It's hard to believe it's been a whole week already since I was hanging out at the America's Center with 2,000-plus meetings and hospitality peeps at the Meeting Professional International's World Education Congress. It's even harder for me to believe that I haven't posted anything about it until now. I think this is the first industry conference I've attended since I started this blog back in 2003 (!!) that I didn't wear my fingers to the bone live blogging on site, or at least catching up on the plane on the way home.
This does not, however, mean that it wasn't a good conference. OK, it wasn't good—it was, in fact, borderline great, even if it was the one of the most hectic experiences I've had at an industry event. I just never had time to sit down and write a post. Maybe it's because I started out behind schedule, with air-travel woes that kept me in New York through the opening reception, which I hear was spectacular, held on the infield at Busch Stadium and capped off with fireworks. And, getting in after midnight also mean I had to miss the 5k fun run around town Sunday morning, which I had been (believe it or not) sort of looking forward to. I mean, I actually trained for it and everything, but it made more sense to get some sleep instead, which I'm glad I did because from sunrise on Sunday through to my too-early departure on Tuesday it was an endurance run of a different sort. Fun and grueling all at once.
I still like Jonah Lehrer's now discredited opening general session talk. OK, his presentation style couldn't have been flatter and less exciting, but every now and then content does trump style, and his content was dead-bang on for the WEC connectivity theme. And interesting. Did he make up some of the stats he threw out? Possibly, and that obviously lessens the worth of his talk. (An aside: Good for M&C's editor Sally Braley for calling him out on his dubious claim that meeting attendance has skyrocketed 30 percent since Skype came along. Jury's still out on the veracity of that one, but, as she says, I wouldn't hold my breath on getting a definitive answer.) I also agree with those who say MPI lost out on a good opportunity to talk about ethics, especially when it comes to checking on speakers (this isn't a new problem with Lehrer).
That said, I thought his overall message was on target, that we need to "make time to waste time" because that's when we have our best insights, but that we also have to have the "grit" to carry through to make our insights happen. I don't know how many others did this, but my luncheon companions and I had to go Angela Duckworth's Web site and take the grit questionnaire to see how we stacked up (I came in at 3.5 on a five-point scale, which I figure is pretty good—gritty enough to stick with implementing good ideas, but not so gritty that I don't know when to bail rather than stick with something that sounded better on paper than in reality).
MPI obviously is listening to its members these days. They kept the popular newish features, such as the FlashPoint sessions—15-minute presentations from professional speakers that, from the few I was able to see, rocked—and puppy cuddling, this time with shelter pups from Stray Rescue of St. Louis instead of pups being trained to be service dogs, and they added a corporate social responsibility event that entailed making treats for and grooming the shelter dogs. They expanded the MarketSquare mini-trade show to two days, and scaled down the number and scaled up the duration of the educational sessions.
I don't know if it was by popular demand or not, but I also give them kudos for introducing a hybrid session on how to do a hybrid event, which while the location was a bit weird (in a huge hall that overwhelmed the session), I thought came off pretty well. I particularly liked the pipe cleaners we were given to create our representations of what a hybrid meeting's connections look like.
Here's mine: OK, so it's not a thing of beauty and a joy forever, but it kept my hands busy and one person at my table liked it! I'm really looking forward to seeing the research report and case studies session leader Sam Smith of Interactive Meeting Technology, LLC, said would be coming out in September. From the preview we got, it's going to be some seriously interesting stuff.
The advocacy panel, which I know came about due to popular demand, also was pretty interesting. I don't know if anyone else was stirred to action; I know I was.
MPI is obviously also listening to its press contingent, because not only did we get one-on-one access to MPI leadership, we got so much assess that they must have been heartily sick of us by the end of the conference! We actually ran out of questions by the end, if you can believe it. And I know they listened to us complain about all the press conferences scheduled during the educational sessions, right guys? Let's not do that again.
Educational sessions, the few I was able to actually attend (see above), were heads-and-shoulders above what I experienced at my first MPI two years ago in Vancouver. One that really stood out for me was called "Meetings that Pay off—Maximizing Your ROA (Return on Attendance)," led by Cara Tracy with the National Speakers Association and Chris Clarke-Epstein with Change 101. I came in a little late, but it was chock-full of good ideas on how to improve learning, along with examples of some of the ideas being put into practice. What I'm not sure of is why I have in my notes from this session to Google "paint your shoes," but it was that sort of session! Just tons of great ideas, with dynamic speakers who didn't let up for a second. It was invigorating, especially for the last session of the day.
The parties. Oh, the parties! The Big Deal was a blast, but the next night's Rendezvous event at the City Museum was, well, I've never experienced anything like it. Thanks to EB for showing me the fun stuff, from the caves to the airplane to the 10-story slide! That venue is just amazing, the bands were terrific, the crowds were fun-loving, and a great time was had by everyone I saw.
The show lives on, too. The educational and general sessions were recorded for replay, which is really handy for those of us who ended up in way too many press conferences, or in those impossible-to-pull-away-from hallway conversations, or just had too many simultaneous sessions and had to miss one to see another. Many thanks to all those who worked hard to bring it all together, and to St. Louis for being such a splendid host. It turned out to be a much cooler place than I ever imagined (well, not literally. It was July, after all). Well done, everyone.
What was your favorite part of this year's WEC?