“The design is the experience. The experience is the design.”
That message flashed across the giant screen at the opening general session of the Professional Convention Management Association’s Convening Leaders conference in Orlando, January 13–16, and the concept was on display at the conference, with a number of inventive design elements incorporated into the program. Attendees also heard why New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman is a “frustrated optimist” about the future of America and why author Morten Hansen said the key to innovation is how you innovate.
PCMA usually tries out some new tactics at Convening Leaders and this year was no exception, with a number of creative room-design ideas on display.
• The general session stage was square and had no podium. There were seats on three sides, angled toward the stage with a massive screen overhead.
• The Celebrate PCMA Awards luncheon was unusual in that it was split into four areas around a center stage—Comfort Food, Healthy Trends, Classic French, and Small Plates Big Tastes—each serving a different menu and set off by varying colors and decor. The room had a large pillar in the center, so organizers wrapped the center stage around it and created four dining quadrants around the stage. At the lunch, John Folks, president, Minding Your Business, was awarded Member of the Year. As a surprise gift, he received a night in Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World, presented to him by none other than Mickey Mouse. (See photo gallery.)
• PCMA introduced a new luncheon concept on Tuesday called “The Show Reimagined,” which combined educational sessions related to managing trade shows and exhibitions with the meal. The luncheon was served from food stations and the room had a stage in the middle. Seating on both sides of the stage included headsets, which allowed attendees to eat their lunch while listening to the speakers. One presentation was from planners from McDonald’s Restaurants, who talked about how they revamped their. The luncheon space also featured a Technology Theater, showcasing new technologies; a technology demo area; and two education booths for short presentations.
• The Learning Lounge, in its third year, was scaled back from 150 sessions last year to about 60 this year. The lounge hosted short, 15-minute presentations in five areas: Tech Zone, Big Ideas, Industry in Brief, In Practice, Common Ground. “We’re fine tuning it,” said Deborah Sexton, noting that the number of Learning Lounge sessions last year was overkill. The lounge was located at the entrance to the main general session hall—a decision based on the size of the large hall and the need to maximize the use of the space.
Also new at Convening Leaders: PCMA launched a Business School education track, with sessions related to managing businesses.
Stand on Your Head
Keynote speaker Friedman spoke to a packed ballroom on Wednesday about his frustration with the American political system.Reading from his new book, That Used to Be Us, Friedman relayed a passage that exemplified why America has been in slow decline. He attended a conference recently in Beijing at a 2.5 million-square-foot convention center that was built, from start to finish, in nine months. Then he came home to the Washington, D.C., area and learned that it would take six months to repair two small escalators at a subway station. The sad part, he said, is that we have come to expect it.
While his frustration comes from America’s political system, his optimism stems from its people. “If you want to be an optimist about America, stand on your head, because America looks so much better from the bottom up than it does from the top down,” he said. “Because this country is full of people who didn’t get the word that China is going to eat our breakfast and Germany is going to eat our lunch. So they go out and start stuff, and fix stuff, and collaborate on stuff. The country is exploding with energy from the bottom up.”
Another keynote speaker, Morten Hansen, also looked at the issue of American innovation. In his address, Hansen outlined the characteristics of companies that have enjoyed long-term success and thrived through uncertainty, and one of those characteristics is a measured approach to innovation. “It’s not about how much you innovate, it’s how you innovate that matters,” said Hansen, a management professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-author with Jim Collins of Great By Choice.
When it comes to innovation, he told the audience to“fire bullets not cannonballs.” The most successful organizations experiment one innovation at a time in a low-cost, low-risk, well-researched manner, he said. And when one of the test “bullets” works, then they scale up to the “cannonball” approach.
Hansen also outlined three qualities of great leaders—fanatic discipline, empirical creativity (creative ideas backed by research and testing), and productive paranoia (always preparing for the worst). Using a mobile phone polling system, 45 percent of the PCMA audience said that of those three qualities, productive paranoia was their strongest trait.
While attendance numbers for the Orlando conference weren’t available at press time, Sexton reported that some 700 people registered to attend the meeting virtually. Evening receptions took attendees to Sea World and Universal Studios, where attendees experienced the parks’ rides, shows, and other attractions.