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Curators in Chief

by 1185308 Elaine Pofeldt | Apr 02, 2013
Nine influential meeting pros who are shaping the future—brought to you by the people they've influenced.

Feel like you’re constantly bombarded with information you’d like to use but don’t have the time to sift through? You’re not alone. The problem is so prevalent in organizations today it prompted Jonathan Spira, chief analyst at Basex, a research and advisory firm focused on the knowledge-economy, to write Overload! How Too Much Information is Hazardous to Your Organization, in which he offers strategies to combat it, such as reducing the amount of email flooding company inboxes.

The answer to overload for many meeting professionals is to look to trusted colleagues for ideas on navigating a business world and life that’s changing daily. These are the mentors, colleagues and experts who can share what is really needed to make the right business decisions—and what’s safe to ignore. Such informal curators of industry information are vital to helping the community manage through the uncertain path ahead. 

We asked influential members of the meeting and event industry to tell us about the visionaries who are shaping the way they think about meetings and making work a lot more exciting. Some suggested one person, others a list. Here is a sampling of industry leaders who are shaping the future of meetings.

Influencer: Mike McAllen, co-owner of Grass Shack Events & Media, host of Meetings Podcast and co-founder of EventCamp

Influenced: Renea Anderson, meeting planner for Albert Cichra Builders

Anderson wasn’t planning to hop on a plane and fly to Chicago to attend EventCamp in February 2011 when she started following the gathering via its free, live online stream. She enjoyed being a virtual participant in the camp—an industry gathering designed to bring together meeting professionals interested in using social media and technology to create better events. But as she followed the progress of the meeting, Anderson was increasingly intrigued.

“It was on the cutting edge of what meetings look like,” said Anderson, a member of the MPI Greater Orlando Chapter. “I wanted to see what it was like in the actual environment.” 

Anderson started poking around the Web to look at airfare prices, found a good deal and impulsively headed to the airport—the same day. On her way, she contacted organizer McAllen via Twitter, to say she was coming.

“He said, ‘You are? Really?’” 

For Anderson, it was a no brainer.

“There are people in this industry who, when they say, ‘You should be here,’ ‘This is an important article to read’ or ‘This is a perspective others are starting to take,’ you listen,” Anderson said. “It’s like the old E.F. Hutton phrase: When Mike speaks, I listen.”

McAllen’s nontraditional career path as a former firefighter gave him a strong foundation in the importance of building the right team as he served past employers such as Bill Graham Presents, Jack Morton Worldwide and InVision Communications. Today, at Grass Shack Media, he staffs, manages and produces conferences, video and media projects for corporate clients. He also runs a startup called AVForPlanners.com to help planners and organizers make better audiovisual choices.

“I’m not an out-in-front-of-the-camera kind of guy,” he said. “I try to make things work.” 

McAllen’s love of experimenting with production and technology led him to co-found EventCamp in 2010. It’s still going strong, with upcoming events planned for the Middle East and Australia.

“We started it as a place where it is safe to try new things,” he said.

McAllen’s current explorations center on new technologies such as Evernote, which he describes as “an event binder in your mobile device.” 

Influencer: Joan Eisenstodt, chief strategist and founder of Eisenstodt Associates

Influenced: Eli Gorin, CMP, CMM, vice president of global client relations at ABTS Convention Services

“[Eisenstodt] is a mentor to so many and a real advocate of the industry,” said Gorin, an MPI member at large. “She is one of the most recognized and respected people I know, has run and contributed to the most influential email lists in the industry and is a real teacher to all.”

After 40 years in industry, many people might lose their edge. Not Eisenstodt, a member of MPI’s Community of Honorees and a member of the MPI Potomac Chapter, according to her fans. Recognizing the potential of technology to transform the industry long before many others, Eisenstodt founded and moderated the MIMList, the well-known meeting and hospitality industry email community. She eventually launched Meetings Focus Forum, a networking site for meeting professionals that, she jokes, a friend on the West Coast calls his “morning newspaper.”

“My passion is connecting people through ideas,” she said. 

While Eisenstodt embraces technology, she has always believed it has its limits.

“From the beginning of the first LISTSERV I moderated, people said, ‘When are we going to get together?’” she recalled. “People still want that.”

That trend has continued, she notes, even though there are many more digital ways to meet these days. One trend that interests her: the informal meetings that are springing up between groups of professionals who have met on social media, outside of the association sphere.

“They’re not a formal association but they’re still gathering,” she said. “I think we’re going to see very different ways that people choose to belong to groups in the future.” 

At Eisenstodt Associates, the company she founded in 1981, this industry pioneer tackles projects from meeting planning to consulting on staffing issues.

“Often, people I’ve worked with ask, ‘Can we have lunch? I need a tune-up,’” she said. “For me, helping people grow is what life is about and what everyone should be doing.”

