of meeting face-to-face, compared with teleconferencing, has been zinging around cyberspace this month. As the story points out, as impressive as are advances in virtual meeting technology, there's really nothing like the real thing. "It's tough to put a price on what gets lost when you don't meet in person," the article concludes.

One of the story's primary sources is John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine. For Forbes, Medina outlined the kinds of sensory information that get lost in cyberspace: eye contact, for one, along with smell and the true sound of people's voices. 

As it happens, we turned to Medina last summer, for our story "More Than a Feeling" which looked at how environment and emotions affect attendees' experience at meetings.  Our purpose was not so much to make a case for meeting face-to-face (our readers get that already) but to use brain science to make the most of meeting opportunities.

A key takeaway was that meeting planners are wise to engage, not just attendees' intellect, but their senses: According to Mediina, people who use multiple senses while learning remember information better, even 20 years later, than people who use only one sense. And they generate 50 percent to 75 percent more creative solutions on problem-solving tests. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Convene Reads: This Republic of Suffering

In This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, Drew Gilpin Faust explores how the deaths of more than six hundred thousand Union and Confederate soldiers over the course of four years  changed the United States -- in ways profound and prosaic, obvious and unexpected. The book is deeply researched and quietly moving, and, this being a work of history, of course there are meetings and conventions aplenty:
Certainly, [free man of color Captain Andre Cailloux's] death became a symbol for the northern antislavery cause and particularly for black abolitionists. The flag Cailloux had carried at Port Hudson was prominently displayed at the National Negro Convention presided over by Frederick Douglass in October 1864. Cailloux's death -- configured as heroic sacrifice -- made a powerful case for blacks' rights to citizenship in the nation they had given so much to save.
Here's another one:
Spiritualists held their first national convention in Chicago in 1864, marking a growing prominence and self-consciousness that extended well beyond the realm of popular amusement. "Virtually everyone," historian R. Laurence Moore has observed, "conceded that spirit communication was at least a possibility." Amid a war that was erasing not only lives but identities, the promise, as one spiritualist spokesman wrote, of the "imperishability of the individual and the continuation of the identical Ego" after death was for many irresistible.
Interesting that in both cases, the holding of the convention in and of itself is a symbol of something -- the dawning awareness of exactly why the Civil War was being fought, and the desperate need to believe that the Union and Confederate dead were not beyond all reach.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Convene On Site: Destination & Travel Foundation Dinner

Soprano Malaika Sims Alvaro at last night's Destination
& Travel Foundation Dinner and Dream Auction.
At its annual Dinner and Dream Auction last night, the Destination & Travel Foundation honored Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, with its Spirit of Hospitality Award. Roger gave a fast, funny, and warm acceptance speech about his career and the industry he serves, explaining that he tries to stick to a simple guiding principle: "No matter who you're speaking to, it's the most important person in the world."

Chubby Checker was also there, twisting again like he did last summer, in a dynamic performance sponsored by Branson Lakes Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. But the true highlight of the dinner -- which was held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. -- came courtesy of Destination DC, which as a tie-in to its new La Dolce DC promotion presented soprano Malaika Sims Alvaro. A native of DC who lives in New York City, Ms. Alvaro offered a version of "Quando M'en Vo" from Puccini's La boheme that, to my completely untrained ears, sounded beautiful. During his speech, Roger talked about the power of travel -- for business or pleasure or whatever other reason -- to expose us to new and wonderful things, and that performance last night certainly fit the bill.

Friday, February 18, 2011

30 Rock Meetings-Industry Shout-Out

Last night on 30 Rock, the meetings industry — and meetings magazines! — got a funny shout-out from Alec Baldwin's Jack Donaghy, the blustery, Reagan-loving NBC executive and constant foil (and friend) to Tina Fey's Liz Lemon.

Donaghy, given how poorly negotiations with his Trinidadian nanny had been going, was nervous about an upcoming licensing-fees meeting with a company called Kabletown, which had recently acquired "GE Sheinhardt NBC Universal" (and which, even though it's a fake company, seems to have its own website).

Talking with Lemon about his worries and his need to do a good job at the Kabletown negotiation, Donaghy said, "In addition, I have a huge presentation coming up — Meeting Magazine is already calling it the first great meeting of the decade."

