Saturday, December 22, 2012

Create with Intent

Create with intent. It sounds so simple. It seems so obvious. If we are going to create an event experience, we should know some very basic things.
  1. Why is the organization hosting an event?  Always start with WHY.
  2. Who is our audience?
  3. What will create positive surprises for them?
  4. Where will you host the event (destination and specific venue)?
  5. How does the choice of location, and the timing / when of the event impact your design and development?
It is the answers that will guide the creation. Many producers and planners can write a great theme idea, but it is when the ideas have context that they will build on the core messages and leave your guests feeling connected to and understanding the cause they are supporting / the organization they work for / the association they belong to, and how this brings value to their lives.

When you can leave people feeling good about any of the above because you created with intention... well for me, that is when my job satisfactions is at its penultimate, and it is this feeling that keeps all of us in this demanding industry, in it.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Blah, blah, blah - Making presentations relevant

My tween-age daughter plays soccer, very seriously, and has played since she was in kindergarten. They have excellent coaches, parents who also take the game seriously, while making sure the girls enjoy the sport and the experience. Occasionally, the coaches will get a little overzealous in their descriptions of play, or how the team played and can get a bit long - winded in their motivational turf-side talks. Or as Julia described it when she was ten "Mom, we're just kids, don't they know after the first few minutes all we hear is blah, blah, blah?"
Don't you find yourself thinking the same thing in a meeting where Mr/Ms Agenda goes on and on about their topic that you might not find as fascinating as they do? How about when you attend a conference and find yourself in a session where you are being talked at for an hour? How much of this do you actually retain? Not only retain, but find a way to apply what is hopefully new knowledge or an interesting perspective to apply to your own situation?  
Imagine if... you are given some information, then given an exercise to help you process and apply that information. This might be some time where you work solo on a small exercise, or where you break into groups and discuss and share ideas about what has been presented bringing your own input and application. According to tested learning theory, we know that we retain 20% of what we hear, 40% of what we hear and see (making powerpoint / prezi / keynote potentially useful when used 'correctly') and 80% of what we see, hear and do something with. Let's face it, 100% of knowledge retention is not even that practical unless you are studying for a rote exam in university, but being able to extrapolate the bits of information relevant to you from a conference is highly valuable and can lead you on the way to new solutions or innovations that support your needs. There are so many ways to encourage your speakers in facilitating conversation, sparking ideas and leaving participants thoughtful, and inspired.

I am very excited to attend PCMA in Orlando in January, and honoured that in addition to the session I will present with Andrea Sullivan, to be part of their pay it forward program including facilitating the session on Peer2Peer Learning that was brainstormed by the PCMA Education Committee, and to see, hear and share what learning formats are working for people, and being able to integrate some of these into our client's meetings. I am excited to see friends and colleagues and to know that January offers some awesome knowledge sharing!

Eventprofs friends... let me know if I will see you there!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Can you smell the brimstone?

It was our annual Cookie Day, where the "girls" get together and bake, and boys and kids can come in time for dinner and to eat cookies and everyone gets to take cookies home. It is always a no holds barred conversation while we mix, roll and bake, and it is a day we wouldn't miss for anything.

Over the years we have been through sickness and health, lost grandparents and parents, survived cancer, had babies and more babies. The net result is that as I had the first children, they are the oldest and took on looking after the 6 kids under 6 years. When I went to check on them, my son had a gash under his eye inflicted by one of the kids and he sardonically said "welcome to hell". He smiled as he said it and dabbed disinfectant on the cut. Later on he came up for a cookie and asked "Can you smell the brimstone?" He did go back downstairs though, and we knew he would be ok.

Hell, true hell, would be what many families in Newtown, Conneticut experienced today when they dropped their children off at school in the morning and will come back to identify the body of their slain child. I can't imagine, most of us cannot imagine what devastation this would bring and will be lucky enough to never know. This is not the first and sadly not the last time we will see shootings in malls or schools, but it is always wrong.

Other versions of Hell are what many people live through every day, not ever having enough to eat, or not being warm at night. Those that suffer from addiction or abuse. There are many around us who know this as their daily routine, in the cities and towns where we live. 

Perhaps this is the right time of year to spend some time being a little kinder, and more thoughtful and reach out to those in need, in large or small ways as you can.  As the season marches towards its inevitable conclusion, hug your loved ones. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Celebrate Every Day

Some of you know that "Brain-friendly" food for meetings is a particular passion of mine and a subject I speak about at industry conferences. It is critical to provide nutrious food when you want people to engage and learn at your events.

BUT...Food and beverage should add to a celebration and when we add something festive to the event from blue martinis to ice luges and food that is artfully designed, it adds to the experience and adds to a sense of celebration.

But, imagine if we treated every day and every interaction as something special. How would our lives change?  This weekend I was at the store purchasing wine for a dinner we were going to - one bottle of bubbles for the friend how had achieved her black belt in TKD, and a beaujolais nouveau, because you can only get these once a year - now - and it seemed like the right choice. 

In front of me a woman struggled to lift her six pack of beer and three trio packs of champagne piccolo bottles to the counter. I assisted her with this as she was quite elderly and it was difficult, and assisted again as she put them into her roller bag. Here is what she told me "I can't drink coffee anymore, so now when guests come over I offer them champagne."

You can bet that as I enter my 8th decade, you too will be served champagne when you visit!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Wrestling Alligators

It turns out that wrestling alligators is a "hot new sport" where primarily men take on reptiles, avoiding masses of perils along the way. There are even schools popping up that facilitate training for man vs. beast.