Her current worry?

“The infrastructure of cities is going to fail,” she said. “Do I want to suggest to a client that they take a meeting to a city that doesn’t have emergency services to support 5,000 people?”

She’s not pessimistic about finding solutions, though.

“I don’t see a gloomy future,” she said. “I see a different future.”

Influencer: Renee Radabaugh, president and managing director, Paragon Events Inc.

Influenced: Sharon Fisher, CEO and “IdeaSparker” at Play with a Purpose

When Radabaugh ran the MPI Southeast Educational Conference in Orlando last summer, she won a big fan in Fisher—thanks to her cool-in-the-face response to unexpected construction at the original hotel and quick negotiations to move it to a new hotel.

“She made it a real win, win, win—for both of the hotels and our organization,” Fisher said. “She taught me to sit back and look at things from every single perspective.”

Radabaugh, a meeting industry veteran who started her 15-employee company in 1989, was inspired by the challenge of creating an event for other meeting pros.

“It really is a lot of pressure, but something we respond well to,” said Radabaugh, executive director of the MPI Greater Orlando Chapter. 

One secret weapon is a robust, for-credit university intern program. Radabaugh works with 16 schools, including several Ivy League universities, to attract top talent from the next generation, to help at her firm.

“We recognized that it is very important that they get more than book studies,” Radabaugh said. 

MPI Greater Orlando Chapter member Fisher says Radabaugh’s mentoring left a strong impression.

“There were a couple of times in the course of the conference where I saw her pull one of the interns aside and teach them in a nice, respectful, coaching kind of way,” Fisher said. “She made sure they understood why they had to do what they were supposed to do. She did it with a firm hand and a loving heart.”

Influencer: Christina Coster, co-founder, EventCamp, freelance meeting and event planner

Influenced: Jessica Levin, MBA, CMP, CAE, president and chief connector, Seven Degrees Communications

Coster is “the catalyst for so much change in the industry,” according to Levin. 

The pair met through a Twitter group, and came together when Coster asked for volunteers to plan EventCamp.

“It’s much better to make a mistake at EventCamp than with a client or someone you work for,” said Levin, a member of the MPI New Jersey Chapter. 

Levin soon found herself involved in planning the first EventCamp in New York (January 2010) and the next one in Chicago. She came away with ideas she now uses in meetings, such as “the fishbowl,” in which delegates sit in two circles, one wrapped around the other. Those who want to talk move into the inner circle.

“It’s a different way to have a group discussion and get people involved,” Levin said. 

Coster was inspired to launch EventCamp after planning a 2009 “un-conference” in New York City called Social Change Camp, at which participants drove the event, planning what they wanted to discuss when they got together.

“It was a huge learning experience for me,” Coster said.

She’s currently intrigued with the use of visual social media, such as Instagram, “to engage attendees, more than the normal talking heads.” She’s also interested in how concerns about climate change are shaping meetings—for instance, more people are becoming concerned with topics such as sourcing local food. 

Influencer: Ruud Janssen, CMM, managing director of TNOC | The New Objective Collective

Influenced: Midori Connolly, principal at AVGirl Productions 

Janssen is “an obvious choice,” according to Connolly, a member of the MPI San Diego Chapter.

“He encompasses the spirit of collaboration and has a broad, global view of the industry,” she said.

Janssen, a veteran marketing entrepreneur, specializes in the meeting and event industry and owns and runs the marketing group TNOC | The New Objective Collective. In that role, he is an avid student of the varied ways that different market segments behave at events.

“I’m curious about what is going on in different, adjacent silos,” he said.

Janssen, who was on the team involved in MPI Foundation research into hybrid meetings, has recently experimented with hybrid chocolate-tasting events. At an MPI conference in Belgium in January, he connected tasters in Canada, England, Italy and the Netherlands to bring together the remote participants.

Janssen, a member of the MPI France-Switzerland Chapter, thinks it’s essential for meeting organizers to adapt to the increasing blending of online and offline events.

“What’s surprising to me is that a lot of companies are not noticing this change or adapting to it fast enough,” he said. 

He has also co-created a new meetings format called “The Solution Room” with Mike van der Vijver at MindMeeting. In these interactive, 90-minute closing sessions, participants devise their own action plans for change.

Janssen has held senior positions at Steigenberger Hotels and Resorts, contract catering firm Groupe Elior and Congrex Group, an international management company focused on meetings, events, conferences, association management and other services. Janssen also designs university-level professional education programs in branding, conference organizing and related areas.

Influencer: Jason Carroll, CMP, director of sales and events for The Florida Aquarium and founder of the consulting firm Aspire Innovation

Influenced: Richard Miseyko, CMP, CMM, president of Site Search Inc. and founder of XSITE

“Carroll is a past president of the MPI Tampa Bay Area Chapter, and under his leadership, he brought our chapter to be recognized as No. 1 worldwide in six of the 10 measurements used to rank chapters,” Miseyko said.

