It seems as if there's one in every crowd. Even at RCMA's 29th Annual Conference and Exposition in Milwaukee, held January 29-February 2, which is known throughout the country for its warmth and friendliness, there was one gentleman whom no one could please. Attendees, suppliers from the Expo, and RCMA staff members all stopped by his station at the front door to give him a smile, a greeting, or a polite request for information, but the security guard stood impassively, arms crossed over his chest. Of course, he was just an incredibly life-like statue, one of many amazing pieces of art throughout the Midwest Express Center, home of this year's conference. However unimpressed the guard statue may have appeared, for all the living and breathing folks, it proved to be a time they will remember always.

Theme Brought to Life

The 2001 RCMA conference more than lived up to its theme of “People, Partners, Performance.” RCMA is the only conference developed specifically to meet the unique needs of religious meeting planners, and the general session speakers, tutorial leaders, attendees, and exhibitors all showed how relationships can turn into partnerships that improve the performance of everyone involved.

In fact, the networking and knowledge-gathering began before the official kickoff breakfast Wednesday, January 30, with Tuesday's Behind the Scenes experiences. RCMA is the only organization that provides the opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes to make a meeting happen. Attendees had hotel and convention center experiences at the Milwaukee Hilton City Center, Hyatt Regency Milwaukee, and Midwest Express Center and learned about kitchen, housekeeping, and even water-park maintenance. They also experienced airline activities, at which RCMA attendees helped the food service professionals at Midwest Express Airlines prepare lunch for passengers on that day's flights.

This year's tours included a new opportunity, reading between the lines at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper. Visitors were given a tour of the facility, from the newsroom to the printing press, but the most interesting part came when they met with professionals from the paper's special events, editorial, and advertising departments to learn how their organizations can get coverage of their meetings. From wraps to advertorial to sponsorships, attendees learned ways to work with the local paper to enhance their meetings.

Religion reporter Tom Heinen gave tips on presenting meetings to reporters in ways to make it more likely that they will receive coverage on the religious page and throughout the newspaper. Heinen said to include the five W's — Who, What, Where, When, and Why — when sending press releases. “Keep it topical, timely, and relevant,” he said, adding that poignant human-interest stories related to the meeting, its speakers, or its attendees often attract press coverage.

Many attendees had the opportunity to see some of Milwaukee's sights on Tuesday afternoon's city tours. Four tours were offered, each focusing on a different aspect of the city. One showcased theater arts, giving backstage passes to RCMA attendees who wanted to see Milwaukee's top theaters: the turn-of-the-century Pabst Theater, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, and the Stiemke Theater and Stackner Cabaret, where attendees got a firsthand look at set and prop construction. The “Time Travel” tour took sightseers to Milwaukee's Museum Center, where attendees thrilled to a replica of a 19th-century street, a rotating diorama of an American Indian powwow, and a glass-enclosed garden of exotic butterflies.

Other tours took attendees to the Frederick Pabst Mansion on old Milwaukee's Grand Avenue, a Flemish Renaissance Revival mansion boasting 37 rooms, and to some of Milwaukee's best fine-art museums, including the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum.

In keeping with the history of Wisconsin, the Tuesday reception in Bruce Hall of Milwaukee Auditorium was an exciting evening of Big Top adventure, at which attendees were offered a variety of comestibles, from cotton candy to shrimp, all against the backdrop of restored, hand-carved circus wagons from Wisconsin's top historic attraction, the Circus World Museum in Baraboo. The evening came complete with clowns, kings, mermaids, and unicycle riders — and complimentary red clown noses for everyone. RCMA attendees really got into the spirit of the evening. In fact, many were seen wearing outrageous balloon hats as they boarded the buses that took them back to their hotels to rest up for the next morning's opening ceremonies.

Speaking of Inspiration

As always, RCMA lined up an inspirational group of general-session speakers to give attendees a new attitude to take home and share with friends and colleagues. And attitude was what it was all about, starting with Wednesday morning's keynote speaker, Keith Harrell, president and CEO of Harrell Performance Inc. After a fabulous breakfast and performances by local Wisconsin singers and youthful dancers, all sponsored by the Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Courtyard by Marriott, Harrell bounded onto the stage and instantly raised the energy level by a factor of 10. A tall, lanky man, Harrell once planned to make a career out of basketball, but it was clear that God had another career in mind for him.

Author of the aptly titled book, Attitude is Everything, Harrell brought the audience to its feet, cheering, clapping, and shouting phrases designed to show that, while not everyone can play in the NBA, everyone has Natural Born Ability, and we can all be champions in our own ways. “I'm playing with my Natural Born Ability, and I'm slam-dunking every day,” he said.

