RCMA 2004 vividly demonstrated the power of envisioning the future and the benefits of following through on a vision. The theme for the 32nd RCMA World Conference and Exposition was Share the Vision, and the conference demonstrated how dynamic and valuable religious meetings can be.

Consider this: RCMA 2004 included roaring lions (of an amazing sort), opera-singing cooks from London, stories of record-breaking mountain-climbing adventures, and vivid descriptions of what future religious meetings will look like. RCMA also featured singing along with Judy Garland, who was projected onto a giant screen, the heartfelt singing of a men's gospel choir from Texas, and people of all faiths sharing a week together in friendship. All of this was accomplished in the nation's largest certified “green” building, in the midst of a gleaming city once known for its smokestacks.

Could someone in, say, the year 1975 ever have imagined such a religious meeting? Only a visionary could. That in itself says a lot about the possibilities for the religious meetings of the future.

Living with Vision

RCMA is designed specifically to meet the unique needs of religious meeting planners. The general sessions, tutorials, and the meeting itself all are constructed to encourage professional development.

For example, 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 dozens of members took advantage of that opportunity. By noon on Tuesday of the conference, RCMA's participants in the Behind-the-Scenes experiences already had gained valuable insights into many areas of meeting planning.

The David L. Lawrence Convention Center, several Pittsburgh hotels, a video-production company, and an advertising agency all offered valuable experiences Tuesday morning to learn about housekeeping, meeting-room setup, flower arrangement, food and beverage preparation, video programming, and advertising operations.

At the convention center, Behind-the-Scenes participants spent an informative, entertaining morning.

Joanne Seeger of JR Plant and Floral Productions, Milwaukee, taught planners how to creatively and economically use plants and flowers. The attendees also toured the convention center, seeing all the work that goes into setting up the expo floor for a major event.

Some of the participants then headed off to the kitchen, where they prepared salad, chicken, and risotto.

The morning culminated with the participants enjoying the results of their efforts — a luncheon consisting of food that they helped to prepare, at tables adorned with their floral arrangements.

Many attendees also had the opportunity to see some of Pittsburgh's sights on Tuesday afternoon's city tours.

All of RCMA came together for the first time Tuesday night at the Grand Reception, held in the renowned Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The event gave attendees the opportunity to mingle and get reacquainted with fellow religious meeting professionals.

Tuesday set the stage for Wednesday's full day and night of activities.

Embrace Adventure

Life's lessons are not learned at the top of the world, according to adventurer John Amatt, who was the keynote speaker at Wednesday's opening general session.

“You don't learn anything at the top,” Amatt explained. “You learn after you've come back down, when you've had the opportunity to analyze what happened.”

In his presentation, Amatt used his 30 years of climbing experience as a metaphor for life and for facing the challenges of an ever-changing world.

In his time spent off the mountain, Amatt said, he has learned that attitude is the key to success in changing times.

“It's people with visionary attitudes who will succeed, and adventure is the attitude we bring to everyday life. In the struggles, we find out who we are,” he said.

Amatt urged his listeners to bring the mind-set of adventure to their work and lives. “In today's world, we're facing an Everest of change,” Amatt said. “Everyone has it in them to be adventurous. Keep on climbing!”

Amatt's speech followed a fun-filled opening to the 32nd RCMA World Conference and Exposition.

A singing and dancing troupe opened the breakfast with a high-energy performance, exhorting attendees to come together. “Together we are better than we'll ever be alone,” they sang.

The audience then was welcomed by Joe McGrath, president and CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh CVB, Dan Onoroto, Allegheny County executive, and Jack Stone, RCMA president. “Our wonderful Pittsburgh hosts have rolled out the red carpet,” Stone said.

Welcome to the Future

At Wednesday's luncheon, futurist Ed D. Barlow presented statistical and anecdotal evidence supporting his belief that as the world changes, meeting planners must change with it or be left behind in the dust bin of history.

“We are moving into a different time. Not bad, just different,” Barlow said. “That will affect our communities, our missions, and the people in religious denominations. It's important that you organize your future meetings and conferences around information that will be of benefit.”

