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Innovation in the Meetings Industry: Lessons from #PCMACIC13

While meeting professionals instinctively know that bringing people face-to-face creates conversations and sparks innovation, one could argue the meetings industry itself really hasn't evolved all that much since business events became more popular.

Sure, we've had innovations with technology, enabling better audiovisual presentations, and even hybrid meetings. But have meeting professionals truly been able to change the way meetings are conducted, beyond the traditional lecture models and tradeshow formats we have known for the last 40-50 years?

The organizers of the first PCMA Canadian Innovation Conference (#PCMACIC13), held in Niagara Falls November 10-12, tried to explore that very issue.  It was my first time attending any PCMA event. Like many in attendance, I wasn't really sure what form innovation would take at this particular event. 

What I saw at this conference was a lot of what we have all seen in the past. Elegant staging, beautifully decorated rooms, keynote speakers and breakout sessions. What was different about this conference is that the organizers really wanted to push the envelope about how we can innovate in our business. And for this they must be commended.

I've always felt that the true test of a great conference is what stays with you long after the event has passed.  Was this event truly innovative enough to make people think differently and behave differently? 

At this conference, it was the keynote speakers that did it for me.

The opening keynote speaker, Randy Cass, was probably not the favorite speaker of the conference. Many people I spoke to, who aren't entrepreneurs, felt that he wasn't speaking to them.  One association said to me, “he didn't really have anything to say that applies to me because I work for not-for-profit.”  That was odd to me because Cass gave me one of the best “nuggets” I could walk away with…

And that was to be innovative, you have to take risks.  You cannot be afraid of failure, because failure itself can be a huge learning experience.  He quoted Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin empire, as saying, “Screw it – just DO it!” (with apologies to Nike).  Unfortunately too many meeting professionals are judged only by their latest gig. Few can afford to look at failures as necessary and valuable outcomes to learn from. 

Yours truly with PCMA CIC closing
Keynote Speaker, Amanda Lindhout
Similarly the closing speaker gave me another precious “ah-ha” moment.  There probably wasn’t a dry eye in the room after Amanda Lindhout recounted her story of survival and compassion from her 15-month ordeal as a captive of Somali insurgents. Standing behind a lectern with only a hand-held microphone, she did not use any fancy visuals.  Her words and remarkable poise were enough for the audience to imagine all that they needed to understand her poignant message.

And from this I understood the power of storytelling.  Not to take anything away from the wonderful work that my AV friends do in the business, but human beings sharing stories can be more powerful than any production.   

So how could PCMA organizers kick it up a notch for next year’s conference in Montreal?  Here are a few ideas to start the conversation:

- Allow people to discuss the issues that they care about in a non-structured format. Have an unconference! We have a few experts in this industry that could lead us through a discussion like this such as Adrian Segar, Jeff Hurt or Chris Brogan, to name a few;  

– Enable people to experience peer-to-peer coaching. This involves having individuals share with their problems are and having the group offer potential ideas to remedy the situation. Sometimes the best solutions are not from so called experts but rather our own peers!

- Instead of traditional lecture formats, let’s have learning labs and hands-on workshops where people can design an actual conference program, marketing program, or other components of a conference.

– Bring experts who are not from the meetings industry. I love professional speakers (and clearly the above two keynotes are amongst the best from NSB), but maybe we need to hear from adult learning experts, sociologists or brain scientists so we can learn how face-to-face interaction truly leads to innovation.

This PCMA event helped open my eyes to the need for more innovation and story-telling in the meetings industry. Congratulations to the host venue, the Niagara Falls Scotiabank Convention Centre, co-chairs Chuck Schouwerwou and Heidi Welker, and the entire Organizing Committee!  

P.S.  I look forward to lending a hand next year for the conference which is planned for Montreal in late November. 

7 Things First Time Home Buying and Content Marketing Have In Common

Business Man Holding a House
My fiancée and I recently bought our first house. Having chased this dream for two years, finding the perfect starter home made me realize how similar the experience can be for hoteliers and DMOs contemplating content marketing for the first time.

So if you are looking to get into blogging or an e-newsletters series to help you increase your attraction factor to meeting and event planners, consider these tips:
  1. Never rush into the first idea that comes to mind: We thought the very first house we looked at was a winner. Within 6 months of losing the opportunity to another buyer, we could not see ourselves living there. So while strategizing about creating content for your hotel blog, take a step back and ask "Is this the best content for what we want to achieve?" Perhaps you need the input of a content strategist, or a few meeting planners, to ensure your content is on the mark. 
  2. Keep trying: After every house we lost, got outbid on, or just couldn't secure; we were devastated. But we persevered and found the one. The same applies to content marketing. This is a process that may take time, and you may not get it right immediately. But keep trying, and you will start to attract more readers – and eventually, more leads! 
  3. Use trusted sources: When buying a first time home, you get information from all over the place. Some good, some not so good. When creating content for your destination or hotel’s blog or e-newsletter, solidify your position by citing your own organization’s experts AND the occasional outside source. Your Conference Services may be a great gal, but if you can also show that her team building ideas are based on recent research at Harvard, you’ll elevate the trustworthiness of your content. 
  4. Ask for help: Never assume doing it all yourself is the best process. Upon visiting what we thought was the dream house, an inspector found major deficiencies. So it goes for content generation: make sure you have several people committed to generating ideas and contributing. And get help to proof before you post! 
  5. Checklists, checklists, checklists: Finding the perfect home consisted of forming a checklist of everything we wanted, needed, and could live without. Checklists are a great way to ensure you don’t miss some of the necessary fundamentals along the way – does this content give at least one valuable tip to a meeting planner? Does it link to more resources on our website? Does it have a call-to-action? Etc. If you have a checklist of the elements that your content need to have at the start of the campaign, then you are more likely to stay on track. 
  6. Filling the space: When buying a house, you need to account for the space you have, furnishings you have and what you’ll need to get. It’s the same with content marketing. Ensure your material doesn’t feel cramped. Fill it with useful information – content that a meeting planner would find valuable. Never just fill space with promotional stuff. Adapt your layout to what has worked in the past but don’t be afraid to change things around once in awhile. 
  7. Get Social: When you move into your first house, you need extra hands, so you reach out to your social network. The same can be said with your content marketing. Posting your material to social media will bring in those extra visitors you need to ensure the campaign is successful. Never be afraid to use every tool in your marketing arsenal to publicize your content. Just make sure you balance your stuff with other engaging social media tactics. 
Taking simple tips like these are a great way to tighten up those offers and if I may impart one final tip, make sure your campaigns are organic. Take lessons like these, life lessons, to move forward and grow in content creation.