“People always ask me why I'm so happy. Because I woke up this morning!” he said with a grin. “Any day above ground is a good day for me. Any day is a good day to rejoice and be glad. You just have to be happy with what you got.”

One example Harrell used was people who fly first class on airplanes. “Ever notice how they don't even look at you as you go by?” he said. “They don't even talk to each other until the curtain's closed. But you know, they're only a coupon away” from the rest of us in coach. “I always fly first class,” he added, “even when I'm in row 32B.”

Harrell said that we're all blessed, because God created us to be blessings. “Ego stands for ‘Edging God Out,’” he said, adding that everyone should adopt what his grandmother called a “foot-washing attitude.” “We have to decrease so that He can increase,” Harrell said as the audience murmured its agreement.

One message he made sure to get across was that it was important to do everything with enthusiasm, which comes from the Greek word for “God within us,” he said. “If you want to improve your meetings and your overall performance, you need to improve your attitude.

“And it's all about RCMA's theme: People, Partners, Performance,” Harrell explained. “Once you become negative, it is hard to form partnerships.” One key to remaining positive is to always wear a smile, because 70 percent of attitude is portrayed nonverbally. He urged audience members not to rely on ordinary words, but to make sure your words reflect your enthusiasm for life.

A few years ago he met a woman in an airport who, when asked how she was that day, didn't say “fine,” or “great.” She answered, “brand new,” and that's stuck with him. As his grandmother told him, love and hope are the greatest gifts, and they are meant to be shared with all the people in your life. After a standing ovation, Harrell dashed out of the ballroom to catch a plane, and the audience knew he would be sitting in first class.

The luncheon speakers were equally inspiring, each in their own ways. Wednesday's speaker, Michael McKinley, learned the hard way to make the most of each moment when, 23 years ago, his doctor told him he had cancer and only had six months to live. “When the doctor says you have six months to live, you put your feet on the ground in the morning and say, ‘Yes!’” McKinley said at the luncheon sponsored by the Lexington, Ky., Convention & Visitors Bureau. Like Harrell, McKinley stressed the importance of partnership in all areas of life. Sometimes, though, as in the case of a Catholic church in St. Peter, Minn., that was wiped out by a tornado, it takes a disaster to bring people together. A Lutheran church in town invited the Catholic congregation in, and McKinley showed a slide of the result: a church sign that read, “First Lutheran Catholic Church.”

“We're in this together, folks. If we're not getting information from each other, we're missing the point.” That doesn't mean everyone has to be the same, though. While his deadpan delivery was markedly different from Harrell's style earlier in the day, both had vital messages. Adapting to change, one of life's biggest stressors, is key to living a good life: “If we fail to change, we fail,” he said.

Glenna Salsbury, author of The Art of the Fresh Start, brought home RCMA's theme with her presentation, “A Passion for People” at the Thursday luncheon, sponsored by Marriott Convention Resort Network.

“My dad was one of the biggest influences in my life,” she said, adding that he felt his purpose in life was “to make other people glad they saw me.” She has adopted that philosophy of life and always asks herself if she is reaching out to other people.

Salsbury also supplied a three-step process for “enhancing your effectiveness, personally and professionally.” The first step consists of asking questions and listening to the answers, which may be more difficult than you might think. When you ask questions, you can find common ground that will help you connect with people.

She coupled the second step, expressing genuine enthusiasm, with a suggestion to strive to be the best you can be. “There's a fish that's served as ‘orange roughy,’ but its real name is ‘slimehead,’” she said. “So every day when we get up, we decide whether we will be orange roughy or slimehead today.” The last step is to fan your own flames, both in your personal relationships and in your relationship with God.

“Laughter is the breath of God,” she said. “Find your purpose, and let your light shine!”

Who could ask for a better send-off than the one given by Roger Stauter after Friday's breakfast, sponsored by the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau, which will be hosting RCMA's 30th Annual Conference and Exposition in 2002. Speaking about “The Power of Partners,” Stauter said the cornerstone of any partnership is to know yourself. “As Jack Parr said, ‘It seems like my whole life has been one long obstacle course — with myself as the main obstacle.’”

The other key is to know your partner. Stauter used a marriage as an example. When his future son-in-law asked for advice about women, Stauter had plenty of suggestions. “A wife will try to change you,” he said, citing the time his wife, after seeing a Rambo movie, decided he needed to lose weight. “I said, ‘These guys are a dime a dozen.’ She said, ‘Here's a nickel, get me six.’

