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Monday, September 8, 2014

Event Model Generation

Tahira and Ruud at MPI WEC in Minneapolis 2014
Does your meeting planning team struggle with getting buy-in? Do you wrestle with dreaming up new ideas for your events?  What if there was a tool that fostered open discussion, encouraged creativity and still focused on meeting your business objectives?

I began my exploration of meeting design and how it can change the parameters of how people meet and more importantly what they get out of it several years ago. I have continued to enjoy the evolution, which for me led to co-authoring this chapter in the ninth edition of the CIC Manual, collaborating on EventCamp Vancouver and meeting people from around the world who share my passion.

As we delve into human nature, environment creation, presentation delivery and interaction based on neuroscience to increase engagement, analytics and return on investment of meetings, it always comes back to objectives before design.  There is always a challenge to derive the objectives and create an easy to understand story to present to your stakeholders about how you will use a meeting (or incentive event) to fulfill these objectives.

During this journey of learning I came across TNOC and the smart, forward thinking Ruud Janssen. About two years ago Ruud introduced me to the book Business Model Generation, a pre-cursor to what has now become his newest venture with Roel Friessen Event Model Generation.   This is a process which encapsulates all the information you want to collect about your event and its reasons for being and KPIs, and allows you to put it together in a simple visual presentation to share with your stakeholders. This is an incredibly simplified explanation, and because they are REALLY good at telling their own story please see this link for more detailed information.

Why do I think this is cool enough to write about?  There is always a need to be able to explain why an event is the best choice - whether as a marketing tool, a sales driver, a fundraiser or as the best way to deliver content and networking connections to your stakeholders, vendors and participants as examples. In 20+ years of producing meetings and events "EMG" is the best tool I have seen for getting everyone on what is now literally "the same page" - a one - page concept for success.  I have gone through this process on smaller events and have found it very useful - I can only imagine if this was enterprise-wide how impactful it can be to consistency in storytelling through your event touchpoints!  I am excited to see them bringing this to America at what is arguably the biggest industry experience of the year (IMEX).  Yes there is a cost for this, as they have assessed a value for the content you will return to your organization with, and is reflective of the time spent bringing this to fruition, and the expertise of the presenters in delivery.  In an industry where we often don't pay speakers (and we are not alone) and at a show with a focus on a hosted buyer program there are risks in this and I applaud all the organizations who will take risks for quality education.  

Registration information for the Las Vegas event 

ps There is a good chance they will show up with Swiss Chocolate. (hint hint)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Stronger Together

Over the last few weeks I have had several encounters that have left me thinking a lot about our industry and what it means to the people who work so hard in it, and what it takes to do what we do.  Above is a picture from our team on the final day of the opening of the Port of Prince Rupert Fairview Container Terminal (2007/PRIME). This event crossed four levels of government and many private entities and a small team of dedicated planners before and an awesome team on-site to deliver this important event to 600 dignitaries during the day and 4,000 people from the town (of 12,000) in the evening. On the last day we all donned the glam gear above and cleaned up the 10 acre site. Nodody was too important.

Last night we saw the movie The Hundred Foot Journey, a story that speaks of family, friendship, overcoming challenges and understanding triumph and how it comes in many forms. (loved it) At an early point in the film the lead character, a cook asks an aspriring chef from across the street for help. "You could recommend a book", he says.  "Why would I do that? You are now the enemy." 

I believe in our industry that each of us - whether it is restaurants, hotels, DMCs, DMOs, tech suppliers (AV, reg, mobile, streaming, etc.), catering, transportation, decor / floral, event management / agencies and others compete against each other on a daily basis in our own categories. Concurrently we work together in associations (MPI, IRF, PCMA, ISES, SITE, IAEE, ASAE etc), on city-wide bids and on events that require more than one thing to happen - so all of them. We are in this together, and understanding that at any time you may require cooperation and partnership becomes a critical piece of being successful in our business in my mind.

