• The Varied Skills of a Meeting Professional

    by Jeff Loy | Aug 18, 2014
    by Blair Potter

    Heather Day (MPI Pittsburgh Chapter), the acting assistant director of stewardship for Penn State University's College of Education who was awarded an MPI Foundation New Member Scholarship in 2013, says she applied for the scholarship to gain access to a broad network of professionals and industry resources that have contributed to her growth. "I have always been very interested in professional development and continuous improvement through learning," she says. "Being a young professional, I lacked years of experience but feel like I made up for it in my drive and passion for the work. I wasn't in a position financially that I could invest money in the membership, yet I very much wanted to be a part of the group, so I applied in hopes of the MPI Foundation picking up on my determination and enthusiasm for the meeting and event industry."

    The scholarship also gave Day the opportunity to connect with happenings in the meeting industry that go well beyond her daily work.

    "The scholarship granted me access to news, publications, resources and contacts that broaden my perspective and reminded me that there are many talented meeting professionals all around the world," she says. "What an exciting group to be a part of!"

    The industry has also allowed Day to use her strongest skills in ways that she never imagined.

    "I studied journalism for a while in college, enjoying a deadline-driven environment with project-based timelines," she says. "I applied those skills to meetings and events and learned how important all methods of constituent engagement are-whether it's writing or designing publications and communications or organizing effective executive meetings and conferences."

    The MPI Foundation is passionate about providing MPI members with professional development and career opportunities through grants and scholarships. To learn how the Foundation can help you or to make a donation, visit www.mpiweb.org/foundation. If Heather's story resonated with you, join our conversation on Facebook.

  • Righting the Ship

    by Jeff Loy | Jul 14, 2014
    By Blair Potter

    Becky McMillen, CMP, executive director, conference services, for the California University of Pennsylvania in California, Pa., viewed the MPI Foundation’s Disney Destinations Meeting Planner Membership Scholarship as an opportunity to help the MPI Pittsburgh Chapter "turn the ship around."

    Sunny Wong
    "Our chapter decided to market the scholarship opportunities to help recruit new planner members," says McMillen, immediate past president of the chapter. "We placed an article in our newsletter and personally reached out to several planners who were on the fence about joining MPI. As a chapter we knew part of our continued success was reliant on bringing in new planners."

    Two planners received scholarships to become members of the chapter this year.

    "One of the new planners was able to take a board position with the chapter—Sarah Winkler is now the VP of sponsorship (a new position for our chapter)," McMillen says. "Adding these new planners to our chapter has not only opened up opportunities for each individual, but also for the chapter."

    McMillen says that when she stepped into the role of president-elect in 2011, the chapter was ending its year in the red and membership was declining.

    "We needed to start operating like a business," she says. "Between 2011 and 2014, with the hard work and dedication of passionate board members, that’s just what we did. I am happy to say that Pittsburgh now has a solid foundation. Our finances are back on track and our chapter is thriving. Through a satisfaction survey, the Pittsburgh Chapter ranked as No. 14 in the region (out of 41 chapters) and No. 15 globally (out of 70 chapters and clubs).

    McMillen doesn’t remember making a conscious decision to join the meeting industry, but does remember making the decision to stay.

    "I think there are a number of us in the industry who, purely by chance, ended up discovering events early in our careers," she says. "I went to school for communications and thought I was going to be a TV news anchor until I landed my first job with a non-profit, planning student leadership events. I soon discovered I had a passion for events and really loved the industry. At that point I made a decision to stay in the industry and jumped to the supplier side. I made the change so I would have the opportunity to experience a variety of events. As a supplier I get to see and work on everything from small board meetings to concerts and even movie shoots. Every event is different, and so every day is different, which keeps my passion for the industry burning."

    McMillen says her experiences as an MPI volunteer have been remarkable.


    "The relationships and professional development are irreplaceable," she says. "As I finish my term as immediate past president I am definitely a different person professionally than I was three years ago. Not only have I learned so much from the resources at global, but I have gained a new love for my local chapter and city, Pittsburgh!"

    The MPI Foundation is passionate about providing MPI members with professional development and career opportunities through grants and scholarships. To learn how the Foundation can help you or to make a donation, visit www.mpiweb.org/foundation. If Becky’s story resonated with you, join our conversation on Facebook (www.facebook.com/MPIfans).
  • The Big Deal Winner's Secrets Revealed!

    by Jeff Loy | Jun 17, 2014
    Untitled Document Mark Hecquet, CDME, executive director of the Butler County (Ohio) Visitors Bureau, won the MPI Foundation's The Big Deal-presented by Caesars Entertainment, Hilton Worldwide and Encore Productions-at WEC in Las Vegas. As champion (a guest of Encore Productions' table), he earned a grand prize package including a seat valued at $10,000 to play at the 2014 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event in Las Vegas.

