Saturday, September 24, 2016

So You Think You Can

Brian Dennehy captured this amazing
moment at an I event I produced while
working at Cantrav
So you think you can be an event professional? Well you can. But it won't be what you expect, and it definitely won't be as easy as you imagine it will be. 

Five years ago (!) I wrote a post on 23 areas you need to be an expert on to be a meeting professional. If anything this list has grown, with an even greater emphasis on both risk management and technology in all its forms. This ranges now from business management to data acquisition, privacy and data analysis for your own business and your clients and ultimately the event and of course, event participants

There is a reason that Career Cast lists event professional in the top 5 most stressful jobs, right after military officers, police officers, firefighters and airline pilots. I would like to point out that rarely is our actual life on the line, but we do have numerous stakeholders from C-level executives and their direct reports, marketing teams, sponsors, exhibitors and participants; and an environment which we imagine and then rely on often dozens of supplier partners we can inspire but don't control, a team of staff, volunteers, performers, presenters and yes, participants to bring our event to life. We do this all in the immediate view of anyone attending our events live PLUS all those following their perspective of our events as shared in visual content on multiple streams of social media or traditional media. We now have to please live participants and virtual attendees in many cases, and all have their own needs. EVERY person attending has made an investment in our event, and everyone deserves the best we can deliver.

So what does it take? It is a combination of attitude and aptitude, hard-won experience and yes, education. Since this post I wrote - also in 2011 - about education  vs experience I have recertified my CMP, obtained my Digital Event Strategist (DES) and am working towards my Certified Event Designer (CED) designations. Why? I recognize that to continue to deliver what our clients demand, we have to stay ahead of the curve, defeat the status quo, pay attention to the changing consumer, and continue to LOVE what we do. Do I think you need certifications to be a skilled, savvy, fantastic event professional? Of course not - there are many people who have entered this industry from a variety of backgrounds and who understand experience creation, branding, client service and are creative or logistic geniuses with excellent careers and clients. Do I believe if you are starting out or desiring you should take the (precious) time and take advantage of the education available both formal and informal, through universities and associations? YES. 

Is it daunting? Often. Is it do-able? Heck YES. Do you have to truly, deeply, madly want to deliver unequaled experiences that change people's lives? YES. 

Please, share what you LOVE about being an event professional, I would love to hear!

So You Think You Can

Brian Dennehy captured this amazing
momentat an I event I produced while
working at Cantrav
So you think you can be an event professional? Well you can. But it won't be what you expect, and it definitely won't be as easy as you imagine it will be. 

Five years ago (!) I wrote a post on 23 areas you need to be an expert on to be a meeting professional. If anything this list has grown, with an even greater emphasis on both risk management and technology in all its forms. This ranges now from business management to data acquisition, privacy and data analysis for your own business and your clients and ultimately the event and of course, event participants

There is a reason that Career Cast lists event professional in the top 5 most stressful jobs, right after military officers, police officers, firefighters and airline pilots. I would like to point out that rarely is our actual life on the line, but we do have numerous stakeholders from C-level executives and their direct reports, marketing teams, sponsors, exhibitors and participants; and an environment which we imagine and then rely on often dozens of supplier partners we can inspire but don't control, a team of staff, volunteers, performers, presenters and yes, participants to bring our event to life. We do this all in the immediate view of anyone attending our events live PLUS all those following their perspective of our events as shared in visual content on multiple streams of social media or traditional media. We now have to please live participants and virtual attendees in many cases, and all have their own needs. EVERY person attending has made an investment in our event, and everyone deserves the best we can deliver.

So what does it take? It is a combination of attitude and aptitude, hard-won experience and yes, education. Since this post I wrote - also in 2011 - about education  vs experience I have recertified my CMP, obtained my Digital Event Strategist (DES) and am working towards my Certified Event Designer (CED) designations. Why? I recognize that to continue to deliver what our clients demand, we have to stay ahead of the curve, defeat the status quo. pay attention to the changing consumer, and continue to LOVE what we do. Do I think you need certifications to be a skilled, savvy, fantastic event professional? Of course not - there are many people who have entered this industry from a variety of backgrounds and who understand experience creation, branding, client service and are creative or logistic geniuses with excellent careers and clients. Do I believe if you are starting out or desiring you should take the (precious) time and take advantage of the education available both formal and informal, through universities and associations? YES. 

