Archive for February, 2010

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MEMORIES OF WILD RIVER

February 28, 2010

Amidst the raging health care debate on every Sunday morning talk show, and horrific shots of the devastation in Chile on the news channels, the dependable Sunday morning Strib experience brought a smile to my face with its travel feature “Into the Wild” – a look at Wild River State Park in the wintertime.

I am an urbanite and have been since childhood. Family vacations at my Grandma’s in Wisconsin were always met with trepidation. I wanted to go; I always had fun – but I had this thing about the bugs.

The original log cabin-turned guesthouse- along the river erected by the once-logger north woodsman, Grandpa Herb, might have been charming to the eye…but oh, the spiders! Not to mention use of the outhouse out back, wood tics, strange crawly things in the river, and the poison ivy. And who knew who or what might be hiding in the woods?!! My fears were trumped only by a week of fun with all the cousins, excursions through northern Wisconsin to visit relatives whose names I hardly knew, lots of roadside stops along the way, picking blueberries so Grandma could make us muffins for breakfast, shopping in town for new jeans and moccasins, and endless hours at the beach. So I was always excited, as we rumbled across the “Indianhead” Bridge from Wabasha to Nelson, and were officially on vacation in Wisconsin. But when I could, believe me, I opted for sleeping on the living room floor in the house, with running water, no spider webs, and close proximity to the adults in the huge kitchen- in case I needed them!

So, when the staff of the old Meetings Division planned their first Memorial Day outing to camp at Wild River back in the 1980s, needless to say, I had to be convinced that I would have a good time! But off I went, in the safety of my own car, in case I just could not stand it and had to get away quick. Little did I expect that I would grow to love Wild River, those Memorial Day weekend outings , and the camaraderie shared with all those that camped or just came up for the day to party with us.

I am not sure a cabin in winter, with no running water nor kitchen at Wild River would be my thing, but reading about it, I was flooded with such good memories of the site and of all those that experienced it with me.

So here’s to the Meetings Division…Hollywood, Bether, John, Al, Diane, and all the others who camped or visited for a day before life took us in different directions as only a few of us morphed to tipi experiences scattered about the country from Milwaukee to St. Louis to Albuquerque. Thanks for the wonderful friendships. It’s been a while since we were all together spinning tales and creating new experiences. (The Lake Independence cookout in ’06 hardly counts) I am missing you all today.

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OUR CELEBRITY CULTURE

February 26, 2010

All week long, I have been haunted by something I read earlier in the week by Ronald Bosrock of the Global Institute. So early this morning, I found myself digging through piles of clippings and print outs on my desk to find it so I could review and ruminate on its message.

Bosrock began by sharing this unflattering observation from the World Economic Forum in Davos last month: Even in the worst financial crises in modern times, its proceedings took a back seat in the world media to what was happening with the celebrities – the wannabes who just like to be seen with the real thing-to the point that attention generated by them oftentimes detracted from the serious business at hand. How sad is that-but what a statement, not only about the media coverage but the public that clamors for this.

The business world has similar examples, Bosrock continues, and we can all name recent “celebrity executives” here at home who sacrificed the reputation of their company and the business community for their ego and status. But historically, he reports, Minnesota has had “far more examples of local business leaders who knew what their jobs were and set about doing them without the fanfare of celebrity”. And so they were able to build successful companies, create jobs, and develop a culture of success and innovation. Because they knew the difference between being a business executive and a rock star.

Likewise, he offered examples of national politicians who stage “pseudo-events” to create news and influence the perceptions of reality, become bigger than their jobs, and are promoted in the media not based on achievement, but because of their celebrity. Again, he points out, Minnesota has generally been fortunate to have serious politicians that knew their jobs and represented the people of Minnesota first – men like Walter Mondale, Arne Carlson, Dave Durenberger and Paul Wellstone.

Overall, as a nation, however, we give false standings to “power of personality” over the power of ideas and the authentic issues of the day.

As I re-read this over my morning cappuccino, why it has haunted me began to crystallize. How often do we succumb to this shallow viewpoint and vision in our own industry? Why do we gravitate to the self-promoting celebrity personalities? Why do we judge them on how well-known they are rather than on how well they perform and what they accomplish for their clients? How many of us yearn for “recognizable name” status or put good press before good works? Is it merely the Minnesota inferiority complex that makes us think only a celebrity from outside Minnesota can guide us in our continuing education within our industry?

