Meeting Professionals International did a lot right at the MeetDifferent conference in Atlanta this week. First of all, the organizers completely transformed the opening general session just five weeks out. That’s unheard of in the meetings industry, particularly for an association conference, which traditionally are not known for being nimble.
So how did MPI turn on a dime? Faced with the most challenging threat this industry has seen, the “AIG Effect” (one of the new buzz phrases I learned at MPI), in which corporations—even those not receiving Troubled Asset Relief Program funds—are canceling huge meetings and recognition programs, the general session delivered on a number of levels. It was a lively, interactive program that featured audience input and text messaging from all over the world, a funny economist (an oxymoron if I ever heard one), three panels, and a skilled moderator—Terry Savage, CNN commentator—who lent professionalism and entertainment value to the education and solutions being offered and pulled it all together seamlessly.
The next thing Bruce MacMillan, CEO of MPI; Larry Luteran, chairman, MPI; and the association did right was to showcase Christine Duffy, president and CEO of Maritz Travel (and a former MPI chairwoman), who Savage suggested should be trotted out to every cable news program to explain the business reasons behind meetings. Duffy also got the biggest applause of the day when she suggested President Obama might be smart to compare his $150 million inauguration, where he spoke to the masses to gather support for his agenda, to a corporate meeting where a CEO would communicate with his or her stakeholders. Together with Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, hands down the go-to voice for tourism and meetings on a national level, a more passionate and articulate pair of spokespersons could not have been found.
Finally, MPI added a breakout session to the program dedicated to explaining the industry’s response to new meeting guidelines for TARP-funded companies. That response, a new set of self-regulatory guidelines, was laid out by Duffy and Jonathan Howe, MPI general counsel, who explained the complicated legislative process in a completely understandable way. The room was packed.
With all of the tweets and twitters, Facebook, and texting enhancements to the meeting, I was glad that so many of the live presentations and sessions gave us a chance to communicate in a way we could never do online. The meeting turned into one big talk therapy session. So props to MPI and its education and meeting staffs, for being what an association should be about: serving its members.
Now it’s time for each and every one of us to defend our industry, to speak as that one voice that Duffy and Dow so passionately advocate. Here’s how to write to your senator or representative. Be sure to tell them about the trickle-down effect when meetings are canceled in your communities.