Is it daunting? Often. Is it do-able? Heck YES. Do you have to truly, deeply, madly want to deliver unequaled experiences that change people's lives? YES. 

Please, share what you LOVE about being an event professional, I would love to hear!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

My Top Eventprofs Reads for 2016

Inspired by others sharing their top ready, below are books I have read, use to teach with, have learned from or think you will find useful as you build or evolve in your event / meeting career. From the "basics" to the inspirational, these are among the best I have found across the sectors that are driving us forward.

  1. Convention Industry Council's 9th Edition because it is the base for the CMP exam for a reason. If you are seriously into planning meetings, and believe in lifelong learning, and work somewhere that recognizes the benefits of this designation, or want to, this is a good read for you. A nice companion read is Professional Meeting Management, 6th edition.
  2. Event Design Handbook - Roel Frissen, Ruud Jannsen and Dennis Luijer. This builds the story of the #EventCanvas which captures the process of design - from building stakeholder empathy maps, why this matters and defining needs, goals and measurements - both real and visceral. It lays it out in a way that is systematic and ultimately for your event owner - compelling. As a book, it is (of course) really well designed and therefore both easy to read and to pull relevant content from.
  3. Winners Dream by Bill McDermott. Why do meetings and incentives matter? This explains why - from the perspective of this CEO. 
  4. Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility in the Meetings and Events Industry by Elizabeth Henderson and Mariela McIlwraith. We share one world, we have the ability to have the biggest impact on it - much of it positive once we understand our power and pay attention to the planning and design process with an eye on sustainability. This book breaks it down without being preachy.
  5. Gamestorming A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers and Changemakers. Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo. If you don't like the title, this is not the book for you. That's okay. If you want to work with your teams and committees and even on-site at your events to change up formats and deliver more actionable learning, this is a great book for you.
  6. Resonate by Nancy Duarte. If you are a content creator, an event producer, or just love the way storytelling can be used to deliver great messages, this book is practical, has lots of great examples and will spark new ways to deliver content well - and make every presenter you share it with look better too.
  7. Trending Topic by Gerrit Heijkoop and Paula Vos is described as a 'management novel' and it really is just this - an easy read that you learn from. If you are thinking you still don't really understand social media or how it can benefit your meeting, event or association and its members, this book is an easy way to create understanding. Social media is simply another medium we need to understand as event professionals, and this makes the learning, yes, fun.
  8. Wine Drinking for Creative Thinking by Michael Gelb. If you know me - the title says it all. If you want to delve into the process of creativity, enjoy some great storytelling, and pair it with chocolate, this is exactly the book to do it with.
Happy reading!


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Heat Map vs Hot Lead

Kiki L'Italien streaming #assnchat from the trade show floor.
The sign is powered by LEDs and requires human power from the bike!
I appreciate we have access to a plethora of resources available to provide information and ideas that make us think, reflect and grow - with ideas to improve and adapt our events to our changing stakeholder needs. After listening to an #EventTech podcast today with one of my favorites John Federico aka Gadget Boy I am finding myself thinking about how we consider stakeholders, in this case exhibitors. During this show the guest's approach to meeting exhibitor expectations using event technology, specifically in this case, beacons and their ability to create a heat map surprised me. 

A heat map provides a digital visualization of where people are traveling through your event. It shows by colour or density higher volumes of traffic, and each beacon can indeed tell you exactly how many devices (presumably with their people attached) have gone past any specific area. This is useful for understanding flow, for managing in real-time movement of participants and allows for adjustments that can positively impact the guest and exhibitor experience. When combined with smart gamification strategies, push messaging and 'near me' tech, the possibilities become very interesting.