The key pieces of advice from my research into the feasability of wrestling alligators include:
  • "Know your limits"
  • "Avoid the areas of danger" (that includes the jaw area primarily)
  • "Understand their strength (they are about 50% muscle)
  • "Feel when they are ready to strike"
It seems to me the same advice could be applied to meeting and event planning. This research began you see, when I was assessing what I am good at in my job, and what came to mind is that I am exceptional at wrestling alligators.

The bigger the beast of an event, the pointier the teeth, the more challenging the battle ahead, I can't wait to tackle it down, building grids and schedules, meeting and listening and sharing ideas and tracking unending streams of correspondence... approaching committee members, retreating from each area of the beast to gain perspective, trust and ultimately win.

Winning being defined by the culmination of all the goals and objectives being met as a spectacular event - one night or five days, conference, with or without exhibition, multi-day, mind-blowing incentive, it makes no difference really what it is when you win. The euphoria that follows the 300 hours of planning, sometimes within a 25 day period, is what keeps us doing this.

Keeping the above advice in mind:
  1. Know your limits - and build the right team to support the event.  Make time for rest, take time for exercise (remember the alligator is 50% muscle) and eat food that provides the nutrition you need. Even if it is only a snack every four hours, make it all count.
  2. Avoid the areas of danger - know who your stakeholders are and understand their agendas. Keep the end guest experience in mind at all times, so if you have to make a stand, it is for the "right" reasons.
  3. Understand their strength - unlike alligators, events take a team when you want to win. Know who is good at what; who you can count on for the details to be taken care of, and who you need to move into a more suitable role. Make the most of your own strengths and all of theirs.
  4. Feel when they are ready to strike - be open to the great ideas; and watch out for those whose (hidden) agendas you are not paying enough attention to.  Be prepared to go into the jaws to avoid getting taken down by the tail!
What can I say - bring on the alligators!

end note:

Dear family, I will see you in a few weeks, there is a beast that must be conquered

Steampunk marionettes, figure skaters and an Olympic Cauldron - "Fire and Ice"

Friday, October 26, 2012

Is Your Event an Oreo or a Macaron?

Has your event become an Oreo - where your participants know exactly what to expect, from the level and tone of speaker and message, to the dinner in a ballroom with the same type of meal, entertainment and dress code? Where they enjoy and embrace the familiar, perhaps not knowing there could be more. More engagement, more thought-provoking discussions that lead to new innovations in their field, a feeling of being more connected created by program timing that allows for this to happen.
What if the next year's planning brought reinvigorated thinking? New committee members or a new conference chair was ready to push the boundaries a little... would you end up perhaps with a Vanilla Oreo - different yes, but not necessarily better, or a DoubleStuff Oreo, where more filling is crammed in, everyone thinking people want "more" - more breakouts, a bigger gala, more panels so more people can present, more awards presented at the gala... Sometimes when we think twice as much of something is the answer, we find out it is only the right thing for a small percentage of the people - just adding more isn't always the right answer.
What if next year you thought of your conference as a macaron, where you replace the flour with almonds, making a shift from the beginning in expectation. While the macaron has rules associated - they are always a similar size and shape, they have two sides and a filling, you can start to play with these cookies. You can change the colors, you can change the flavours and fillings, and create an unending amount of combinations, each offering an individual appeal. 
If this year you approached the conference plan as if it was for individuals and what they might want, what would you change within the framework of days, time, space that you have? Would you add more places for people to have hallway conversations? Follow your plenaries with small "meet the speaker" campfire style sessions? Serve fruit and cheese instead of pastries to extend the energy of your guests through the sessions, or offer espresso instead of the vats of coffee, keeping more people on site and talking to each other? How about encouraging new formats for your breakouts - interactive, participatory, with improv or a fishbowl - there are many options that can provide new perspectives and create shifts without a need to recreate the entire structure.
Is it time to dust off your conference format and bake up some new ideas?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

10 Things I liked at IMEX

IMEX has taken the MICE market in the US by storm, as year two saw massive increases in the hosted buyer program over last year, and the education was even more jam packed goodness, with MPI Smart Monday, Association Focus, PCMA's Planner meetings, campfires and more. I loved hearing more about meeting architecture from Maarten Van Neste, and being inspired to enhance creativity and take care of our teams with Jonathan Bradsaw, and more about why to blog with Jenise Fryatt, among others.  IMEX America schedule 
Of course, that is only a small part of it. Here are some of my highlights of attending IMEX this year.
  1. Gerrit Heijkoop's shoes. Really. We first noticed them in the elevator, and it turned out he had posted his choices on Facebook, and his friends voted. They chose well. Conveniently they also coordinated well with Mr. Holland's outfit. A star of the show - for the great suit, the awesome hair and the general fun this very excellent branding and likeable character have given the whole country.
  2. People, oh the people.  We came, we saw, we hugged, we met, we talked, we connected and we grew. None of us stay in this industry for the long hours and airport wi-fi; we stay because of the people we get to partner with to create measurable, engaging, memorable magic.
  3. Inspiring visitors to the Vancouver booth to jump on our RockTheBike and blend up a batch of smoothies or margaritas. (Side note - we guaranteed so well we had close to no beverages wasted - we shared and drank them all!)
  4. The excellent interviews captured by Kiki L'Italien with some amazing people who are dedicated in a variety of ways to our evolving industry - Take the time to watch these - there are more but we talked to people ranging from QuickMobile to Meetology, DMCs to hotels, and platforms from Twoppy to SocialTables and many other experienced industry leaders - worth the time! We all enjoyed spending time with this smart and engaged lady who is always up for a challenge! 
  5. The sustainability hub the Green Meetings Industry Council hosted - their ongoing rotation of out-of-the-box suppliers was exceptionally interesting - and darn it, that is a really nice group of people who truly care! 
  6. Meeting @eventagist Stefania, @gheijkoop @djstomp @danberger ("Call me Don") among others IRL - it is always a blast to meet people you know through shared online conversation
  7. Smart and creative ISES leaders - Brian, Lenny Talarico, Laura and more - people who continue to remind us that it is always about the stories we tell through live events
  8. AVMan - the superhero representing AV For Planners - led my Mike McAllen and Jon Trask who have a plan to support planners in making decisions as they navigate the often confusing world of ever changing AV
  9. Hugging friends and fans of our beautiful city and seeing all our booth partners doing the same thing - we really are the friendly, fun West Coast CANADIANS!
  10. "Surprise!" and seeing the look on the face of our special friend celebrating a milestone - such a special idea to bring together friends from three continents to celebrate on the last evening!
I love the business conducted at IMEX, the learning, the connecting and the passion we all share for creating programs, conferences, events and meetings that matter.
It is fantastic seeing all the ideas we had to create a space that would engage visitors for three days, and I cannot wait to go back next year and do it again!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Creative Learning Disrupted