As I thought about this, a colleague’s response to an entirely different circumstance came to mind. As teens and young adults, before we are able to head out into the real world, experience life and develop our own worth as a player in that life, we want to be accepted, to be welcomed into that clique in every school that represents the “in-crowd”. Can it be that some of us never grow past that adolescent insecurity?

I’m not so sure of the answer, but I do know I’ve got some research to do. So my Barnes and Noble Sunday afternoon coffee break will certainly include perusing both Daniel Boorstin’s “The Image; A guide to pseudo-events in America” and Richard Schickel’s “Intimate Stranger: The Culture of Celebrity in America”. Maybe that will help me gain some clarity on this strange phenomenon and what we need to do to change it.

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THE OVER-LOOKED COMPETENCY

February 24, 2010

Early in my professional life, I learned a phrase – “Real-Win-Worth-Risk”- that has served me well over the years. It reflected a means to evaluate a potential sales opportunity as a brain jogger to ask and evaluate answers to the key questions before launching automatically into developing a proposal response. As significant, it was the first time in my career that I was forced to objectively think about that term risk and its importance to my company, to our clients, and to me personally.

Over the years, experience after experience reinforced its validity. Eventually, I learned to give risk its proper due and place the correct amount of emphasis upon it rather than to simply dismiss it with a cursory “it will never happen to me”. On the contrary, unplanned and bad things happen and we need to be prepared. In fact, along with good overall event design, it is a competency far more essential than any knowledge or understanding we may have of the many support functions upon which we tend to focus.

Based on the probability of an incident and the magnitude of loss if it happens, risk can be placed in three general categories:

• Risk that can be minimized with good planning practices
• Risk that can’t be controlled, but with small magnitude of loss
• Risk that can’t be controlled, with a large magnitude of loss

It should be no surprise that the third category automatically signals we must go back to the drawing board to change our overall event design and plan. However, most risk incidents fortunately fall into the first category and, with our proper attention, can be minimized. Failure to assess, evaluate, create contingency plans and properly communicate them only broadcasts our incompetency as a member of this industry.

Passing the responsibility for risk assessment and action to a vendor, our legal department or our risk management officer is not an option. Yes, they are valued advisers and in many cases, the decision-makers during the planning process. Listen to their input; ask them questions; learn from them; but we cannot abdicate our own responsibility.

An effective response to a disruption of our event calls for the coordinated execution of a pre-determined emergency action plan. We must evaluate overall risk and create an emergency action plan as well as on site communication channels and protocols, division of duties and responsibilities, and plans to link communication systems.

I personally have experienced situations involving each of the following general categories. Please ask yourself – do you have a plan for:

• Attrition, Indemnification and Hold Harmless Clauses
• Weather –a rain plan, a snowstorm, earthquake, hurricane, flood, landslide or avalanche depending on location
• Venue Disasters including fire, roof collapses, power outages, a loss of water, technology issues; labor strikes including housekeeping, culinary and bar staff, others
• Missing or Damaged Materials essential to the event
• Data Security for client proprietary information and attendee information
• Liquor Liability Understand dram shop and social-host laws; protect yourself with indemnification clauses and ensure bartenders and servers are TIPS trained and can communicate between beverage stations
• Illness or Death, especially in a foreign country. Think about a flu pandemic, other disease issues or food poisoning within your group
• Loss of Documents passports, visas, similar
• Robbery or Kidnapping
• Shooting, Bomb Threat, Nuclear Plant Explosion, or Terrorist Attack

Contingency planning means planning for the “what ifs” and the worst-case scenarios to minimize loss of life, property and income. You or your business could be held legally responsible for damages that occur during an emergency such as a natural disaster, fire power outage, environmental accident, strike, or terrorism-activity for which you are not adequately prepared. Conduct a risk and security assessment and plan ahead!

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REFLECTIONS ON A RECENT ISES MEETING

February 23, 2010

Despite much of the meeting and event industry’s certification focus being placed on the logistics and accoutrements of our business, I assess an event or, for that matter, a member of the event industry, based on the three broader competencies of our business – design, evaluation, and support elements.

Thought-leaders in the industry are concentrating on the expanded definition of design-that essential first step in the process. Others have directed efforts to portions of the cost/worth/risk evaluation, and most of us are familiar to some degree with support elements from technology to décor, entertainment to floral, and that always illusive “WOW”-factor. But mostly overlooked is that primary obligation to our clients – assessing the risk of the event and of our plan.

