Record-setting attendance, exceptional speakers, remarkable entertainment, and wonderful weather combined to make RCMA's 36th Annual World Conference and Exposition one that attendees will remember fondly for many years.
The conference, held February 5-8 at Rosen Shingle Creek resort, Orlando, Fla., attracted 1,411 attendees and continues to be the only not-for-profit meeting in the world dedicated solely to serving thecommunity.
The conference theme, “Exploring New Horizons,” provided the framework for the week, as religious meeting planners convened to be inspired, to increase their professional knowledge, and to build relationships with leaders in the industry.
By noon Tuesday of the conference, RCMA's participants in the Behind-the-Scenes experiences already had gained valuable insights into many areas of meeting planning.
RCMA is the only organization that provides attendees with the opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes to make a meeting happen, and nearly 200 members took advantage of that opportunity at venues around the city.
The Tuesday night reception, held at the Orange County Convention Center, was an opportunity to have fun and to reconnect with friends and colleagues.
A Time for Celebration
With the refrain of “Bound together, finely woven, with love,” keynote speaker and musical performer Ken Medema got RCMA 2008 off to a rousing start at the opening general session.
Medema, who has been blind from birth, is gifted with a remarkable talent for music. He used those skills to deliver his message. “Personal achievement is a communal affair,” he said. “Personal achievement never happens alone.”
Earlier in the general session, singer Devonna Simmons, backed by a choir, opened the morning and conveyed an uplifting message: “I'm going to reach … I'm going to be stronger just for one moment and touch the sky.”
Orlando/Orange County CVB President and CEO Gary Sain then welcomed RCMA. “We're so proud to be hosting RCMA, and we're honored by your presence.”
Sain was followed by a troupe of four men on stilts, performing unbelievable feats to the disco hit “Turn the Beat Around.”
RCMA Executive Director DeWayne S. Woodring then delighted the crowd. He announced that the RCMA Board of Directors would hand out disposable cameras to all attendees, urging them to use the cameras to capture memories and moments from the exciting week.
The session closed with the Voices of Liberty singing group performing “You'll Never Walk Alone.” And finally, a marching band led the attendees out of the ballroom and on to the Expo.
We Laughed, We Cried
Jeanne Robertson was Wednesday's luncheon speaker, and the former beauty queen had audience members wiping tears of laughter from their faces. Amid the laughs, she told meeting planners to take a good, hard look at themselves and others and accept the things that they cannot change about both.
Thursday's breakfast speaker, adventurer Paul Templer, told the harrowing story of how he nearly was eaten whole by a hippo during a safari. He said the recovery from his horrific injuries is the result of choices, including his first decision, which was to struggle to live. “We are the sum of our choices. Are you living the life of your dreams? If not, then make the choices required to live the life of your dreams.”
Albert Mensah was Thursday's luncheon speaker, and he spoke about how life's opportunities come in many disguises. He urged his audience not to take opportunities for granted.
Horses and Fireworks
On Wednesday evening, attendees boarded buses for a two-part night of fun. The first stop was the Arabian Nights dinner show. Then it was on to Disney's Epcot for a private dessert reception and the impeccably produced “Illuminations” fireworks and lights display.
Center of the Action
The expo floor, always a favorite meeting place for attendees, was abuzz with 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.
Equally important to attendees were the tutorials, held Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning. The tutorials offered advice on an array of topics. RCMA members were great students, taking notes, asking questions, and sharing ideas, and they left the sessions anxious to put the advice to use.
RCMA gathered Thursday evening for the annual gala.
The first highlight came when RCMA President Tom Jackson presented the 2008 President's Award to Ken Lupp, senior sales manager, The Founders Inn & Spa, Virginia Beach, Va. The President's Award is given annually to an individual who has rendered distinguished service to RCMA and to the field of religious conference management.
A champion recruiter, Lupp has brought more religious meeting planners into RCMA than any other associate member. Lupp has served on the RCMA and has attended the last 18 RCMA conferences in a row.
Then the evening's entertainment energized the audience. Branson, Mo.-based performers Tony Orlando, Jim Stafford, and Jim Barber all put their considerable talents on display. Orlando interacted enthusiastically with the audience, and the night ended with the three of them on stage together.
RCMA came to a close Friday morning with a breakfast hosted by the Grand Rapids, Mich., CVB, which will welcome RCMA for its 37th world conference Jan. 27-30, 2009. RCMA conducted its annual business meeting, followed by speaker Linda Larsen. At the meeting, Woodring announced that RCMA again has donated $100,000 to the World Food Programme for the purpose of feeding hungry children worldwide. It is the third consecutive year that RCMA has made a $100,000 gift to the WFP.
As the meeting closed and attendees began their journeys home, they spoke excitedly about what a superb week it had been.
RCMA in the Future
The RCMA Board of Directors has selected Tampa, Fla., as the location for RCMA 2011. RCMA will convene in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2009 and in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2010.
RCMA 2008 Sponsors
RCMA extends grateful thanks to this year's sponsors:
- Adam's Mark Hotels
- Arabian Nights Dinner Attraction
- Branson Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce/CVB
- Chattanooga CVB
- Dayton/Montgomery County CVB
- Daytona Beach Area CVB
- Epcot at Walt Disney World Resort
- FedEx Kinkos
- Gaylord Hotels
- Greater Houston CVB
- Greater Toledo Hospitality Partners
- Illinois Council of CVBs
- Levy Restaurants
- Lexington CVB
- LMG Inc.
- Meet Minneapolis
- Ocean Center
- Oklahoma City CVB
- Orange County Convention Center
- Orlando/Orange CVB
- Richmond Metropolitan CVB
- Rogers, Arkansas, CVB
- Rosen Hotels & Resorts
- SeaWorld Orlando
- Smart City
- Springfield, MO, CVB
- Tampa Bay & Company
- The Holy Land Experience
- Universal Studios Orlando
- Valley Forge CVB
- Walt Disney World
- Willowbank Hotel & Conference Facility
- WordSpring Discovery Center