For the Professional Convention Management Association, the 2007 annual meeting, held in Toronto January 7 to 10, marked a series of firsts. It was the association's first annual meeting held outside the U.S.; it was the first “zero-waste” international meeting held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre; and it offered members an exclusive first look at an online tool they can use to measure the performance of meetings.

VIPs on WHTI

PCMA attracted approximately 3,100 people to its 51st annual meeting, with about 700 first-time attendees.

If there was a predominant theme to the educational program, it was international meetings and travel. A variety of sessions dealt with international issues, including the closing general session, which featured former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and former U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, who discussed the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and its impact on meetings and conventions. WHTI, which requires all travelers entering (and re-entering) the U.S. to have a passport, went into effect for air travel on January 23.

There were also sessions on the burgeoning China market, meetings in Europe, international contracting, how to increase international attendance, international meeting strategies and international green meeting strategies, global protocol, and the impact of WHTI on international attendance.

Executive Edge returned for another year, this time in conjunction with the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Heather Fraser, director, business design initiatives, walked 180 people through the two-day “Innovation by Design” program, which introduced PCMA members to the business of “design thinking.”

Here's how it worked: One person in each group (there were 18 groups) brought a photo from a recent convention. Each group then discussed the photo, zeroed in on the “story” of the meeting, and, after a series of exercises, the groups designed meetings and/or products that would improve the convention experience for the hypothetical person in the story. Many groups came up with technology-based ideas designed to personalize the convention experience, like “The Valet,” a hand-held convention organizer on which attendees can download schedules, materials, directions, and all the information they need.

Also, the meeting had eight experiential learning sessions, put on by L(earn)2, a Toronto-based educational company. There were sessions at the CN Tower (Thinking at 38,000 Feet), the Hockey Hall of Fame (Site Selection Tournament), Diesel Playhouse (Improv to Improve), and the Bata Shoe Museum (Walk a Mile in My Shoes), to name a few.

Finally, PCMA announced a new strategic partnership structure where sponsors are tapped on an annual basis, as opposed to soliciting sponsors on a one-off or per-event basis. Deborah Sexton, president and chief executive officer at PCMA, described it as a way to sell all of the assets of PCMA for the year, as opposed to getting one sponsor for the lanyards, one for the bags, etc.

Waste Not, Want Not

Sexton said it's incumbent upon PCMA to not only provide education about green meetings, but also show leadership by holding a zero-waste event. There was an information-packed session at the conference called “Go Green, Save Green,” about how to run environmentally conscious events. PCMA will try to incorporate certain green guidelines for its future meetings, Sexton added.

“Green meetings aren't a trend or a fad,” said Bill Allen, president, Tourism Toronto. “They will be a fundamental part of meetings in the future.” There were no garbage cans at the center, only recycling bins for paper products, bottles and cans, and food waste. All waste was composted, recycled, or donated to charity or food banks at a cost of about $35,000 to the center, according to Barry Smith, MTCC president and CEO. Recycling has been a focus at the MTCC with about 63 percent of waste recycled on an annual basis.

Measuring ROE

MeetingMetrics, the tool that debuted at PCMA, is the first online system for measuring the “return on event,” said Sexton. Developed by New York-based GuideStar Research, it allows users to conduct pre- and post-event surveys online to determine the attitudes, perceptions, and knowledge of attendees. “Our CEO survey said that CEOs felt that meeting planners weren't strategic enough. This product hands strategy to planners,” stated Sexton.

The tool features about 1,000 pre-programmed questions for surveys at five different stages of an event including discovery, pre-event, pulse (just before the event to see if attitudes changed since pre-event), post-event, and follow-up (three to six months after the meeting). These surveys, sent via e-mail, can be used to determine which sessions worked, which didn't, how much people learned, and, more broadly, whether the meeting met its strategic objectives. The survey answers can be sliced and diced into reports and charts that show how attendees rate the meeting as a whole, or zero in on any of its many parts — venue, education, individual sessions, networking opportunities, special events, food and beverage, etc.

The results offer “powerful insights” into how a meeting should be designed and provide planners with data that makes them more strategic in the eyes of executives, said GuideStar founder Ira Kerns. It is being offered exclusively to PCMA because the developers believe that the association has a high concentration of senior-level people who will use it and encourage others to do the same.

And through a partnership between GuideStar and the ROI Institute, Birmingham, Ala., it can be used to facilitate the measurement of a meeting's return on investment.

The technology will be offered exclusively to PCMA members through September 2007 for $3,500. For another $1,800, the survey tool can be applied to the ROI Methodology developed by Jack Phillips, founder of the ROI Institute, who was also featured at the meeting in Toronto. (Phillips was part of PCMA's inaugural Master Series program — another first.)

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