Saturday, July 18, 2015

Teen Lessons at the Barcelona Summer Cup

Day 16 – 24
Best Hotel Negresco, Salou
Wellness rating – variable depending on the day.  Three buffet meals a day, a small and incredibly overheated gym, many motor coach journeys, and perhaps as much wine as water, with days of surf and sand and turf and concrete made each day an adventure in wellness.

Here we go!
Bring on the teenagers!  21 teenagers, 3 younger siblings, and 18 assorted adults make up the group headed for the Barcelona Summer Cup in Salou.  This is Futbol with countries from North America and Europe born between 1999 and 2007 represented, both boys and girls teams, all intent on playing their hearts out in the hot Spanish sun.

What a life experience for those boys and their coaches whose journey began with the planning one year out, but in reality had started for many of these boys who began playing on the same team (or in the same league) when they were just 7 years old.  You can see more about the boys and their coaches in the links.  They have been coached, worked through fitness training, played and practiced, won, tied and lost over many years and hundreds of days.  Their results were a series of losses and if that was your only benchmark you would not be paying attention to the value of a team sport, for a team they were.  In every game each member of the team stepped up with effort and heart, never giving up, never slowing down until the final whistle.  They were there to be part of a team, which meant playing, eating, exploring, sleeping, swimming, beaching and growing together as a team.  The 18 boys on the team are all unique, and all brought their own strengths to bear, and at the end of it all returned home better for the experience.

We did enjoy this time which began by releasing the jet lag with a trip across to Costa Brava for a day of kayaking and snorkelling, discovering their first topless sunbathers, and for the adults getting lost in the sun and sand of this area.  From there it was into days of training for the boys, and exploring the nearby Salou and gorgeous beaches of the area.  The girls tried out the cleaner fish pedicure – five minutes of these babies nibbling at their feet as they squealed and squirmed and took endless photos.  

The days at the pitch were an exercise in staying cool, cheering on teams from around the world and seeing how coaches and teams interact, and no matter what the language was it was often the same message – play your best and while there is joy in victory, what matters is being there for your team.  

Our final days were filled with adventure and excitement, one of these back on motor coaches as we enjoyed a day in Barcelona including Camp Nou, a true soccer fans experience that should not be missed.  The tournament organizers knew that if in Salou, you have to experience the Port Aventure Theme park, and the majority of the teams took advantage of these tickets and enjoyed the wonders of roller coasters while some of us instead enjoyed the Mediterranean.  This evening everyone headed in to see Amaluna, and this Cirque de Soleil spectacle had the boys heads exploding with wonder at the super-athleticism of these wondrous performers.  To see them experience this was a highlight for sure.

It was bittersweet to send many of the boys home and see the other families off at the end of this part of our adventure knowing it was the end of an era in their soccer lives as this team will disband and join others next year.  Thank you Coach Sherri and Palmer for making this dream a reality, and thank you to the boys who showed respect, teamwork and joy in this epic journey.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Exploring Barcelona and Serendipity

Day 14 - 16
(almost) Alone in Barcelona!

The Fresh conference is about to end, and I am asked, what will I do in the three days before our 41 – member strong soccer team and supporters arrives in Spain.  I answer I will use the time to explore Barcelona on my own.  So begins this conversation many of us will have had in the events industry over the years, as we occasionally try to add time in destinations of interest to us.

“Do you like doing that, spending time on your own in a city?’
“Not as much as I prefer spending time with others exploring, but in this case that was not an option.”

Sp what to do?  The elephant in the room, the idea of exploring a foreign city alone, looms in front of me at the same time daunting and exciting for its possibilities.  The next morning arrives, and breakfast is a little late for many as we had explored the Saint Joan festival until rather late the evening before.  I join a table with a few other participants I have met and we talk about the plans, and most are going home.  Fortunately for me, one other woman had the same intention as me, to explore the city for two days, and we decide to join forces.  Now being experienced planners and travellers we know this could go one of two ways – brilliantly or oh dear, who is this person?  So we agree that should we enjoy the same discoveries we shall stay together and if we choose to separate and explore on our own this too shall be fine.  I am happy to report that not only did I end up with a very organized tour guide and incredible map reader, I have a new friend, with a shared love of architecture, nature and good food at the root of this, and I not only greatly enjoyed Barcelona, I found a certain peace I had not expected for while we walked 28,000 steps inane day, we did it all at a leisurely pace and did not rush from place to place.  