At many shows we attend we are separated between planner and supplier, the distinction being planners buy and suppliers sell. For clarification, heading into my 22nd year in the industry, I am now a "Supplaner"' meaning I am the meeting planner for a supplier organization after 20+ years as a planner and producer for PCOs, Incentive agencies and DMCs. As enterprise or association planners, nearly every event we do supports selling - sales incentive trips, national sales conferences, sales and service training sessions, client dinners, board meetings and events... each of these is designed to support the selling of your service or product.  When we exhibit at trade shows we never know who will buy or recommend what we do, and every touchpoint has to be a positive interaction which ideally creates a memorable moment.  

In each job (including my current role) I have had direct responsibility or influence over significant travel and meeting spend, but now I am seen as "the enemy" by other suppliers, and was evidenced at a recent event where I was not allowed something due to the word "supplier" on my badge.  This took me back to planning EventCamp Vancouver where the committee decided specifically at the request of one smart person  who asked if our badges could include name, twitter handle and maybe something we were passionate about instead of name and organization. Their request came because they didn't want to be judged as they were in between jobs. They were coming to learn and connect, and appearing to be job-hungry wasn't how they wanted to be perceived. We agreed. 

At another event this week, Drury Design Summer School, I thought the badge they used (at right) really showed the possibilities. This invitation only event was incredible to be part of as they bring together their key clients, their staff, their contract staff and their suppliers into the same room with tracks for learning /training and production / engagement with compelling keynotes for all. To introduce an end client to a supplier they could contact directly shows their deep level of understanding relationships built on trust and integrity which have led to 33 years of success in an industry which has become increasingly challenging. Their team members and clients understand roles and responsibilities and trust, and what they bring to the table in terms of understanding objectives, creativity, imagination and innovation is what makes this work. This event was inspiring on many levels - the use of space, the openness of the concept and the ability for people to actively engage in learning formally and informally, and connecting over the 10 hours together, the endless healthy food and beverage so guests could refortify at the time they needed to, the embedded sustainability and the showcasing of technology (including a helpful app) which was so thoughtfully able to be used at meetings had my mind reeling with possibilities.  As I tweeted - although I am a creative and technology forward planner - I felt as though I had been living in a cave!

This coming week I will be at two events in LA, both which require strong partnerships, trust and forward thinking teams of people to bring alive.  If you want to learn more about how mobile and location based technology is changing events, QuickMobile is hosting a lunch catered by Wolfgang Puck inside of the fabulous AOO space in Hollywood.  Kudos to Dave Merrell and his team for understanding we are all in this to be better and learn holistically about making meetings the best they can be using all the tools available. They are another shining example of giving back to the industry with deep participation in ISES and a willingness to share best practices. August 13th - RSVP link  And yes, this one has an app!

On Thursday, August 14th it is all about BizBash as we do another LA Planathon. BizBash has been a go-to resource for me for many years, and their generosity of spirit in mentorship, a love of social physics and a deep understanding we get better by improving idea flow make these a true pleasure to be at. This one is almost sold out as I write this and I look foward to both of these for very different reasons. Yes, this one has an app too!

At MPI WEC last week Mike Dominguez of MGM was thanked for his time in the Chairman role and MPI introduced the lovely Fiona Pelham as incoming 2015 Chair. Lovely... yes, this is the word to describe the person who is smart and business savvy, who has sustainability ingrained into the core of her business and life, and who understands that together we are stronger. I look foward to the positive impact she will have. I would also like to give a shoutout to Mike Dominguez for his ongoing contributions to education and empowerment in our indutry and also to the events team at MGM led by King Dahl, and supported by fantastic people like Lenny Talarico - every single person I have met from this team (and there are a lot of them) has been consistently warm, professional, willing to share information and ideas and who also understand that every interaction matters. 

Did I mention this one also had an app? QuickMobile worked again with MPI to deliver an app that allowed this event to be the first paperless WEC and that was pretty cool to see. They also created an excellent CSR day with six different projects, and Andrew Walker or MPI beamed through the day. Kevin Kirby, current chair, and described to me in such glowing terms by a former colleague I expected him to float (dignity, kindness, integrity all words used) was present throughout at various events and he too is someone who understands sustainability starts with taking care of people and builds.