Hilarious — especially for those of us who write for meetings publications like Convene.

Amtrak and the Continuing Rise of Wi-Fi Entitlement

Way back in our October 2009 issue, an executive with Smart City, a company that provides Internet service to convention centers, told Senior Editor Barbara Palmer: "We're very close to the point where we show up to a building and [when] there's no access [the reaction is,] 'Well, what do you mean there's no Internet?' Everybody depends on it."

I think this attitude of Wi-Fi entitlement has only grown since then. Or, okay, my own attitude of Wi-Fi entitlement has grown -- at the meetings and conferences I attend, and especially on the train, which I take from Washington, D.C., to New York City every month to close each issue of Convene. Amtrak rolled out free Wi-Fi on its premium Acela service last year, but I ride the company's standard Northeast Corridor line, which doesn't have Wi-Fi. I've never been able to understand it, given the numbers of business travelers who use the Northeast Corridor service every day, and during my last few trips I've gotten pretty close to angry about it. I get a lot of work done during the three-and-a-half hour trip, but could operate even more efficiently if I had Internet access, free or otherwise.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Convene On Site: Economic Significance Study

PwC's Robert Canton, with Roger Dow, U.S. Travel; Deborah Sexton, PCMA; Michael Gehrisch, DMAI; Bruce MacMillan, MPI; John Graham, ASAE; and Joseph McInerney, AH&LA.
Two years after the meetings industry's allied organizations got all Five Families (as a huge fan of "The Godfather," I mean that as a compliment) on the question of figuring out, once and for all, the true value of meetings and conventions, they have their answer: $263 billion. That jaw-dropping number was front and center at the press conference in Washington, D.C., this afternoon where the Convention Industry Council (CIC) presented the results of its landmark new study, The Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy. Conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), with support from an alliance of 14 meetings- and travel-industry organizations, the study found that meetings contribute $263 billion in direct spending and 1.7 million job to the U.S. economy every year -- not to mention $106 billion to U.S. GDP.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

February 2011 Issue: Live!

The digital edition of our February 2011 issue is now live -- and its cover story, by talented and glamorous Editor in Chief Michelle Russell, pulls no punches. Addressing the classifications of cities as first-tier, second-tier, and so on, we ask: "Time for the Tiers to Fall?" The assemblage of planners, suppliers, and destination executives that Michelle interviewed have a variety of thought-provoking opinions.

Other highlights from this issue:

CMP Series: In "FAMtastic Voyage," Hunter Slaton explores site visits and fam trips -- including how you can get the most out of them.

Convening Leaders Follow-Up: On the heels of PCMA 2011 Convening Leaders, we talk to two speakers who delivered well-received Masters Series presentations there -- technology expert Scott Klososky and Columbia Business School professor Sheena Iyengar.

Pass the Marshmallows

We welcome Christine Melendes, CAE, PCMA’s director of member relations, as a special guest-blogger, here with the first of a three-part series on the second annual Event Camp National Conference, which was held in Chicago February 11-13.  (We covered the first EventCamp, held in NYC in 2010, here

This is my first EventCamp experience … and to be honest it is my first time at any camp.  I grew up camping with my family -- and they did an amazing job of creating a fun experience -- but I never went to sleep-away camp, to sports camps, etc. 

S'mores. Photo by Chris Brogan
I knew that a lot of great people who were part of #eventprofs would be there, so I didn’t feel nervous that I would walk into a room and not know anybody. Still, I was going to camp for the first time. It was an unknown.

On Wednesday, I started seeing Tweets from participants saying that they were heading to Chicago, and my excitement began to grow. Finally, I was  going to get to meet people who I’ve been connected to, and friends with, on Twitter and Facebook for more than a year. I was not just excited, I was pumped up!

Somehow, I muddled through Thursday and Friday until, on Friday night I attended the Event Camp Opening Party at a local Chicago bar, where we enjoyed “camp-style” fare: Homemade tater tots, Rice Krispie treats, s’mores, mini-BBQ sandwiches and more.

I immediately was one happy camper. 

