When it came time to organize the Texas Hill Country Chapter’s Texas Education Conference 2012 (TEC 2012), event co-chairs, Mandy Begley and Paulina Van Eeden Hill, got creative, planning the entire event using Facebook chat, text messages, emails and phone calls, and it worked—flawlessly.
“We live about 45 minutes away from each other, and work for different associations, so during the day we would Facebook chat. Toward the end we would talk on the phone, but I mean, we met twice in person,” Van Eeden Hill said. “We never met with our committee; it was all over the phone or over the Internet.”
The key was organizing productive committee brainstorm “sessions.”
“That part may not work for every chapter, or every event, and maybe we got lucky having just the right mix of people on our committee, but it worked really well for us,” Begley said.
The group using their own personal experiences and needs, as well as taking advantage of the expertise of their supplier partners proved successful. The committee brainstormed creative ways to turn the ordinary into unique and to foster new ideas for everyone in attendance.
From unorthodox meals like breakfasts on couches and outdoor lunches provided by local food trucks, to paper-topped tables meant to inspire creative doodling and idea sharing, the planning of TEC 2012 exploded into an eclectic mix of ideas that drove valuable takeaways for every attendee.
“It was kind of like, how many ideas can we put into one bag,” Van Eeden Hill said. “We were hoping that we would provide hundreds of new ideas and maybe a couple of them could be integrated into all of our planners meetings.”
Collaboration wasn’t just between event committee members—Begley and Van Eeden Hill also looked to the event’s speakers and their supplier partners for creative ideas as well.
“As planners, we’re always at our own meetings,” Van Eeden Hill said. “We don’t always get an opportunity to really go out and see what’s going on, so when you talk to your suppliers, and ask ‘Hey what’s the new set? What’s everyone doing differently?’ That’s a great way to get those ideas.”
Push the Envelope
Begley and Van Eeden Hill agreed that the planning of past TECs had one thing in common—similarity. There was nothing unique about them—nothing that made the attendees uncomfortable. They decided right out of the gate they wanted TEC 2012 to be different.
“It was funny to see people walk in the room, scan the room and see that there are no banquet rounds, that there’s actually bean bags and funky couches, and they all thought, ‘Where am I going to sit?’” Begley said.
For this planning duo, the “old-school” way of setting a room banquet-style and hiring a speaker to simply talk to audience from behind a podium wasn’t going to cut it.
“We are bound to get some negative feedback,” Begley said. “But I think it would actually be a compliment if we pushed someone beyond their comfort zone.”
Not everything went according to plan on site, though—when does it ever?
The key, the organizers said, is to go with the flow and think on your feet, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to fail.
One particular flub came during the “tour sessions.” Begley and Van Eeden Hill had coordinated a series of concurrent tours that would feature the Dallas Convention Center and the newly built, attached Omni Convention Center Hotel. On one tour, planners could tour the Dallas Convention center and then brainstorm in a roundtable setting about how to make the transition from planning meetings in hotels to meeting in convention centers.
“Once we got over to the convention center and did a poll of who was on the tour, there wasn’t a need for us to have that conversation,” Begley said. “The planners in the group were already meeting in convention centers. The takeaway for us was that we had to give attendees what they wanted, and they wanted to know what the convention center had to offer them. The scope of that session changed on the fly and I threw out all my roundtable questions, and we went with the audience questions. It ended up a very successful event, it just was not what we had planned.”
That’s okay, though. Don’t be so married to your idea that your attendees’ needs get lost along the way, Begley suggests.
Leave a Positive Impact
As little as five years ago, event organizers were trying to avoid having to plan a community service project, and attendees used that block in the schedule as free time to check email rather than get involved. Today, organizers are coming up with creative ways to leave a positive impact on local communities and attendees are excited to get involved.
“The Art of Meeting” was the theme of TEC 2012, so it only made sense to give back to an organization dedicated to fostering the arts in the community.
TEC attendees were asked to bring art supplies with them to donate to the Achievement Center of Texas, an organization that helps people with disabilities express themselves through art.
But, Begley and Van Eeden Hill didn’t stop there. Besides collecting more than $1,000 worth of art supplies, they coordinated a “special delivery” to the Achievement Center’s CEO at the event’s closing luncheon, so attendees could see and hear first hand how their donations would leave a positive impact.
“You have changed lives with these supplies,” said Marilynne Serie, executive director of the Achievement Center of Texas. “The supplies are a godsend for the people we serve and to our organization’s efforts.”
Having the community organization tell their story (albeit briefly) at the event turned the donation of simple art supplies into a human story—touching the hearts of those in attendance.
Don’t Miss TEC 2013!
Regardless of which MPI chapter you call home, the 2013 Texas Education Conference is going to be worth the trip to San Antonio, November 21-22. Add it to your calendar—it’s one you don’t want to miss!
I’d like to personally thank TEC 2012 event organizers Mandy Begley and Paulina Van Eeden Hill for the invite to attend the conference, and I’d also like to recognize all the wonderful and passionate members of the Texas Hill Country Chapter (and other MPI chapters as well) who were in attendance. You epitomized what the MPI community is all about—education, networking and leaving a positive mark on the community. Thank you.
Photos compliment of the Texas Hill Country Chapter.