Clay Feet: The Good and Bad of an Industry Event

It’s been a whirlwind January, featuring one of the leading events and hospitality programs, PCMA Convening Leaders. Whether it was the colder weather in Chicago or the disjointed space in McCormick Place, I was disappointed this year, even though there were some really bright spots. It wasn’t any one thing but rather a feeling that things weren’t as well-thought as usual or that too much was trying to happen in order to impress all of the event professionals in one space. Please note that all of this is being said with the adage of “clay feet for idols” and “glass houses” in mind. Cause I work with professional speakers and wow. I can’t even begin to fathom planning for planners.

Let’s take a look at the top 3 highlights and 3 opportunities of #PCMACL15 (with an extra bonus because Deborah Sexton’s PSA around hugging was beyond hysterical and so very well-done).

Highlight #1: Having Scott Stratten with UnMarketing Speak
If you haven’t yet hired Scott for your next meeting, you should make that phone call right now. I’m a cynical, long time events person. It takes a lot to make me giddy. Now, not only am I giddy, I have serious speaker crush. For his comments about how his water needs to be precisely 48 degrees and positioned at only a ninety degree angle on stage right, I would have wanted him. Add in his content on branding and approach to presenting? #MicDrop AMAZING. I highly recommend him. His breakout was worth almost my entire attendance fee.

Want to internet stalk him before you call? Scott and his wife have a great  podcast as well as an active Facebook and other social media you should check out.

Opportunity #1: Training the Volunteers and Staff
Nearly every volunteer and staffer I talked to had trouble giving directions to things, to people, and to events. For instance, when I brought out my map/app to try and find the PSAV Lounge (a sponsor), one volunteer actually asked me if I was sure the Lounge was happening this year. Another senior staffer at the help desk couldn’t point me to the Populous Work Desk (something new that was specifically featured in the 10 things you should check out this year) and kept sending me to the Foundation desk. I realize it’s a large building, but please please run all of the people who might be considered staff/temps/volunteers through a mini-training program to help us navigate places.

Highlight #2: Having Great Gathering Spaces for Pop-up Meetings

I don’t go to as many educational sessions as I used to, but I do meet with a lot of vendors and potential supplier partners. It was so nice to have the Convening Lounge as well as the numerous chairs, benches, and seemingly limitless popcorn supply at our fingertips to base these meetings. McCormick Place can be a little challenging for space and placing breakouts and PCMA did a phenomenal job to make sure these types of locales were central to the action so a participant could pop in and go.

Opportunity #2: Needing Accessible Charging Stations for Laptops

For all the many pop up meeting spaces though, there was a noticeable lack of charging stations for devices that weren’t smartphones. I had to run a webinar one day and searched for nearly an hour before I gave up and went across the street to the Hyatt to plug in. Maybe they were there, but please advertise or point them out better.

Highlight #3: Having Real Conversations about Event Venues

The audiences I work with care a lot about space and the functionality of the spaces we host our events in. So, I was pumped to see that PCMA invited Populous, an architecture firm that specializes in special event venue design to Convening Leaders this year. Not only did the architects listen to the event professionals and suppliers about our wish lists and complaints for what’s working and not working (no more columns please, much more power and event technology infrastructure needed, and for heaven’s sakes, always high ceilings), they also did a couple of sessions on how and why convention centers and other event venues are designed certain ways and trends they’re seeing for the future. Great content, great partnership.

Opportunity #3: Figuring Out How to Do the Receptions and Lunch

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This is something I think we all struggle with once the party gets over a certain number of people. Let’s start with lunch. The first day was nicely done, with banquet setting and though the serving staff was a little awkward with the food allergies, had great service. The second day was miserable. The lines were out the door, the service was slow, and by the time you did get the food, it was cold. The final day was better, but still struggled a bit. I liked the selection (at no point was it just chicken or pasta!) and thought that it was fun to showcase each sponsor (especially Mexico with the great music and dancing) so nicely.

For receptions: I did love the many options for food and the Navy Pier in particular was a very unique locale. However, it was crowded, difficult to navigate, and tough to connect with people at the opening reception and the closing reception. It was easy to get the bar, which was nice and the noise level was perfect. It’s worth noting that Party with a Purpose was also much stronger this year, both from a band perspective (props to the Austin CVB and the PCMA Foundation), but also from a great space that was easy to navigate and to hang out in.

BONUS Highlight: Having PSAs be funny

The flu and other winter illnesses are no fun, but kudos to Deborah Sexton and her team for encouraging a bunch of hugger oriented people to greet one another in less contact driven ways. I’m not sure it was truly successful but the PSAs weren’t overdone and were so humorous.

All in all, a solid year. Can’t wait to see everyone next year in Vancouver!

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