    As we prepare for another exciting edition of The Big Deal at WEC 2014 in Minneapolis, we spoke with Hecquet about his experience.

    Tell us about your background in meetings and events.
    First of all I should mention I am married to a meeting planner, Beth Hecquet. She works for the National Association of Sports Commissions and has been involved with MPI for many years. I have worked in the CVB/DMO world for the past 13 years. I am a member of the MPI Ohio Chapter and regularly attend their meetings and conferences.

    How did you get started playing poker?

    I have played poker since I was relatively young, playing with friends, but that was fun rather than serious. However, I didn't really start playing Texas Hold'em until it got popular on television about seven or eight years ago. I probably play about once every two months with friends.

    What were your expectations heading into The Big Deal last year, and how were you able to win?

    Winning The Big Deal was a completely surreal experience. I still can't believe I won and will be playing in the WSOP. I had absolutely no expectations when I sat down to play. It was an awesome event, with professional players walking around, videos of last year's winner, all of the WEC attendees gathering around, cameras, large video screens, etc. With 240 players I was hoping to maybe win my table. Earlier in the day I had played in a poker tournament at the casino but I was the first one knocked out, so my expectations were really low. How was I able to win? I was lucky. There were four separate times throughout the night that I got extremely lucky. Twice I was all in and got dealt a pair. Twice I got lucky on the river. Even on the very last hand, I was losing until the last card was dealt. It is always better to be lucky than good!

    This is the 10th anniversary of the WSOP, where someone could win $10 million. What's your strategy going into the Main Event? Any superstitions?

    I don't really have a strategy, except to not be the first to be knocked out. With the best poker players in the world in the room and playing for $10 million I expect the competition to be extremely fierce. But just like The Big Deal, if luck is on my side, who knows, maybe I could win a few hands. I can be rather superstitious with regards to what I wear. So if I win a few hands and last a couple of days I might be wearing the same clothes. I will probably wear what I wore at The Big Deal. I was lucky that night! Do you plan on defending your title at The Big Deal 2014 in Minneapolis?
    Absolutely. It is an awesome event.

    The MPI Foundation Presents 3 Great Ways to Support Your Industry at WEC
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    Not-So-Silent Auction. Bid on an assortment of packages, at unbelievable values! New this year: online bidding and a live auction rally.
  • Making the World Better Through Meetings

    by Jeff Loy | Jun 06, 2014

    Jingxian Huang / Sunny Wong (MPI At Large - China), a student from the Shanghai University of International Business and Economics/MICE, received the Future Leaders Forum University Challenge Award at IMEX Frankfurt in 2013. The award included an MPI Foundation scholarship to attend MPI's 2013 World Education Congress (WEC) in Las Vegas. We recently spoke with Wong about the award and the scholarship, and their impact on her career.

    Sunny Wong

    What does this scholarship mean to you?
    It is no exaggeration to say that the MPI Foundation scholarship to attend WEC changed my life and made me who I am today. The scholarship opened more than a door to Las Vegas, but also a window to the world. I strongly believe in what MPI believes. When we meet, we change the world. I am determined to devote myself to foreign affairs, taking full advantage of what I've learned from the MICE industry and maximizing my value in seeking worldwide peace and development through meetings.

    What I learned from experiencing WEC myself might outweigh all of the knowledge I've learned through studying in past years, between the nice people I met, the New York internship offer and countless other opportunities generated from this scholarship.

    Since receiving the scholarship, what great things have happened in your career or life as a result?
    I got some international internship offers right after the award announcement during the gala dinner [at IMEX Frankfurt], and benefited a lot from media promotion and reports from the IMEX daily and the websites of MPI, IMEX, ICCA, etc. My university put my photos and award on the homepage for several months. My principal invited me to his office and congratulated me for my achievement.

    I got invited to attend the ICCA Congress 2013 in Shanghai by Martin Sirk (CEO of ICCA), and was also able to attend WEC thanks to the MPI Foundation. I also got a corporate scholarship from Info Salon Company because of this award. Actually, I think this scholarship contributed to my Shanghai Outstanding Graduate Award and my final acceptance by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well. I am sure this scholarship is a lifelong fortune that will keep motivating me, and is something I will appreciate my whole life.