So again, the power of serendipity intervened.

Wellness rating – 5/5 

Friday, July 10, 2015

10 things I learned at Fresh 2015

Days 9 - 11 - GMIC ends at 2pm, and I take two flights for 8 hours to be home for 10 hours before getting on two more planes to fly from Vancouver to Barcelona. wth? 

Days 11 - 13, Fresh
Hesperia Towers, Barcelona

Wellness Rating: 4.6 / 10 The breakfasts were in the hotel restaurant so lots of great choices each day, plus a good time to catch up with friends and other attendees in a more quiet space to start the day.  Lunches offered an interesting selection and were served outside with warm sunshine and fresh air, and guided meditation (sponsored by IMEX) was offered each day.  The challenge came from "Dinner" being receptions which is harder to navigate and find healthy choices. 

I decided very last minute to attend the Fresh Conference after being a virtual participant for a few years. It had been on my radar since the original Meeting Architecture Manifesto written by Maarten Vanneste.  After a conversation with experience master Greg Bogue at the IRF Invitational at the end of May in Miami I felt inspired to attend so, it was off for "Art and Inspiration". 

The Hesperia Towers added edible Miro to an afternoon break
Things I learned from Fresh were far reaching and I share here.
This is a sketch of Fresh as a Cocktail - the "Fresh beertini" (action obviously being Periscoped!)

  • Art can be inspiring. Art can also be distracting. I enjoyed the session attended with the lovely "PCMA 20 under 20" from Bulgaria, Magdalina as we were able to try different drawing techniques including cartoon, pencil sketch and even together on one picture using a straw to blow ink to create images related to the conference (picture above).  There were several other installations and performances that were very cool but would have been much more interesting had we as the audience been drawn into the why behind the performance.  What we love of course about Fresh is that it is approached as an experiment each time bringing new ideas and testing them, and when you have a room full of designers, well we just love the why. My takeaway is as meeting designers we need to challenge ourselves to include our participants more fully and trust they are there for the most complete experience possible, and be open to giving it.  There are times to learn together.
  • Music can move an audience.  Joshua Samson did this in more than one appearance through the event and at the end of it all won the Fresh award for Best ART in Meetings as voted by the participants. When you tell the participants what it means, and why it matters, they become more engaged and the emotional buy-in required for a perspective to shift can begin. It is also worth checking out the other award winners as well in this link - some really great people and ideas overall.
  • Meditation can add to the meeting experience.  When you find you need to re-focus having a space to go for some quiet reflection is rather fabulous.  Thank you IMEX for sponsoring both the awards and the meditation room - you are indeed a small, friendly, forward-thinking company and a personal highlight for me was time spent with Miguel and Achilleas who are both very thoughtful and insightful about our industry.
  • Learning comes in many forms.  Good learning makes you think - it is actionable, it might be disruptive, is where you find nuggets of information you can apply to your own events or workspace and it gives you a-ha moments.  This can come from the environment, from the presenters, from the discussions you have in sessions or outside of the sessions, and ultimately learning comes from conversation, context and connect-the-dot moments. It is incumbent upon a meeting designer to understand the objectives and balance the presentation time and format with the overall flow, time in and between sessions and stellar content to create a balance that leaves the participants feeling as if they are taking away something of value to them in resolving their challenges. 
  • Sometimes you can have fun with your panels - in this case below I had the participants play Freeze Tag - an improv tool which forced the panelists to pay attention to each other as at any time they could be forced to step in and continue answering the question posed when I "froze" the current speaker.
  • Rehearsals matter. As we develop content we tend to base our decisions on a title, paragraph and outcomes, and rarely do we see a whole presentation, let alone provide suggestions for improving it BEFORE it goes live at your once-in-a-lifetime event. Consider building in the time and overall resources (session room, AV techs, presenters) to ensure you have a full set of rehearsals before launch. A great session on how to run rehearsals started one morning and there are lessons here.
  • Mixing it up is OKOne of the better designed segments was the Learning Carousel where various sponsoring organizations had the opportunity to do brief presentations to small groups who moved through the space, and eventually voted on the technology they thought had the most potential to be applicable and impactful. This format worked.  Gerrit Heijkoop did his usual great job of hosting this and not only keeping it on track but ensuring people took the time to provide their input towards the awards (see link above).
  • Forced networking is a good start, but having your own mini-community within the event is much more fun.  The first afternoon saw (the other) Michael Jackson leading the group through meeting a number of people in 6 minute timed sessions which did allow for a great way to begin conversations - including one I had with a robot attendee - and that is the joy of Fresh.  As the conference evolved I found myself connecting with people from my neighborhood and from across the world and having conversations I could not have had without being here - including Meeting Architect Aysun from The Banff Centre and the dynamic Avo whose expertise on learning and development within meeting environments is second to none, and experience designer Greg Bogue, my original inspiration to attend.  That is the power of meetings.
  • There is such a thing as too much technology.  Full stop.  (yes I am the meeting planner for an event tech company and believe deeply the tech needs to enhance the human experience and meet the objectives first).  Like balancing flow and format, balancing the amount and types of event technology in any event is critical.  We don't mind downloading an app, in fact we often appreciate having the information at hand, on our devices but we don't want heaps of emails and many different technologies plus a Twitter feed, all reliant on a data plan or great wifi, to explore in 48 hours. While I have to give props for the sheer enthusiasm in showcasing so many, it became a bit overwhelming in a space full of great people to talk to live.
  • Serendipity cannot be overrated. What will continue to draw us to meetings is the combination of potential knowledge and connecting with people and growing from time spent. I am so grateful I was able to have the conversations and often surprising experiences I had in Barcelona - from an idea hackathon on a boat organized by Olga of ITB DMC to find improved ways of designing pharma meetings to dancing with my new Dutch friends at Ocean during our exploration of the Saint Joan festival on the beach to exploring Barcelona with the very fabulous (and joyfully calm) Sanna for two days... you never know what may happen once serendipity steps in.
We're on a boat!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Singing about the Power to Change-GMIC

