Monday, December 30, 2013

Event Design eh - Talking with Lars

The original Canadian Hudson's
Bay Blanket. Just wait to see
how we translate this icon!
I am very excited to be part of an interactive session taking place in just over a week at The Special Event in Nashville, Event Design 'eh where we will bring together a fabulous group of Canadian event designers to talk about our perspectives on design, collaboration and do this all with visual mediums that are designed to spark discussion.

Lars Erickson is the Director of Business Development for Special Event Rentals, a leader in the Alberta special event rental marketplace with facilities in Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer, and a selection of product suiting each market and many thoughtful designers.  At last year's TSE I had the opportunity as a roving report for Meetings Podcast to have a great discussion with Lars on his philosophy, eye to partnership and Canadian design, which sparked this idea for a session. To hear this interview, click here.

I asked Lars to tell us a little about what this session will bring to those who choose to attend next week, and here is what he said.

Q1. Can you tell us briefly about your current role and involvement in the design process? 
LE :  As a rental company, Special Event Rentals provides the building blocks of event design. I work with planners to ensure we have the right inventory to create the designs they dream up.

Q2. Beyond our ubiquitous Mountie, what is one thing you consider “Canadian” when we talk about event design?LE: Maples, Mountains and Snow… but more important is our willingness to embrace our environment.

Q3. If you were giving special event participants one reason to attend our session, what would you say?LE: Collaboration is key with all events. Come and see how we work together in Canada.

Well, he said it!  All of us are pumped up and making sure you have an experience where you walk away with useful tips and ideas you can use the minute you return home, about design, collaboration and selling design. It is going to be great!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Chocolate Krave -d

Some of you may remember when I woke up earlier this year at 4am and joined MPI Brussels for a hybrid chocolate tasting session. While pretty neat to see it work from my event producer perspective, it was a bit odd to do this in the middle of my night.

I love time with friends, chocolate and learning, so when MPI BC Chapter had a silent auction in June with a Chocolate Tasting for 12 with Krave Chocolat I could not resist bidding and winning such an item and sharing it! 

So this week we gathered inside Xoxolat where their owner Hodi welcomed us into their fabulous chocolate filled spacious new locale in Yaletown and together we learned about chocolate.  With Carrie and Anya, master chocolatiers with their own fabulous stories, we started learning about how cocoa grows, its origins and what to look for in great chocolate, but of course the best part was tasting the chocolate. This ranged from delicious milk all the way up to an 85% dark chocolate which surprised us with its smoothness.  A little pairing, a few Christmas gifts purchased, time with friends, and a spark for how we can include chocolate in even more of our corporate programs... ta da, a fabulous experience all around!  If you need a great experiential gift for the someone who has it all - consider a chocolate tasting!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Gamification, Reveal and Millenials

I am always excited about how we can improve learning, engagement and ultimately build connections and relationships through the power of face to face meetings. One of the ways we have found effective is through the use of communities that are aligned at an event through a mobile app, with a gamification layer built in.  I had the opportunity to speak with a writer for Business in Vancouver's annual meeting places edition about this over the summer, and much to my surprise, this feature became the cover story released in November. 

The next week I was contacted by some very smart Millennials (thank you Felix) to see if I would consider being their guest at the upcoming Reveal Competition, a business case study competition taking place at UBC and using Siim Software's gamified environment as the platform.  Since I love seeing gamification in action, I of course said YES and I could not have been more impressed, on a number of levels.  Kevin and Khalil were excellent hosts for the day, as I tagged along as a guest judge, and learned a lot. While there will be more prolific and thoughtful people who could share their perspectives on this experience as they lived through it, there are a few of the key things I learned as an observer of this day below. 

Live from the Reveal Competition
Twitter Stream #Reveal2013

1. Millennials will rule the world. Between the leaders, organizers, judges and volunteers, I met a number of smart under 30s who are forward thinking, hard working business graduates whose understanding of finance, balance sheets, commerce, technology, enterprise solutions and organizational structures was impressive. Their ability to judge and accurately assess the acumen, decisions and thought processes of the teams they were judging, and ask thoughtful and probing questions that were still fair was fascinating to be part of.  

They aren't scared of change, they are anticipating change. Their perspective on how they will move through and around organizations and how their education, choices and lifelong learning will impact their opportunities is clear, and they are willing to do the work and they were willing to help others be successful by sharing knowledge.  

2. Gamification works. The platform Siim created was based on a matrix, so teams first chose their hotels (the business of choice for this year's competition) in a draft format, and then as they made decisions, their decisions impacted each other hotel in their neighbourhood and comp set so, as in real life, the decisions were not linear and did not have a linear or expected outcome.  This is where the learning came from, the opportunity to try things, to meet curveballs and to see where your choices led your team.

3. Presentation and decision making skills matter. Not only did the team members have to work through the simulation, they also had to present to the judges, in a variety of real-life formats - via computer, via speaker phone and face-to-face and answer to their decisions. Of course the beauty of this is, it's not real and you may be very successful in the simulation, or you may "fail" or not do as well as you would like - but you really cannot beat the practice that a gamified environment gives you. Safe and immensely effective in learning and honing business skills, and truly competing using your wits, knowledge and acumen, imagine the possibilities for an organization to have talented team members who are not scared to try making the tough decisions, but understand there are multiple potential (not textbook) impacts, and who are practiced at the tough conversations... 
The key takeaway as revealed on Twitter #reveal2013 "Always expect the unexpected."

4. Diversity and Inclusion is our real life. There were a number of teams from institutions of higher learning from across Canada. Every culture, gender and a wide range of ages were represented.  Anyone who expects to see co-workers that look just like us had better take another look around and recognize that talent comes in all kinds of packages, and embrace perspectives.