The suggestion from this guest was with a heat map and its data "we can show unhappy exhibitors how many people walked past their booths and provide evidence we have 'done our job' as organizers and provided them people to talk to". The conversation continues to note that any lack of success of a particular exhibitor at a show could be attributed to any of the following -  if their booth staff wasn't good / were on their phones / talking to people they already knew / were understaffed or had uneducated staff, etc. 

Anyone who has been an exhibitor knows how many resources - human and financial - are invested in participating in a show. Nobody takes this lightly, and while not all booths are visually stunning, and not all exhibitors stand out front with a smile waiting for the next guest to come and talk to them - there are many factors at play on both sides - flow, timing, placement of food and beverage, time of day, competing events within the overall program, and reasons the participant has attended and may be interested in talking to or meeting with as examples.

For exhibitors, trade show success is often judged on hard leads returned to the office and shows focused on buying with both buyer and seller understanding this purpose will deliver this. Often these shows include hosted buyers, across all industries and not just events / meetings because if your show is being judged on "hot leads" then bringing buyers who have business to do and can do this in the most expedient way is good for everyone.

Other shows will deliver success based on conversations which build or grow relationships; others when show education offers a way for thought leadership from the exhibitor to be shared. "Success" requires thoughtful activation and a responsible investment - understanding which shows get a tabletop and a banner with limited staff, vs. the shows where you bring out the big booth and a significant portion of your team, and focus on demonstrations, opportunities available and conversations.  For busy people attending a show where the majority of the suppliers they are interested in meeting are also in attendance makes sense from a resource perspective - time and financial. As organizers we need to ensure we allow enough time on the show floor at defined times for there to be adequate traffic flow for both exhibitors and guests - it is more than just a numbers-passing-by game.

To put this in perspective if you don't regularly follow or otherwise know me, I believe deeply in the power of technology and its ability to benefit human interactions. I have been actively using all types of #eventtech for some time. I have been a planner, producer, trade show designer and exhibitor; I have been the organizer and the client and I have also been responsible for spending tens of thousands to create memorable on-floor activations for multiple clients. I have also worked at QuickMobile and been behind the scenes where beacons have been used to heat map entire shows and tracked traffic patterns through a venue, a city and even back to origin airports. This data is used for real-time adjustments as well as future planning by many organizations working with a variety of savvy vendors and analysts to interpret and apply recommendations driven by the data. There are great success stories from PCMA, CES and SXSW who all used beacons in ways that made a positive difference to the experience.  

Ultimately success is defined by each person who attends, and perfomance is not defined or defended by a heat map. We need to consider the technology we implement - why and how it is applied to achieve interaction, knowledge retention, contact exchange and data collected within the realm of what is most useful - and take advantage of this ability to measure more clearly the impacts of face-to-face business events.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Powered Couches and Secret Notes

Powered couches!
These are two things I remember clearly from attending 11 events for meeting professionals over a 12 week period last summer...one year later. Why do I remember these? The Power of Positive Surprise. This is not easy to achieve, but when it works-BAM! you are set on a course for your attendees to return and to tell others why they need to attend.

Imagine the joy of sitting down in a general session on a couch, conveniently placed in a chevron format for easy viewing, to find out that each couch had an arm with plug-ins, both electrical and USB ports. Comfort means knowing i don't have to worry about powering up devices; I won't miss an important email, text or call from a client, or potential client, or my family. For the meeting organizer, having guests with powered devices means they are more relaxed, focused on learning and sharing ideas. If you are using a meeting app you now have the ability to have every participant become more participatory through live (anonymous) feedback,questions, polls and more and they aren't worried about having one more thing open draining their battery. If you add in wi-fi, especially for non-local guests, your chances of positive social sharing from participants creating more buzz about your event also goes up exponentially. As a highly connected, NON-millenial, the powered couches were even better than the ubiquitous charging stations, aka the new "water cooler" of the conference.

Secret notes were another positive surprise when my neighbour on the next couch over would pass me funny notes every time there was interesting tidbits, or even things that didn't make sense from the presentations. Eventually I leaned his name, more about his thoughtfully run company, and endlessly appreciate to this day his great humour and event savvy. This is not something as an event producer or meeting planner you can replicate, plan for or even encourage, but it is the kind of serendipity that makes me want to return to this event again. 

