As we went to press in November, excitement was building for the 39th RCMA World Conference & Expo.

There were more meeting planners pre-registered at this point in time than for any previous RCMA conference, with the exception of the Orlando meeting in 2008.

Veteran RCMA meeting-goers know that the best way to take advantage of all the conference has to offer is to set some strategic networking, business, and educational goals before they get to the meeting. Also, they know to bring comfortable shoes and a thirst for knowledge. (First-time attendees, check out the suggestions in the sidebar on this page.)

Program highlights this year include a truly outstanding set of general-session speakers. Renowned mountaineer Gary Guller will kick off the Wednesday, January 26, program with a breakfast presentation. Guller led the largest cross-disability group to ever reach the 17,500-foot-elevation Mount Everest Base Camp. He went on to scale Everest, the highest mountain in the world, becoming the first person with only one arm ever to do so.

The lunch speaker on Wednesday will be Toastmasters' award-winner Karen McCullough, who will help you understand generational differences when it comes to communication and behavior, and how to utilize this information in your everyday work world.

Billy Riggs provides both entertainment and insight as the Thursday luncheon speaker. When he was 29, Riggs founded one of the country's fastest growing churches in the country. When he takes the stage these days, he's part magician, part entertainer — ready to raise morale with an uplifting message while at the same time making you laugh.

With 20 years in radio, Suzie Humphreys, who is Friday's breakfast speaker, has hobnobbed with plenty of celebrities and politicians. She's made commercials and performed in musical comedy. She has also been fired, broke, and disappointed. She'll help you learn how to rise to life's challenges with passion and hope.

In addition to 18 tutorial sessions, this year's meeting will have plenty of great socializing opportunities, including sightseeing tours, a night at Busch Gardens and the final night's gala banquet. For complete details, see the October issue or visit rcmaweb.org.

First Time at RCMA?

6 Tips for a Great Experience

Hundreds of religious conference planners, hoteliers, and representatives from convention and visitors bureaus and other suppliers will gather in Tampa, Fla., for RCMA's 39th World Conference & Expo in January. If it's your first time attending, here are some tips for getting the most out of the experience:

  1. Be ready to network. This is a fabulous opportunity to connect with colleagues, speakers, and suppliers. Bring an RFP for your meeting to make the most of the conference's business opportunities. And bring more business cards than you think you'll need.

  2. Take advantage of the takeaways. There will be more than a dozen tutorial sessions, plus several general sessions. Take notes, make connections, and be ready to put what you learn into practice when you get back to your job.

  3. For associate members: The trade show floor isn't the only networking opportunity. While excitement is high for this year's trade show, first-time hospitality attendees should recognize that networking opportunities abound. You'll meet planners on the bus, in tutorials, at the evening events, and at coffee breaks. Take advantage of these opportunities to get to know RCMA's meeting planner members.

  4. Be strategic. The RCMA conference is packed with learning and networking opportunities. First-timers, especially, can be overwhelmed. So plan ahead. Figure out your educational and business priorities ahead of time if possible.

  5. Take advantage of the Behind-the-Scenes opportunities. These hands-on learning experiences have been a hallmark of the RCMA conference for many years. Planners will have the opportunity to select one of six behind-the-scenes opportunities. For details, visit rcmaweb.org.

  6. Become an expert on Tampa. The city is rolling out the red carpet for RCMA, and this is your chance to see what the city offers the religious conference market. Participate in sightseeing opportunities and meet with area representatives to enrich your knowledge.