Friday, December 21, 2012

The 12 Days of Conference - Day Eleven

As we prepare for 2013 I am hosting a series of blog posts called "The 12 Days of Conference". Each day a different expert from the meeting, convention planning, speaking and hotel industries will add their single best idea on how to create better events or other tips for how to improve the "Conference Attendee Experience" in the new year.

The Truth Can Set Your Meeting Free
by Barbara Palmer

As an editor at PCMA Convene magazine, I don’t plan events — I just write about them. (And the thought has occurred to me that I wouldn’t last a month as a meeting planner — I have enormous respect for the complexity and demands of the job.)

But in talking with literally hundreds of planners, I’ve noticed the same thing in many top performers: They know their biggest problems can lead to their biggest successes.

Take, for example, the PCMA Learning Lounge, which debuted at Convening Leaders 2010 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The concept  —dozens of short presentations offered simultaneously in a variety of formats — was wildly popular, much emulated, and has since become a regular meeting component. (It’s also where I met Thom — he was a standing-room-only presenter at the 2012 Convening Leaders Learning Lounge in San Diego.)

But maybe my favorite thing about the Learning Lounge is that it was created as a direct result of a problem.  In 2009, Kelly Peacy, PCMA’s senior vice president, education & meetings, was wrestling with the fact that the MGM Grand’s arena seats 16,000, and Convening Leaders was expecting 4,000 attendees. How to shrink the space so that attendees didn’t feel swallowed up?
The solution?  Use half the space for general sessions and to fill the other half with education, including the Learning Lounge. Link:

I wrote a story for Convene earlier this year about Danielle Cote, vice president for event marketing for Sage North America, who was more than dismayed when RFID chips in attendee badges revealed that her meeting’s expensive keynote sessions weren’t attracting nearly the number or kind of attendees she had assumed. The data, she said, was “gut-wrenching.”

But instead of wringing her hands, Danielle took action. Working with meeting architect and speaker Sarah Michel, of Perfecting Connecting, the pair reinvented the keynote session at the 2012 meeting, using a modified Open Space concept — called “Sage City” — that engaged attendees, vendors, and Sage employees before, during, and after the meetings.  The innovation not only doubled the level of attendance, it created new ways for the software company to learn about how their customers used their products. [link to story:]

I see a few key things in both examples: Neither Kelly or Danielle denied that they had a problem or sugarcoated their challenges. They looked at them clearly and dove right into the middle of them.  And then they executed their problem-solving solutions to high standards, calling in expert help where needed.

If you are attending Convening Leaders in Orlando in January, you’ll see the Learning Lounge in action, of course, but you can hear Danielle and Sarah tell the story of Sage City at on Tuesday, Jan. 15, at 10:30 a.m. 

Hope to see you there! 

Barbara Palmer is senior editor of Convene magazine. A resident of Brooklyn, she has worked as a writer and editor at newspapers, magazines, and non-profit organizations. 

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