With ramped-up virtual components and a dramatically different approach to sessions, the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) attracted what could be record attendance to its annual conference in San Diego last week.
“We have a record number of planners and are hoping for a record overall total,” said outgoing PCMA chairman Susan Katz at a press conference. “ I believe we will meet or exceed last year’s total, which was 3,743.”
Also significant is that more than 120 delegates reported they were driven to attend as a result of their virtual participation in last year’s conference.
This shows that “virtual and hybrid events will drive face-to-face attendance,” Katz said.
New approach to sessions
What made this years’ conference different? Among the innovations:
• An opening general session that aimed to emulate the high-profile TED conferences with brief presentations by three high-powered speakers – one of whom appeared virtually, another first
• No discussion of association business during general sessions
• Diversity of session times – some as brief as 30 minutes
• Periods of non-consecutive sessions
• For the second time, the conference was co-located with the Virtual Edge Summit on hybrid and virtual meetings
Taking and identifying risks
PCMA officials positioned the conference as an event where experiments could be tackled in the interests of members.
“We want to make sure PCMA continues to take risks and to identify trends. We want to take these risks so members can see the results immediately and can figure out if they want to do some of these things at their own events,” said incoming chairman Kent Allaway.
Opening session: planning is like online dating
The first general session patterned itself after TED, the hugely popular conferences that attract high-powered representatives of entertainment, technology and design.
The session featured three brief presentations by well-known speakers: John Medina, author of longtime bestseller Brain Rules; Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World; and Sally Hogshead, author of Fascinate.
Here are highlights:
“You have nine seconds to introduce yourself because we now have the attention span of a goldfish. Being a meeting professional is like online dating in that you have to harness the first nine seconds of contact. That is the most precious part of fascinating your audience.” – Hogshead
“We don’t know much about how the brain works, how you can pick up a pen and write with it. But that hasn’t stopped certain mythologies from developing. Among the myths: we only use 10% of our brains; that we have a right brain and left brain. What is true is that you have a maximum attention span of about ten minutes, then it’s time to absorb what we’ve learned. Also, the human brain processes meaning before it processes details – never the other way around.” – Medina
“A billion gamers play games globally, 40 percent of them women. In the U.S an adult is more likely than not to be a gamer. What if we could harness the global passion for gaming into real world positive impacts? If you could get every meeting attendee to do one thing for one minute, what would it be? What will the legacy of the meeting be? What will make delegates want to come back the next year? – McGonigal
Medical meetings: What will healthcare reform mean?
A panel called “New Day for Medical Associations” revealed deep concern about the new federal health care system and other regulatory issues that call for transparency in the relationship between medical professionals and industry vendors like pharmaceutical companies.
For medical meeting planners it will mean developing new revenue streams as it becomes more difficult to raise money from industry.
Here are highlights:
“We’re looking at options like iPhone applications to develop. And with annual meetings having contributed 50 percent of all revenues in the past, other options are being sought including regular meetings with industry to seek out clarity on strategy and the need for transparency.” – Anne Bishop, Chief Executive, British Association of Urological Surgeons
“Virtual meetings usually involve virtual revenue. Medical meetings are still a crucial source of information. The challenge for all of us is how do we get our toes in the water, understand virtual meetings use them and not cannibalize from face-to-face meetings,” – David Parke, executive vice president/CEO, American Academy of Ophthalmology
Social media: maximize your clout
Several social media experts talked about how planners can maximize their social media clout.
Here are highlights:
“Social media is like networking on steroids. The issue is not should you do social media, but how do you do it well, You have to think in terms of stages; you want to think of a year-long social media engagement so you are continually maintaining contact.
“You want to create a fun experience so people come back to your meetings every year. But be smart – don’t just push out information about yourself. If you think it takes too much time, be creative. Leverage your speakers and ask them to promote an event on your behalf. Be strategic. Think about your priorities and goals. Leverage your content in different places; there doesn’t have to be unique content for each platform. — Leigh George, senior digital marketing strategist for R2-Integrated Digital Marketing & Technology
“Twitter is becoming more and more important. The number of searches being done on Twitter equals those on Yahoo and Bing combined; the difference is that everything on Twitter is public so it’s a compelling platform to get out your information. Twitter is critical for real-time engagement. I have met most of my friends through Twitter. If you get one thing out of this conference it might be to use Twitter. In court, you have a court reporter; for your event you should have a Tweeter sharing information about the conference.” – Neal Schaffer, senior vice president, social media strategy, Social 5150