Sunday, January 27, 2013

Status Quo and Breaking Barriers

Who told them this was impossible?

Ruud Janssen RT @RuudWJanssen
“@jtauvaa: #EMEC13 innovators and pioneers are a threat to status quo. #MPI #eventprofs” -but an inspiration to innovate + break barriers

In surfing Twitter this morning, this tweet popped right out at me and I feel a deep concern for our industry if anyone thinks we can remain in "status quo".  In the twenty years I have been a meeting planner and event producer, the world has changed and the way we plan meetings must follow, and it must follow a lot more rapidly.  Some of the changes I have seen and issues at a glance as I perceive them include:

1. Twenty years ago we planned everything slowly, by paper and fax, and the sheer manual labour on items like registration took a lot of time. While the manual element is reduced, the attention to details that lead to the proper care and feeding of the delegates remains critical.  It is not simply data inputs that people provide, it is critical information to planning.  Being able to capture and appropriately analyse and then engage at a higher level using this information is currently being underutilized.  I believe the planner of the future will need to better understand the individuals and use the reams of algorithmic data that can be easily collected by using the available, more intuitive and socially connected database systems to create more meaningful experiences at live events. 

2. Travel cost will remain a barrier. Public air travel did not exist in any meaningful way even 60 years ago, but face to face meetings have been important for thousands of years. We now have ubiquitous air travel, and then a world filled with organizations that have put travel limits on their people due to the rising costs of air travel, and the reality is that travel costs will remain high due to fuel costs.  The savvy meeting planner will need to move beyond this perceived need for all f2f and learn how to incorporate hybrid opportunities into meetings for those people who still want to attend but for reasons of time or cost cannot.  There will also be the need to understand that well done hybrids can actually increase future attendance when remote attendees have an opportunity to share in the quality of education and see the potential connections they could make if they were there in person.  

3. TED. The influence that this particular conference has had on our world cannot be ignored. They have made all information accessible to anyone who wants it, and thousands of others - universities included, have followed suit, with much of it accessible at no cost.  People no longer need to attend conferences to learn, so you need to make your offered experience have enough "more" to make it a sensible investment. What are you doing to make yours the can't miss experience?

4. Maker Faire.  Innovation is everywhere. This particular stream of events embraces the unique, the inventive, the "why didn't I think of that?"  Etsy has opened up the world of artisans to everyone with access to the internet, and this too is farther reaching than we could ever have imagined even five years ago. As meeting professionals we have to open up our eyes to the amazing world around us and consider how to include the extraordinary and create positive surprises in our events.

5. Neuroscience. Scientists have learned more about how our brains respond to stimuli in the past decade than at any time in our past, and they have openly shared reams of information, and some of which smart people on the edges of and fully engaged in our industry have extrapolated for us. I have been working with Andrea Sullivan on presenting information on how to include more brain-friendly food and beverage into our meetings, and others have been doing similar work in Europe. This is a very, very simple way to make your meetings better as you support your attendees through their day by offering choices that make sense for a ream of reasons. Andrea has also recently written a white paper on technology and its impact on the brain at meetings - worth a read as it quickly brings in an overview and understanding of integrating this budget item to its maximum capability. What is being done to engage every brain that attends through environment, food, scent, music, texture and connecting the dots in ways that will enhance the meeting experience? 

6. Hyper-connectivity.  I started this post out by saying I was inspired by a tweet, sent from Switzerland. Last week I did a hybrid chocolate tasting with MPI Belgium. The week before that I met at least 8 people f2f I had previously only met on-line, through Tweetchats, through virtual attendance at meetings, through Triberr tribes...  and we met with hugs and dove into relevant conversations about shared interests. We have seen social revolutions started on-line; we have the opportunity to use a myriad of tools to build communities online - with many examples on LinkedIn, Facebook and so many others. These allow us to connect to our own meeting and event communities, our associations, and even festivals where 100,000+ are having a "shared" experience.  If you are not on-line, it is time to at least understand how this is impacting our world.