Barlow reported that other futurists have warned that 80 percent of what you need to know to be successful in the 21st century is outside your expertise.

“Each of you needs to go away from this lunch committed to rebuilding your mental desktop,” he said. “The way to maintain alignment with the continuum of change is to understand what people are looking for.”

Once you know that, he said, figure out how you can reduce the cycle time for getting that information to them.

“Too many meeting planners are transaction agents. That's not good, because transaction activities can be commoditized and outsourced. I challenge you to move to become a pathfinder.”

Barlow said the goals that drive attendees to meetings and conventions are changing. The older generation came to socialize, network, and get knowledge, in that order. According to Barlow, the future generation will look for knowledge first, and then network with folks of similar interests. Socializing will be third on the list of priorities.

“It's a major shift in meeting design,” he said. You don't spend time thinking or talking about these things, but they will affect your future. “We have to be concerned with attendee satisfaction.”

Lion Roars Tonight

Throughout the day on Wednesday, a buzz of anticipation was in the air about the evening's entertainment: the Broadway production of “The Lion King” at Pittsburgh's beautiful Benedum Theater.

The performance was enthralling, both as an example of Disney's deft skill with puppetry and costuming and the actors' incredible ability to become one with their animal counterparts. The tale touched young and old alike; all in attendance became child-like, captivated by a superb story, expertly told.

Color Outside the Lines

Where are you in your service to your meeting attendees? Do you offer a meeting experience that was the industry standard five years ago? Or do you offer an experience that is the standard today?

Thursday's breakfast speaker and creativity guru Jeff Tobe asserted that you need to offer an experience that will be the standard not of the present, but of the future.

He asked: “Are you where the industry is going to be?”

Tobe, author of the book Coloring Outside the Lines, said creativity and coloring outside the lines are about “shattering the stereotype of experience that your customer expects from you.” That means knowing your customer better than anyone else.

In a study conducted by Southern Methodist University in 1988, researchers concluded that all industries undergo at least one major change every three years, Tobe said. SMU returned to that study in 2003 and concluded that organizations will be undergoing at least one major change every 11 months.

“The only way we're going to be able to keep up is to color outside the lines,” Tobe said. “If it ain't broke, break it!”

Customers (or in the case of religious meetings, attendees), Tobe said, think of two issues: cost and value. The goal for religious meeting planners is to make value more important than cost in the minds of attendees. So the question is: What will increase the value specific to them?

To answer that, Tobe explained The Harvey Principle.

The Harvey Principle is based on a 1950 movie starring Jimmy Stewart, in which Stewart's character is the only one who can see a 6-foot-tall rabbit named Harvey. The Harvey Principle says: “Learn to see the invisible opportunities where other people see limitations.”

A Green, Well-Lighted Place

The expo floor, always a favorite meeting place for RCMA attendees, this year was awash in natural light — a unique feature of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, America's largest certified “green” building. The expo floor was a beehive bustling 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. Many attendees prepared ahead of time by studying the December issue of Religious Conference Manager, which contained the complete list of exhibitors, so that they could target the people they wanted to visit. Others strolled the aisles in search of the new venue that could be the right fit for their meeting.

Equally important to attendees were the invaluable tutorials, held Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning. Wednesday's tutorials offered advice on an array of topics, including F&B tips, security, planning big meetings, negotiating, and using humor effectively.

RCMA members were attentive and involved in the tutorials. By Thursday evening's gala, attendees were discussing with fellow planners the valuable information they had gained.

Honor Bestowed

RCMA gathered Thursday night in the ballroom of the Hilton Hotel downtown for a superb dinner and the night's program. The highlight came when RCMA President Jack Stone, general secretary/HG operations officer, International Headquarters, Church of the Nazarene, Kansas City, Mo., presented the 2004 President's Award to Fred Reichelt, director of national accounts, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts.

Each year the President's Award is given to an individual who has rendered distinguished service to RCMA and the field of religious conference management. In his remarks, Stone noted that Reichelt has been a champion recruiter of new members, has rallied the support of his colleagues for the association, volunteered his time as a tutorial leader, and has attended every RCMA conference for the past 18 years.