Day 7 - 9, GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference
Westin Peachtree and 200 Peachtree Center, Atlanta
Wellness rating: 3.6/5 Based on no protein and limited allergy/gf sensitivity items available at breakfast, limited options for exercise/walking, limited access to natural light during the sessions. Excellent fitness center in the Westin was well used by participants. I am adding a wellness rating to these meetings because when you are spending 34 days on the road, every day counts.

A Study in Sustainability was how we chose to approach the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference and again, I am so pleased QuickMobile has returned as their mobile app partner and were able to make a positive difference to their initiatives. It is one of the most satisfying parts of my work, to see mobile in action!  It is also one of the reasons we developed the Mobile App Certificate, part of the CIC Preferred Partner Program - 10 hours of how to design mobile into your meetings - and why it matters now that everyone shows up with mobile device in hand!

There were so many things to learn and discover, including a fantastic session on meeting dietary needs of participants in this new age of allergies, sensitivities and choices by Tracy Stuckrath who along with Nancy Zavada, a founder of GMIC was recently named one of M&C's top 25 women in the meetings industry.  Two women I am proud to call friends and who have earned this distinction, along with the others included in this list.

If you don't know Kristi Casey Sanders of PYM - well, you are missing out!  As our host for this meeting she kept us informed, kept it real, reminded us of the learnings we were having along the way, and tied together her love for technology and people with fun periscope interviews throughout. 

We chose to have a study because we wanted to share ideas, and we were able to share twenty copies of Meet Better, a new book by Nancy, Shawna McKinley and Mariela McIlwraith with those who came by to chat with us.  We know they will enjoy the 167 ways to make their meetings more sustainable.  It should truly be part of the thinking behind every meetings - the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit is a pillar we should all be able to get behind and make adaptations that make sense given each particular situation. 

Keynote presentations reminded us of a variety of things related to the theme of the Power to Change, starting with Laura Turner Seydel and the work the Turner family continues to do do around sustainability in their many businesses and using their power for good in their home base of Atlanta.  Derreck Kayongo of the Global Soap Project was simply delightful as he shared his story of starting with one idea and now delivering with partners soap to 92 countries in need! 

