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.