One of the benefits of online communities, like the hashtag group #eventprofs , is that it is possible to connect with someone before you actually meet in person. For instance, I connected in person with Twitter friend Liz King (@lizkingevents) for the first time, and reconnected with Jessica Levin (@jessicalevin), KiKi L’Italian (@KikiLitalian), Glenn Thayer (@glennthayer), Greg Ruby (@GregRuby) and Jeff Hurt (@JeffHurt) as well as many, many other friends (sorry that I can’t name all of you, here!). 

Monday, February 14, 2011

"Watch Facebook."

A couple of relevant tweets from Wael Ghonim's Twitter page.

Any meeting professional who has ever doubted the power of social networking should have had their doubts smashed this past Friday, when a popular revolution that began and spread via Facebook and Twitter toppled the regime of Egyptian president — excuse me, former president (!) — Hosni Mubarak.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Designing For Creativity

"Over time, our belief systems can harden into rigid walls that prevent us from considering alternative viewpoints," Convene columnist Jeffrey Cufaude writes in "Think Differently" in our February issue. "And that's a problem."

To think differently, we need to be exposed to differences -- to diverse ideas as well as people -- and allow the collision to create insights, Cufaude argues.

In the presentation above, consultant, speaker, and blogger Bud Caddell, also operates at the intersection of ideas and innovation. Cadell's work is part of a collaborative effort to foster creativity in public education, but the questions raised about public education also can -- and should -- be asked about how we design and offer content at conferences and meetings.

Like "What technologies belong in a modern classroom?" "How should they be used to foster collaborative creativity?" 

And, "What brands and organizations stand for creativity and/or have an interest in a more creative workforce?" 

And a biggie: "What would an education system (or conference education program) be like if it put creativity at the core of its values?"

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Deliciously Healthy at The Plaza

Lunch at The Plaza Hotel
Honestly? It was the luncheon invitation of my dreams.

It asked me to join other New York City-based meetings industry magazine editors at The Plaza Hotel for a three-course meal introducing Fairmont Hotels & Resorts new Lifestyle Cuisine Plus menus.

It wasn't just that the luncheon was held at the hotel's gorgeous Palm Court, where Eloise dined under the crystal chandeliers. Or that the meal was prepared under the direction of Executive Chef Willis Loughhead, whose previous experience includes opening a restaurant named by Conde Nast Traveler as the "Best New Hotel Restaurant in the World" and a fine-dining restaurant at MOMA.

It was also that, as a gluten-free diner, I didn't have to do anything at all to make sure that I could safely eat lunch. Nor did I have to work at appearing not to mind as I was dished up something less delicious than was served to everyone else. Two weeks later and I'm still swooning over Loughhead's grilled watermelon and watercress salad, served with crab and a pistachio vinaigrette, the Tunisian lamb meatballs, and a perfect round of macadamia nut cheesecake, prepared by pastry chef Jasmina Bojic.

And that is the whole point of Lifestyle Cuisine Plus, Loughhead said. To erase any stigma or sense of deprivation that comes from, not just dining gluten free, but living with conditions including diabetes and heart disease, or simply from preferring to follow heart-healthy, vegan, raw, or macrobiotic diets.

The new menus, which will be rolled out in Fairmont properties across the globe, are in response to requests by guests who were looking for healthy options while traveling, said Fairmont spokesperson Sarah Evans. The menus will be available in hotel restaurants, as well as for banquets and other plated meeting functions, she  said.

Fairmont chefs were trained by nutritional advisors, and use local food products; chefs are sharing their creations with one another through a database of recipes.

It was fun Loughhead said, to come up with dietary-restricted dishes that anyone would want to order and eat, not just those with no other choices -- particularly at a place like the Plaza, which was once the "Kingdom of Butter." In the new menus, textures, taste, and flavors still reign. "The point was to make a menu that was approachable for everybody," he said, "and then sneak in the fact [that dishes] were  vegan, raw, macrobiotic, diabetic-friendly and celiac-friendly."