5. Cufflinks. This is the bonus tip. Yes, dress for the job you will have, those who were there both competing and judging certainly did.

Reveal Conference 2013 provided a unique environment for these learners, and taught them lessons it could otherwise take years to learn in the workforce, making each a more valuable asset for those hiring.  It takes a team to bring something like this alive, and kudos to the talented force that brought the Reveal Conference to fruition. I can't wait to see what they do next year! 

Additional Resource. If you are not familiar with how gamification can positively impact your organization, this link is to a webinar I had the privilege to do In October with Trevor Roald at QuickMobile -  "Gamification" . It takes about an hour but covers the who, how and why of making gamification work for you.  (they have a lot of other resources here too)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

IdeaFest Chicago Interview with Truffleberry

Asparagus as it is meant to be with Truffleberry.

The Future of Food in Catering and Events is a very big topic and after talking with Brittany Ferrin today I long to be in her session in Chicago and share ideas!  Her energy, passion and sheer enthusiasm for elevating food was infectious, and while I am writing this before 7am, I wish I could fly to Chicago for lunch. I mean seriously - above they are picking the asparagus they turned into dinner - hello this is what food is all about!

Five and a half years ago, Brittany and her husband and business partner Vaidotas Karsokas met while working together and three months into dating started Truffleberry Market.  As she said, “It was never a question if it was the right thing to do, we knew it was!”

They are Chefs and artists who are continually exploring options, and below are the tough questions I was interested in asking, and Brittany’s thoughtful responses.

  1. Your food influences are from far and wide – how do you think the ability for many to travel, the influence of TV and the internet on our ability to see what the “world” is doing is impacting how our guests expectations have changed?  Ie. Do your clients want globally influenced food or do they want familiar food?
The influence is HUGE! Before people when they thought of global wanted French or Italian but now there are so many accessible and interesting influences coming into our living rooms every day, and they make the food look really good, whether they are in Central Europe or deepest Asia, chefs like Anthony Bourdain are going deep into food culture around the world and presenting them in a way that you cannot help but be absorbed by the possibilities of these different cultures – suddenly even frog or cricket seems interesting. It is really fun because we get to bring people’s remembered cuisine alive, for example they may have traveled to Croatia or South Africa and want us to create some influences in the menus we are preparing.

  1. I am a huge fan of FLOSS thinking in food for meetings in particular – do you see fresh, local, organic, seasonal, sustainable being part of the future?  (knowing you can have 2 or 3 out of the 5 at any one time)
Again, HUGE. Ideally everyone could operate their food business on these principles and as people become more aware of the source of our food, and how that impacts the flavour profiles, they begin to see the inherent value in this sourcing.  It can be more expensive but do you want your food to be “on sale” or do you really want nourishing and flavourful meals?  For example, if you have a fresh seasonal tomato entirely on its own, vs an out of season mass produced tomato, you immediately know the difference in one slice of each.  Imagine then when you begin to combine flavour profiles if you have started with the freshest ingredients…

We don’t want to see this as a trend, in then out, but rather we see this as a shift – a higher population of people are moving this way. For a while there was a priority to make food faster, cheaper, increase margins and we are definitely moving to how do we make it more fabulous, interesting, tasty and in season.  People are more willing to look for alternatives in their food choices and catering that reflect this shift.

  1. What do you want people to feel when they eat your food at an event?
The question that will keep me up as I think about this.  In one word. “Layers”, we want people to feel these.

At Truffleberry, we really emphasize the processes and complexity of what we create.  Something as seemingly simple as a vinaigrette, at its heart for example a balsamic vinaigrette… oil, vinegar, salt, sugar.  We consider this a good start and then we begin perhaps with slowly making a confit of shallots and then add this and that to make it a layered and complex taste – it is not a single ingredient or component we want people to recognize and say “ah ha this ____ makes it delicious” – it is about an overall sensation of complex deliciousness that slaps your senses awake.  Going above and beyond – no cutting corners, slowly and deliberately.  It really gives you the right end result.  Foundation building, which applies to houses, events and each dish on a menu is critical. We believe that we must begin with the highest quality components and methods and then we create with sincerity. 

  1. If you had one wish for how people would want food / catering to evolve based on your knowledge, experience and passion – what would you wish for?
I believe it is evolving in the way I wish – what we want to do ideally as a catering company is to continue to bring people’s food memories alive and help them create options for their guests. We all have special, succulent memories of shared meals that have remained unforgettable and which we would love to share with friends. For example, taking Thanksgiving dinner – a guest calls and they don’t want ‘same old same old’ – but we know we want to keep in line with flavours and sentiment and then update it.  The process begins with the fun part – brainstorming, researching flavour ideas and concepts and coming up with alternatives. An example would be taking sweet potatoes with marshmallow fluff – you can’t ignore this dish but you can alter it to sweet potatoes roasted with maple glaze, topped with toasted pine nuts and fried sage, reminiscent of the original but elevated. 

5. Why should someone attend your session – which to me would be fascinating? 

 It is really fun to be in a creative and innovative space, and while we create that in our store, we will also bring it to our session. We love getting many brains in one place and creating an experience where we embrace creative ideas with creative people and feed off of each other.  Those who share this philosophy will want to come.