We also had the opportunity to head out to MODA, the Museum of Design Atlanta and explore how a city applies design thinking and sustainable choices into their growth including telling the story in innovative ways such as these word cubes. One of the highlights of this whole trip for me was of course the people I get to have conversations with. We began talking about sustainable meetings in 1995 in Vancouver, and have a LEED Platinum Convention Centre and I now teach a Sustainable Event Operations class at BCIT and believe that this needs to be simply woven into our planning and being surrounded by like-minded people is always awesome. One of my early heroes was and remains Jill Drury of the Drury Design Dynamics because they do incredibly interesting and thoughtful and visually stunning work, and do it all with sustainability as a core value - in their office, with their people who never leave, at each and every event and learning from every conversation with her is always something to look forward to. 

Other groups experienced other behind-the-scenes tours and then we reconvened for a closing lunch and a final keynote.

The key reminders were all brought together in a team focused closing keynote led by Angus Clark as he brought out his guitar and shared the story of the beginnings of Song Division in Australia, their journey and the ongoing work they do to support community through music, and ultimately in having us all work together to solidify our learnings into a song verse in teams at our tables.  With input from the group who had worked on various verses the lines were chosen to make up a song which we then were able to hear put together at the end, and laugh and enjoy an upbeat and memorable closing keynote that worked to drive home the key messages.

I was also able to enjoy dining with fantastic friends who are sharing this journey of sustainable meetings from around the world, and enjoy both White Oaks and South City Kitchen, two of the many restaurants offering farm to table options - and there is nothing better than great food paired with fabulous company!

I can't wait to see what the new GMIC President, Roger Simons brings to the organization as he takes on this important leadership role.  His passion for sustainability, enthusiasm for life and living it, and smart approach to the issues at hand will continue the great work done to date by the people before him, many still actively involved, and all still planning sustainable events.

5 lessons from PCMA Educon

Day 4 - 7, PCMA Educon
Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina
Wellness rating: Wellness rating: 4.6/5. Good variety of food items at all meals and special meal requests on plated lunches met by the facility.  Great natural light in both hotel and convention center open areas and active outdoor open air networking in the evenings.  Limited fitness centre but opportunity to walk between venues. Good balance of time in the program. Points lost on last evening with lack of options for food and beverage, although a stunning location.  I am adding a wellness rating to these meetings because when you are spending 34 days on the road, every day counts.

The road to learning is this way... a short walk between the hotel and the Broward convention center was marked with these making it easy to find (or an air conditioned shuttle was available) and a highlight on the return journey each day was first a lemonade stand, and as we neared the hotel, a cool towel with a laundry basket 50 steps later! It is these small details that make PCMA stand out, and make Educon a particular favorite for many meeting professionals to attend.  While my first Educon, it was one which had been recommended as a "must attend" for a number of years and I am happy I was able to experience PCMA learning in action.

So what does PCMA do that makes this meeting stand out?
  1. They experiment.  They take risks with the format, and they openly talk about what worked and why, and what didn't work, and why. After it is all over, they adjust and consider what to try next.  The picture above is but one example of some excellent seating options they showcased, in this case combined with what the venue offered. Each environment offered a different feeling which was interesting to see how people responded - generally very positively! 
  2. They think deeply about the flow of the event and made choices that made sense for the participants, fit the venue, and showcased the sponsors on an ongoing basis with the timing and location of meals and breaks. It cannot be overstated how important this balance is, and how delicate. 
  3. They use mobile smartly. I am fortunate to work with their mobile partner QuickMobile and I know the thought and work that goes into the various integrations and use cases that are considered to build it into their overall meeting design and I LOVE WHEN MOBILE IS USED WELL! 
  4. A good host / facilitator, this time Adrian Segar, is crucial to weaving a story through your meeting and this was done well - the right information at the right time. Each meeting will have its own unique needs, and for this one Adrian was the choice that made sense.
  5. Everyone arrives at your meeting with a brain and having John Medina who really explains how our brain works at a meeting and in life - and is completely fun to listen to, was an absolute highlight of the meeting, as a great keynote should be!  This is certainly a meeting I would return to, thank you PCMA! 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Speed Dating and Power Lunches

Over this series of posts I will share with you what I am learning in 34 days, 5 conferences, 12 flights, 9 hotels, 9 hours of time difference, 1 international soccer tournament and over 100 meals eaten out.  So it began... 

