The best thing about working in the meetings industry, and probably any other industry, is meeting new people and traveling. So I was absolutely thrilled to join the staff of MeetingsNet as senior content producer in January. I was even more thrilled to start the new job with a trip to Professional Convention Management Association’s Convening Leaders 2017 in Austin, Texas, but truthfully there were certain aspects of going to the conference that I was not looking forward to.
Confession: Although I have written for several different industries including live entertainment, technology, and news, it has been a while since I was a regular tradeshow attendee. In fact the last time I was at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas we called it Comdex and the only use for a cell phone was to make phone calls—imagine that! So when I set out for PCMA I had some preconceived notions about events; let’s call them the wait/weight of conventions.
1. I would have to queue. I once spent an hour and 10 minutes standing in a taxi line outside McCarran International airport in 95 degrees, and I’ve routinely queued up for 45 minutes at registration at other shows waiting for my press pass.
2. I would gain weight. You’ve heard of the Freshman 15? There is a Convention Four.
So you can imagine the absolute thrill of arriving at Austin-Bergstrom to find my press pass, a cocktail, and a bus to the hotel waiting for me. And the best part: EVERYONE was treated like a VIP. I walked into the convention center feeling as though I was valued, that I was part of something.
And the surprises continued. Instead of the impersonal space that I remembered from tradeshows past, there were local musicians playing around the venue, reminding us all that Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World, and PCMA had arranged for a couple of hometown boys to delight their attendees. Matthew McConaughey was a surprise speaker on the first day, and Willie Nelson closed out the event with a live performance in a new venue by the river. Making a connection with the host city makes a huge difference, as well as enjoying the live music in between sessions McConaughey’s welcoming speech and his pride in Austin made me feel more at home in a strange city and encouraged me to go out and enjoy local restaurants and music venues. It’s especially important now, when attendees can have red state/blue state anxieties, or feel unwelcome because of international tensions and immigration policy. A personal welcome goes a long way to helping everyone enjoy the experience and forget about concerns in the larger picture.
As for the expected weight gain, I had read about the healthy food trend but found it so much more appetizing than I expected. My table at one lunch (you know who you are!) thoroughly enjoyed shaking up our salad-in-a-mason-jar while singing the “Macarena,” and I actually ate mine afterwards instead of skipping it to leave room for dessert. Going through my receipts after the trip I realized I had no food receipts from Tuesday and I was puzzled until I remembered that was the day attendees were treated to tables of chocolate strawberries. I may have broken a world record for chocolate strawberry consumption that day. Hey, don’t judge me, it’s fruit!
The experience was a marvelous introduction to the meetings world and the extraordinary competence and creativity of industry professionals. Meetings planners, I love you!
P.S. For the record I managed to knock the Convention Four down to a Convention 1.5, baby steps people, baby steps.