Monday, February 7, 2011

'A Town That's Been to Hell and Back'

One of the best commercials during the Super Bowl last night struck me as somewhat familiar. It was an ad for the Chrysler 200 sedan that used the car to tell the story of Detroit's rebirth, and vice versa. Eminem, a proud hometown boy, is featured prominently, along with the opening chords of his terrific anthem "Lose Yourself" and some strong narration that grabs you by the throat, or maybe just the heart:
What does this city know about luxury? What does a town that's been to hell and back know about the finer things in life? Well, I'll tell you. More than most. You see, it's the hottest fires that make the hardest steel. Add hard work and conviction, and a know-how that runs generations deep in every last one of us. That's who we are. That's our story.
I think the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau (DMCVB) would approve, because this is the story that the organization has been telling for the last several years, and something very close to the approach that it's been using. As we reported in our cover story last May, DMCVB has been proud of the city's past, upfront about its hardscrabble public image, and determined to focus on the reality of a destination that's in the process of reimagining and revitalizing itself. The Chrysler 200 is the facet of that narrative -- albeit a particularly shiny, elegant one.

Chichi Conference Takeaway

While reading the February issue of Fast Company, I came across another example of the power of conferences to influence one's thinking. The article is about how Michelle Rhee, who resigned in October as Washington, D.C.'s schools chancellor, decided to start an organization called Students First ( She was being interviewed by Charlie Rose — while at the super-private Forstmann Little and Co. conference, held annually in Aspen. The article goes on: "As they discussed the problems with America's education system, a plan began to crystallize in her mind."

Iconoclast author and neuroscientist Gregory Berns, whom I interviewed two years ago for an article in the January 2009 issue of Convene, would not be surprised. A simple change of environment, he believes, can bring about perceptual breakthroughs.

Perhaps it's time to follow up with Dr. Berns to see if he thinks a virtual environment can successfully jog the perceptual system out of its routine way of thinking.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Winning at Airline Roulette

Image by Conor Ogle
Buying an airline ticket can feel a little bit like spinning a roulette wheel. You plug in your dates, hit "submit," and wait for the numbers to show up.

But there are ways to increase your odds of getting the best deal -- and they have to do with timing your purchase, according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal. 

Here's the tip: You'll most likely to find the best deals midweek. Airlines typically launch discounts of 15 to 25 percent on Monday night; competitors match their prices on Tuesday and Wednesday.  The sales are often over by Thursday or Friday. The story tracked one advance purchase round-trip flight from Atlanta to Chicago -- tickets cost 30 percent less on Monday and Tuesday than they did the following four days.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

'Cedar Rapids' -- Where Conventions Are King

You should be flattered by "Cedar Rapids," which is coming out next Friday, because in the worldview of this amiable-looking comedy, conventions are king. At least, that's the message I take from the trailer: Ed Helms plays Tim Lippe, an insurance agent who's never left his small Wisconsin hometown -- until his boss sends him to represent the company at an annual insurance convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Based on the additional clips posted on the movie's website, it looks like Tim will experience a variety of classic convention experiences, including anonymous hotels, questionable team-building activities, and hard-partying colleagues. And, this being a movie, I'm assuming that somewhere along the way, Tim will figure out what's really important in life. Or, as the marketing copy for "Cedar Rapids" puts it: "For a guy who plays everything by the book, this convention will be anything but conventional." Which is pretty cool, right? Sure the movie is a light comedy, but the filmmakers don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility that a meeting might change someone's life.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Extra, Extra!: Convene Newsstand

According to British newspaper The Independent, the luxury lodging company Morgans Hotel Group is introducing a collaboration with The School of Life, a group that runs personal-fulfillment programs and services, called "Minibar for the Mind."  (Don't worry: We're sure that the Toblerone will not depart the regular minibar.)  The product, which will soon appear in five Morgans properties (the group has hotels in London, New York City, Los Angeles, and elsewhere), will comprise "a box of 250 conversation starters, a volume of columns written by faculty at The School of Life, 'Reading Prescriptions' designed to evoke moods of relaxation or seduction and a notebook and pencil set."  The story continues:
The set costs $56 (suggesting, perhaps, that minibars are extortionate whatever you put in them) but guests who don't want to shell out for the product will also be treated to a "Daily Aphorism" with their turn down, with insights from some of the world's great literary minds.