    How has working in the meeting and event industry changed or affected you?
    I used to be not that open-minded; I grew up in a small town and dared not speak English in public due to a lack of confidence. Yet after I joined the event management program of the Shanghai University of International Business and Economics, I found it easier to get to know different types of people at home and abroad, and gradually I am more and more encouraged to communicate with foreigners in English, which improves not only my oral expression but also my adaptability and ability to cope with different cultures. The MICE industry is a great starting point for anyone, as it can cultivate passion, as well as professional, creative and communication skills. It is all these characteristics that help people succeed.

    To learn how the MPI Foundation can help you or to make a donation, visit www.mpiweb.org/foundation.

  • A Natural Fit

    by David Arehart | May 06, 2014

    Melissa Brown (MPI Washington State Chapter), project and registration coordinator for Mary O’Connor & Co., says the meeting and event industry seemed like a natural fit for her. That’s why she knew that earning the HelmsBriscoe Meeting Planner Membership Scholarship—in which the MPI Foundation paid for a one-year MPI membership—would make a significant difference for her career.

    “After researching ways to get involved and learn more about the event industry I came across the MPI Foundation scholarship and decided to apply in hopes of building great networks and experience,” she says.

    Brown’s work in the industry brings great satisfaction because she’s able to have an impact not just on attendees, but the world.

    “I love helping create experiences where people can connect and learn from each other, and then take what they’ve learned to better their lives, their communities and the world,” she says. “With my varied work history background—including being an activity director at a retirement community, working at a catering company, being an event florist and teaching English in South America and Africa—I’ve found that all of these experiences tie together, creating a diversified portfolio that has made me ready to jump into any situation. My work keeps me on my toes and pushes me to excel as I continue learning and shaping what direction my career will take me.”

    Brown says since receiving the scholarship she has met many amazing people through MPI.

    “I was able to volunteer as co-chair of the Washington State Chapter’s June Celebration, as well as chair the Annual November Gala, which won an Emerald City Applause Award for Best Event Produced for a Non-Profit Budget Under $25,000,” she says. “Through my networks I was able to obtain a contract position at SH Worldwide helping coordinate registration for a multi-country, multimillion-dollar event. That experience then led me to my current role at Mary O’Connor & Co., where I assist with conferences and conventions all over the country. Each experience has helped me grow and prepared me for the next opportunity. It has been quite a year!”

    The MPI Foundation is passionate about providing MPI members with professional development and career opportunities through grants and scholarships. To learn how the MPI Foundation can help you or to make a donation, visit the MPI Foundation. If Melissa’s story resonated with you, join our conversation on Facebook .

  • Welcome the Challenge

    by David Arehart | Feb 28, 2014

    Dorrelle Scott, CMP (MPI Potomac Chapter), event associate with Ratliff Events, says an MPI Foundation scholarship that enabled her to attend the 2013 European Meetings & Events Conference helped her make contacts and gain broader exposure to an industry that always offers something new to learn.

    “The best part of the scholarship is it offers hidden value,” she says. “Nearly every conference attendee is hopeful about networking and connecting with industry professionals. However, the unexpected treat is the exposure to national brands, marketing, venues and systems. It's been a fabulous experience to check out international meeting industry contacts on LinkedIn and say, ‘I've met that person.’ It's great that I still communicate with those that I met. MPI has given me the contacts and instruction to really enjoy a new venture.”

    Scott is a big proponent of group learning, and cites youthful field trips as an early learning environment.

    “There is a positive communal energy that the meeting industry fosters, less about competition and more about everyone getting the information that they need,” she says. “I enjoy that spirit.”

    Scott also loves the challenging atmosphere one encounters while plying the meeting trade.

    “The meeting industry is the perfect place for a Jack (or Jill) of all trades,” she says. “It has allowed me to constantly learn, build and embrace new skills. Event planning will make anyone a hurdler who loves to overcome each challenge faced.”

    The MPI Foundation is passionate about providing MPI members with professional development and career opportunities through grants and scholarships. To learn how the Foundation can help you or to make a donation, visit www.mpiweb.org/foundation.

    Did Dorrelle’s story resonate with you? Join the conversation on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MPIfans.
  • SMM: Save on Costs, Provide More Value with Partnerships

    by David Arehart | Feb 25, 2014

    Thousands of organizations are embracing a more strategic approach to their events—and we’re not just talking big corporations. The results are such that we can’t help but see strategic meetings management (SMM) programs as best practice for all organizations that host events.

    And we at MPI wanted to share that story; but we also wanted the facts to back it up. So, the MPI Foundation conducted research to find education gaps in and around the topic of SMM. We wanted to make sure that meeting professionals from organizations of all sizes could begin implementing cost-savings.

    What we learned from that research was that the very definition of SMM varies from business to business, association to association and government agency to government agency. The process begins for different reasons, as does the journey it takes. Some businesses implement SMM to save costs; others want to mitigate risk.