How to get there
Brittany Ferrin will be speaking on "The Future of Food & Catering in Events" in the Event Innovation Forum conference at BizBash IdeaFest Chicago on November 13 at the Merchandise Mart. For more information, and to register, please visit

Sunday, October 27, 2013

IdeaFest Interview with Eventbrite

With BizBash IdeaFest just around the corner, I had the pleasure of connecting with Tamara Mendelsohn the VP of Marketing for Eventbrite to find out a little more about her perspective on our industry, specifically around the possibilities to supercharge your ticketing opportunities for events and insight into her session at Ideafest next week.
Tamara Mendelsohn
  1. Eventbrite not only does a great job of marketing themselves, you take these lessons and apply these to your client’s events. Do you believe this sets you apart in the crowded marketplace?
Thank you.  One of they keys to our approach in event ticketing is building relationships with customers through a genuine interest in sharing ideas, and by continually improving our platform based on their feedback.  We feel it is important to keep an open relationship where we share our commitment to the process, and seek their input regularly on how to make both our product and their experience better. In addition to our 24/7 phone and email support team, we also have marketers located in 6 major markets to build relationships with our customers and engage them in these idea sharing discussions.
  1. Without giving away the whole session, what is one lesson you feel the approach Amazon takes has been key for you to apply to Eventbrite?
We’ve learned the importance of being data driven by studying the major players in online retail. When you are selling online you have the unique opportunity to learn from your data. Amazon is a prime example of listening to what the customers tell them with each transaction, and finding ways to maximize that information in the product.  This process is often not second nature to event professionals but if you want to learn from the best (Amazon) Eventbrite has a platform that allows them to capture a lot of data in a way it can be easily analyzed and implemented in their marketing efforts.
  1. You have a very “active” site full of knowledge for planners – do you find that planners are eager for the information, or overwhelmed, with registration, obviously key, being yet another task to master in a never-ending list?
Of course there is an adoption curve – from novice to power user – and we do have a natural distribution over this curve.  What we are seeing is the event professionals that use the wider range of tools available are finding more success with the ticket sales.  They are taking action on learning about their event and attendees – and using the insights and opportunities the data provides to make decisions about their ticket sales and marketing.  We’ve worked hard to provide robust analytics and information for the more sophisticated event planners, but not too overwhelming for novice users. Nothing excites us more than when people who consider themselves scared of analytics actually get sucked into our tools because are so easy to digest. 
  1. You see all kinds of events – are you finding planners are more often looking to fill seats or are you seeing a trend towards curating specific audiences?  (How can you help with these)
Sophisticated event professionals often know intuitively how many tickets they will sell and how they can sell them. But they can now tie the data trends and patterns to actual sales, which gives them more power to control their attendance. This includes watching the data related to your partnerships – are the sales coming from where you expected them to?. Of course more often they want to fill to their desired capacity but the experience is ultimately the most important part.  The quality of experience should go up with the quality of people in the room relevant to your event.  You do want to focus on the quality of the people who attend, and Eventbrite can help do you target in a few ways. The way we have integrated social media into the ticket buying and promo process allows the community to magnify itself. As attendees register, news travels through the channels of the people who will care most about the event – your participant’s communities  Social media allows event professionals to build focus with the right information, and with Eventbrite you can collect information through the process – and you can see how it is skewing by job function or geography –allowing you to gut check if you reaching the right people.

     5.    How is mobile impacting the process?

Mobile is one of our fastest growing channels – nearly 25% of our overall traffic comes from mobile, up from practically zero a couple of years ago.  You know the scenario, you are out with friends and start talking about the event you will attend on the weekend and you look for it on your phone.  With the pages mobile-optimized, we are seeing a really nice bump in conversion rates because we have made it incredibly easy to buy on a mobile device. It also helps you discover events that are ticketing on Eventbrite – for example, if one of your friends is attending an event on Eventbrite, you will see a picture of them next to the event listing on your mobile phone.  Eventbrite found that people are 3 times more likely to get a ticket or register for an event on mobile when they see these pictures of their friend attending. (WOW! This is truly what event professionals want to see!)
Key is to watch your data – this can’t be said enough.

  1. If I was going to New York, this looks like a great session to me – but in your words, why should someone choose your session to attend?
There are some easy ways to supercharge your ticket sales and easy ways to treat it as a science. We’ll talk about how to easily make data analytics a habit - a little bit like eating more vegetables.  I want event professionals to walk away inspired to put these ideas into action and see the results for growing their events.

If I was able to be in New York this week, based on our call today, I wish I was going to be there on Tuesday to hear even more from Tamara Mendelsohn who will be speaking about "What Event Professionals Can Learn from Amazon" in the Event Innovation Forum conference at BizBash IdeaFest New York on October 30 at the Jacob K. Javits Center. For more information, and to register, please visit

Sunday, October 6, 2013


Shibumi. This delightful Japanese word expresses a state of being beautiful by being precisely what it was meant to be, and not elaborated upon, an effortless perfection.  When you have invested in an incentive travel reward for any number of participants, ensuring each person has an experience that leaves them feeling appropriately rewarded becomes critical, and elevating this asprirational trip to a place where you feel Shibumi has been achieved is in what we do, a little bit magical.
A room fit for a former President to speak in
(September 2013)

When you balance a unique set of elements and create your event Shibumi, you will find the guests enjoying a sense of richness for attending, and a sense of balance the event has delivered. Whether an evening of awards presentations, a colleague filled welcome reception, an afternoon picnic in a special location or a final night filled with engaging and interactive entertainment to finish on a high note, there are many ways to create this feeling, which must be designed to also fit your brand and your objectives.  When you find a creative partner who understands your objectives and then seeks out the combination of venue, d├ęcor, and entertainment that will deliver the environment that exceeds your expectations, you will find you leave with good feelings invoked and that ultimate achievement - satisfied stakeholders. 