So I was looking forward to a recent ISES chapter meeting with a program that advertised a panel discussion on logistics and security issues. It dove-tailed well into the recent State of Industry keynote by Eisenstodt and her positioning of future trends and the core competencies we will need to be successful in that changing environment (see blog posted 02/05/10). Unfortunately, I left very disappointed-despite the excellent efforts of the panel moderator and the input of police and fire panel members.

The report on the local state of the event industry while professionally done, was the first indication that as a chapter, we may still be “living on the surface”. The impact of the economy dominated the study, of course, but I was disconcerted to hear little about marketing, message, needs and outcomes, and a whole lot about difficulties of tight budgets and pleas for don’t cut the food; don’t cut the décor; don’t cut the linens. That coupled with an emerging planner vs. vendor mentality raised a red flag that perhaps we are not quite as “collaborative” as we would like to think we are! It also signaled that it may have been beneficial for more ISES members to hear the Eisenstodt message that understanding the economy-driven pressure on both sides helps maintain ethical negotiations and provides a formula for a win-win solution. (see blog posted 02/04/10).

Nevertheless, as the panel discussion commenced, I was engaged and ready to participate and learn. And I was disappointed- not by the preparation or presentation done by the moderator – but by the responses from ISES members sitting on the panel.

We blew it. This was an opportunity to learn more about one of the most important thing we do as members of the broader event community. This was an opportunity to engage the many, many new faces of corporate event planners that were drawn to the meeting looking to increase (or perhaps share) their knowledge. And we did not get the job done.

We are better than this. ISES Boards and members have worked hard to gain recognition for our chapter in the ISES world using ISES-based measurements. Now it is time to earn recognition in the real world as strategic players delivering low-risk, meaningful results- arm in arm with our client partners.

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PERFECTION

February 22, 2010

My mom and Dr. Spock would be proud of me today. I have set aside for now, the need to strive for perfection in at least one small task.

Yes, I was a Spock Baby – not one “raised by the book”, but one studied by Spock so he could write the book. And early on, as he observed me putting the blocks back in the box and continuing to dump them out over and over when the resulting top surface of blocks was not perfectly flat, he urged my mother to break me of the habit of striving for perfection – or, he predicted, I would have trouble throughout my life.

My mom often said in my teen years–as she observed my room and the mounds of clothes and other junk scattered helter-skelter—that she had done too good of a job and wished I still yearned for just a little sense of neatness and perfection.

But little did she know, I had merely prioritized the list of what needed to be perfect. Over and over I was disappointed in the results of whatever I did…away from home. Intellectually, I eventually learned the hard lesson, that perfection is a worthy goal but certainly not an achievable destination. And with that, my work mantra became, “nothing is perfect; if we ever achieve that, I will retire”. I’m sure many around me outwardly joined me in that quest for perfection – only because it might mean I would retire and be out of their hair!

And of course, here I am-many years later, still striving for that point and place in time when it all will be “just perfect” instead of yet another of life’s lessons and a “teachable” moment.

But I am here to report that progress has been made! After struggling for some 30 hours over the last four days to conquer the simple technological task of adding project photos to the sidebar pages on this blog site, I have come to the point of saying for the first time in my life, I think, “it’s good enough”! Because no matter what I do to carefully line up the pictures in a neat order, once I hit the PUBLISH button, the demons in my computer take over and rearrange them – so they look like the helter-skelter mess of my bedroom long ago.

After sleeping on the issue, I got up this morning planning to edit and trash, took another look, and said, “at least they are up, and that is just good enough-at least for now”. Hallelujah!

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Innovation…in Government?

February 15, 2010

Last week at the Opening Session Retreat, Larry Keeley, Minnesota-born innovation guru now residing in Chicago, posed the following question to members of the State Legislature:

“Is the pace of the changes that you in state government are proposing, debating and achieving faster or slower than the pace of change in the lives of your citizens?”

It got the attention of the audience, and that of the Strib’s Lori Studevant who wrote a followup column that hit home to me.

Studevant painted a picture of the Minnesota Legislature as one stuck with jurisdictions of the 19th century, structures of the mid-20th century, funding formulas from the 70s and tax fights of the 1980s and then posed the relevant question for me…”Can a Legislature in the 21st Century still be timely, relevant, creative – and most desirable of all, effective?”

Over the last six months, I have posed similar questions about national government and media, business and their customers in general, event designers and producers and their clients specifically, and have wondered about organizations to which I belong and their membership bases. So I eagerly scanned the article for more insight.

