Archive for the ‘REFLECTIONS: ISES’ Category



December 29, 2010

Over 25 years ago when the CMP certification was launched, I was VP of Operations for the Meetings Division at Carlson Marketing Group. This was long before CMP discussion/study groups were formed, as the certification concept was in its infancy.  But surrounded with a staff of meeting planners with varying degrees of expertise, in January, 1986, I ordered the PCMA Preparation Manual for the Exam and the First Edition of Professional Meeting Management, and introduced the 25 disciplines covered to my staff of meeting planners.  Each was assigned a section, and asked to review the topic and then present it to the team for discussion as part of the weekly staff meetings. 

I envisioned the manual as a good training tool; and better yet, one that would save me the time of organizing my own knowledge and thoughts to create tools myself.  But along the way, I observed an interesting phenomenon-each planner instinctively used personal experiences to illustrate what they learned, and the audience quickly shared their own experience to support or question the point being discussed.  In some cases, we decided the manual did not always reflect the world of corporate meetings as we knew it – but we simply assumed this was because of innate differences between corporate and association meetings.

Eventually, I decided to actually sit for the exam and off I went to Chicago to be tested; and became one of the first five CMPs in the State of Minnesota.  And yet, the process was somewhat disconcerting.  It seemed I had some trouble with questions relating to AV Equipment and Production.  Really?  How could that be – by this time I had been responsible for AV Production and Equipment for a $15 million division of CMG for almost five years!  Surely, I knew the basics.  As I reviewed the questions I missed, I was irritated to find that I did give the correct answers; however my answers reflected emerging technology and practices not in place when the manuals, study guides and exams were authored. 

And with that, I experienced the first disillusionment encompassing certification-it is too time-specific for an ever-evolving industry.  The second, of course, was that no client in the world really knows what CMP means even these 25 years later, so it does not offer much value in terms of one’s promotability.  Nevertheless, I generally supported the process; advising those considering sitting for the exam not to expect a raise, or more business, but to concentrate on the real value – the process of interacting with one’s peers in the learning process.

And then a decade or so ago, another certification process emerged – this time for the CSEP.  Most who know me have heard me say that I would like to be part of a study group, but have no intention of sitting for the exam.  I believe my credentials and client successes speak well for my knowledge; I am not sure testing facts and practices at any given point in time is meaningful; and although I commend those that have risen to the challenge and successfully earned the designation, I do not see the benefit for me personally.   I accept that attitude as partly an age thing and partly just my quirky personality, and really have not given it much thought – unless I am questioned as to why I have not pursued the certification.  I have been encouraged, however, to see that process in the event world continue to emerge – from measuring how well one memorized definition of terms, to more emphasis on measuring process and innovative problem-solving within an event environment

But in the last two weeks, this nagging certification issue has fallen into place for me, thanks to my newfound “bible” – The NEW Social Learning.  The authors define learning as a “transformative process of taking in information that- when internalized and mixed with what we have experienced- changes what we know and builds on what we can do.”  Learning is based on input, process and reflections.

Despite being a disciple of new emerging ideas in the learning field, I was surprised to see that 70% of learning and development takes place from real-life, on-the-job experiences, tasks and problem-solving;  20% from other people in formal or informal feedback, mentoring or coaching situations; and only 10% from formal training.  That caught my attention and reminded me how we intuitively polished our planning skills so long ago in the Meetings Division by interacting with our peers and sharing personal experiences.

But the authors pushed further as they suggested that the traditional corporate training model is being modernized to take advantage of incidental learning, learning from interacting with others, and learning along the way in the course of doing work.   They further suggest that traditional training methods may survive and will prove useful for teaching highly specific tasks or safety procedures, but evolving practices require more.

There is no doubt in my mind that I have been a part of an evolving industry for 30 years, and in the last 10 of those years, it is an industry that has speeded up exponentially.  Every day our base of best practices is redefined and so, too, are the “right answers “ of yesterday proven to be dated and even wrong. 

So that explains the dilemma of testing knowledge at a given point in time as in my CMP experience…but it does not provide the answer to how one measures learning nor how one ensures that once certified, one continues to learn.  And while I have not thought enough about this particular topic of certification and its value, it does reinforce for me that it is merely a first step in a big process.

 If in fact one sits back after certification and considers oneself the proven “expert”, I fear we would end up with an industry out-of-sync with the rest of the world. I personally am not too motivated to tackle the grueling testing process needed to add those coveted additional initials to my name and so, for now,  will keep my own energies focused on continuing learning instead.  



