Monday, June 6, 2011

SPINCon11: The View from Canada

I recently had the great pleasure of presenting at and attending SPINCon; the inaugural conference of the Senior Planners Industry Network led by Shawna Suckow, in the Twin Cities. First, who knew there was a direct flight from Vancouver to the Twin Cities? It was really easy to get here, the Crowne Plaza St. Paul outdid themselves with the hospitality (and great rate!) and the reasonable registration made this a highly accessible meeting. Thank you. Focused on the needs of senior planners (10+ years) and with the supplier participation coming from sponsors who really want to better understand this special breed of planner, with years of experience to share, strong experience and/or education and a desire to collaboratively work to successful meetings, this was quite a special place to be.  Check out for details on the sessions as well as archives.

The sessions were overall excellent, with lots of time for discussion and sharing, loads of interaction, and always done with no fear by the senior planners for this meeting, Shawna, Tracey Smith and Sara Vanderbilt. Their approach to selecting presentations and presenters was thoughtful and thorough, and their attention to detail from the "hatching of the ideas" to the timings of the sessions, the egg sweaters and duck speaker timer... It all added up to fun that engaged the learners as they had more tools to retain the information being shared.

A final session was the "Cheater's Guide to Hybrid Events" and the group was divided into a main room where the presentation took place (the function room) then into the "Home Office" where the experience of following along as if you were at home with headphones on was simulated and then what we called "Canada" which simulated a pod experience.  Here is what Canada found in their room, and what we have learned NOT to do, as it was set up by Sam Smith and Erica St. Angel to show what happens when you don't consider that the home, function room and remote pod as separate entities that will require thoughtful preparation to allow for their differences.

With only one camera angle far away from the main stage, and no way to see the slides being presented, we found ourselves easily disengaged and a bit disgruntled with the overall experience. Why? Several reasons, including:

  1. We could not really see what was happening as it was too far away
  2. We had zero connection to any emotion from the speakers with the distance and no facial close-ups
  3. The bandwidth challenges meant that the connection was a bit jumpy and irritating to watch
  4. The sound was not great
  5. We could not see the slides the speakers referred to
  6. There was no clear focus on our needs as learners, even though they did give us work to do, we were less interested in doing it

What we learned was what NOT to do when planning a hybrid! Was it risky to put participants through a less than ideal experience? Heck yes and kudos to the presenters and the organizers for recognizing that we learn as much or more from failures, and for being willing to walk off that cliff and seize the opportunity to show in a very real way what happens if you "forget" the details related to your event.

The great elements ranged from opening keynotes (GrowthWorks) who returned to wrap up our learnings at the end of the conference; Joel Zeff with an opening improv on the second morning; two awesome CSR activities, one filling school backbacks for the United Way on a riverboat cruise, and the second getting baby suppliers at the Mall of America for a local women's group; great breakout sessions that covered choosing brain-friendly food for your meeting to AV Girl's tips for technology success to Sam Smith looking at our five wishes for the meetings industry and a fun approach to strategic thinking, among others.  For me, it was also great to meet some people I had not yet met IRL and it was just as great as could have been anticipated!

Was it perfect? It wasn't supposed to be - it was meant to take risks and did, and now they will take the the concepts and sessions that really worked for the majority of the group, and build on these for the future.  And continue to focus on senior meeting planners (evolving) needs. I would definitely do what I can to participate again!


  1. Thanks for your kind words and wonderful recap. It was great to meet you at #spincon this weekend. Thanks for helping out in the Canada room!

  2. Tahira, this is a great recap of the event from a participant's viewpoint. You nailed it about giving things a try even when they might fail. I think my mom use to say, "If you don't try, you'll never know you can." Thank you also for your contributions!

  3. Thanks for the comments - SPINCon was great - look forward to a second edition!