We want to work with you because we want our meeting (event) to be DIFFERENT. 
We want to push boundaries and make it memorable. What happens next though? The Committee. The Committee who is responsible to the stakeholders.  These are the people who will disrupt the learning (critical sharing of knowledge). Not because they mean to, or want to, but out of habit. The habit of meeting expectations by going to the known boundaries and not beyond.

How does this translate to your meeting?  What starts out as a general session featuring an interesting welcome, inspiring presenter(s) followed by 'white space' that allows time to move between sessions and have hallway conversations is disrupted by jamming everyone who is thought to need to be seen or heard (sponsors, executives, others) until you have now over-filled the original time slot.

Then it is time to move from general sessions to breakouts or similar smaller sessions, which hold nothing but potential from a content and learning perspective.  Then, learning disruption comes again as the over-packed general session runs over, the sessions are far enough away that many participants barely have time to get a coffee, let alone connect with any other guests, and it is into the session rooms they go. Rooms sometimes set up to enhance sharing and learning, often set in theatre, rows and rows facing front. 

These sessions can be interactive  and engaging workshops where you learn something, share in and maybe share your own knowledge and identify its relevance to you.  Perhaps the planning group has even built in space and time to absorb the learning before moving on to either more learning, social activities or even (gasp) reflection time.  These can be a highlight, that is when creativity, relevance and innovations can truly begin to spring, given some nurturing. 
Start with learning objectives and an interesting format, add in good leaders and you have nothing but opportunity to create repeat attendees.  Creative learning in free flow.

Without even continuing this discussion into social events - offering more opportunities to inspire discussion, or spiral into a morass of speeches, presentations and loud music, consider how we are working with our clients to bring out the most potential in their meeting and avoid the disruptions. How are you guiding your clients to maximizing potential?

Friday, September 7, 2012

What Events can Learn from So You Think You Can Dance

I have been an unadulterated fan of every iteration of So You Think You Can Dance since the beginning, for many reasons. I can share it with my family, it has reintroduced the magic of expression through dance to a (jaded) audience, it has given opportunity to so many young people, and then it just goes beyond...

Here are some of the things I think event producers can take away from this show
  1. Emotional connections matter - between the performers, from performers to audience, from what is seen and heard to what is felt by the audience (yes we have the potential to create connections)
  2. Production matters. They get the video, the settings, the lighting, the sets - they are always right.
  3. Lighting designers - great, amazing lighting designers, are GOLD.
  4. Music sets the tone. Background, live, feature performance - it is naturally so dependant on the ambience you want to create, but always, always consider the soundscaping.
  5. Costumes - performers, staff, getting the attendees to participate in costuming (if you haven't seen it, there is magic in Diner en Blanc) - even adding a prop box - brings people into the spirit of the event. Consider it.
  6. Surprise. I have just blogged on the potential effects of positve surprise and we want as guests to be surprised, delighted, amazed when we attend events.
While an argument was made on a recent #eventprofs Twitter chat that perhaps we do often seek the ordinary -  I would argue, and it was noted that perhaps it is more relevant for meetings and tradeshows than "special" events, and I would argue also for the incentive events you want to create delightful surprise.  Let's use the lessons above and continue to create the special.

Creating special does not always require large budgets, but it does require thoughtful design, and let's continue to embrace and practice this.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Vanilla Cupcakes and the Meaning of Life

After an amazing summer of events and life and serendipitous impact points, I had a day at home of doing nothing, which included, naturally some lying around and watching Food Network. Cupcake Wars began and my daughter had an overwhelming urge to make cupcakes. This of course meant I had to at least help her begin the process, and also had her brother (a huge fan of end products) intrigued. Now I had expected she would want to find some kind of fancy cupcake, but no, vanilla is what she sought. Now I am not the biggest fan of cupcakes for a number of reasons - too sweet, too much icing, too annoying I was not the first to have a cupcake empire - but I supported the initiative to try something new.

After finding the ingredients, cajoling her brother into carrying the cuisinart mixer upstairs, being stunned that cupcakes were really mostly butter, sugar and flour, and reading the recipe for full understanding, the mixing began. This was truly about the process of discovery, something that as adults we often forget to appreciate or take the time for.

After the cupcakes went into the paper cups (who knows how long they have been in the cupboard?) there began two things. One, the inevitable waiting. And the debate about icing flavours, one thinking mint, the other citrus. In the end they agreed to half of each, and the hunt for the perfect icing recipe began, one with the recipe book cupboard open, one on the iPad. Oh how technology continues to change how we approach the every day things we do.

