For all you out there who are looking for some fresh ideas, look no further than the MPI Georgia Chapter.
As the first stop on what I am billing as my MPI Chapter World Tour (no one but me is calling it that, but it sounded good, and I always wanted to tour in a rock 'n' roll band), I had the opportunity this past week to attend the Georgia chapter's annual Summer Education Alliance (SEA) 2012 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The chapter's annual education conference boasted more than 100 attendees—more than half of whom were planner members.
The chapter hired some amazing speakers, took some calculated risks on meeting design, added value to the local community, came together as a group, and had fun doing it all.
I'm not going to blow smoke though and tell you the meeting was perfect, because it wasn't. But what meeting is? There's no such thing. But, the beauty of it is, that the imperfections were some of the best parts for me (and almost everyone else in attendance).
In the opening session, the speakers were brought in by Skype. The connection wasn't perfect, but the hosts in the room were prepared. They had obviously planned ahead with the speakers and knew the script. When the speaker couldn't be understood, one of the hosts stepped in and "translated." It ended up working out despite the technical challenges.
These types of imperfections are more often than not the biggest learning opportunities—the biggest takeaways for participants
"That's what this event, and events like WEC, are all about," said event chair and GaMPI member Abby Freeman. "We're taking the risks so our members can learn from our mistakes and hopefully not make the same ones at their next meeting."
The event was full of success stories as well. The event organizers took risks with room arrangements—even going as far as doing a public experiment in seating to prove the point that the modern meeting participant wants to engage and that seating plays a major role in allowing that to happen. The room for the opening session was set in four different seating styles and participants were left to their own devices to select where they wanted to sit—triangle, lounge, starburst or theatre. There were identical screens on opposite sides of the room so it would be easy to follow the presentation from anywhere in the room. The results of the experiment? As people entered the room they gravitated toward the lounge seating, then the triangle and starburst pattern (I sat in the starburst section because it was going to be a new experience for me), and finally the theatre. The experiment concluded with an impromptu survey of "why did you sit where you did?" The lesson? The innovative (different) seating arrangements were the first filled and those sitting in theatre seating chose it simply "because there was no other option." The session was hands-on and because of the experiment had participants talking about the benefits of never using traditional theatre seating again.
Outside of the meeting rooms, the chapter incorporated a community service project as well and members cooked meals for local children at the Ronald McDonald House of San Juan.
"I was so proud of everyone who participated," said Larry Greene, president of the GaMPI. "We always do a community project of this nature at our conferences so that we give back to the community that has so graciously invited us to their destination and treat us like family."
Whether it is taking risks with new meeting innovations or incorporating an element of CSR into the meeting, that's exactly what the goal of SEA, or WEC, should be about—chapters helping their local members, or in the case of WEC, MPI headquarters helping the global MPI community create ways to plan a better, more valuable meeting experience.
My trip wasn't just about attending SEA. I also had the opportunity to sit down with the chapter's leaders on Friday night and discuss the issues important to them. We talked about the need for more education, about how MPI can improve the content of our member publications to make them more relevant and valuable, about what's new at headquarters and how we can build on the relationships we had started on this visit to ensure success in the coming year for the Georgia Chapter. It was a great discussion, and one that I hope to continue with all MPI members as we move through this upcoming year.
I know your chapter has success stories like this to tell—and other chapters can learn from you. It's my job to tell those stories and I also want to continue these engaging discussions with you while I am out on the road. That's the reason for the "World Tour."
If you want to get your chapter on the list of upcoming "tour" dates, let me know.
Upcoming "Tour" Dates:
September 4 • Potomac Chapter
September 12-14 • Carolinas Chapter
September 27-28 • Washington State Chapter