Keeley points out that one gains greater “innovation competence” by remaking one’s decision-making process. Decisions should be based on a disciplined analysis of problems and opportunities – a “exercise quite different from partisan positioning, orchestrated public hearings and theatrical floor debates”

Know your strengths…discern what’s ahead in those areas…build incentives into financing systems…enhance the customer experience…encourage new processes…junk old structures when they get in the way of results…don’t make decisions based on anecdotes or arguments of a few vocal interests…research and use the experience of those that have succeeded.

These are familiar arguments that pertain not only to government but to all that we do. Think about it.

Put another way, let me ask you – is the pace of the changes we in the meetings and event world are proposing, debating and achieving faster or slower than the pace of change in our client lives and in the lives of their target audience?

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EMERGING FROM THE ASHES…

February 9, 2010

Much as I was encouraged to read Harvey MacKay’s column yesterday, I was equally dismayed as I perused a reprint from the New York Times written by Joe Sharkey entitled “A new meetings industry emerges from the ashes”.

Yes Joe, our world does include irresponsible organizations holding lavish meetings that have led to what you term the “AIG Effect”. But did you confirm the outrage was caused by a meeting held in Las Vegas –a site which caters to meetings with good hotels and the biggest convention center in the nation? Or could the swell of disdain have resulted from the perception that because AIG was too big to fail and thus created the bail-out, the public viewed their meeting as inappropriate because it felt the government and thus the American public paid for it? The two issues are not the same.

Yes Joe, you may have felt the Sea World atmosphere was created just for you and thus you can exclaim about the lavishness of evening parties. But did you stop to think that all but the food and beverage are seen every day, day after day, hour after hour by Sea World guests . So the cost of that “special” whale show and most other accoutrements, have been amortized long ago over daily admission fees collected from the visiting tourists and their families. You might be surprised to learn that theme parks are chosen by planners for off-site events because it often COSTS LESS to produce there than creating a message-driven evening event from scratch. So, sometimes, reinforcing the message of the meeting in a social environment is sacrificed in order to manage costs.

Yes Joe, as we all struggle to adjust to the new economy rising out of this recession, for some, meetings and events are being redefined. But the new meetings industry you describe as emerging from the struggle is NOT necessarily based on cost control and virtual events as you reported.

In the first place Joe, cost control has been a critical tactical element for serious meeting and event planners for decades. ROI and Strategic Meeting Management were buzz words long before we knew we were in a recession. Procurement and cost control represents one important arm of meetings management – which many in the industry define as meeting efficiency. You might wish to check out http://illuminationgalleries.com/blog/2009 04 01 archive.html that was just recently forwarded to me by a colleague. Jay Smethurst created a picture that explain this very well.

Secondly , as technology advances, virtual events are indeed being experimented with in several arenas. But as the discussion continues, I think many of us are welcoming the hybrid event comprised of both live and virtual elements – not because we can, or because it is less expensive, but because it allows us to extend the audience exponentially, and thus create greater connections and engagement. Oh yes, Joe, one saves money in air, hotel and food and beverage with a virtual event, but a national meeting content producer recently pointed out to me that no one factors in the new costs – those of uplinks and television/movie picture quality production – which is needed if we expect in a virtual setting to hold the audience’s attention and create a meaningful dialog that will drive real business results.

Yes, most importantly, Joe, there is no need for meeting efficiency of which you speak, if one does not have meeting effectiveness – the arm that focuses on business results. Meetings and events that lack focus, purpose and a clear understanding of desired outcomes on the part of both the organizer and the audience are not worth holding-no matter how little or how much they cost.

EventView, the largest and longest-running annual survey of corporate sales and marketing executives, repeatedly reports that meetings, events and tradeshows far surpass advertising and web marketing when it comes to achieving corporate goals, introducing new products, cementing relationships, and enhancing a company’s brand. And they do so because face to face interaction optimizes effective communication, sharing of information, resolving objectives and obtaining buy-in. And it does this with a targeted audience that is interested, qualified and motivated to participate.

So yes, Joe, my hope for the future of the industry as we emerge from the ashes is that we scrutinize every meeting opportunity to get back to the basics – why is the meeting being held in the first place. And then, we move forward in design to accomplish this task and measure the results. In the 21st century that means we may abandon old models of talking heads and PowerPoint aimed to push information out to the audience and strive to create interactive experiences that connect, inform and engage.

We need to hold all stakeholders, planners and producers “feet to fire”. No real results; no repeat of that meeting. And along the way, we will change the role of the meeting planner from procurement experts to strategic players who by managing both efficiently and effectively, assist their organizations to market with their audience, for the mutual benefit of both.

Thanks for your patience as I vented.