Skip navigation
Now that's an attention getter: Motivational speaker Dan Thurmon managed to do a handstand on the podium without missing a beat in his presentation.

With General Sessions, Variety Wins the Day

At a recent conference for event planners, a motivational speaker drove home his message with eye-popping demonstrations before an industry expert delivered valuable insights about the next generation of meeting attendees.

Danica Schroth, a conference-portfolio director for show organizer Informa, was intent on maintaining good energy across the two-and-a-half-hour opening general session of Pharma Forum, held this week at the Marriott Marquis. To do that for the 210 medical-event planners and 250 suppliers in the audience, Schroth varied both the content focus and the presentation format in each segment of the session.

Kicking things off was a high-energy motivational speaker—Dan Thurmon of Motivation Works Inc.—who used most of the ballroom’s space as the platform to deliver his presentation. In pushing attendees to keep evolving in their work so that their events remain appealing to their audiences, Thurmon spoke while doing a handstand on the podium; while juggling an ax, sickle, and machete on stage; and while riding a tall unicycle between rows in the audience.

PF23photo2.jpegThurmon’s message while balancing himself on his hands atop the podium: Every project requires many small adjustments along the way that are not perceptible to those outside the team. While juggling the sharp objects (photo here), he spoke about managing stress by focusing on the task at hand, and not allowing other issues to distract you. And while seated eight feet up on the unicycle (photo below), Thurmon said that the only way to make progress in one’s work is to be a bit off-balance and not fully comfortable—and that leaning into a task is the only way to move forward.

Shifting Attendees’ Focus Keeps Interest High
Following Thurmon was a “fireside chat” session featuring Anne McDonald Pritchett, senior vice president of policy and research for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an advocacy trade group. Taking questions from Sue Hatch, content director for MeetingsNet, McDonald said that one recent meeting she attended that held her interest the entire time was the Aspen Ideas Festival.

In particular, McDonald noted the interesting mix of topics on the agenda. For instance, between more weighty topics, the organizers scheduled a session on beekeeping and why bees and beekeepers are so important to society and to the planet. In addition to a handful to similarly offbeat topics that have significant but less-recognized impact, McDonald liked that “there were several outdoor activations between sessions—different booths in the plaza” that were interesting as well as energizing thanks to the sunshine and fresh air.

PFphoto5.jpegClosing the opening day’s general session at Pharma Forum was Ken Holsinger, senior vice president of strategy for Freeman. He was there to deliver hard data and useful takeaways for both the planners and suppliers in the audience as they work on events happening over the next three to 36 months. Based on Freeman surveys of more than two million attendees over the past several years along with an early 2023 survey of more than 5,000 meeting attendees, Holsinger presented the impressions and preferences of the “next generation event goer.”

Some of the most revealing data to come from the research: The average age of meeting attendees dropped from 51 in 2019 to 45 today, with that age likely to drop to 43 by the end of 2025. Further, “audiences are more female now, and will become even more so,” he said. Overall, “we are all humans and consumers before we are meeting-industry member, so we must broaden our perspectives more widely and then apply our industry principles and focus when coordinating future events.”

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.