Carol Rice just returned from an Idaho vacation where she and her husband spent a week fly-fishing, horseback riding, hiking, and living with the bare essentials: clean sheets, basic plumbing, and three meals a day. Rice, who has been going on the same trip for 10 years, says that a week without telephones, television, and radio helps her de-stress from her busy life as a meeting planner. "For the entire week, I get up and go to bed with the sun," she says.
Back on the job, Rice rises with an alarm clock. Although she is a seasoned planner with 15 years of experience, the reality she wakes up to changed five years ago. In 1993, after 10 years of planning meetings for CEOs and managers of Dayton Hudson Corporation, Rice accepted a position with Minnesota Mutual that focused heavily on incentive meetings. As director, recognition and conference planning, she now heads a department that oversees 60 meetings and conferences--including 10 incentives--a year.
According to Rice, the fundamentals of corporate and incentive planning are the same, but the audiences couldn't be more different. "In corporate planning, attendees are invited to a meeting with a set program," says Rice. "Incentive groups have a totally different feel. Attendees have won a trip and will do what they want during it."
When Rice changed jobs, she says that she moved from a "trendy, completely liberal environment to a conservative industry." One of her greatest challenges has been convincing a conservative company to make changes. "When I came to Minnesota Mutual, meetings were typically classroom-style, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with four breakouts, and so on. One meeting was the same as the next," she says. "My philosophy is that you have to find the current trends and incorporate them into meetings."
Know Your Audience Rice keeps up with the times by watching MTV and VH1, reading People magazine, and going to the movies. She also avidly reads trade magazines and keeps careful records of demographics from each meeting.
In particular, Rice tracks age groups, breaking them down into three categories: Generation Xers, ages 21 to 33; Boomers, ages 34 to 50; and No-namers, ages 51 and over. Fifty percent of the employees that she plans meetings for are Boomers, while Xers and No-namers each make up 25 percent.
Rice targets Generation X because these employees are relatively new and the company wants to retain them. In order to draw in the Xers but keep all age brackets content, she researches how the different groups learn best. "The Xers are used to the CNN/MTV reality, love using computers, and need a shorter time frame to take in information," Rice says. "The Boomers, however, are more slow-paced, use computers less, and learn like they did in school."
Rice alternates classroom-style meetings with flashier, theatrical sessions. "I use videos that are faster and have a heavier beat, modeled after MTV presentations," she says. "This keeps the Xers entertained, and they learn well when entertained. The Boomers also enjoy it, and the No-namers will tap their feet and don't mind."
She also keeps all groups in mind when planning incentive activities. When she began her current job, a typical activity might have been a museum tour, but Rice now includes more adventuresome options on the incentive agenda. "I always have a more interactive alternative," she says. "This way, those who want to go to the museum-type venue can, and those who would rather go kayaking, white-water rafting, or on a helicopter ride have that choice."
Even though certain incentive activities may attract employees within the same age bracket, Rice makes sure that everyone interacts. For example, she had noticed that at the company's annual national convention, attendees would sit with their friends and wouldn't mingle during dinner. So three years ago she decided to assign seating for two of the three convention nights. "I mixed both age and regional groups so that attendees would have a chance to meet people they wouldn't necessarily get to know otherwise," Rice says. "It allows them to network and exchange ideas."
Continuing Education Rice herself enjoys learning from her peers, and ICPA has provided her with an avenue to do so since she joined in 1993. "No matter how long you've been in the business, you can't know everything," she says. "I always come out of the educational forums with one or two ideas that I can use in my job."
Rice is planning to start the newest ICPA chapter. "There are 17 members in the Minnesota area, and generally only four or five go to the national ICPA convention," she says. "So I thought that I would send letters out asking about people's interest in forming a Minnesota chapter and getting together for quarterly meetings."
Used to accommodating all ages at Minnesota Mutual, Rice may be just the planner to make the new chapter succeed. After all her efforts, though, she might be ready for another Idaho vacation. "The first year, it took me a whole week to unwind on a bare-essentials trip like that," she says. "Now, I already start unwinding on the plane ride there!" *