    What does not change is that as SMM programs mature, they prove even more useful in designing events that meet organization-wide goals and improving delegate and stakeholder experiences.

    But how can you get started? MPI has compiled a database of assets, resources, terms, vendors, participants and methodologies that document existing best practices. We’ve also created a new set of tools based on the gaps we found from our research.

    Ultimately, whether you learn better by example (case studies), rigorous scholarship (white papers and reports) or as a group (live event sessions), MPI is prepared to make sure that you do more with less this year. The white paper “SMM: Increasing Value Through Partner Relationships” details how to leverage three different kinds of partnerships—internal, stakeholder and long-term—and how great partnerships can help everyone achieve their goals. Check out all four of the MPI Foundation’s new SMM white papers, and join the discussion on MPI’s SMM subgroup on LinkedIn.

    Go comment!
  • Finding the Path

    by David Arehart | Feb 05, 2014

    Magdalina (Yarichkova) Atanassova (MPI At Large) is communications manager for AIM Group International in Milan, Italy, and has been an MPI member for six years. She was awarded an MPI Foundation education scholarship that enabled her to attend the MPI European Meetings & Events Conference (EMEC) in 2013. Since the 2014 edition of EMEC gets under way later this month, we decided to catch up with Atanassova to find out about her thoughts on attending last year’s event and the meeting industry in general.

    “Attending EMEC was very useful in my professional plan,” she says. “There were sessions that were truly inspirational and others that gave me ideas on how to manage and be more productive every day—ideas that I am still using to date. Certainly, some acquaintances that I made during the event were of great value in the long run.”

    Like many in the meeting industry, Atanassova’s involvement began largely by chance.

    “I had an interest in the tourism industry, but I had no idea what exactly to do there,” she says. “I had the chance to meet a professional from the industry who gave me the idea to study and work in the field of meeting and event management. Shortly after this conversation, my voluntary service in Poland was very much focused on planning events for the youth of the town. Add these two experiences to finding the perfect bachelor program with a major in conferences and events, and I knew I had found my professional path.”

    One of the highlights of Atanassova’s career, thus far, was learning how to give back.

    “One of the turning points for me was joining MPI and, a short time after, joining the CSR speakers team,” she says. “This really turned my view of the industry and my goals upside down. It was these few days in Toronto that gave me the confidence in and inspiration for how I could give back to the industry.”

    Atanassova’s involvement with the industry has not only brought her happiness, but a sense of diversity.

    “It gives me—every day—a very diverse taste of the world around me,” she says. “Each event is different, each client is different, each day is different, and this brings me a lot of joy in what I do for a living. Maybe the way that my work and the industry have changed me is by giving me more confidence and turning me slowly from an introvert to an ambivert, and maybe soon to an actual extrovert!”

    The MPI Foundation is passionate about providing MPI members with professional development and career opportunities through grants and scholarships. To learn how the Foundation can help you or to make a donation, visit www.mpiweb.org/foundation.

    Did Magdalina’s story resonate with you? Join the conversation on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MPIfans.

  • Meeting Industry Brings Human Trafficking to Forefront

    by David Arehart | Jan 28, 2014

    By Rob Cotter

    With the world’s sporting spotlight set to shine brightly on New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium on February 2, the 82,500-seat gladiatorial cauldron will slowly fill with fans drawn from coast to coast for Super Bowl XLVIII. Shaping up to be the greatest NFL spectacle yet, some well-drilled traffic management will need to be deployed to ensure the armies of travelling Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks fans can get smoothly from the highways to the parking lots and to their seats, all in good time to get fully behind their team.

    On the fringes there is another kind of traffic also being generated, but one that is unwelcome and less straightforward to manage—the trafficking of humans, specifically the sexual exploitation of children, which is increasingly displaying an unhealthy predation on large-scale events and exposing the dark side of the sex trade on the broader travel and tourism industry.

    “Not just the Super Bowl, but conferences and large trade shows are a target and traffickers will travel to those cities where they are being held and bring their children with them,” says Molly Hackett (MPI St. Louis Area Chapter), principal at Nix Conference and Meeting Management and founder/principal at the Exchange Initiative social action organization. “If you monitor a city’s activity of these websites that sell children, you can watch the number available for sale grow as it gets closer to a conference. If you’re a trafficker you can go on websites and see where these conferences are, so it’s easy to find out where to go and follow conferences that are more lucrative to you.”