At last they were ready, out of the oven, light and airy in appearance in their multi-colored cups. After some anxious waiting for them to cool, they were eventually iced and enjoyed very much by all of us. I brought some to work the next day (really a family of four should not eat 24 cupcakes!) and it was with delight and surprise they were enjoyed by my colleagues. I was reminded that we can take the time to bake, and that it is as much about enjoying the process of creation as it is about enjoying the cupcake.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Effects of Positive Surprise

Human brains are wired to accept and embrace and be energized by positive surprise.

Meeting and event planners however are often equally hardwired to shun any opportunities for surprise of any kind. This may not apply to everyone reading this, but for many, we live in moderate fear of the many stakeholders who are part of the event and know that our jobs (internal or external) are only as secure as our last event is great, and we are always at the mercy of the whims of those responsible for choosing their next event partner - which may include an individual, a committee, or may roll to procurement. Procurement is particularly hardwired not to be excited by surprises.

So how can we balance creating positive surprises for guests and do this in a budget relevant manner? I think there are many ways of doing this, and much of it comes down to these things.
  1. Thinking holistically about the guest experience from the beginning
  2. Understanding the value relative to the objectives
  3. Being able to articulate this to your key stakeholders for buy-in
What are some examples of positive surprise and the potential impacts? In my view as a starting point for discussion this may include:
  1. Entrance or welcome entertainment that sets a tone and provides a delightful start; no matter how your guests arrived, if you can mentally transport them from the beginning you have already created an impact. Imagine arriving for a morning conference registration and a solo guitarist was playing - simple, inexpensive and sending a message today will not be ordinary
  2. Thoughtful transitions as simple as allowing time for hallway conversations between sessions to as surprising as a performance that leads them into a dining space
  3. Listening to what they have to say from a collaborative breakout session to a grafitti wall; a twitter stream that adds to rather than distracts from a session at hand - finding ways to listen and share messages is often a surprise to meeting participants still used to being talked at. A combination of great speakers and even greater facilitators has the opportunity to lead to even greater results.
  4. Where did that come from? A dessert bar that lowers from the ceiling, performers that come from an unexpected place, a 150' harp that arcs over a ballroom and appears as decor until it is played, a video that begins a session and the live presenter who appears to finish it - keep them guessing, keep them engaged in the process
  5.  Where do I sit?  Break out of classroom setups for meeting sessions and rounds for galas - mix it up and try something that has people talking. They came to the meeting to MEET, allow this to happen. Octagons and squares, lounge seating and balls, conversation clusters and pedestal tables - this year we have tried it all and each has had resounding success because we knew why we were choosing to mix it up - and the participants shared in the positive surprise and opened themselves up to the possibilities.
  6. Feed me well. Break out of the white bread, white flour habits - replace breakfast items with mini protein shakes, yogurt shots and other energy providing foods, lose the chicken and pasta lunches opting for items like a delicious Nicoise salad and a cheesecake pop, and start to see the energy of your attendees shift as they enjoy delicious and nutritious options.
  7. Seek out alternate venues. Mountaintops and riverbanks, gallery rooftops and forested parks, underwater viewing galleries and stunning train rides have all added up to amazing programs this summer - where are you taking your guests to get out of the norm?
There are many ways to initiate positive surprise - what have you tried? What was the impact?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Imagine if...

My family at The Canadian Mint Pavilion
carefully touching our Canadian Medals (2010)
I am a huge fan of the Olympic Games for many reasons. I have had the opportunity to work in Beijing and Vancouver (and while having a small envy for my friends in London, I also know how much you have to be able to put into it), on the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games and have made many friends and been impressed by so many things. As an Event Producer it is a long road as you prepare for and bring to life the vision for an Olympic Games - but we do this for the challenges! Ultimately it is about the spirit, the drive, and the global community!

Imagine if...

All wars between countries were fought on a sports field; where you lose proudly to a friend knowing you always gave it your best effort.

People from around the world, speaking dozens of languages, sat beside each other in office "cubes" all working towards the same common goal.  (hint: they do!)

An entire city / region / country embraces a positive spirit, and from morning until night people greet each other warmly, watching their countries compete on screens available everywhere.

The cultures of a region are brought together and celebrated through a continuum of music, dance, many mediums of art, cinema and film, in ways we have not seen or even necessarily contemplated before.

The pride in your country is celebrated through sport and culture. (the alternative of how we consider winning through wars is incredibly depressing)

We all faced every day like the athletes. They all have abilities and then combine it with the highest level of mental drive, physical ability, hours of practice, an ability to be coachable, and pure spirit. There is an amazing range of physicality through the Olympics and Paralympics and it truly showcases the very best we can be across this amazing range of sports.

The entire world watched as you celebrated your country! Everyone will have an opinion on the Opening Ceremonies, and I personally admire the focus on the history that was celebrated of a country that has had an amazing impact on most of the developed world.

The opportunity was for anyone to win. All of us have good days and better days and days we wish for a do-over. Whether you are the first woman to run from Saudi Arabia or a woman from Ethiopa who wins, the world truly is yours to celebrate with. My favorite personal memory from Beijing will always remain seeing the 800m of the Women's Heptathalon. At the end of that race, they knew who had won gold, silver and bronze in that event. EVERY SINGLE WOMAN in that event went together and ran a victory lap. That is the power of people who know that as much as we compete, being part of something bigger is what really matters.

Imagine if we approached every single event imagining that it will have an impact on every single person who touches the event. Imagine if we truly understood the power of what we create on a daily basis.

Imagine the possibilities.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Enough with the "Un"

Mary Boone skypes in to
Event Camp Vancouver
What's up with the "Un"?