What else do I remember? Moderating a panel where I had the presenters answer a question in "freeze tag" format familiar to improv lovers. Why? Because it forced the panel members to pay attention to and build on the answers of their co-presenters, and engaged them and the audience who were keen to see how this would all work. I recall meditation rooms which allowed 15 minute reprieves from the pressure of being always ON during busy events offering a deeply embedded sense of peace. A burger and a milkshake with great company being as fulfilling as any gala dinner and gala dinners where the accomplishments of friends were celebrated. Ultimately it comes back to creating emotion - accomplishment, peace, joy, comfort, anticipation, surprise, delight. Using our environment, content, creative deployment of messaging and designing thoughtfully to deliver so much more than what is listed in the program.

In addition to program, logistics, risk management and so much more, it is incumbent upon us as meeting planners to leave space in our programs for these types of connections to be made. Things to consider include white space; interactive elements that increase reasons for conversations to begin; spaces, facilitators and presenters to encourage meaningful dialogue and thoughtful reflection; music that is at a level that can be talked over; visual elements that spur emotion, and build memory; anything else you might imagine - after all you are the creative professionals your clients rely on to deliver beyond objectives and create outcomes that have reach beyond the conference space. When you do this, and see the reactions during your event, it will be worth every minute of the planning energy you put into this.

What have you experienced or created that is rocking your events right now?

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Kite Dancing in a Hurricane #IMEX16

What makes IMEX the go-to meeting for much of the MICE industry in both Europe and America? It is a place to do business, learn about what is new and as always it comes back to the sheer amount of opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations with people from around the world.
No Rog Simons you take the pic - your arms are longer!
Also with Maarten VanNeste

With Padraic Gilligan and IMEXDale Hudson
Nothing beats face to face.I am currently midway through the DES – Digital Event Strategist Certification – where we learn all there is to know about the development, management, and delivery of successful virtual and hybrid programs from experts across the industry – a great program, and I was able to connect with fellow learners from the EU while at IMEX - from chat room to chat! 
Mike Lyons pleads for the defence, my "counsel" Padraic and I listen raptly,
Jon Howell presides above
IMEX offers several adjunct programs including Exclusively Corporate Day for these planners and also an Association Day, among others. Exclusively Corporate was ably hosted by the SoolNua team of Padraic and Patrick and began with some fun polling, a journey through new thinking from Kaihan Krippendorff, and moved through a variety of topics which offered ideas and suggestions for challenges these planners face. We ended with a Mock Trial presided over by the legendary Jon Howell and ably facilitated with the help of Mike Lyons and  and our expert “witnesses” Deborah and Peter. While we did not come to a final conclusive end to our arbitration we certainly shed some light on important topics for our industry. Once again IMEX offered a day to these planners which tapped into their needs before they moved into their time at the show. 
In the #EventTech area
As always for those of us who are either new to or have spent time in the industry the show floor navigation is full of information, smiles, hugs and engaged conversation with friends and colleagues from around the world – we all become kites dancing through the hurricane. I was able to discuss job progressions with Jessie States of MPI; the future of strategic and engaging design with Ruud and Roel of the Event Model Generation Canvas; to be inspired about the importance of embedding sustainability into our meetings especially during the FRESH Dinner with Dale Hudson, Claudia and BabsNijdam; to be inspired by our future leaders including Courtney Stanley, Magdalina Atannasova, Rosa Garriga to meet, see and spend time with luminaries including Olga Novarro, Terri Breining, Julius Solaris of EventManagerBlog, (my first post linked here!) and Maarten VanNeste from the Meeting Design Institute, Eling Hamso, Mike Van de Vijver, and many more. IMEX as always is about the people.