    Just how lucrative trafficking must be comes across through its astounding scale, with UNICEF estimating that up to 300,000 U.S. children and 1.2 million children worldwide are prostituted annually. Meeting industry activists such as Hackett have responded to this by taking positive action towards a firmer framework for tackling it.

    “As we learned more about human trafficking in the tourism and travel business, especially of minors, we thought that Nix Conference and Meeting Management could really make an impact on this issue,” Hackett explains. “That’s when we found ECPAT-USA (End Child Pornography and Trafficking USA) and also found ourselves in the position of being staggered at the whole situation. We then understood that once we knew about it, we couldn’t let it go.”

    The discovery of ECPAT’s work in raising awareness of child trafficking and policy development to address it led Nix Conference and Meeting Management to initiate and sign with them the first-ever meeting planner code of conduct—The Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct (the Code)—in 2012. Since then they have continued to urge industry peers to follow suit. A number of major organizations have recently taken up the call, including the MPI Washington State Chapter.

    “I really couldn’t believe it was such a prevalent issue in Seattle, let alone across the world,” says Lesley Young Cutler, director of sponsorship and strategic partnerships for the chapter. “Once we started getting involved in this at a chapter level we realized how close to home it is and that there are organizations in Washington State and in the Seattle area trying to fight this right at our home door. For this reason we decided we needed to do something through the chapter.”

    While the Washington State Chapter became the third Seattle-based organization to support the Code, they are the first MPI chapter to do so, and in the process were recognized as one of ECPAT-USA’s Tourism Heroes throughout January.

    “We were pushing for this status as the first MPI chapter to do this, because we wanted to create a little bit of urgency and competition amongst other chapters to do the same thing,” Cutler says. “For our chapter it’s a matter of creating awareness and providing an avenue for education. While we can’t actually create any policies for our vendors per se, we can encourage them to get involved, and we’re asking our membership of suppliers and planners to take a look at this issue and get involved within their own organizations to help fight it.”

    Increasing awareness of the Code will bring the attention of meeting industry professionals to its cornerstone of six criteria that they must adhere to when they sign up, which seek proper policy procedures, training, value chain repudiation of trafficking, better information, stronger collaboration and annual reporting on achievements. Response to the Code is that it has been empowering in dealing with the issue of child sex trafficking.

    “Before reading the Code I was wondering how I, as an individual, could make an impact,” Cutler says. “Once I read it I realized that I could do things—I could put a statement in my RFPs and my contracts to vendors to say that we want you to be a vendor that takes a stand against child sex trafficking and sex tourism. That’s part of what the Code is—it helps me understand what I can do on an individual basis as well as within the chapter to help fight it. As small as it can be for an independent meeting planner, it makes a big impact as it starts to spread throughout the industry.”

    Helping accelerate the spread throughout the industry and to complement U.S. President Barack Obama’s designation of January as Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month, the MPI Washington State Chapter has organized a February 25 educational program dedicated to the topic: “Hospitality’s Dark Side: Human Trafficking & How to Keep it Out of Your Events.” Building on the momentum and nudging awareness of the issue yet further, Nix Conference and Meeting Management’s newly launched Exchange Initiative organization will be holding its inaugural three-day national conference of Ignite: Sparking Action Against Sex Trafficking at the St. Louis Union Station Hotel March 2-4, with a number of sessions and workshops designed to engage, educate and empower professionals from across different industries in the battle against child sex trafficking. Importantly, the registration fee will also go towards the initiative of building a resource database to fight trafficking, hosting vital information such as a hotel/motel photo database to help identify locations in online advertisements and information on certified trainers on a geographical basis.

    On February 2, as the 82,500 fans sift out of the MetLife Stadium into the late night, child sex trafficking will still remain a real and serious issue for the event industry. In promoting and supporting the Code, industry professionals have the real opportunity to act against this and take great strides towards a not-too-distant Super Bowl where the only pressing issue of traffic should be for the winning fans to find out how to most quickly get to the closest bar to start their celebrations.

  • Save the Date: MPI Satisfaction Survey, Feb. 14

    by David Arehart | Jan 27, 2014

    MPI conducts the annual Membership and Chapter Satisfaction Survey for one simple reason: to improve the way our association operates so that members receive the maximum benefit for their investment. This year’s survey is perhaps the most important to date.

    MPI President and CEO Paul Van Deventer and the entire MPI staff are committed to transforming the association so that the experience for every member is the absolute best it can be. This survey is one of the most important tools we have for capturing the thoughts of MPI members, so don’t miss this chance to help shape the future of our community.

    On February 14, every MPI member will receive an e-mail with their unique link to participate in the survey. Completion of the survey only takes about 15 minutes, so it’s easy to make sure your voice is heard. We’re listening.

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