Meeting Professionals International's World Education Conference kicked off July 23 in Orlando with a new look, a new vision, and a keynoter who said this might be the most important address of his career.

The redesigned WEC at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, was built on what MPI President and CEO Bruce MacMillan called "the new rules of engagement." The new rules, he explained at an on-site press conference, go beyond proving the value of meetings and measuring performance. Meetings must embrace technology, they must be designed for social, environmental, and economic impact, and they must innovate and inspire. These principles were the foundation for several new initiatives introduced at WEC, including the hosted-buyer program.

MPI eliminated its trade show at WEC this year and replaced it with a hosted-buyer program. According to MacMillan, the program’s 4,000+ on-site appointments between buyers and sellers exceeded expectations. Overall attendance numbers weren't available at press time, but planner attendance looked to be higher than at each of the past two WECs, officials said.

The 2011 WEC also features new sessions like the Daily Download, a place where the virtual world and the face-to-face meeting converge, and attendees can chat about the days events and post their observations using social media. It's a way to use technology to "think outside the room,” said MacMillan.

Another new feature is The Blitz, held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the second day of the conference. The Blitz is an area where attendees can eat, drink, and mingle while interacting with vendors and suppliers who create spaces to showcase products and services or just engage attendees with music, games, or interactive features.

New MPI Chairman of the Board Sebastien Tondeur, CEO at MCI, outlined the board's three main objectives for 2011–2012: to communicate and build upon the value and content that MPI currently offers; to expand MPI's global reach; and to look for ways to adapt and meet members needs in a changing industry.

Keynote speaker Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, began his talk by saying that it might be the most important address he's ever given. "You don't realize how important your job is," Sinek told the audience. Humans are social animals who need social interaction, he said, but in today's world, technology is replacing many human interactions. "Nothing can replace this," he said, referring to the meeting.

He went on to say that the key to inspiring loyalty in attendees or customers is to focus on why you do what you do, not what you do. "No one cares what you do, they care why you do it," he said. Most organizations talk to their customers about what they do or what they offer, but those that truly inspire loyalty and engagement are built on a belief or principle that drives everything they do. They start with the "why," not the "what." "You have to know why you do what you do."

The conference opened with a reception at Epcot in Walt Disney World a where a portion of the park was closed off for MPI attendees, who enjoyed an evening of food, cocktails, music, and Disney rides and attractions. The evening ended at a private viewing area where attendees watched the nightly Epcot fireworks display.

In other news, MPI announced the location of upcoming meetings. For WEC, MPI picked Minneapolis for 2014, San Francisco for 2015, and Philadelphia for 2016. The 2012 meeting is already set for St Louis and 2013 is in Las Vegas. The European Meetings and Events Conference will be held in Budapest, Hungary, in 2012 and Montreux, Switzerland, in 2013.

Finally, MPI handed out Rise Awards to MaryAnne Bobrow for Member of the Year, Courtney Stanley for Young Professional Achievement, Maarten Vanneste for Meeting Industry Leadership, the MPI Minnesota Chapter for Community Achievement in Knowledge and Ideas, and the Cape Town International Convention Centre for Organizational Achievement.

The WEC runs through Tuesday, July 26.