Like other master practitioners (artisans, performers, designers as examples) a thoughtful event producer could be referred to as Shibui.  The true spirit of Shibui also defines a producer who contributes to the overall success of the team without doing anything to make themselves stand out individually. While often used to define excellence in team athletics, I believe the ability of a true creative leader is the ability to set aside ego, and to bring out the best of each team member and weave their expertise to produce a memorable whole.  Who’s on your team?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Thinking Out Loud

Whistler Conference Centre Gala Entree
It was pointed out to me this week that my blog had been not that active lately, and that (kindly) the reader was looking forward to the next post. It seems that I have been busy this year writing, but more for others than for my own blog.  I have a few personal favorites from this year, by topic.

1. Food.  I was THRILLED to have been asked to contribute to MPI's Meeting Professional to talk about my perspective on meeting food. Fresh Thinking 

I was also able to contribute on this topic and more in the revamped CIC manual coming out this fall, and I can't wait to see the evolution of this text, as this is the ninth edition, and when I completed my diploma in Event Management a million years ago it was using the second edition.  We've come a long way baby!

2. Talented professionals make a difference, to anything, including meetings. We have seen so many of our clients trying to work around us, with mixed results, and it was this observation that inspired this article.  DMC or DIY? 
Take a few minutes and snoop around Corporate Meetings Network - there are some great articles to be found here.  

3. Neuroscience has been around for a while, but it is only in the past year or so we have been using this knowledge to positively impact your meetings. Also on the CMM digital edition Neuroscience and your meetings From this I had the idea to talk about this in a fun way to our industry, so I will be on the CIC stage at IMEX13 with a great session on My Meeting Smells Better than Your Meeting  - one of many fabulous educational opportunities being offered this year.

Thank you for reading, I appreciate it, and love your comments and shared ideas too.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Letter I

A few months ago, after attending PCMA I was inspired by letters, and the possibilities and power of the words we use when we communicate.  Today I came across some notes I made at the time, and so this is about the "I". 

I, the INDIVIDUAL Invited or encouraged to attend a meeting or event, always keen to find INSPIRATION there - through the knowledge shared in formal presentations as well as the IMPORTANT INFORMAL and often serendipitous meetings that can truly only occur within certain times and spaces.

I, the INTROVERT who must thoughtfully put myself out there to smile and share and meet people, knowing this is where growth comes from.  The introvert, so profoundly being celebrated and dissected with recent books such as Quiet,  who benefit from programming that is not jam-packed but rather gives space and time between sessions or within sessions for thoughtful reflection, the INCUBATION that Increases the relevance of the content presented as it is INDIVIDUALIZED,  dots connected.
Waiting for it to come to life!

INTEGRATION, of environment to audience to content to events - a program planned with INTENTION to meeting stated objectives.  IDEAS shared in multiple formats - from stage platforms, on trade show floors, at coffee breaks and in breakouts... the IDEAS that lead to INVENTIVE solutions, product and service INNOVATIONS and where creativity is embraced and not  limited by convention.  

IGNITE - the most anticipated and tweeted about explosion of content shared with emotion at #ASAE13 - let the sparks fly and create an energy at your next event.  Experiment with new formats or content shifts, embrace what is successful, and still leave room for listening to what will speak to your participants and INCREASE their desire to return.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Beyond Status Quo Part 2

One of the key reasons people blog is because we want to share dialogue, and often it seems a little one way, which is why all bloggers love comments.  

What is even better than a comment though, is when it expands, and in this case, a blog post I wrote is now the topic of this webinar, thanks to the forward thinking people at Invision.  Rod Mickels, the CEO of this engaging organization read this post, and had his marketing team reach out to invite me to share ideas - and the result is here.

The shifts we looked at include
1. Data. The internet is 20 years old, and my how things have changed.

2. Meritocracy. "I want to align my experiences with my individual sense of purpose."  How are you showing your guests your event / organization IS the best choice?

3. Hyper Connectivity. How can we use the reality that our participants are always on line to our advantage?  Why should we be using hybrid meetings?  How is S'Mobility affecting our marketing, planning and execution?

4. Global Content. Content is available all the time, around the world and accessible to everyone and we have a new Generation - Google's Gen C - who are using primarily video content to create and curate their own connections and build their own communities. How can your content stand out when we upload 48 hours of content to YouTube every hour? (not to mention all the other channels available)  How are you creating your own thought leadership and sharing this with your clients, members and future potential of each of these?

How can we create better environments for learning, participating, connecting, and yes, building our own communities with the tools available to us?  There are many ways, each unique to the objectives of your event - let's share those ideas!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

What Your Speaker Can Do for You

I was reminded this week of the reasons why speaker selection is critical, and it made me think about some of my favorites, which I will share in a next post, and then I was also reminded of great tips for your conferences on building content and some of things we could do better.

One of the first posts that twigged this was from Adrian Segar on why we don't find paying for content valuable when we are asking "experts" to be part of our event. Some very valid points in the post and in the comments.

For choosing and then maximizing speaker contributions, thank you Mark J Carter for these tips from your session in The Future Events Experience at AIBTM on WHY you want to partner with your speakers to lead to better content to lead to better experiences. It is about first considering WHO will attend, WHAT do they need from your meeting, WHY you will help them when they attend, and WHERE are they looking for information. Once you deep dive into these questions, you can begin to select speakers that make sense. 

