Even the organizers had to admit that the joint Annual Meeting of the Association of Professors of Gynecology and Obstetrics and the Council on Resident Education in Obstetrics and Gynecology, while a great educational experience, became a pretty bare-bones affair after the PhRMA Code dried up funding for anything that could be construed as remotely fun. That’s why, when she heard about Visit Orlando’s first-ever Meeting Makeover promotion held last fall, APGO’s meeting specialist Kelly Toepper decided to submit an essay on why her 2012 attendees deserve to reap the benefits of the $50,000-worth of goods and services the winner would receive.
It was a stiff competition, says Tammi Runzler, senior vice president of convention sales and services with Visit Orlando, but after poring over all the entries, the panel judged APGO’s entry highest in relevance, originality, entertainment value, storytelling, and writing style.
Toepper detailed a day in the life of a typical busy, stressed-out academic physician member, then outlined how a makeover would allow APGO to give back by providing “a way for our members to unwind and be able to enjoy themselves and take a few minutes and relax.” Runzler says APGO’s willingness to trust Visit Orlando to come up with creative ideas to spruce up the event, and its sense of excitement and adventure, helped Toepper’s entry reach the top. “They were willing to take risks to improve their meeting,” says Runzler.
Donna Wachter, APGO’s executive director, didn’t even know Toepper had entered the contest until her heartfelt 350-word essay was chosen as the winner, but it didn’t take long for the program chairs at both APGO and CREOG to embrace the idea of injecting a little fun into the meeting. Teams from the organizers and Visit Orlando worked together to determine how best to use the resources to enhance the attendee experience at their meeting in Orlando March.
The result was free Wi-Fi in all the meeting spaces, a relaxation station with massage chairs, live music at the welcoming reception, and a projectionist, which was a first for the meeting. The organizers particularly appreciated the staffing help they had from Visit Orlando, since they had only six staff on site at the 1,500-person conference and two of them were in board meetings the whole time, says Wachter.
“It was electric, just beautiful, some of the things we were able to do,” she adds. The only downside is that, even though they explained that all the goodies were a one-time thing, now that attendees have gotten a taste of free Wi-Fi, they aren’t willing to do without it next year, even if it means a rise in registration fees. But that’s a small price to pay, says Wachter. “I wish every city would do a contest like this.”
While that isn’t likely to happen, Runzler says the response and results of the first Meeting Makeover promotion was so positive that Visit Orlando is already working on how to build on it for Meeting Makeover Part 2.
"I’ve been in the industry for 25 years, and I’ve never heard so much buzz about the evolution of meetings to be more engaging,” says Runzler. “While the meeting makeover was about creating a different feel and atmosphere, the bottom line is that it was all geared toward enhancing the experience for the attendee, making the meeting memorable and exciting to them, making them feel more connected to the meeting so they would get more out of it.”
More Meeting Makeover Ideas:
Shaking Up the Meeting Format at the 2012 CME Congress