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.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Postcard from the Future of Convention Centers

Photo by Annie Rose Palmer

Recently, I sat beside my daughter, Annie, as she clicked through her laptop, showing me photographs of a recent trip that included a layover in Reykjavik. I grabbed her elbow as something familiar shimmered by: It was the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre, dazzling like a jewel in Iceland’s summer evening sunshine.

I was struck, not just by its beauty, but the fact that it turned up in Annie’s travel photos at all. She's never been one to take snapshots of statues and landmarks. Her eye tends to look for shapes and textures in her environment, and to illuminate how they combine to create new forms: clouds pooling on the side of a mountain or the afternoon light slicing across a stone floor.

So it was exciting to see the Harpa Centre there, its glass walls gleaming like fish scales and seeming to float in the Atlantic Ocean -- because a seamless environmental fit was exactly what the architects had envisioned as they designed the center.

For our cover story "Show Places," last October, Convene reached out to leading architects, including Peer Teglgaard Jeppesen, of Henning Larsen Architects, which designed the Harpa Centre, to ask, “What will the conference center of the future look like?

Here is part of of Jeppesen's answer:
One important feature will be the inclusion of local characteristics and local identity. The conference center will not be anonymous; rather, it will be characterized by a richness of local spirit, presenting the conference-goer with features and experiences characteristic to the local environment.
We also talked to Mark Reddington, a principal at LMN Architects, which designed the award-winning Vancouver Conference Centre, who said:
The design of convention centers is increasingly about creating an integrated urban experience -- a piece of the city that offers an authentic experience of place and that is connected in meaningful ways to the surrounding urban fabric and natural environment.
The convention center of the future, "first, will be more about making a city," Reddington said, "than making a building."

Check Your Phasers at the Door

Except for the NRA Annual Meeting & Exhibits (the next edition of which is April 13–15 in St. Louis), most conventions probably don't have a very active "weapons check" desk.  Not so at — if you can believe it — Comic-Con International, held every year at the San Diego Convention Center.

You see, at fan conventions like Comic-Con, lots of fans like to dress up as their favorite super-hero or fictional characters, many of which pack various forms of heat (quivers of arrows, handheld cannons, ninja swords) as part of their costume. And Comic-Con doesn't want to discourage its attendees from participating in this way; in fact, every Saturday night at Comic-Con, there's a masquerade competition — and what self-respecting Wolverine would show up to such a contest without his adamantine claws?