The "UnConference" "UnMarketing" (yes, I read it) "UnSession" as just a start are now the ubiquitous NEW way of looking at things. But I don't really get it. It is still marketing, a conference or a session, so why do we accept it as being better? Why are we using the "Un"?  The meaning, according to


a prefix meaning “not,” freely used as an English formative, giving negative or opposite force in adjectives and their derivative adverbs and nouns ( unfair; unfairly; unfairness; unfelt; unseen; unfitting; unformed; unheard-of; un-get-at-able ), and less freely used in certain other nouns (unrest; unemployment).
Is it that we are NOT marketing, holding a conference or presenting at a session? Obviously that is not the case - a recent "un-session" was presented at #caem12 (here shared by Dennis Shiao) which was certainly within the context of a traditional conference full of general sessions, concurrent sessions, roundtables, panels, reception including time to meet sponsors / exhibitors and even a pre-event golf tournament. So why the "un"session - was there not a presentation? What was so different about this session that it earned the "un"?  
Do we do this as writers or organizers to set our own mind-frame before we start that we need to look at things differently? If that is the reason, then the "un" is more embraceable. 
If we recognize that doing it the same old way isn't working; if we think there needs to be an un-way of doing things, then isn't it time to truly consider how attendees are feeling when they attend an event and turn the "un" into the new way of creating events?  
Resource: Creating an Emotional Arc within your conference experience from June 26th is here by Jeff Hurt

Friday, June 29, 2012

Event attendance - relationship or transaction?

Engaged learners at #ECV11
Reality check: event attendance is not a decision made as a simple transaction. A potential attendee does not consider attending an event the same way they consider buying a coffee, or even purchasing a product online.

The decision to attend an event is much more complex. As a potential attendee you need to consider the resources, time, money, travel distance and potential return. You will choose to attend because you see value in attending. Where does this value come from?

As event planners you know it comes back to education and networking. The primary consideration is actually emotional. It is the relationships you have the potential to build while you are there.  How do you sell attendance to your boss though? With rational clarification about the knowledge you will gain by attending, which is where we come back to "content is king" and where the participant driven knowledge model becomes a tougher sell, even if you may leave a conference with a participant driven agenda richer for the deepened relationships and deep-dive education you may achieve, it is still hard to take a blank agenda to your boss and sell your participation. The transaction is tougher to make.

How can you build relationships with your potential attendees? One excellent way pre-event is with effective social media, the kind where you begin conversations that can be continued when you meet face - to - face. Where potential attendees encourage each other to attend because they are excited to share ideas f2f, and where your sessions are stronger because there are more people willing to share ideas, knowledge and resources with each other.  Where connecting for future potential business is a natural extension of your event - the attendance is about the relationships, and people will not only return, they will give you the word of mouth marketing you cannot create without them.

What are you doing to use your meetings as leverage that enhances connections?

Friday, June 22, 2012

What Airports Need

Like many of you who take the time to read my blog (thank you) I travel by air frequently. Not Super Elite frequently, status which takes some of what I am about to write about out of the pain of flying. I am a bit spoiled as my home airport YVR (Vancouver) really strives to create a pleasant experience, but this is not always the case. This is for the rest of us, and here are some of the things I wish all airports had.  (Note this is not about the staff, or the airlines, this is just about the facilities and amenities for the regular people)
  • washrooms that are located at regular intervals
  • washrooms with stalls that you can fit you and your carry on bag in without turning yourself into a pretzel
  • washrooms that have dry counter space (hey, it is my wish list)
  • charging stations for the thousands of travelers relying on their laptops and mobile devices to stay charged through several time zones
  • or how about plugins that are marked and with lots available
  • tiny tables or cup holders in the waiting areas
  • complimentary sockettes for when you have to take your shoes off in security and haven't brought your own
  • good, even great food at street pricing
My food rant: there is no reason with hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands of people are passing through your gates every single day that delicious, fresh food cannot be available. It is in fact an opportunity for heaps of dough to be made given that very few airlines offer food, or have limited food options. People are hungry and bored - give them options!

  • complimentary wi-fi (and thank you to the many airports that do offer this, we road warriors appreciate it)
  • kids zones - if not a full play area, a few coloring sheets like family restaurants offer would go a long way for parents and fellow travelers
  • hours of operation for vendors that match travel schedules

What else would you like to see?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

It's about filling the Holes

Cantrav Services, a night begins...
Recently I have seen a few posts on the job titles in event planning. It is indeed a job which from the outside looks pretty simple. After all, nearly everyone has been part of hosting or attending an event, and every day, all around the world, thousands do just this. The basics are obvious. You book a venue, decide on a theme, lay out an agenda, bring together some vendors, guests arrive, enjoy and you accept the accolades and move on to the next great event. 

Of couse, any event professional reading this now thinks I must have lost my marbles. But let me ask, has this ever happened to you as you are introduced - "this is Tahira, she plans parties."  Simplistic, yes. Reality, quite often. To describe the qualities of thoughtful strategic thinking combined with a solid logistical knowledge of transportation, environment, entertainment, theme / decor, technical production and venue management (to name a few) with the magic that is the creative overview and flow that brings together event after meeting after event in a way that people leave just knowing they had a great time, through knowledge gained, food and beverage and environment or entertainment enjoyed, connections made or relationships deepened is a nearly impossible task. This is not just me, but many industry professionals who may not be fully appreciated for the skills and experience that make our jobs look simple.

Great event planning goes beyond the agenda, objectives and the strategy. The value in choosing your meeting professional does not come from finding the person (or company) that can put together the agenda or recommend the decor, the value comes from the experience that fills in the holes. Those gaps that begin as committee members (corporate, association, fundraiser, third parties with clients - they all have `committees` under various guises or names) all head off with their own agendas, each filling in their parts. The gaps are all the pieces in between that can either tie things together or create yawning chasms that interfere with flow and can negatively affect the overall experience. 