7. Technology. It too is now omnipresent in our lives, with my daughter having more followers at 12 on instagram then I will ever have - we need to be aware of how mobile technology is impacting our events, including and beyond the apps we are building.  When we set a room we need to understand how we can influence behaviours and enhance retention of learning by making the best available choices given the venue, budget and material. When we are marketing we need to consider all the tools.  We also need to understand how this Digital Disruption is impacting what is to come, and Michelle Bruno offers some great perspective here.  Use what is out there to your advantage, example... What Pinterest boards are your attendees following and creating and how can you use this information to heighten their experience?

I fear for all the meeting and event professionals that with the rise of the internet, where ANYONE can DIY their own event experience with a few google searches for suppliers, that if we are not ahead of the curve, we will become the dodo bird, the platypus, the entity that could not evolve quickly enough to remain strong and important. On the other hand, if we remain focused on our own lifelong learning and adapting to the curve balls the world will continue to toss at us, we can indeed change the world, one meeting at a time.

MPI WEC 2010 Vancouver - this had never been done  before, but why not?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

F and B Smart Spending

Glitter Pop from Culinary Capers for
a Midsummer Night's Dream
with Cantrav Services

The most recent statistic I saw said that in just the US, over 34B is spent each year on food and beverage in the meetings industry. THIRTY FOUR BILLION DOLLARS. In ONE country, so imagine what the global spend is.  Now, think back to the last meeting you attended or planned, how much of the food was memorable? Delicious? Made you feel better? Created a positive discussion with the people you  were sharing the meal with?

We live in a world obsessed with food;  from TV shows to magazines, restaurants and cookbooks, the rise of the celebrity chef and a renewed interest in farm to table cooking, and we must take this momentum and collaborate with our caterers, CSMs, Chefs and move our industry collectively forward.

There is a whole range of research that shows how we will improve our meetings by including "brain-friendly" menu options that ensure we offer healthy choices that stabilize guest's blood sugar through a long day of meetings.  This is something I feel strongly we need to incorporate into our meetings, but not the primary focus for today.

Today is about how we take our passion, our global obsession with food and improve the way we spend money on F & B.  Let's take the basic tenets of what I consider the better way to plan, and explore these.

  1. Regionalize your planning.  Where are you going, what do they grow there, and how are they going to make it delicious for you. When you cut down on transportation and processing, the money now goes to the product, and the preparation and you will likely spend less for much more delicious food.  Ask the Chef what they LIKE to showcase, and you will likely be stunned at the results.
  2. Build conversations around food.  It is proven that when we "break bread" with other human beings, we are more apt to develop relationships, so allow time and space and provide service that provides this. No more sending a lone server out with 24 bites on a tray into a room of 200 where it is about grasping for food, instead consider setting  a large central station and inviting people to come and explore the options. Provide information on what you are serving, where it comes from, or even a story - get people talking about what they are actually tasting.
  3. Make every bite count.  Create healthy menus, using fresh, delicious, recognizable products that will provide nutrition, not just fill space. 
  4. Pair menus.  For plated dinners, consider pairing the courses, cucumber water with a fresh salad; a crisp white with a squash soup; a deep red with a lush entrĂ©e; mint tea with dates and pistachios or baklava style desserts might be one example that is healthy, delicious and creating levels of positive surprise and discussion.  There are thousands of possibilities depending on where you are - use the knowledge of your local partners to create amazing experiences. (Like Brain-Friendly, environments to support discussions is another whole subject)
  5.  How about combining our passion for food with our interest in corporate social responsibility?  There are also opportunities to use our excess to support our communities, and certainly throughout North America many city's hotels and convention centres participate in food runner style programs that allow unused food to go to local shelters and soup kitchens.  Thank you to all of you who are doing what you can.

What if we took this another step, and instead of one break or one meal, we told our groups that we weren't going to provide anything for one break, but we would instead be donating the cost of that break to an organization like No Kid Hungry and feeding x number of children x number of hot meals?  Or sending that break to a local shelter.

