Meetings industry veteran and religious conference expert Dwight Loken shares his thoughts on some life topics and meeting trends.
1. Learning by doing
I grew up in Minnesota and moved to Ohio in 1971. I took a job with the Office Education Association in Columbus, and as their first full-time employee, I pretty much did everything. One of those things was planning an annual convention for 3,000–4,000 people. I had no training other than what I learned by doing.
In the mid-’70s I got my certification in convention management from ASAE [The Center for Association Leadership]. The late Buck Hoyle was a great mentor—he was one of my teachers.
Then in 1978 I joined Meeting Professionals International. I became president of our Ohio Valley Chapter and later served on the national board. I was on MPI’s international executive committee and was MPI’s international president in 1985–1986.
During my term as president we moved the Meeting Professionals International headquarters
from Middletown, Ohio, to Dallas, where it is today. I also was in one of the first few classes of [Certified Meeting Professionals]—I was probably among the first 100 to get it.
2. Launching a Business
During my time with MPI, I saw the trend toward outsourcing as the way of the future. I started my own company—The Meeting Connection—on August 1, 1986. I could probably count on two hands the number of companies that were outsourcing nationally then—now there are hundreds of organizations doing it.
From the beginning we developed strong relationships with our clients and suppliers—our clients have become like family in many cases. The key to developing those kinds of relationships for us has been to be honest and truthful and do what we say we’re going to do. Many of our clients have been with us for a long time.
3. Working With Religious Organizations
The religious market has always been strong for us. One of our clients is the North American Christian Convention, or NACC, which has been with us for about 10 years. We work hand in hand with the convention staff to do their registration, housing, and exhibit sales. This past year in Louisville we sold out all 421 of the exhibit booths. We’ve already sold 38 percent of the hall for the conference in Indianapolis for next July.
Though I really like the family aspect of religious meetings, it can present some additional requirements and challenges because you have to add activities for multiple age groups. One of our groups is Ohio Teens for Christ —a statewide teen convention that includes lots of workshops and concerts.
4. Change in the Industry
Because there’s constant change in the meetings industry, we need to continually adapt or we’ll be passed by others who can do it faster, smarter, better.
Technology has obviously evolved a lot over the years, and it will continue to evolve.
We have our own customizable online housing system and online registration system, and we have a really great IT person on our staff to help us manage our technology needs.