Great professionals fill in the gaps - with music, with experiences, with entertainment or directional signage, storytelling the content to tie it together, allowing for the white space where reflection and discussion deepen the learnings. They make sure that each session has the right floor plan, that the silent auction is in the right location, that the live auction happens at the most auspicious time, that routes between events are mapped and interesting, that every single presenter feels their specific requirements were heard, that the venues and authorities find their myriad rules were adhered to - all those things that almost no participant will ever know has happened. Without attention to the holes, events would have multiple opportunities to be less than successful, so the next time you see an event going well, thank the professional who paid attention.

The next time someone asks what you do, how about, Ì pay attention and make your events memorable.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Get Your Green On Wins Green Award at IMEX

One of the things I am most proud of professionally is the successful collaboration that was EventCamp Vancouver. There are so many committed, fantastic, smart people and so many great moments that made up this experience it is hard for me to articulate the positive, warm and hopeful feelings its production generated.  While the white paper discusses the elements that went into the meeting design, it does not capture the emotion or commitment of everyone who touched it.

One of the areas that was the most fascinating to see come to life was the Get Your Green On game layer we developed with QuickMobile, with the content by Shawna McKinley of MeetGreen and Judy Kucharuk of Footprint Management Systems.  When I received an elated phone call from the IMEX Frankfurt show floor this week to hear from Shawna that this had just won the IMEX Green Commitment to the Community Award for this year, I could not have been more proud, or more thrilled to see this work recognized. It is important because as an industry we need to keep up with what is happening in the world around us and this was such an excellent example of using technology in a way that was familiar to many (and new to some) to show how we can take small, continuous steps to greater sustainability at our events, in conjunction with each and every supplier and participant. I believe that in order to have the brightest future for meetings, embracing the capabilities of technology to actively share content and build connections is critical, and this was such a good example.

Not only was the game thoughtfully developed, their subsequent presentation at GMIC and the white paper are a great case study for meeting and event professionals.  I am honoured to call these professionals my collaborators and friends.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A conference misses the mark... again

We recognize people attend conferences for two main reasons. Call it what you like - knowledge and relationships; learning and networking; sharing information and meeting others with a similar interest (work or life). Meeting professionals and their committees spend lots of time on choosing the destination, developing a program, marketing, managing sponsor relationships, possibly working with a trade show component, sorting all the logistics from transportation to food, signage to audio visual, decor and entertainment, and ensuring the host / board expectations are met.

What remains the missed element? The guest experience.

I remain optimistic that the industry will continue to shift, as we understand more about how people like to engage, that they attend meetings for face-to-face time, that there are many ways to deliver knowledge and have participants feeling richer for the experience. We have just spent three days on a site inspection nailing down the details of a meeting where it is critical to the client that people leave with that feeling, and that we take advantage of the location, and that time for talking is part of the experience. Leaving this destination, and on my first shorter leg of my flights home, I found myself seated between two gentlemen that had just attended the same meeting. Here follows a sampling of what was shared of their experience.

What they said: "Dinner last night was really good. Did you even want any breakfast today?"
My first thought: Yep, if we stuff them at the gala they will remember that!

What they said: "There were some very thought provoking presentations. I don't know what I learned, but I do have some things to think about."
What I heard: The presenters talked AT their audiences and did not give time for discussion or assimilation.

(said) "I know, and it was so busy running between places I never had time to really think about it, but I know there will some things I want to take back to my team."
(I thought) They wanted to make sure the program was really full of good things so it was easier to market / had so much to fit in we had to cut into the break time

(said) "You know it is too bad we didn't have more time to talk at the conference, this was really interesting. Even though you were sitting across the table from me at dinner last night, it was too far for a discussion.
(thought) Yes, we did it again, closed with a gala dinner where you can talk to exactly the two people beside you!

DId this conference meet their expectations? I am sure it met some and even exceeded some of their expectations. They both seemed to feel their trip was worthwhile, and that they would return to the next meeting of this organization. Was there anything wrong with this model that was followed? Not especially, but there is so much room for improvement if we consider how people learn, and provide opportunities for connections that are broader than a seated dinner with entertainment. Each time there is a meeting such as this, that is perfectly ok if not outstanding, we reinforce this model, and we deliver the expected experience.
What could be done to make this go from good to great? In my opinion only
  1. a balance of presentations that allows for time to discuss and assimilate within the sessions - recognize attendees are also experts and share their knowledge too.
  2. allow more free time, knowing people will mainly use this for discussion with others and have those critical hallway conversations
  3. serve nutritious and delicious food in appropriate quantities and at times that allow participants to maintain a steady stream of energy for long days of meeting and thinking and participating
What else would you add?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

48 Flights

Today, Mother's Day 2012 I find myself alone for the first time on Mother's Day, beginning a site visit in gorgeous Charlevoix, Quebec and with a few minutes to reflect on how lukcy I am to live my life always returning to the safe "love bubble" (my daughter's term) of my family. While I am alone today, this past week we had the opportunity to travel again as a family, and my children at 12 and 13 counted all the flights they had ever been on.

Statistics to date
  • 48 flight segments
  • 1 cruise ship
  • 1 major train trip
  • 5 countries, numerous provinces and states
  • 3 walled cities
  • 1 Great wall
  • 2 major oceans from various vantage points
  • numerous hotels from "family" style to condos, b & b to 5 star luxury as well as many friend's homes (our favorite)
  • 2 awesome theme parks
  • numerous historic sites from Versailles to Tulum, Xian to Washington DC and many more in between
Travel today is as accessible as it is ever likely to be, given the numerous methods available, the speed and global opportunities, and what we will look back on in 50 years as the amount of fuel available to travel with at a relatively low cost. As a meeting / event professional it is my work that has led us to many of these places, and while the challenges have been many, the rewards and frienships even greater.

