Bruce MacMillan, CA, president and CEO of Meeting Professionals International, welcomed a record-breaking audience of more than 4,300 attendees to MPI’s World Education Congress at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas during Sunday’s opening general session.

Focusing on the changes MPI and the meetings industry have undergone in the past year, MacMillan told attendees, “There has never been a better time to dream your vision and set your own course for the future.” Despite a tumultuous economic outlook, MacMillan told attendees, “I see nothing but opportunity.” He cited recent research from George P. Johnson’s EventView 2008 North America study, which found that events and meetings deliver a higher return on investment than any other marketing spend.

Immediate past chairwoman of the board, Angie Pfeifer, CMM, assistant vice president of corporate meetings travel and incentives for Investors Group Financial Services Inc., Winnipeg, Manitoba, recapped the association’s growth under her leadership, with MPI currently boasting 24,000 global members and 1,500 student members.

Next up was Las Vegas comedy magician Nathan Burton, who made incoming chairman of the board, Larry Luteran, vice president, group sales and industry relations, Hilton Hotels Corp., mysteriously appear onstage. Luteran briefed attendees on the changes they can expect to see under his leadership:

  • A new MPI awards program. The MPI RISE (Recognizing Industry Success and Excellence) Awards will be launched in phases, with the first award to be presented at MPI-WEC 2009 and the rest rolled out at MPI-WEC 2010 in Vancouver. The new program—developed by a volunteer committee of MPI members and staff—will feature a simplified submission process and, for the first time, non-members will be eligible for some of the awards.
  • Two new MPI member groups. The association plans to launch the Future of Meetings Taskforce, which aims to identify goals for meetings of the future, and the Meetings Executive Advisory Council, which will advise MPI leadership on the direction of the association.
  • A Community Knowledge Plan. The project will outline seven milestones for pursuing a career in the meetings industry. Each milestone will be marked with a certification or educational opportunity to encourage career development for members.
  • A revamped Global Certification in Meeting Management program.MPI launched the CMM, an advanced-level designation for meeting professionals, in 1995.

In keeping with this year’s conference theme, “Your Future is Showing,” MPI added a session track called the Future Focus Learning Series, geared toward exploring future industry trends. This year’s agenda also includes open-space Café Conversation sessions and a more open trade show floor plan—two concepts introduced at MPI’s Professional Education Conference in Houston last February.

Keynote speaker for the general session, Dr. Patrick Dixon, futurist and chairman of Global Change Ltd., spoke about the “future of conferencing” and the importance of introducing passion and emotion into meetings and events. He focused on the importance of audience experience in an increasingly virtual world and warned attendees about the perils of “institutional blindness.” Poorly thought-out events are a waste, said Dixon, who urged attendees to create emotional connections at their meetings. "Let's make a difference every day with the time our attendees give us."

Finally, the general session wrapped with a performance by the Drum Café and attendees exited the session by marching out behind the drummers.