“In the 18 years I've been with RCMA, it's been a labor of love,” Reichelt said. “From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”

RCMA members then enjoyed the spirited performance of “Two Tenors and a Diva Incognito,” a trio of talented vocal entertainers from London. The singers began their act disguised as catering staff and, during the course of the evening, stylishly revealed their operatic and musical theater vocal talents to the unsuspecting audience.

Present, Future Challenges

The 32nd RCMA came to a close Friday with breakfast, the annual business meeting, and a general session sponsored by next year's RCMA host, the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission. St. Louis set a buoyant mood, with the St. Louis World's Fair of 1904 serving as the breakfast theme.

In a panel discussion during the session, RCMA grappled with the issues of booking outside the block and booking outside contracted hotels.

The panelists were: Jonathan Howe, senior partner, Howe and Hutton Ltd.; Jack Horne, vice president of sales, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts; and Jeff Sacks, vice president, Midwest Region, Conferon Inc. Several ideas emerged:

  • At every opportunity, educate attendees on the importance of using the meeting hotels and booking within the block. Attendees aren't meeting planners, and they don't know that they hurt their organizations when they book outside the block.

  • Communicate early and often with hotel partners regarding pickup rates for your meeting. If the rates are running lower than expected at any time, talk to the hotel about releasing rooms from your block.

  • Make sure that your hotel contracts are constructed so that the hotels give you credit for all attendees, whether or not they have booked inside the block, Howe said.

  • At registration, collect information from attendees on which hotel they are staying in. Crosscheck this with the hotels' attendee information.

  • Download the Convention Industry Council's “Project Attrition” document from the CIC Web site, www.conventionindustry.org.



As the breakfast came to a close, the St. Louis representatives led the singing of “Meet Me in St. Louis,” filling the room with visions of the future: great expectations for RCMA 2005.

AUDIOTAPES Still Available

Tapes or CD-ROMs of general sessions and tutorials from the 2004 RCMA conference are available by contacting Conference Resource at (866) 813-2451.

Growing

In his remarks Friday morning at RCMA 2004, Executive Director DeWayne S. Woodring reported that the organization has stood tall throughout the nation's recent economic downturn:

  • RCMA has experienced 21 consecutive years of membership growth. Membership stands at an all-time high, with 3,314 members. RCMA has enjoyed growth of 1,894 percent since it incorporated and reorganized in 1982.
  • The expo for RCMA 2004 sold out in one day.
  • Registration for RCMA 2004 surpassed registration for 2003.
  • Membership dues remain the same as 21 years ago and are up to 80 percent lower than other associations recognized by the Convention Industry Council.


LOUISVILLE in 2007

The RCMA Board of Directors has chosen Louisville, Ky., as the site for its 2007 Annual World Conference and Exposition. The board met while in Pittsburgh to make its final decision. Before heading to Louisville, RCMA will come together in St. Louis in 2005 and San Jose in 2006.

RCMA Board of Directors

Four RCMA members were appointed to three-year terms that begin in 2004. They are: Marcia Bullock, Jamaica Tourist Board; Marjorie Homer, The Salvation Army; Thomas M. Jackson, CMP, United Pentecostal Church International; and Cynthia Winter, CMP, National Council on Family Relations.

The RCMA board officers are: Jack Stone, Church of the Nazarene, president; Linda de Leon, CMP, Seventh-day Adventist Church, vice president, and Melvin Worthington, CMP, International Association of Free Will Baptists, secretary-treasurer.

Continuing on the board are: Stella Beene-Venson, meeting planner/travel coordinator for The United Methodist Church's Section of Chaplains and Related Ministries, Nashville, Tenn.; Jim Cullumber, vice president of communications for the Christian Church Foundation, Indianapolis; Donald Ehler, annual conference coordinator for the Conservative Christian Conference, Hillsboro, Wis.; Sally Gardiner, Daytona Beach (Fla.) Area CVB; and Dennis Williams, executive administrator, North American Professors of Christian Education, Louisville, Ky.