We are so fortunate to be able to offer our children the opportunity to see the world and to learn from its cultures and history and look forward to sharing even more of it with them. Whenever I return from a working journey tired... exhausted... exhilarated, I only need to reflect on how fortunate we are to be able to have collaborators and friends around the world that we can share life, work and fun with to be able to get up and do it all over again.  Thank you to all of you who have shared this with us. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

VOTE to help someone who helps themself

This is a letter I am posting anywhere I think it will reach out and help an amazing couple. Please click on the link at the bottom - it takes 30 seconds of your time and will make an immense difference to an amazing family. Read on....
Yesterday it came to my attention via a colleague that there is an opportunity for Fiona and Dean to obtain a wheelchair equipped van, and I felt compelled to weigh in on why I think they deserve this. I had the opportunity to meet Fiona and Dean at the wedding of her sister, in Mexico in November 2009. We live in the same area of North Delta, and we have children of a similar age, and I have never been more impressed and more humbled by any people I have had the opportunity to spend time with. Our family is very fortunate to have two able bodied children, who at 11 and 13 can take care of all their own basic needs. Fiona and Dean’s children, Kiarra and Rylan are lovely children who will never be able to care for themselves, and the inclusive lifestyle their parents offer them is awe-inspiring. While many people in this situation may have balked at even just the packing of the special items required for a week away, they instead embraced the experience, and along with the family and friends, everyone participated in all activities, from taking the children into the ocean for swimming (they love the water), in group meals, although they both need someone to feed them, and in all social activities shared with the group. Kiarra and Rylan love music and others around were often found singing to them, or playing music, and being able to enjoy this together was special. The care required is continuous and their obvious love for each other and their children creates a glow that emanates to those around them.

While Dean works full-time, Fiona each day takes her children to school, to therapeutic horseback riding and to other activities that will allow them to continue to learn and grow. However, as they grow, the burden of carrying them and caring for them simply must be more difficult as they near her own size, and the ability to have them in their wheelchairs and not have to continually carry them in and out as she transports them from place to place, would be an immense support for her.
Not only is she caring for her own children, she truly cares for the community. As a small example when she knew a child slightly younger than my daughter who attends the same school as her children was in need of clothes, she called to ask if I had any that my daughter had outgrown, and then came and picked them up and took them to the child in need. Her thoughtfulness for others extends far and wide. She is also now in the position of assisting in care for her aging parents, and again each time she goes to help, this van would assist in taking their grandchildren to visit. 

Fiona would never consider herself a hero. She considers herself a mother, wife, sister and friend. Her spirit and sense of humour are always intact, and I simply cannot think of anyone who is more deserving of support.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Hunger Games - and 10 Event Lessons

A great book or a great movie should offer an escape; change the way you think; leave you inspired or moved. The Hunger Games is "an addictive read" (my 11 year old's words), and my 13 year old read the three books in three days. I was not far behind, captivated and fascinated by the way the author takes many things so wrong with the state of our world and rolls them all up into a tidy package of mayhem. The analogies are endless, and I am certain much smarter and more learned people than me will also be writing their perspectives as it leeches into our pop culture one thrilled audience member at a time.

As with all things pop culture, at some point, someone in the world of events says, "Hey, we could make a theme out of this Hunger Game thing." While on no level can I see selling this concept, it did make me consider this from a new perspective.

The impact of reality TV has for example led us to create teambuilding events such as Survivor, Beach Olympics and Apprentice style events. While these events take us out of our normal "box" and with the right debrief may aid in finding new approaches to our business systems, nobody dies to get to the end. What else did I learn?
  1. If you are really hungry, even squirrel tastes good. So the next time someone complains about "rubber chicken", you can offer them alternatives.
  2. Sponsorship is both ubiquitous and fickle - give your sponsors what they want.
  3. Ask for what you need. When they needed medicine, they asked for it. When you need information or resources, ask for them.
  4. Be aware of the game changers. They are two steps ahead and you don't want to get caught in their traps.
  5. Have the right tools - in their case, rope, spears, land mines and knives all came in handy. For event planners I find zap straps and mobile devices are critical.
  6. Mastering disguises is useful, whether to make a wow during an interview or tribute parade, or to hide under a log, the ability to fit into the environment with the right outfit for the right job is a necessary skill.
  7. Think sustainably. Take just what you need and when you have enough, share with others.
  8. Water is the most important element for survival. Make good choices.
  9. When you can plan ahead, do. Be as prepared as you can be before you begin, which for the tributes meant years or weeks of training prior to going into the arena. For your own self, stay healthy. For your event, consider the what-if scenarios.
  10. When things aren't necessarily going as you planned, trust your instincts. When you live with integrity it is easy to make the right choices for your business or your event.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Experiences and Influence

The raging #eventprofs debate over the past week has evolved around the Successful Meetings launching of the first 13 of the "25 most influential people in the meetings industry" which included 12 men and a bed bug. I thought that MeetingChange had an excellent response to this, worth a read if you want to consider influence at all.

This was followed up by an #eventtable chat on who our Influencers are led by Jenise Fryatt, and the storify of this chat is included here.

My question is this - when planning events, how do you define if the experience was successful? If your objective is to influence thought or change patterns of behaviour how are you working with the people involved - facilitators, presenters, participants to do this?

