Meeting Professionals International's recent Professional Education Conference, held in New Orleans in January, taught attendees in an unfortunate way that celebrities may not be the best choice as speakers. On paper, the conference's keynoter, Lynne Russell, CNN anchorwoman, looked like the perfect person to speak to the conference's themes of personal and professional empowerment — she's a licensed private investigator, a mom, an author, a certified open-water scuba diver, and a holder of two black belts in Choi Kwong Do. But it turned out she's better at reading lines than at writing her own. Russell undercut her message of professional self-empowerment with long asides about Victoria's Secret. She disappointed and even offended so many people that the organization felt obliged to write an apology.

On the final day of the conference, however, Australian speaker Amanda Gore undid some of the damage, presenting a funny and poignant message to a packed audience. Picking up on the themes of professional and personal growth, she talked about making a positive difference in the world. All of us, she said, need three things: a sense of purpose in life, a sense of gratitude, and to feel that we belong. Without these, we're prey to loneliness and isolation which can affect our relationships and health.

Besides Gore, other speakers who created a positive buzz included — but certainly weren't limited to — Keith Harrell, with his workshop called “Attitude Is Everything,” and Joline Godfrey's “Getting It Together: Women Making Money, Having Fun, Doing Good.”

In other news:

  • For the first MPI Women's Leadership Initiative project, the MPI Foundation and Wyndham International will each put up $150,000 to fund research to determine key issues and avenues for success for women. Professional women represent 75 percent of MPI's membership.

  • When it completes its $1.1 billion expansion in March 2002, Mohegan Sun, Uncasville, Conn., will provide — free of charge — the Meeting Quality Evaluation benchmarking tool to all meeting professionals conducting events for 50 to 800 attendees. The software, developed by the MPI Foundation, features “Meeting-Level,” a new set of national norms against which meeting professionals can benchmark typical meetings of the same category.