Tuesday, January 22, 2013

When A Conference Luncheon Is MORE Than A Conference Luncheon

The National Tour Association (NTA) and the United Motorcoach Association (UMA) co-located their annual conferences for the first time this year.  They combined opening sessions, meals and breakout sessions were open to attendees from either organization.  They also shared space side by side for their trade shows on the same floor. I had the honor to speak at the event, and the planners did a fantastic job of creating an "experience" for the over 3000 people in attendance (including an opening reception at NASA).

The lunch program on Day One was one of the most amazing events I had ever attended at a conference.  It was sponsored by Broadway.com and it was more than a luncheon, it was a happening.  The entertainment was a medley of performances from ten Broadway shows with the current stars of the New York shows.

In addition to the 90 minutes of "WOW" from Broadway, there were a couple of surprises that made the whole thing more personal to the organizationsl.  The current chair of NTA "crashed" the stage dressed as the Phantom and sang part of a song from Phantom of the Opera.  Turns out he has a great voice and actually starred in Phantom in Hawaii 15 years ago.  How cool.  But the real hook was when the current chair of UMA and his wife came on stage to introduce the star of the soon to open Jeckle and Hyde.  They raved about this upcoming musical, and the woman who would soon sing to the crowd... as it was their daughter.  The UMA chair's daughter has a lead role in the musical in New York.  What are the odds?  (That was really cool, and she stole the show with her voice!).

Stephanie Lee, the president of Broadway.com, was the MC of the lunch and she did a great job weaving the ten performances together while showcasing all the top musicals (some of which will open this winter in NYC).  The numbers included songs from Flash Dance, Jeckle and Hyde, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Once, Motown, Cirque du Soleil, and others.

The production value of the "Stars of Broadway" lunch was top notch and the audience of 3000 people were driven to their feet for a standing ovation following the final performance.  How often to conference audiences get that kind of experience that touches their souls and drives then to a multi-minute applause?

Those in the meeting industry are always looking for ideas on how to have unique experiences at their events.  Too often we end up with a lot of the same in a different package.  This lunch hit on all the marks of what those who plan conference events dream about.

As it turns out this is a regular thing for the NTA conference, as Broadway.com has been sponsoring similar spectacular lunches at the NTA Travel Exchange for about a decade.  The regular attendees look forward to being treated to the "Stars of Broadway" and first timers are always blown away by the level of the production.  As the audience exited the ballroom there was nobody who was not smiling, laughing and talking about what they had all experienced.

Having twenty Broadway actors flown to your conference for a 90 minute show would not be practical for every conference (it does fit in well with the NTA Travel Exchange, and Broadway.com's strong network in the Theater wold makes it all possible).  However, there are other ways to "wow" an audience.  Looking for partnerships with sponsors who have access to something cool in your industry and then taking the risk to create a lunch or (other event) that is more than a meal. The concept of doing something unique and unexpected will work for any conference.  It needs not be a Broadway "show" to be a "SHOW".

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

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