Can an event create action or change that spreads out through your participants spheres of influence? (I would argue yes if you have clear objectives and a plan to do this such as we did with Get your Green on at EventCamp Vancouver)

Who are the people who influence our industry? I believe each of us will have our own stories to tell and our own influencers, and it is incumbent upon each of us to be part of the continued positive power that meetings and events have, and to ensure that in our individual roles we step up and take responsibility, and bring our teams along with us.

How have you used an event to create transformation successfully?
What barriers have you encountered?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

10 simple event pleasures

team future heads out on the weekend to
breast cancer, walking 60km, raising 20k+
  1. Working with a team that "gets it"
  2. Hearing the gasps of surprise and delight when guests enter an event you have spent months planning
  3. Seeing the cameras come out as guests can't believe their eyes in a new destination
  4. Trying something new (hybrid, sheer projection, a mobile app) and seeing the positive results
  5. Awesome food and beverage programming, from the opportunity to serve attendees all day brain friendly food and see the results in increased engagement to a perfectly wine paired dinner, lunch on a glacier (harder than it sounds and oh so worth it) or a perfectly timed dinner
  6. Creating an event that touches all the senses - and hearing people talk about it the next day
  7. Creating a multi day program where every day provides something new and remarkable for the guests, (and seeing how much they are enjoying it)
  8. Taking care of all the little details that will make our client's lives simpler, (and having them notice that we were paying attention)
  9. Having entertainment that connects with the audience - a name act, a great speaker, roving or ambient that surprises... limited only by your imagination
  10. Making a true positive impact with your event - whether this is through relevant education, meaningful connections, relevant CSR, money or awareness raised...
What makes you smile at the events you plan or attend?

Monday, April 2, 2012

10 simple life pleasures

  1. A hug with someone special
  2. The sound of waves hitting the shore
  3. Cold beverage on a hot day... a warm fire on a cold day
  4. A perfect cup of coffee... chocolate melting in your mouth... homemade cookies warm from the oven
  5. Sunsets and sunrises
  6. Watching children learn and play and learn through play
  7. A soft comforter you don't have to leave
  8. The sound of laughter
  9. Flowers blooming in spring
  10. The crunch of fall leaves... snow under your feet... running through sand
What do you love?

    Saturday, March 31, 2012

    Kaleidoscope learning - part 2 - Questions!

    I think of conferences and events as if they are a kaleidoscope, where every person will see it through their own lens, and hear information through their own filters. Imagine if you attended a conference and in addition to hearing from seasoned professionals and experts in various fields sharing their knowledge, you could then extend the conversation, and share your own point of view. Then you could hear another point of view, and another, and truly create a dialogue about a topic.  Dialogue that could lead to new ideas, solutions, innovations.

    We live in a society where we are constantly fed information, and one where we take in most of the information without question. Our children know how to find information from TV, or maybe in newspapers, occasionally from books, and most often from the ubiquitous internet. What they are not being taught often enough is the skill of questioning, of not accepting everything at face value, of developing filters for information in their own minds, but also the ability to assess information without bias, and to turn the information prism like, looking for where the light shines through most brightly.
    The stream of information and its availability on a 24/7 basis will continue to grow, the statistics are astounding (ie 24 hours of content uploaded every minute to YouTube) and the ability to assess what is important to us will remain critical.

    From a conference perspective we must also find ways for our participants to process the information they hear and find ways they can make it relevant and applicable to their situations.  Imagine if at a meeting we allowed "prism" time, where participants are able to reflect, turn the information looking at it from the new point of view presented and how it fits into their own context, and to be able with others extend the conversations sparked by the sessions?  Imagine if questions were not only encouraged but integral to the sessions… imagine the possibilities.

    Monday, March 26, 2012

    Permission to be an Adult - Conference Musings

    Event Camp Vancouver - ready for comfortable, engaging interaction, knowledge sharing and relevant learning

    I am a firm believer in life-long learning and I find that conferences are indeed one of the best ways to find relevant and current information related to my area of interest. I have been in the industry for a long time and feel fortunate to have friends working in meetings and events around the world, many who I only see at these same meetings, as attendees, facilitators and presenters. These are both good reasons to attend meetings and likely the same reasons many of us attend events on a voluntary basis.  (vs say a mandated corporate meeting). 

    Maybe it is just me, but here is a struggle I face with attending conferences; conferences typically are not that comfortable.  One of the challenges in attending is that it is so easy as an attendee to lose our ability to be an adult, as we are overwhelmed with difficult to navigate information, finding our way through an unfamiliar facility or facilities, in different cities or countries, often in different time zones and with cultural variances.  Often we are used to being the meeting planner and knowing all the details, and in attending we lose our sense of control, and with this the sense of comfort the control over the details gives us.  

    Occasionally I have the opportunity to attend an event (or plan one such as Event Camp Vancouver) where the experience of the participants is put at the top of the list of deliverables.  Where information is available ahead of time, where we feel welcome from the beginning, where the environment allows for seating that is appropriate for our learning style and where we feel our opinions and ideas can be shared.

    Imagine if you attended a meeting where you felt like the independant adult you are, instead of part of the herd moving from space to space?

    What if from the minute you arrived, you felt as though there were many possibilities ahead and you could anticipate them eagerly?

    A comfortable environment - one where you could find a seat that was comfortable for you and what you will be learning - where it is not just row upon row of dark theatre seats where you are talked at, but instead a space where you can interact with your peers in a positive way. Where you can leave to get a coffee without fighting through a crowd in a prescribed 15 minute time period and where the food is what will sustain you (vs a white flour filler that causes a blood sugar crash in the midst of a session) and where how you take notes is not judged - paper, twitter, tablet or laptop.  Where any teambuilding is voluntary - and is so enticing you want to participate.

    Wouldn't you like to attend a meeting where you have permission to be an adult?