What's a MIMlist? Q: What has 800 brains, 25,000 years of meeting management experience, and a big mouth?

A: The hottest place for meeting cyberchat, the Meeting Industry Mall's listserv, better known as the MIMlist.

Numbering more than 800 members from both the meeting planning and supplier sides of the industry, MIMlisters, as they call themselves, chat online about everything from hotel negotiations to welcome gifts.

The invention of Rodman Marymor, CEO and founder of Cardinal Communications, based in Berkeley, Calif., the MIMlist was launched in March 1999. The discussion is strictly noncommercial, with a well-known enforcer. Marymor enlisted Joan Eisenstodt, a Washington, D.C. - based meeting planner, as listmistress. As the self-described "princess of protocol," Eisenstodt is on top of any violation of listserv policy, such as attempts to mine subscribers for e-marketing purposes.

So what do people have to say about meetings? You name it. Eisenstodt remembers one obscure request: Where do you find those cocktail party clips that go on plates to hold your drink? Immediately, four people offered an answer, she says.

To join the chat, register at www.mim.com/mimlist.

The party invitation arrived inside a colorful jack-in-the-box, and it looked like any other clever gift - until you noticed that the party they were holding was for your birthday. And they had somehow found out exactly when your birthday was!

That was just the beginning of the "Very Merry Un-Birthday Celebration" hosted by David J. Richardson, Inc., (www.memorablemeetings.com) a meeting and event planning firm in Charleston, S.C. One of the firm's showcase promotions, the Un-Birthday reflects what founder and president David Richardson calls "a mania for detail."

The party, held in Boston in October, was personalized for each attendee. "We did a great deal of research up front," says Richardson. Glenn Singer, a professional mime, was dressed as the Mad Hatter and stationed at the door, wearing a nametag for each attendee. When a guest plucked off the tag, Singer came out of statue mode and said something personal (such as "In Vino Veritas" to the wine connoisseur). Instead of the usual goodie bags, gifts were unique to participants' hobbies or interests. The evening ended with a staged power outage, then a presentation of cupcakes lit by candles.

"The whole presentation just blew me away," says Jay Wager, marketing manager for the Boston-based strategy-consulting firm L.E.K. Consulting (www.lek.com). "My wife was due to have our first baby at the time, and my gift was a new father's book - I still can't figure out how they discovered that."

JM FAMILY ENTERPRISES (www.jmfamily.com) shapes its culture by taking care of associates (the folks most other companies call employees). "For us, incentives are anything that we do to treat our people well, from in-house fitness centers to trips on the corporate yacht," says John Heins, vice president, human resources, for the $6.6 billion, Deerfield, Fla. - based company, which is the largest privately held diversified automotive corporation in the world. "Caring about your team creates a very positive attitude. They'll pay you back over and over again through job satisfaction, commitment, and productivity."

JM keeps employees happy with relatively simple things like in-house barbershops and takeout meals from the cafeterias, as well as luxurious perks such as trips on the company's 172-foot yacht, Gallant Lady. This summer, for example, JM's six barbershop employees and their guests were flown to Guana Cay, Bahamas, to meet the ship for a day of snorkeling and deep-sea fishing. Is it any surprise, then, that the company has consistently made Fortune's list of the 50 best companies to work for in the United States?

The mall has never been so much fun. Taubman Centers (www.taubman.com), owner and manager of 27 upscale shopping centers across the country (with four more due to open in 2001), has introduced World Class Shopping programs that go beyond the typical retail experience. The programs might include personal shoppers for attendees, exclusive use of dedicated spa salons such as Elizabeth Arden, and private in-store fashion shows. At Los Angeles' Beverly Center, for example, activities for incentive groups include in-store makeovers at Bloomingdale's, California cuisine cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma, and private parties on the Center's rooftop patio with fabulous views of Los Angeles.

Taubman Centers is launching a promotion called World Class Shopping University, "to showcase some of the hidden adventures and incentives offered by our retail centers," says Taubman's director of communications Karen Mac Donald. Eight programs will be offered in 2001, beginning with Cherry Creek Shopping Center in Denver February 8 to 10. For more information, e-mail kmacdonald@taubman.com.

The higher up you are on the corporate ladder, the more likely you are not to listen correctly, suggests Helen Wilkie, Toronto - based author of Message Received and Understood! (MHW Communications, 1999). Here are some of Wilkie's rules for more "lively" listening:

1. Decide to listen - Absorb what the person is saying, rather than just letting them talk.

2. Avoid selective listening - Don't discount the opinions of people you dislike.

3. Give feedback - Let the speaker know you are paying attention, either verbally or nonverbally, and acknowledge feelings as well as words.

4. Ask questions - They clarify meaning and move conversations in new directions.

5. Pay attention to nonverbal cues - Body language and tone of voice reveal a lot.

6. Separate fact from opinion - "You need to know when someone gives you a commercial disguised as a fact," Wilkie says.

7. Control your emotional response - Know your hot buttons so you can react appropriately and move on.

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