Hanging out at MPI with Jessie States and Ruud Janssen
The floor was buzzing with announcements, hospitality and fun activations on the floor and once again the IMEX team maximized social, always adapting to the changing social media as our relationship to mobile and digital evolve. Again Miguel Neves and Gerrit Heijkoop are a formidable team, creating, curating and sharing across platforms to engage those on-site as well as those watching from around the globe - and they do it smiling for four days. (link takes you to a great post from a new member of the IMEXSocial team)


IMEX is a place where business is done with people we meet live and have come to trust and as always I can’t wait to return.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Scotland Summit Shapes Ideas

Global Events Summit

Hosted by VisitScotland, IMEX, the International Special Events Society (now ILEA) with support from C-Vent and Events Are GREAT Britian this Summit was a stellar example of how great minds collaborating can identify challenges, seek solutions, and simply... ideate!
So it begins... Gleneagles and the whole group
So it Began, Glorious Gleneagles

As meeting and incentive planners we have all been to fabulous resorts, on beaches and golf courses, with activities and fine dining, the places which create memories and build loyalty through shared experiences. In the world of golf courses, Gleneagles in Scotland is what can be considered an aspirational destination. I had no idea it would have the same effect for our small group of event professionals who gathered here, brought together with support from the IMEX Hosted Buyer Program (which we avidly attended first) and under the auspices of the International Special Event Society (now ILEA) to meet and share ideas in a setting which really should be experienced.

Described as a playground, it is so much more. While a good leisure destination for obvious reasons – world-class golf and past host to the Ryder Cup, a stunning spa, endless pools, and a range of activities from the historical such as shooting and archery to the sublime, it is also a perfect incentive destination for these same reasons. It boasts true world-class(ic) dining with table-side preparation in its feature restaurant; the thoughtful cuisine echoed in its banquet service. Our group of 30 began our Gleneagles adventure with a delicious lunch in the clubhouse, vibrant with spring golfers enjoying the same. After lunch it was time to dig into our agenda and a nearby meeting room was reached through the most scenic of paths.

Whisky and Getting to Work

The afternoon allowed us to begin the process of answering the pressing questions facing our industry, bringing together the collective expertise from many sectors of the event industry on two continents. The evening was a fantastic experience in long table dining featuring luscious scallops followed by the most delicious local venison and ending of course with chocolate before we retraced our steps to the Blue Bar, an open air bar featuring couches, blankets and firepits and local whisky, of course.

A typical dinner at Gleneagles
The following day dawned crisp, with some heading out early to test the small course before our day began, while others enjoyed a run through the trails, deer leaping past, and others stayed in their comfortable rooms or moved in the fabulous fitness centre before the day began. It was time to come together again, and this day brought a series of unexpected learnings as the group opened themselves to growth, sharing and discussing the real threats impacting the event industry including safety, security, economics and perceptions. The sheer depth of knowledge and experience in this group enabled a lively and multi-faceted discussion ably facilitated by Sean Blair of Promeet, who taught us by example the experience and humility it takes to be a great facilitator – this is not a skill easily mastered!
Sharing, learning, discussing, debating, dialoguing... communication nexus!
People Make Glasgow

We also had a visit from the Glasgow team this day as we just could not squeeze in a visit there with our packed schedule. What struck me was how this city has used the building of a fabulous new multiplex and the hosting of the Commonwealth Games to regenerate an entire area of a city, breathing life and culture for both residents and visitors. I had the opportunity to visit friends working on the Commonwealth Games before they happened in this city and to see it through their eyes. We thoroughly enjoyed our short time there – so I can only imagine how much fun those members of our group who were able to stay on and head over to see Dierks Bently in concert in Glasgow had!

Rethinking Space and Awesome Incentives

Soon enough it was time to depart for Edinburgh where the Summit would continue. As we departed there was one small stop to make at the new Gleneagles Arena, 25,000sf / 2,500sm of flexible space, with excellent rigging throughout. What struck me most throughout our time viewing Gleneagles and meeting the staff was the true understanding of the market for both meetings and incentives, and the need for flexibility and adaptability in working with the planners – in each area we saw they offered multiple options for use of the space and ideas for what could be done. This is indeed a perfect playground for adults with six-star dining, one of the most beautiful spas I have seen (and I have seen a lot on three continents!), fabulous outdoor options, and more. I also appreciated the small touches, including all activities for adults also come in junior size, making this a fantastic destination for a family incentive, a trip that often ends up at a theme park resort. Consider the reactions to these historic activities which can be so much more meaningful and memorable, and offer that precious family time to incentive trip recipients. I am certainly thinking of ways to come back with a group!