“No one is ever the same day to day,” he said, then asked the crowd if they'd ever been bitten by a mosquito. Most hands went up. Then he asked how many had been bitten by an elephant. “See, it's the little things that get you.” This turned out to be the first of what he called “Roger's Recycled Rules,” which are words of wisdom taken from sources from Ben Franklin to Sigmund Freud. Other rules include: “Beginning is half-done”; “You need two things to be happy: someone to love, and something to do”; “Be more assertive”; “There's a lemon in every life”; “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”; “We must all hang together or we'll all hang separately”; “What the mind can see and believe, the mind can achieve”; “If at first you don't succeed, try, try again”; and “People see the world not as it is but as they are.”

Part of what keeps him upbeat are his wife and children, he said. “Peter Pan said that when you grow up, you lose the magic, but I believe that when you have kids, you recycle the magic.”

Back to School

On Thursday after a breakfast sponsored by the Mobile, Ala., Convention & Visitors Bureau, RCMA attendees went back to school when the Kollege of Kongregatin' Knowledge IV convened in the Midwest Express Center ballroom.

Using interactive audience polling technology provided by Swank Audiovisuals, RCMA attendees acted as students taking a meeting planning examination. Their answers were tabulated and checked against the correct answers, which were provided by a panel of experts in law (Jonathon Howe, Howe & Hutton Ltd.), government (Denise Searcy, Sheraton Birmingham Hotel), sociology (Melvin Tennant, Charlotte, N.C., CVB), psychology (Jack Williams, CMP, National Association of Free Will Baptists), and administration (Cynthia Winter, CMP, National Council on Family Relations, Minnesota Christian Convention).

Led by “Dean” R. Harold Hipps, CMP, Christian Educators Fellowship, attendees fielded easy questions before moving on to the challenging planning section of the exam. According to answers to demographics questions, the “student body” consisted mainly of planners and salespeople, with the remainder made up of staff members and CVB representatives. The overwhelming majority of those in the class said they had held their current position for less than one year and had been a member of RCMA for less than one year.

That lack of experience was underscored when the majority said a tentative contract, not a proposal (the correct answer), was the understanding they and the property had as a result of thorough discussion. However, most did know the correct answer to the bulk of the questions, such as what a good hotel contract should include.

The student body got a big laugh with many of the questions, such as the one asking what you get when the order calls for “bunching.” While most incorrectly answered that it was a group holding area, the real answer is the bed of linens for a tabletop. The majority did know that the statement, “A meeting planner may be held personally liable for negligence which causes harm or damage to a meeting attendee,” was “true.” Howe, speaking like a true lawyer, added that it depends on how good a lawyer you have.

Chagrined by the number of incorrect answers they had given, many “students” headed off to the tutorials vowing to absorb as much knowledge as possible during the sessions.

Learning and Networking

The Expo floor, always a favorite meeting place for RCMA attendees, was a bustling scene full of associate-member convention and visitors bureaus, hotels, convention centers, campus and nonprofit facilities, and the full range of religious meetings service providers. The sold-out Expo offered more than 300 booths, and hugs and greetings abounded as people met new friends and reconnected with those whom they had met at previous RCMA conferences. Many attendees prepared ahead of time by studying the December issue of Religious Conference Manager, which contained the complete exhibitors list, so they could target the people they wanted to visit. Others strolled the aisles in search of the new venue that could be just the right fit for their meeting or convention.

Equally important to the attendees were the invaluable tutorials on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning. Wednesday's tutorials offered advice on an array of topics, including the art of negotiation, designing meetings for all styles of people, meeting management, emerging technologies for the meetings industry, marketing your meeting, resource management, site selection, and conflict resolution. Thursday's lineup was equally compelling, with tutorials on international meetings, balancing work and family, classic cuisine, tying your meetings together using themes, the art of budgeting a cost-effective meeting, transforming behaviors through coaching, and showing the true value of your meeting.

Attendees were attentive and involved in the tutorials, taking notes, asking questions, and sharing ideas, and they left the sessions anxious to put the advice to use.

Evenings Filled with Laughter and Amazement

As Wednesday afternoon's events wound down, you could sense a special excitement in the convention center. People were starting to chatter about that night's entertainment, famed comedian Bob Newhart. At the wonderful dinner, which featured food delights from Wisconsin, attendees shared stories about how they had watched “The Bob Newhart Show” on Saturday nights in the 1970s. Or they recalled favorite episodes from “Newhart,” the popular TV series from the 1980s. RCMA definitely was ready to laugh.

For Newhart's performance, approximately one-third of the convention center's ballroom was transformed into an intimate space that resembled a comedy club, complete with plush curtains behind a small stage. Attendees filled the seats quickly after dinner, and Newhart didn't disappoint. Combining classic, beloved sketches (including his famous “Driving Instructor” routine) with new material and a wonderful video segment with clips from his long career, Newhart had the audience laughing from start to finish, and they rose quickly to give him a standing ovation. Indeed, Newhart was a hit.