What can your speaker do for you? Here are some suggestions for cross promotion once you have identified WHY you want the speakers to market for your event (beyond the obvious they are speaking there).  This is of course dependent on WHERE you will find your audience - you want to market where they are (google, association website, twitter, email etc.)
* Have speakers do mini videos on what people will gain by attending - post to their site and yours if appropriate
* Write a blog about what they will speak on and link to and from conference site
* Have speakers share their content on social media, linking to conference when that is appropriate

Sponsors are a critical point for all conferences, and have them be part of your content promotion. They should be a sponsor because there is a market match, so having them share your event information makes sense. Make sure you help by providing the information they need to do so, you will be doing both your events and your sponsors a service. 

What is next? BXBOnline is doing some very cool content applications with BobTV that will offer the industry some ways to share we have not yet been using. As we continue to "want what we want, when we want it" for our career, life, business, this will become a very interesting tool to watch.

Content plus context plus presentation style = successful learning, retention, connect-the-dot-ability - have fun in the process!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Interview with David Merrell on BizBash IdeaFest

With BizBash IdeaFest coming up soon in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to talk with David Merrell, president and creative director at AOO Events about the workshop he will be facilitating which will mentor planners through "Brainstorming Your Way to Better Events."  After talking with David, I felt we had just scratched the surface of this topic, and I encourage anyone who is designing events and experiences who is at IdeaFest to make sure you stop by and join this conversation.  Below you will find some of the questions I asked and David’s responses.

TE: Thank you for taking the time to talk to day. Can you tell me first how you approach brainstorming in your own team?
DM: It is important to have multiple perspectives and we include producers, designers, our VP of Operations and those who want to have their voice heard – ideas and seeds of ideas can come from people you least expect.  I will start with a description of the client, the event and what they want to accomplish.  We make it clear that we are here to share ideas and “no idea is stupid – throw it all at us” and then let it flow, capturing the ideas where we can all see them.

TE: Do you have any tips for drawing ideas out of quieter people? 
DM: We are in an industry and company full of strong “A-Type personalities” and we are brainstorming to share ideas, and if you don’t want your voice to be heard, it won’t be.  We have had people that we stopped inviting to these sessions because they were not contributing, and when we talked about why they were not attending, they returned, and returned to have their ideas heard, and their contributions have been great.

TE: Do you brainstorm with key vendor partners – and when would you choose this approach?  I ask this as we live in our world of events filled with “competitive colleagues” and often challenging RFP processes.
DM: In an RFP I don’t want to completely design out the event so less engagement at this stage is normal.  You don’t want to give ALL your clever ideas and total design away!  It should be taken on a case by case basis.  The exception to this would be if we need really clever ideas around entertainment or technology in particular, as these change so quickly, and sometimes it will be that one clever idea the focuses the client and wins the business. Once we know that we have the business then we want to bring in the best and brightest of our partners and together collaborate to make each event the best it can be using all our resources and ideas.

TE: When is it appropriate to do a brainstorm with clients – vs guiding them from your own experience and brainstorming around their event / How do you guide your clients through the process to collaborative success?
Note: this next part of our interview became a rather passionate discussion as Dave and I completely agree that our industry has set itself up for a backwards approach to successful design.
DM: The biggest challenge with the RFP process is that corporations completely skip this step of including their creative teams. Clients should be hiring for ideas and expertise but in the RFP they ask for one set of ideas with firm budgets attached, but without any collaboration or discussion. For example, when you are hiring an interior designer you select based on their portfolio, experience and fit with your needs and then you decide on a retainer and begin designing. Event designers should also be engaged in this way, rather than in an RFP that is about buying stuff rather than focused on creativity or contribution to the process.  

TE: Let’s talk about the timing of brainstorming.
DM: Clients would be best served to bring us in early and share objectives, and then you can build  a team that offers a variety of perspectives, different lenses to view the ideas through, particularly when we are working alongside agency partners in PR and Marketing.  Here the producers, event designers and vendor partners have the depth and experience to take the great experiential ideas and concepts that clients may be dreaming of, and determine ways to execute these in a meaningful and memorable way.  You will be able to brainstorm ways to accomplish their objectives in ways that would never have been addressed if you are not engaged early enough. 

TE: How did you learn how to brainstorm and do you have a favorite approach?
DM: I got really good at understanding brainstorming when I first became involved with my local chapter of ISES, in various leadership roles up to President of ISES-Los Angeles.  You have to move a strong group of talented individuals through a collective process as a Board, understanding there are egos involved, perspectives to consider, and that you must exercise patience and inclusion.  If you let your own ego get in the way, you will have one dimensional ideas. There is always more power in collaboration and inviting a third set of eyes will allow you to see things you don’t see on your own.

TE: Any final thoughts?
DM: Enroll everyone in the content of an idea and then stand back, the ideas WILL start flowing!

David Merrell will be mentoring planners in the Workshop Series at BizBash IdeaFest Los Angeles on June 19 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. For more information, and to register, please visit

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Smells Like

My Meeting Smells Better than your Meeting. Really? Really!
Jars of (smell) memories at a Night Circus,
produced by Cantrav Services 

At AIBTM next week in Chicago the Future Events Experience will include this session (presented by me!) along with many other snappy bites of information that will be an excellent addition to the time you spend on the show floor, as either an exhibitor or a hosted buyer.

What will I be talking about? The neuroscience of meeting design of course. The more we are learning about learning, and the impact of elements including scent, the food we provide, the use of music and the environment we create, the more we can create positive experiences that people will be talking about. 

Stop by and add your thoughts and ideas. If you don't see me here, I will be around the Vancouver booth (1423) where we will be learning more about apps and sharing information on why meeting in our gorgeous destination will benefit your organization.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Power of the Collective

Collective Lego
Flashmob. Lego Master Builder Creations. Group Yoga. Conferences. 