Let's change the way we approach our food and beverage planning, and make every bite count.  Who's with me?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

PCMA and the Letter C

This week I attended (and presented at!) PCMA Convention Association in Orlando, and as nearly 4,000 meeting professionals gathered, there was a definite theme that came up over and over again. 
The letter C. Let me explain, using all the words that came up.

Connection. From handshakes to hugs, from meeting new people, to finding those that you knew from phone conversations and social media, to renewing ties with friends and colleagues known over the years, the human to human connections were continuous from Day 1 until the end.

Hyper Connectivity. The state of the world currently, where we have multiple means to be connected globally through multiple channels. This is a game changer in the way we do everything from shopping to traveling to meeting and we simply must adapt to what is a digital revolution.

Communication.  Messages from the main stages, from PCMA headquarters to the many media in attendance, with letters from members to their government, from presenters and in Peer2Peer discussions, this meeting was about communication at every level.

Collaboration.  We know that no meeting or event happens unless there is collaboration between associations and cities, organizations and venues, planners and their supplier partners, stakeholders, sponsors, presenters… and the audience, the list of ways we need to collaborate and the amount of people required for success is humbling.  Seeing this in action from the perspective of an attendee, a great reminder of what we do and the inherent value.

Coaching.  This is primarily a group of seasoned professionals, with a healthy influx of the next generation of meeting professionals, and being a mentor, a "yoda", a coach to bring them along is critical to the continued health of our industry, and often incredibly satisfying.  Add some appreciation, some "cheering" and the feeling of reward will grow.

Critical Thinking. Thomas Friedman reminded us that in the future, adaptability, resilience and critical thinking will become the most important skill that employers are looking for, and the importance of developing it in ourselves and our children must remain foremost as we move to the future.

Curiosity. Many new things were tried, from session formats to trade show concepts, the addition of a game and more. Meetings should encourage curiosity and embrace discovery.

Community.  One of the key reasons people attend a meeting, one of the key areas associations must focus on for continued growth into the future.  While we are at the beginning of building true online communities that foster year round growth in our associations, PCMA's new Catalyst is an excellent example of a community in progress.

Clarity. In our vision for where we want to take ourselves and our companies, clarity in understanding who we are is important. Clarity, transparency even in our communications with each other - planner to client, planner to partner - will become even more important.

Creativity. We all have the ability to be creative, and with the urgent need for resiliency and innovation, we must all find ways to truly tap into our own style of creativity, and collaborate with others to create our own future.

Creation. Designing our environments, designing our on-line, off-line, f2f and combined experiences is a skill that must be developed, nurtured, embraced and exploited.

Culture. I have said before that culture eats strategy for breakfast, and it has never been more true than now.  David Novak told us every time he meets a group they do the YUM cheer, a great example of a strong culture in action.  Building our organization and association cultures that are brand aligned and attract the right talent to build from is another critical future-facing function.

Curation.  We are familiar with curating content, a strategy for creating an attractive program that brings in the audience, and satisfies the needs of the community.  Curation of audiences is a newer topic, and one being hotly targeted as competition for audiences' time and attention becomes tougher to get. Bringing in key influencers as part of this audience creation is a strategy that some are using, others are learning, and one that some disagree with. We can all agree though that there is no one size fits all solution, and curating is here to stay.

Commitment.  Or Passion. The people who are doing work that matters to them will be the most successful, the happiest, and the best able to adapt to changing circumstances as they follow their heart, and use their heads to make a difference.

Content. 2012 was the year we heard "Content is King" and as the internet continues to explode with content, curation and context will become more critical.  Capturing, repurposing, creating revenue streams with… ensuring your association is offering the best quality content is the reality of what needs to happen NOW.

Context. Content without context is like reading a trashy novel, enjoyable in the moment but not ultimately satisfying. When we are able to provide excellent content, and provide time, discussion, tools and space for learners to find their own connection to and relevance of the content being shared, this is when you will have the most success, and create the desire for people to return again for the excellent learning available.

Cool. PCMA is definitely cool. It is for many I spoke to the "hot ticket", the one meeting they can't wait to come back to, and I think I can safely say that I sure hope to return!