Wednesday night's events, which were sponsored by the Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau, were followed by the memorable sights and sounds of Thursday evening's banquet and gala, sponsored by the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Hilton, and Fine Host Corp. Attendees enjoyed hors d'oeuvres in the convention center and then filed into the ballroom for dinner and the night's program. The audience stood and applauded as RCMA President Jack Stone gave this year's President's Award to a surprised and proud Jack Williams, CMP, National Association of Free Will Baptists, Antioch, Tenn. Williams thanked Stone for the award, saying it was the greatest honor of his career. Williams then drew laughs when he cited the “three B's” of public speaking: “Be prepared, be brief, and be seated.”

The audience settled in for a dazzling fusion of art and music, highlighted by the creations of painter Michael Ostaski, who amazed the attendees when he created large, wonderful paintings of Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Laurel and Hardy, and characters from The Wizard of Oz. Between Ostaski's “art explosions,” the crowd enjoyed live performances of songs from a variety of Broadway musicals.

Farewell (for Now)

The exceptional RCMA conference came to a close Friday morning, with breakfast and general session sponsored by next year's RCMA host, the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau. After learning all the great news RCMA had to offer at the business meeting and enjoying the words of wisdom from speaker Roger Stauter, attendees reflected on the memories that had been made in Milwaukee, which has invested more than $1 billion updating its facilities and building new attractions. RCMA attendees would agree that it was money wisely spent, and undoubtedly they're already spreading the word about marvelous Milwaukee.

With a glow in their eyes, attendees at the 2001 RCMA Conference and Expo bid farewell to friends old and new. The most commonly heard comment as they walked out the doors of the ballroom for the final time: “What a wonderful time we had. I can't wait to see you in Tampa at next year's conference!”

RCMA Board of Directors

Three newly elected members have been chosen to serve on the Religious Conference Management Association board in 2001. They are Karl W. Hartfield, director of national accounts with the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau; Marjorie Homer, special events coordinator for The Salvation Army; and Thomas M. Jackson, CMP, executive administrative assistant and general conference coordinator with the United Pentecostal Church International, Hazelwood, Mo. Carol Werchan, executive administrator for conventions and meetings with the International Lutheran Layman's League in St. Louis, has been re-elected to the board.

Jack Stone, Church of the Nazarene, has been re-confirmed by the RCMA board of directors to serve as president. Linda M. de Leon, CMP, Seventh-day Adventist World Headquarters, will serve as vice president, and Melvin L. Worthington, CMP, National Association of Free Will Baptists Inc., will continue as secretary-treasurer.

Also continuing on the board are Chuck Davis, Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau; Emily J. Gould, The United Methodist Church; Lee Harris, Florida State Primitive Baptist Convention; Edgar N. Sutton, American Baptist Association; and J. David von Gunten, CMP, Missionary Church Inc.

New CMPs

RCMA honored the following members and associate members who were awarded their Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) designation in 2000:

  • David L. Weidner, CMP, director, Youth Gatherings, Dept. of Youth Ministry, The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, St. Louis, Mo.
  • James W. Parrish, CMP, meeting planner, New Missions, Birmingham, Ala.
  • Karen M. Garcia, CMP, senior citywide sales manager, Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, Denver.
  • Paul G. Horngren, CMP, director, Grueenhagen Conference Center, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, Wis.
  • Deborah L. Hutson, CMP, convention sales manager, Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau, Durham, N.C.
  • David O'Lenick, CMP, regional sales manager, Holiday Inn Select, DFW Airport South, Irving, Texas.


Good News

RCMA Executive Director DeWayne S. Woodring, CMP, CEM, was full of good news for RCMA members:

  • RCMA membership has reached an all-time high, with more than 3,000 members. The organization has experienced an impressive 1,751 percent growth since it incorporated and reorganized in 1982. Woodring welcomed the 3,000th member, Ronald D. Kelly, general secretary, The Wesleyan Church, Indianapolis, with complimentary registration for next year's conference.
  • Membership dues remain the same as they were 19 years ago and continue to be the lowest dues of any organization recognized by the Convention Industry Council.
  • RCMA has formed a new partnership with PlanSoft, an online site-selection service. RCMA members can access PlanSoft's database of hotels to do site research and make requests for proposals online.


AUDIOTAPES Still Available

Tapes of general sessions and tutorials from the 29th Annual RCMA Conference and Exposition are $5 each, or $4 each for six or more. Mail orders to Banner Media, 6215 S. 107th East Ave., Tulsa, OK, 74133; or e-mail orders@bannerinc.com.