Until the next time we meet...or meet for the first time... stay friendly and have fun!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Networking Love

In a recent post by Dan Berger, CEO of Social Tables  he talks about what we can learn from Latin American meetings, and he is so right - so I am going to head to MPI WEC tomorrow and do what I can to do some network - busting and make new friends. Who is in with me? 

You will be able to follow the twitter feed, or if you are at the event check out the picture gallery in the app as we share pictures of friends old and new sharing what we know will be great experiences - let's rock this!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Grocery stores and Trade Shows

QuickMobile team prepping for a day at IMEX Frankfurt
What do grocery stores, trade shows and airports have in common? The more shows I go to, the more travel I do, the more it strikes me that there are many common elements to the experiences, which I share my first thoughts below.

  1. They are all places with a LOT of people, some there by choice, some by necessity.
  2. Traffic flow has to be thought out ahead of time and managed on a daily, or even hourly basis.
  3. Music adds more to the experience than announcements.
  4. The biggest companies get the prime real estate.  (do you know the premium for having your product beside a check-out stand?)
  5. They SHOULD all have wi-fi!  (and often don’t)
  6. They are full of possibilities.  
    1. If you are in an airport you are either going somewhere or meeting someone, both are opening up experiences you may not have otherwise.
    2. If you are at a trade show you are likely going to see people you know, meet with organizations you are aware of, and find new partners you could work with or new people you can collaborate with.
    3. If you are in a grocery store, you may be there planning a dinner party or deciding how you will eat this week – will it be white wine and popcorn, a brown rice cleanse or perhaps steak and red wine on Saturday night?  
I really love all of the above experiences. I like the planning , I don’t even mind standing in line and imagining what all the people around me are there for – What are they buying? Did they really think those shoes made sense for this? Why did they come?  Is their anticipation of the experience being met?  

The next time you are heading out to any of the above… tell me what you look forward to, or what really makes you crazy!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Customer Service Rules

Helping at the IRF
Customer service comes in many forms, but one thing I know absolutely is that we recognize and appreciate excellent service, we talk about bad service, and we have become immune to average service.  From my first career as a hairstylist and salon manager, to my second as a meeting planner and event producer, I have innately understood that great service is the only option if you want to become successful in that thing called work most of us will have to do for a long time.  We are lucky when we have work we love doing, and enjoy the rewards of providing good service. In the meeting and event industry, service is often our only differentiator, and while I have dozens of stories from my work in this arena, below I share a few that have inspired me to think about how we can do what we do better.
Trevor sharing knowledge

I have a few stories, the first from my colleague Trevor, a star among us in how he makes people feel, and who appreciates great service.  Trevor comes home from IMEX Frankfurt, exhausted as you would expect, and gets in a taxi to go home. The taxi is a regular taxi on the outside. Inside it is uber-clean with an office organizer on the
dashboard for the driver’s pens, receipts etc. The car smells good. There is nature/spa music playing at a reasonable volume and the temperature is comfortable.  The driver at the end of the trip says thank you very much, here is my card with my mobile number on the back and if you would like to book a ride with me, please call or text.  A week later, Trevor remembers this experience, texts the driver for a 4am pickup. He responds and says he will see him at 4am, and would he like a coffee? How would he like it?  At 3am the driver texts and says, see you at 4. At 345 he texts and says I am in the Tim Horton’s lineup would you like anything to go with your coffee? Guess who Trevor will have pick him up when he comes home?  And – this is a regular taxi driver and not a private car service, or a fancy sedan – nobody told him to do this – he has taken it upon himself to offer this level of service.  Guess who Trevor calls every time he has to go on a trip?

The next is from Andy who as someone who makes orthopedic braces understands well how important service is and who enjoys helping people greatly. Today he got a new drum. I love this story because it is from a guy in Beaverton who hand-makes the drums with an amazing amount of care and attention to detail, and who will only sell to musicians. Why? He wants people who love music to play his drums - not for someone who appreciates the beauty to make them a coffee table or a lamp.  Great service comes with passion for your product.