Nobody makes me smarter than my children. Last week we joined other families at Oakridge Mall in Vancouver where Lego was building an 8' Yoda out of bricks. Each participant had a picture of the small parts they had to do, and an 18" Yoda to show what their collective work would lead to - a very statuesque Yoda.  After Nick had been building for a while, I thought it was perhaps time to go, but he was not ready. I suggested he could still build Lego when we got home, but that was NOT the point. As an experience creator, I should have already known / sensed that this was not about building squares into more squares - it was about how he was contributing to the whole. This took three days of people wanting to participate in a collective win, and they succeeded on every level.

We have seen examples around the world of this - LuluLemon leading 300 people in yoga at Jack Poole Plaza in Vancouver, Chicago parks hosting a day of exercise, where each hour the activity changed and hundreds participated in each, and marvelous examples such as Diner en Blanc, where it is about being together in a collective experience that is the point. Please do share your favorite examples as well!   

How should this impact our thinking when it comes to events? I believe sometimes we get so wrapped up in the details - number of servers, access to exits, are there enough restrooms, what shade of red is the linen - that we forget the reason we are doing all of this - to create clean, safe environments for people to COLLECT, CONNECT and enjoy SHARED experiences.  If you have ever seen a video game developer conference - hundreds of people in darkened spaces seemingly working alone, heads down, focused on the task at hand - you might think this makes no sense. Until you see them all get up, stretch, head outside to the saunas, peeling off clothes as they go, rolling in the snow, and having beers together and talking about their awesome creations of the day does it begin to make sense as to why they want to be alone together to create.

Flashmobs are another great example of bringing people together in an unexpected way. If you asked most people if they would get up and dance in the middle of the day, in full daylight, in public, they would say "unlikely". But if you get these same people involved in creating the human bonding experience that is a flashmob, where a shared rhythm is found and a connection to the people and place, so in the present is made, they are up for it - and to see these is always a little bit magical.  (we LOVE planning these)

The power of being together, of collecting for idea sharing, for conversation, for the human touch that can only be found live, this is the power of the collective. As meeting professionals we can never forget why we do this, and how much joy we can share.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Grandma Says

Grandma still plays badminton
This month our son had to interview his grandmother and ask her four questions about life. Her answers are so simple, and so smart, I told her I was going to share them here.

The first was to describe a very special event in her life. This was easy, "The day I was married to your grandfather." - in 1957. Norm has since passed on, but as their daughter in law, I can tell you how lucky they were, and their children are, to have had such an example of love through laughter, adversity, joy and challenge and how it really is the glue that can hold you together through it all.

A life lesson she would share. "Be yourself, love your family, be honest, and don't be afraid of working."

Advice for her grandchildren. "Choose a good partner, take care of your health, continue school as far as possible, find something you are interested in doing."

Hope for her grandchildren. "A good long life. Work hard for everything you want or need."

Thanks Grandma, that is great advice!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

How Would You Sign Your Day

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at and participating in the Incentive Research Foundation meeting, and met many wonderful people who are supporting the important work of the foundation, and I will share more of these experiences from an Event perspective later.  This post however is about Impact Points, and is about a serendipitous meeting over breakfast with the lovely Michele Sarkisian, who shared two stories with me, that with her permission I am sharing here. There are two parts to this story, the first being the work that she has been doing in Atlanta to help educate people about human trafficking, particularly related to children, taking place around the world, and in the cities and suburbs of, well everywhere. 

This is an issue it is easy to ignore, as it is hidden from most of us, but one that those of us in the hospitality industry can make a positive impact on, by noticing and reporting things that are out of the ordinary, such as a youth arriving at a hotel with no baggage, alone or accompanied. For Michele, one of the people who has inspired her around this work is Marilyn Carlson Nelson, a force in the industry who early recognized the contribution the industry could make.  She is not alone as you will read in the link above and also in this article by Keith Johnston who shared the work that Kimberly Ritter and Nix Conference and Event Management of St. Louis are doing to raise awareness - also worth a read. 

There are many successes and industry innovations this woman and this family have brought to our industry, but this is a story of a great loss and the thoughtful approach to life that came from this that Michele shared with me the next time we met.  While it is documented that the Nelsons lost one of their  daughters just shortly after she graduated from high school as valedictorian in a tragic auto accident, the impact of this is so personal that even having lost a sibling, I cannot imagine their pain.  The next part that Michele shared was as something that inspired her and which I asked if I could share.  Although it is neither her story to tell or mine, it moved me to consider the power this could have on our lives, and I believe Marylin Carlson Nelson will understand the spirit in which we are sharing it, because it is moving, inspiring, and something we can all aspire to. As one of our most recognized women leaders, her belief in sharing knowledge that inspires positive change is world renowned and has had a global reach.  

The story continues that shortly after this tragedy, they went back and read their daughter's valedictory speech, full of youthful optimism, hope for the future and a pledge to live every day to the fullest. From this her and her husband came up with a strategy to view their life as if it was a masterpiece, and do what they could to live up to this, which I share here.  At the end of every day, they would ask, "would you put your signature on this day?"  If you imagined your life as a great masterpiece, and today was a painting, would you put your signature on it?  Did you do your best with every interaction?  Did you put in your best effort at work?  In your relationship?  With that program at work or the challenge you faced that day? 

We should finish each day with a sense of pride in what we have accomplished, whether it is producing a spectacular event, fairly negotiating a contract, truly taking the time to play with a child, cooking and appreciating a meal with your family or friends, planting a garden space, or finishing your own masterpiece.  Whatever it is you do in a day, take pride in how you do it, endeavor to succeed in the challenges. savor the victories, and  add your signature.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

June full of idea sharing

The kind of food I hope to find
at meetings (Vancouver Convention
Centre, March 2013)
It has already been an incredible year of traveling, sharing knowledge and learning, with PCMA and The Special Event in January, the Green Meetings Industry Council in April and in just a few days I will join the Incentive Research Foundation for their annual meeting.