November 30, 2010

Today’s the big test – the Republicans have dinner at the White House.  Let it not become a second “Day of Infamy” in our country’s history, but instead, a baby step forward into the 21st century and a new world of innovation, interaction, and collaboration.

I fear it won’t, however, as politics continues to trump service to the people on both sides. And worse,  to stir the pot in this crisis, we have the press – ever-ready as the judges-unfortunately using “history” and 20th century expertise to support their antiquated evaluation process.  And while they pontificate, they do not seem to recognize they have sacrificed their historical contribution and have become puppets and angry voices of the divisive culture in which we all find ourselves.

Stephen Wilbers furnished some great food for thought yesterday in his Strib column entitled “Conflict Resolution Doesn’t Have to Mean Compromise”. For the details, check it out online if you missed it, but the last paragraph sums it up and harkens back to a leadership theory I learned and tried to practice way back in the mid 1970s:

WIN-WIN Solutions…maybe we should forget about compromise, which suggests letting go of values, and concentrate on consensus, which suggests holding on to shared beliefs.

As I read that, I couldn’t help but muse about appropriate applications in my professional life as well.  I often feel our own industry, not just the politics of the country, is at a crossroads that one could view as a potential rift.

If you routinely follow this blog, you know I have moved from tentatively experimenting with collaboration in the development of experiential events to sometimes questioning whether I’ve crossed the line and become a zealot – shutting out all value of other viewpoints.

So this article was a good reminder for me and for others who become self-righteous in the protection of our own values- it is not about who is right, worked harder, or who has a greater following supporting one’s modus operandi – it is about exploring together where we share commonalities so we all emerge better for it as we strive to deliver value to our audience.



November 15, 2010

Over the last several years, I have gradually lowered my expectation of benefits I would reap from the monthly ISES meetings, as educational efforts seemed aimed towards the lowest common denominator within the audience.  I surmised that was a natural result of what I felt was using conferences such as The Special Event and EventWorld as a place to line up chapter speakers by sampling “industry leaders” seminar content .  Since most have for years been underwhelming and generally ego-driven show-and-tell pretty pictures, I learned to attend for the networking, and occasionally, was pleasantly surprised  with a new venue, a service or a quality topic and presentation from a guest speaker making his rounds from chapter to chapter.  That approach saved me from being disappointed, and I tried not to think about the impact that national approach to chapter education was having on “dumbing down” the quality of events coming from ISES members. 

That assumption seemed to be reinforced as I looked at “Special Event” magazine.  Twenty years ago, I poured over articles, reading it cover to cover for what I could learn to make me a better event planner.  Today when it comes, I thumb through it quickly for new products and any mention of local MN members, then file it away – knowing if I don’t, I will never come back to it, as it generally holds little of interest in terms of event approaches.

So I was ecstatic last week to be part of the audience that welcomed Kris Kirstoffersen to our November chapter meeting.  I knew I had made the right choice between Pink and ISES when Kris began with the premise that event design is not décor and then jumped right into a progression within ISES that tracked events from party planner to WOW factors to reveals to appealing to senses to creating an experience to what we are really all about – telling a story that stimulates thought and delivers a message.  To recognize that  progression, understand, reinvent a company, and do exceedingly well through the recession should be a signal to all-particularly those companies that view themselves as designers, yet suffered through the down-turn in the economy. 

The message last week reinforced what I observed and experienced, supporting my premise. Those of us that strive to tell the client’s story and view our contribution in this industry as part of a customer’s marketing strategy have had two very good years.

And best of all, I didn’t have to forego Daniel Pink entirely when I chose to attend ISES instead of the AchieveMpls lunch at the Depot at the same time. ran a feature on what Daniel had to say.  I expected the message he conveyed, as I have heard him speak, am an avid fan, and have digested all his books. But it is always nice to hear someone you admire tell you that Minnesota is uniquely positioned to make the educational paradigm shift because “you have an enormous tradition of creativity from the arts community, and a tradition of non-ideological problem-solving. “   The column author, Beth Hawkins also shared that the presentation based on “Drive: The surprising Truth about What Motivates Us” included similar themes he presented at the idea forum TED – so I am off to take a look right now.

  In the end I will not only get a Pink fix, but my faith that ISES may indeed make the transition from early days event planning to the world of experiential messaging has been reinforced. Kudos to the 2010 MN ISES Board.



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.



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.