My cousin Kerry owns a coffee shop, the Hawthorne Cafe in Milton, which means for the most part her and Matt spend seven days a week caring for the basic coffee and food needs of guests, and who have focused on what matters to them - fresh, wholesome food, organic and fair trade products, and being a go-to place for those who appreciate excellent f & b products and great service.  They have created a warm environment that is conducive to families and individuals, indoors in a great space and outdoors on a fabulous patio, plus catering, jam nights, and other ongoing events. They ALWAYS do this with joy, and if you are near the area, I would stop in! 

Many of us are familiar with the famous level of service provided by Ritz Carlton properties. and on the Event Alley Show we were lucky enough to capture Jeff Hargett, a great speaker on the subject of service and a true master of this subject as the Senior Corporate Director, Culture Transformation for this organization as he shares his thoughts. It was one of our more technically challenging episodes as he joined us over a wifi connection, something we can all agree has not reached the level of service we now require (!) but well worth the listen for the content he shares.

How do we inspire this level of service from every individual who works with us?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Better Way

In the last few weeks I have been to a number of industry shows, meetings and events, and for the most part, all the things we keep talking and writing about, all we have learned about how people learn and connect, is largely ignored.  I offer up below examples of the hum drum to the oh so much better.

First, the average. I won't name names.  
Venue: large hotel in a convention city. Mobile app - average - it opens with an ad for the mobile ad company, it offers up basic functionality for finding my agenda, and one speaker has used the polling function that is available. The social activity is minimal, so my thirst for knowledge as to what is happening around us, coming up or is inspiring others is not sated. As I walk up to the registration desk, I am greeted warmly but told that my badge isn't ready since they haven't printed speaker badges yet, and plan to do that later in the day.  I can go to the first session though if I like, and coffee is available. Coffee, scones and cookies. Yes, it is 8:30am and the brain-foodie in me shrivels a little. Enter the first session, set for 200+ in classroom seating facing directly to the front, stage is way on the left. So I sit on the left, and approximately 40 people join me, leaving the speakers to ask any questions across a relatively vast, dark space from their dimly lit stage.  The session of course is on the future of meetings. The morning sessions have good speakers, followed by a boxed lunch available in the trade show area, with seating for a few at rounds at the end of the rows. Again, a sandwich or wrap, cookie and fruit, and a salad with some unfortunate small nut additions in an unlabeled container which cause my lips to go numb (first sign there is a nut in here for the allergic me), and enough packaging to make the sustainable me a little sad, but even more than this, the amount to be opened and consumed means people have to sit for a while, which means they are not visiting the exhibitors who await them.  Here again, rows of pipe and drape, some exhibitors have very nice spaces, and as is typical in this type of show many leave up their black and white hanging sign the exhibit company used to id the space.  The flow through the show is light, and the exhibitors offer up their cheery exuberance and overall the experience leaves me wanting more.  It isn't that it is bad, it is just "same" and the declining numbers are to me an indication of a need to spice this baby up!

The better. Venue: large convention centre, in a space filled with natural light to begin. I walk up and give my name, am checked in by one of the plentiful staff on an iPad and my speaker badge generates on wireless printer in seconds. There is a small printed agenda available, and innovation is featured, and served up in a gorgeous room set with great lighting and interesting chairs and a nice stage draws people in. The app is likely full of good information, but no matter how socially able I dislike having to use facebook or linkedin to access any app - I know it is my own issue, but since it is a compact agenda I don't download it.  Outside the trade show is a lounge open to all set with a variety of interesting furniture, and offering complimentary mimosas.  Inside the trade show floor is abuzz with action, caterers serving up bite size samples, photo booths drawing people in, music overhead at a reasonable but energizing volume, mainstage presentations which allow more innovative ideas and suppliers to be showcased, and an engaged audience taking the time to speak with exhibitors, you feel as though participants will leave refreshed and with new ideas to take back to their clients.