June is usually a time of birthday celebrations for my family and getting ready for exciting summer programs. While these remain true, this year there is back to back education that will be fantastic for meeting professionals, and I thought it might be fun to mention just a few which are all within ten days, making it impossible to attend all, but fun to think about!  

June 5 - 7, SPINCon, Atlantic City
For Senior Planners (10+ years) SPINCon is continuing to offer leading edge speakers in what will be a thoughtfully experimental environment with a focus on connecting planners to talk to each other and this looks great.  Two years ago I was able to go to this conference and can feel good about recommending it.

June 8 - 10, CMP Conclave, Spokane Washington
I have just renewed my CMP for the second time, and have been working on writing some elements for the next (9th edition) of the CIC manual so I was very excited about this being so close to home. I thought this might be the year to attend a conclave, but you really can't be in two places at once, so I won't make it, but especially after having met Wendy @frameworkmtgs at PCMA this January, I know that Spokane is going to rock this one - making it full of both great conversation and wine - enhanced social networking.

June 11 - 13th, AIBTM, Chicago (exhibiting)
This one is a must attend as I both love this show, and have the opportunity to support our Vancouver partners in activating the booth. In addition to the great people, the touchscreen experience of Vancouver, to learn about apps to support your planning with app gurus Dahlia El Gazzar who has been leading Wine and Apps sessions for local Chicago planners and Keith Johnston @plannerwire who is always talking tech, enjoy some BC wine, learn about audience engagement strategies with Katie of MYB and more!  That is just in our booth - check out the program for the many educational and connection opportunities that will be filling up these three days from the partnerships they have with ACTE, PCMA, ICCA, MPI, IAEE and SITE to their own Future Events Experience happening n the show floor.  I look forward to seeing many of you there!

June 13 - 15, Collaborate Marketplace, Denver (speaking)
I am thrilled to have been considered to speak at this event and to be able to join in and participate in sessions with what is an awesome lineup of speakers at this event designed for corporate meeting planners. If you haven't already checked this one out, I recommend you do - the feedback from previous years is awesome!

I look forward to new ideas and new connections, and to hearing about what others are sharing and learning along the way.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Perfect Meal

Sunchoke foam with crispy bacon
A perfect meal is a combination of great company, environment, food and wine. Last night dinner with our fabulous friends Peter and Rosanna at the Pear Tree Restaurant in Burnaby delivered a perfect meal, rare and appreciated.

This was a five course tasting menu, and three of us had the well chosen wine pairings with the menu. The fourth person was our driver for the evening, and when we asked  for a suggestion for the one glass he could have, the server let us know they offered half glasses so he could pair one half glass of the whites from our pairings with the first two courses, and do the same for the red with the next two courses and skip the dessert wine. What a refreshing change from the super-size offerings and upselling we see at most restaurants - this restaurant has been smart enough to respond to the strict drinking and driving laws found here (and in other global destinations) by providing a solution that allows enjoyment without guilt or danger. The service across the board was attentive but not intrusive, warm but not overt, which when you are changing glasses and cutlery with every course is a feat in itself.  The food was without reproach, each bite of every course offering pleasure, and the wines truly well matched.  I also appreciated their use of seasonal and local offerings, and the way the Chef had thoughtfully garnished every dish. This restaurant is tucked away on Hastings Street in Burnaby, certainly worth the short drive and highly recommended.

This truly amazing meal had me thinking about the other fantastic places I have had the opportunity to eat, and here is my short list, in no particular order of best bites in great environments where excellent service is also the norm.  

  1. The Irish Table, Cannon Beach Oregon. Tucked away behind the also excellent Sleepy Monk Coffee shop, a small well crafted menu in a very cute location.
  2. Lula Cafe, Chicago. When Susan Cope asked the Chef she works with in Arizona to recommend a restaurant in Chicago he texted back with our reservation! They grow their own greens and herbs in the basement and on an empty lot next door - delicious and incredibly flexible, even when we picked our own favorite components from the dessert menu, they just whipped us up amazing plates.
  3. Bluewater Cafe, Vancouver and CinCin, Vancouver. Always delicious.
  4. Araxi Restaurant, Whistler. Forget they were a prize on Hell's Kitchen - another restaurant where it always is fantastic. Love the truffle oil popcorn at the bar too.
  5. Province, Chicago. Enjoyed with a small group during GMIC, the LEED Gold restaurant also delivered on flavour with excellent, local products.
  6. Rick Moonen's RM Seafood at the Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas. Excellent meal enjoyed with amazing people from the IMEX show floor - truly a great experience.
  7. Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill, Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas. Any restaurant that can make brussels sprouts taste this good, and the beef stew, and being in Vegas with my two sisters-in-law and 21 year old niece... all good.
  8. Glowbal, Vancouver. I can still taste the halibut and Italian Couscous.
  9. Boneta, Vancouver. Everything about this restaurant is great. Funky location in Gastown, Neil the sommelier is perfection at pairing and has a great energy, and the food - fantastic. The company, also excellent.
  10. Pure Lotus, Beijing. Savvy monks run this restaurant where every bite - short rib or shark fin - is created from vegetables and tastes like something else. Food magic.
This is just my list - I would love to hear from you as well about places you have loved.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Food - Fresh IS Best

For some, food is plentiful, for others shockingly scarce.  For some food is fuel, for others gluttony, for most, it is a way to share – share the food, the growing or sourcing, the preparation, the conversations around it.  Eating in, eating out, in our cars (the worst) and in groups (the best), the money and time spent around food is enormous.  The energy spent on growing and processing; transporting and marketing; choosing and cooking is immense, and yet in all of this we have lost, certainly in North America, the soul of food.

