With a tagline of “Stop Planning Meetings, Start Designing Experiences”, you expect to attend a meeting planner conference unlike any other… and the MPI team did a great job delivering a conference filled with change. MPI-WEC has had a reputation of being a bit “stale” in recent years – and considering that it draws so many of the world’s elite meeting and event planners, this is especially problematic. People attend annually to discover new ideas, gain renewed motivation, and expand their networks…how can you expect them to return if there is nothing to benefit from? It was time for a disruption, and that is exactly what they did.
This year in particular, the political, economic, and social climates have created some additional challenges never before considered as important as they are now. The team (largely volunteer-based!) that addressed these major societal issues and changed the conference format all in the same year deserves a great deal of respect.
Here I will talk about some of the major challenges that MPI-WEC faced in recent years, how they were addressed, and a few areas where I think there was some room for improvement this year (as planners, we are perfectionists, after all!).
The conference space was converted from many different session rooms into two main conference spaces: one for the “pep rallies” (i.e. general session) and another for the “villages” (i.e. breakouts, exhibit booths, food & beverage break stations, career coaching, CSR projects, and puppies…yes, you heard me, puppies).
Each day, the conference would begin and end with a pep rally. There were DJ’s, bands, dancers, cheerleaders, and even jump ropers to energize the crowd, and stadium seating was set up surrounding the stage, making it feel like you were watching your favorite sports game.
The second room (exhibit hall) was divided into villages, or sections, dedicated to a different overarching subject. Each breakout were of varying lengths of 30, 60, or 90 minutes, depending on the content.
Innovation Village: These breakouts featured current and upcoming creative trends and technologies, with case studies of applications
Social Village: With tech innovation often comes lack of connection – and the social village was designed to educate planners about the best ways to network and connect your people together
Experiential Village: Featuring ways to uncover and then relate to your target audience, this village provided new and exciting ideas to bring back to your team
Leadership Village: Breakouts were designed to connect with the senior executive, or those looking to catapult their career and gain knowledge regarding leadership strategies
How MPI Inspired Attendance:
With MPI-WEC’s aforementioned reputation, I consider myself a perfect example of the importance of inspiring attendance through messaging. The buzz was high for this event due to their new tagline and marketing that provided information regarding the format change – it was clear that it would be new and improved, and it would be a mistake to miss it. I decided at that point that I would attend “just one more year”.
Changes: I would have liked an easier way to access all of the session details further in advance. With so many sessions happening at once, and in differing lengths which I will get into later, it required more advance preparation than usual. The two ways it was available pre-conference was through the conference app and in a click-to-print full agenda option. The conference app pre-loaded every activity, session, event occurring (even invite-only events/sessions) which convoluted the information. In the click-to-print the full agenda, you were prompted to print 23 pages of content, which did not even contain speaker information or a content blurb.
A City Without The Lure:
MPI-WEC 2018 was held in Indianapolis. Though the city is gaining some notoriety through their compact convention package and renovated airport, Indianapolis doesn’t exactly stir up the same excitement as cities like Las Vegas, San Francisco, or NYC. As a business, Meeting Professionals International must consider many factors when choosing the host location. In my opinion, Indianapolis knocked it out of the ballpark:
- They played up their strengths: they showed off how compact they are, making it a great city-wide location, and talked about their highly rated airport and being central in the U.S.
- They brought us to what they are known for: when you think of Indianapolis, most people think of the Indy 500 (the biggest event in racing) and Colts football – they of course brought us to experience both
- They worked in the destination throughout the conference, showing us how simple it would be to host a food-truck party outside of the convention center for a creative lunch, or closing down a section of Monument Circle for a reception
The Sensitive Topics:
There was a big focus on three sensitive topics: security, gender discrimination, and sexual harassment. Several sessions touched on these, and I’ve collected some of the most important information about each here:
- Gender Discrimination
This is a big hot button and companies are starting to really embrace programs to ensure gender acceptance and recognition.
- Train frontline employees to know how to handle unique situations when it comes to gender
- Don’t provide options for gender, but rather allow the attendee/employee to enter their own in the way they would like to be addressed
- Think to yourself: why do you even require forms that request a gender? If there isn’t a reason, don’t ask
- Sexual Harassment
We all know that problems with sexual harassment don’t just occur in Hollywood. MPI is taking a stand against sexual harassment.
- Conferences promote social interaction and networking, and often provide alcohol at these functions resulting in a potential loss of inhibitions
- Consider the parameters of drinking at your event: have you considered and beer-and-wine-only system, or is there a drink cap per event?
- Contemplate using an app or event messaging software to allow for anonymous reporting of inappropriate behavior
WEC kicked off with a pep rally containing clearly stated specific measures to take in case of emergency.
- MPI came out with a step-by-step resource guide with recommendations for big and small meetings (free for MPI members)
- WEC showed off a messaging service that can be utilized when there’s danger
- Teach your attendees several ways to report their safety