Currently a member of the MPI Chapter Advisory Council, Carroll previously instituted a connections campaign that measured the amount of member-to-member business generated through his chapter’s own membership—and it turned out to be well into the millions of dollars, Miseyko says. This program led to the MPI Tampa Bay Area Chapter winning the 2012 RISE Award for Community Achievement in Marketplace Excellence (see the December 2012 edition of One+ for a complete story of this success).

“On a personal level, I have relied on this man to be my spokesperson, emcee and star at the Southeast Educational Conference—one the most successful and profitable regional MPI chapter events—and watched him operate with finesse and professionalism that goes well beyond his years,” said Miseyko, a member of the MPI Tampa Bay Area Chapter. “He’s creating change in the most positive way.”

Working as an actor in New York after Sept. 11, 2001, Carroll got a job at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as fiscal and events coordinator to make ends meet. He soon discovered that his flair for the arts lent itself well to events work (“I think events are entertainment”), and he eventually became an events manager at New York University-Tisch School of the Arts before moving to Tampa to join the Florida Aquarium as events coordinator in 2005. Today, the aquarium hosts 250 events a year.

One important trend Carroll is keeping his eye on: the advent of the hybrid planner, a topic that has elicited discussion, specifically in the Tampa Bay Area Chapter.

“The planner-supplier divide is not as wide as it used to be,” he said.

For instance, once someone books a party at the aquarium, his role extends from planning the event to securing décor and entertainment.

“From snow cone machines to rock bands, we need it all,” he said.

That presents an opportunity for more collaborative relationships within the industry, so all can benefit.

“We have to be smart about how we spend our dollars,” he said. “I’ve been able to negotiate a lot of my rates.”

Much of that, he says, is because of the strong working relationships he has with others in the industry.

Influencers: Jeff Hurt, executive vice president, education and engagement for Velvet Chainsaw Consulting and co-founder, EventCamp; Dave Lutz, president of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting 

Influenced: Liz King, founder of Liz King Events

“[Hurt and Lutz] are getting us to rethink the way we design meetings and presentations,” said King, who follows the pair on Twitter and has met them at industry events. “They have a lot of great ideas about how you can design an effective learning experience for attendees.”

One example: At a trade show King attended, Hurt and Lutz integrated a “Learning Lounge.”

“They were able to get tons of traction, tons of excitement, lots of tweets and social media buzz,” said King, a member of the MPI Greater New York Chapter. “It made me think that not every trade show has to have the exact same format.”

At Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, Hurt and Lutz work together to help organizations plan their annual meetings. The inspiration for the firm’s name was a client’s description of Lutz’s contract negotiation skills. Hurt, who started his career in MPI’s professional development department in the late 1990s and went on to work on meetings for the Promotional Products Association and co-found EventCamp, says industry players need to be more discerning than ever to deliver great meetings.

“I really think that meeting professionals need to think of themselves as content curators and strategists,” Hurt said. “An art museum curator doesn’t display all the art they have. They display their best assets.” 

In the future, Lutz believes meeting planners who are highly content focused—and understand how meetings drive revenue for clients—will be the most sought after.

“The value placed on cost savings and avoidance will be a given expectation,” he added.

Meeting professionals who carefully consider digital participants’ experience in site selection will find themselves in demand, he says.

“Site selection will expand to include the screen the attendee is viewing,” he said. “Location will be replaced with the best venue or screen to accomplish learning, networking and collaboration.”

Influencer: Flemming Fog, CEO and founder of Wizerize A/S and Wizerize Inc.

Influenced: David Adler, CEO and founder of BizBash Media

When Adler first met Fog he became fascinated by the way Wizerize uses tools such as games to foster more collaborative relationships within professional groups.

“He opened my eyes to the power of using meeting design for collaboration purposes,” Adler said. “He is one of the revolutionary thinkers in this area. He has proven that if you collaborate properly, the meeting goes from experiential to transformational.”

Accordingly, Fog has been focusing on change management in recent years.

“Especially for large corporations—helping [them] change behavior and attitudes,” said Fog, a former partner in communications giant Y&R.

In 2005, he began to direct that interest into growing his own company, Wizerize. Working with the global business school INSEAD, he experimented with using business games to engage audiences at events—and found he was onto something.

“The whole framework is one of our methodologies for getting people to collaborate and understand the dynamics of collaboration,” he said. 

His ultimate goal is to create meetings that help companies meet their larger goals.

“I think most people believe most large meetings are terrible,” he explained. “We’re working on how to use engagement tools and techniques to make meetings more powerful.” One+

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