My (personal) favorite so far of the last six weeks. BizBash Planathon, Toronto. Venue: Palais Royale, which really puts its best foot forward. QuickMobile is a sponsor, and I am
there to represent this, but even more so to be part of the mentor group, which leads tables full of eager planners through a fun, interactive and deep brainstorming to transform an existing event... into anything they can imagine in 30 minutes.  These sessions are fun, fun, fun, and the reception which follows on the patio overlooking the lake could be dampened by the downpour, but the combination of the music enhanced with a figure skater moving across a teflon rink to the songs, fantastic food presented in a range from small plates and spoons, to a paella pan and chef to homemade popsicles in an ice and dry ice display and a selection of mojitos full of fresh ingredients - they really took the opportunity to showcase their abilities. This combined making the best of a venue, having a setup conducive to the objectives (at the last minute at the client's request all the tables were flipped from 6' rounds to 5' rounds for easier conversation to be had), allowing ample time for conversation and by the format, making those conversations easy to have. The learning comes from every group coming up with ideas that inspire other ideas and allow you to build on these, and sparks fly!  BTW - the app is gorgeous, sparkling champagne bubbles invite you in to explore - you can connect to all the other attendees - and after the event is over, the videos of the awesome ideas will all be shared and easy to find for all who participated.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


It is that time again, to check in on how fast our tech world is spinning around us, and seeing how we are doing as the meeting and event industry at keeping up – with developments and with our attendees' expectations.

Hyper-connectivity is a topic I have written about before, and we know as individuals how much time we spend researching purchases on line, especially for travel.  According to a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group (shared by Dylan Bolger at the Incentive Research Foundation Invitational) we spend 40+ hours researching on-line for our vacations in the pre and post booking process.  So, what else are we finding when we open our browser and type in our destination(s) of choice – perhaps a meeting we are interested in pops into our frame of reference, and by virtue of the location, we feel more compelled to go.  We also reach out through our many social media channels to see who else we will see at #meeting, sometimes during the decision process, and certainly after we have booked.  We will communicate via text, emails, dm’s, and possibly even the old-school way, by telephone, and make plans for when we are there, scheduling meetings, breakfasts, and post-event cocktails.

Most of us will now arrive with multiple devices which all require wifi connectivity, something we recognize is a precious commodity, especially when we check into a hotel that is charging per room per device, often at $14.95 per!  Some loyalty programs will offer complimentary wifi as a benefit, but bandwidth remains an issue whether we are paying or not, and the concept of catching up on that Netflix show while away from our children remains just that, a concept as the bandwidth often doesn’t allow video streaming applications to even open, thus forcing us to spend that time checking email for example.  

Personal control is our new mantra, as we want to decide, in the way of all teen-agers across time, to do what we want, when we want. Like a good teen, we are often stymied in this desire by conference or event plans without enough choice, the meeting equivalent of being told “No, you can’t just go out and hang around!” On-site examples may include a reception where the whole room is noisy making it hard to converse, or there is only one focal point with no alternate activities, or there are no gluten free options, or free time is negligible as a few frustrations we may have all experienced.  We now have a stronger desire for targeted media as we process up to 65,000 pieces of data a day coming at us from radio, billboards, television, browser searches, emails, text messages and more.  We also now have more tools, in the form of mobile devices and filters which allow us to easily target information and to receive targeted information specific to our needs and interests, and as organizations trying to maximize engagement during specific times, we need to be keenly aware of our opportunities to make meaningful connections – live and digitally in our changing paradigm.

S’mobility is another topic I have written about, and certainly SoLoMo or Social Local Mobile has become an expectation. I want to be able to reach out and connect across multiple platforms at all times, and when I don’t have wifi, I may incur data charges that certainly seem unreasonable, especially on top of monthly bills we have to manage.  Another SoMoLo acronym refers to Social + Mobile = Loyal, and when we enable our conference and event participants to connect on-line to each other, to f2f and virtual participants, to sponsors and exhibitors and their people and websites for added information, to speakers and their sessions and their notes, to our schedules and to information about attending and maximizing our participation, and when this is done easily through a great app, we develop more brand loyalty to the hosting organization because the experience becomes more comfortable, easy, and more pleasurable overall.

How will you marry digital into your meetings to contextualize the overall experience for your participants?