When I was a child, I lived in the Queen Charlotte Islands (now Haida Gwaii) and my dad was a commercial fisherman.  What I have recently realized is that my entire life has been about eating what we could fish, forage, hunt, bake or grow as this is how it all began.  When we moved to larger centres, we always had gardens, and we often had game, farm raised chickens and the like. We rarely ate food from cans, unless we had canned it ourselves.  When I moved out on my own, the majority of my shopping was and is still down around the outside of the grocery store and at local bakeries, fishmongers and markets, and it has always made sense to me.  When I had children I planted berries and a small garden – enough for them to know that food comes from the ground and not a bag, box or can.  It is not to say we never eat fast food, or dried pasta, or things that are “easy”, but it is certainly the norm for them to grab a fruit over a processed snack item. 

While I appreciate the sentiment of the 100 mile diet, which was done locally in Mission, I would miss all the world offers.  If we didn’t have a global food market, we would miss out on so much from flavours and spices to styles of preparation and sauces, and from ingredients.  Rice and olive oil, saffron and shrimp, coconuts and mangoes, carrots and quinoa – all began in one region of the world and now are ubiquitous in many, and that is part of the magic of food.  When we plan menus for meetings and events, I believe seeking a balance of local and global, regional and seasonal, delicious and inspiring, it is all important.

There is nothing better to me than this “foodie” movement – I say bring it on and open up the palates and let's get exploring! 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Karma of KPI

I have just returned from participating in the 2013 Green Meetings Industry Council Sustainable Meetings Conference in Chicago; a meeting of like-minded cross-sector industry partners who all believe that we can do meetings in a more sustainable fashion.  Following this, the inimitable Paul Salinger wrote this blog post on his perspective and how Oracle  approaches sustainable responsibility. Shared on PYM - Plan Your Meetings, linked here

I agree with Paul that it is possible to save money and make choices that positively impact the bottom line and the guest experience. For many of the clients - both agency and end client - there are published sustainability practices and philosophies on their websites and I have always believed that when planning meetings, special events and incentive programs it is incumbent upon us to be responsible and respectful of these when planning. When we are able to share gorgeous natural spaces with guests in unique destinations, it is always special. If these spaces become full of litter, inaccessible due to natural disaster or man-made issues due to lack of care for the land and water, and can no longer be enjoyed that would be (and in some cases is) a shame.  

When we strategically plan for our organizations we are always looking for KPI - Key Performance Indicators and evaluating against these for success.  When it comes to sustainable meetings, what if our KPI was our Karma Protection / Karma Performance Indicator? This would mean building in enough "good" - through choosing destinations that can  support and benefit from us meeting there, responsible (fresh, local, delicious, seasonal) food and beverage choices, using and not abusing water including no bottled water, selecting gifts that support local artisans and manufacturing, in venues that are managing their waste streams and including a CSR or give-back activity that supports those in need wherever we are, we can definitely increase the karma factor, the leave-behind that keeps on giving and is returned to us later. 

I believe that one meeting at a time we can change the world - do you agree?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Maroon 5 - Conducting

Do you remember your first concert?  (Mine was Trooper) Last weekend I had the pleasure of taking my daughter and two friends to see Owl City, Neon Trees and Maroon 5. There is nothing more infectious than the energy of 3 x 12 year old girls getting ready to go to a concert, but at the same time being as cool as you can only be at certain specific points in your life.

As an event producer, I cannot attend a show without looking at the technical details. (and many of you are the same) Kudos to the Maroon 5 team, who used technology in so many incredibly smart ways to tell the story, some of my favorites I will share with you here.
Owl City

Neon Trees
First, I always love seeing the difference in the look for the opening act(s) to the headliner, and this show did not disappoint. Backing the stage for the opening acts a large white backdrop, lacking enough finesse I knew it would not stay. This was used well for projections that added depth to Owl City and Neon Trees - both excellent bands and a perfect fit for the Maroon 5 audience.

As Maroon 5 was starting, I could see two sections behind the "kill zone" (essentially behind the stage) full of people, and knew for sure the white drape was outta there. Sure enough, in the build-up to Maroon 5 taking the stage, this was literally lifted in a "whoosh" revealing the white off shoot stages you see above to be part of a larger "M" backed by projections screens that were used smartly and to great effect throughout the show. One of my favorite uses was the strips that brought in the colors that tied to the overall theming (and merchandising), but had Adam Levine sharp in black and white.

Every song brought an entirely new look, and used every part of the stage, set and screens to bring every song to its own life. We have the technology, it is rare still to see it used so completely and effectively, and I thank those who masterminded this. The bridge that arced down from overhead for just the encore, delivering Adam to the crowd waiting in the middle of the arena for the whole show for him to be just this close, was an awesome addition and added the right sense of highlight to the finale.

We also appreciated the depth and breadth of the music, and their obvious joy in doing live shows.  With no bad language, lots of gratitude to the audience for the ongoing support and a really good show, it was a choice I could feel good about sharing with three young ladies! For all of us, it is good to remember how lucky you are, with how hard you have worked, to be able to do what you love (and they said it out loud).

Yes, they bought the t-shirts. This was their criteria for choice - "this one, it isn't just cool on its own, you have to make it cool." And yes, they wore them home and slept in them!