March 28, 2010

Last spring at an ISES social, I had a conversation with Pete Nelson about the 2008 Star Awards. Although I did not agree with his perspective that it was a universal disappointment to the attending audience, nor was I excited about his plan to return to a hotel ballroom and good levels of alcohol, I did try hard to remind myself that those within our industry that provide the accoutrements those of us with focus on client message, brand, and measureable results all use, simply have a different perspective. And of course, they would, as they provide the trimmings that accessorize our work, and thus need be less concerned about payback to audience and client.

So throughout the year, as plans developed, and committee chairs and teams gave of their time and talents to create a wonderful party, I tried hard not to be judgmental. Knowing I over-emphasize authenticity, I was a bit concerned when I learned the focus was on Brazil, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. Having spent a great deal of time in two of those three countries, I feared I would find fault with the team’s interpretation of their cultures. But I made up my mind not to obsess – it would be what it was and it would be successful in meeting Pete’s goals to “throw a great party”.

So by Friday night, I had done much to revamp my expectations, tried my best to support the party brand – at least in my color selection of ORANGE , as so many others had done as well – and headed off to the Hyatt – almost reconciled to the return for a night of the well-worn theme party.

And I found much to praise. Immediately, the command of space was impressive. As I walked through the curtains at registration, I entered an environment that had no anchor to the tired old foyer of the Hyatt hotel. As we moved into the Awards Ceremony, the screen sets on the stage drew me forward to find a seat at the welcoming arrangement of tables. I was momentarily dismayed by the din, as I knew it was a result of a cocktail hour that went past its prime, but the opening number certainly re-captured our attention and got us engaged. A small hitch came in the last opening comment that conveyed the disrespectful feeling that recognition of the work of the finalists was a necessary evil to get out of the way so that we could resume the party. But, I took a deep breath, and turned my attention to the work we had gathered to honor.

True to the promise, the show moved smoothly and fast although I left with no feel for what was considered good works. Since I had already one more than my “two drink” rule, I chose to accept that this was my own fault, and perhaps not that the message was not adequately conveyed. However, the audience continued to talk through most of it, and tuned in, it seemed, only when their own work or that of a favorite colleague was featured. There was no doubt it was party time and the awards were not necessarily the reason we had all gathered together.

And then it was over, and the party began in earnest. The minimal food offered reconfirmed this was a marketing event about décor and entertainment, and there were some interesting new things on display. It was great fun to see so many people engage with the entertainment and fill the dance floor. And for me, it was very refreshing that the sound levels of the band were controlled and still allowed good conversation among the attendees. Even though one of those conversations I had was with a proud but inebriated committee member still spewing vitriol over the 2008 awards evening. Having had a bit too much to drink myself at that point, I did not have the common sense to just smile and walk away and instead tried, to no avail, to make the point that each approach had merits- based on the objectives – but there was no doubt to this person, the only objective was free flowing alcohol throughout, so I moved on.

All in all, the after-party paid tribute to the Event Lab brand and I expect it will serve them well with profitable business in the future. I need not have worried about culture, as I saw little that reminded me of Brazil or Puerto Rico. And for the audience, there is no doubt, I think, that we all had FUN. It’s Sunday and I am still suffering through the aftermath of that!

So congrats on a great party, Pete, and to all those that supported you and worked hard to create that dream you shared with me last spring.

As for me, I have sworn off my bloodies for a while, and am sitting here pondering how the success of Ritmo Caliente impacts a national discussion I have been privy to participate in among event professionals across the country. We’ve been debating how members of our industry learn and grow. We’ve resolved, I think, that the 20th century model of classrooms and speakers pushing out data or showing “aren’t I great- see what I’ve done” pretty pictures in seminar sessions is passé. We’ve moved on to accept we learn by experiences and are debating how valuable our evening experiences at TSE , Event Solutions or other conferences are as a strong educational medium. Ritmo Caliente did not do that, nor was it designed to do that. It was all about just having fun with friends and colleagues. And that’s ok, too.

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