Sorry, I Have Dinner at the Castle Tonight

Just after arriving in Edinburgh I had a text from back home asking if we wanted to come over for “Takeout Friday” and I had to say “Sorry, I can’t make it, headed for dinner at the Castle!” After a short time to check out the neighbourhood immediately around the Sheraton Grand Edinburgh, renovated and gorgeous since my last stay there it was time to head to the Castle! I am a bit spoiled in this being my third trip to Edinburgh and also the Castle, where I have been during Festival in August and had the amazing opportunity to experience Tattoo, an extravaganza of bagpipes from around the world, so my expectations ran high. We were not disappointed, arriving with our small group shortly after the grounds had closed for the day we were led up, up, up to see the Crown Jewels and hear about their storied past, before heading down for a traditional dinner in a room with a view to the city to be treated to a very fun traditional show full of cheeky Scottish humour which was enjoyed by all. Of course we didn’t want it to just end there so on our return to the hotel we had to check out a local pub; with its local singers and tasty brews it definitely added to our experience in Scotland.

The bagpiper, the castle, and behind us the city.
 @EICC shows off

Our final day of the Global Event Summit supported by IMEX, Visit Scotland and ISES began very auspiciously as we toured the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. Now, we have all toured many hotels and conference centres over the years and we would be lying if we said we were excited about this tour… and then we stepped into the building. Tables were set, lighting was on and the coffee and tea were fresh and hot and being served as we liked it by their staff. How to describe the sheer delight as we sat in the theatre seats, ready for what was sure to be another destination presentation, when BAM! The whole theatre began to spin including the tech booth, and joined another whole section of the theatre, showing us how they have an amazing space that can be 300 + 300 + 600 in plush, tiered seating, or how they can all be put together to create 1,200, perfect for symposia or a concert. The delights continued as we saw rigging points that a car can hang from, another multi-level flexible cabaret seating space for 900 and many foyer spaces filled with natural light. Then it was back to business and another full and facilitated day where we addressed many issues, which will soon become a white paper for the industry under the auspices of the newly renamed #MyILEA or the International Live Events Association.

All grown up on the Royal Yacht Britannia
How to Wow!

Step One, outfit all the men in full kilted regalia; for the women, a tartan sash to complement their outfits. Step Two, all aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia where champagne is chilled and the opportunity to explore this ship which for many years was used for royal relaxation and entertainment is enjoyed. Step Three, bring on the haggis, in the most ceremonial fashion of course, with poetry and a sword to slice it with. Have a toast from the “first man” of events, Dr. Joe Goldblatt and then serve your guests a delightful meal with invisible service, the level where you never see your glass filled and yet it is never empty. We simply can’t leave the yacht until we have had our own personal tattoo-style performance which we watch from the deck of the ship, and then it is time to leave this fantasy and head back to our hotel for a final nightcap, and the ceremonial drinking from the quaich  - the traditional Scottish friendship cup.

We were in awe - this is what it really looked like as pictures were being taken!
 One Square, Batch 2

Of course on a group trip there has been the occasional post-event cocktail enjoyed on return to the hotel and while you might have expected us to enjoy Scotch whisky the hit of this trip was the local gin. The Sheraton has partnered with local Summerhill Distillery to create One Square Gin, with the botanical mix developed by their own Gin Concierge, and straight up on ice or with tonic, this was a refreshing treat to end our final evening and round out what has been a spectacular week of sharing, learning and immersing ourselves in both the possibilities of Scotland and the future of our industry.

As we began to share pictures we had many other #eventprofs from around the world share their memories of meeting in Scotland, and it being among their favorite places to host programs in what was for many decades of planning meetings and incentives. For those who have not been to Scotland, I simply don’t know what you are waiting for! 

In one sentence...
All these photos are courtesy of Visit Scotland and Simon Williams Photography - he was EVERYWHERE!