Day 1 - 4. Hello Orlando and the Rosen Shingle Creek. A self contained conference property, this space worked really well for Collinson Media's Collaborate bringing together nearly 1,000 meeting professionals for 3 days of events, education and a hosted buyer program done in a six minute speed dating format.  
Wellness rating: 4.2/5 Based on large venue offering lots of walking between spaces but very limited natural light in the convention center area and weather limited outdoor networking when in the hotel.  Universal off-site event was great for lots of walking, excellent food options, and stimulating fun. Food choices overall offered a great variety at breakfast and lunch the dietary requirements were well met by the venue.  This is being added because with 34 days on the road, every choice counts.

Lessons I learned
  1. A super hero theme is extra awesome when you have Bill Rosemann of Marvel Comics come and speak about his affinity for the flawed, introverted humans who become superheroes due to circumstances beyond their control and that each of us has the power and compassion inside of us.  
  2. Presenting a new session I created on How to Unleash Your Inner Creative Superhero was a ton of fun as the overfilled room had an unbeatable energy and it was a blast to see the emblems each person created for themselves before the session was done. From what inspires us to how we become heroes for our clients and how to sell creativity - every minute from the time I started putting this together until after the session was, well, super!
  3. If you are prepared, in six minutes you know if you have a business fit and you can decide to continue the conversation.  This is a hosted buyer format that was great to experience.  I also appreciated that on the second day the Collinson team listened to what people said after the first day and incorporated a break into the second afternoon for everyone to rejuvenate before getting back to business.
  4. Great keynotes inspire participants. Captain Mark Kelly shared not only his powerful story of supporting his wife, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords through her post shooting recovery, but also about the practical lessons he has applied to his life as a fighter pilot and astronaut. Practice and persistence were his key messages and he is right, we don't get better at anything unless we just keep doing it. And we don't do it alone, and a team you can trust is critical to any successful mission.
  5. Chelsea Clinton reminded me that any parent can make time for dinner with their family, as hers did, with a little effort. Having been a planner / producer for twenty years I have missed a lot of meals, so we try to make up for it in other times - it is not always easy but it is important to understand your priorities.
  6. Anderson Cooper is funny, truly enjoying everything about life, and while we all have complicated lives, you can choose to embrace the weird, or you can choose to wallow in the challenges... Nah - bring on the complicated and laugh in the face of impossible! When you are surrounded by really had things happening, show compassion and have empathy for those in circumstances we can't even begin to imagine.
  7. Think like a curator!  Jeff Hurt is one smart man, and my more serendipitous moment was finding Jeff first on my late arrival and enjoying home made guacamole and chips, and maybe a margarita or two over a fascinating conversation. It is these moments when you leave your room that make events meaningful.
  8. Michelle Bergstein Fontanez rocks.  If you don't know Michelle and the work she does, check it out.  I really appreciated Michelle taking time out of her schedule to come and spend time with me analyzing the industry, marketing for events and event businesses and so much more.
  9. Perspective is everything.  In 6 minute and 40 seconds per speaker our Pecha Kucha style session covered wellness (me), sustainability (stylish and smart Trevor Lui), digital integrations in meetings (Matt Love from Collinson), the irony of failing to succeed (the inimitable Courtney Stanley), contract law (ubersmart Lisa Sommer Devlin), favorite apps of planners (delightful Jim Spellos) and Meetings Mean Business (verbose Roger Rickard) and this was fabulous.  The style pushes you to be articulate and concise - and for many of us who tend to talk more - it was a great exercise in constraint - and so amazing to hear and see how each person put theirs together - this we want to do again!
I left this event feeling inspired and headed straight on to the next one, with a small change as my flight on a small regional airline no longer existed, so after being re-routed I eventually got to PCMA Educon on the other side of the state, and next up is my learnings from this.