Cover Story

Convene Celebrates 30 Years

Convene has chronicled three decades of change in the meetings industry — and changed right along with it.

Illustrations by Luci Gutiérrez
Illustrations by Luci Gutiérrez

In a real sense, Convene, which was launched in 1986, grew up alongside the meetings profession. As late as 1980, there was no textbook on meeting or exposition management and only one accredited college program devoted to its practice, former Convene editor Peter Shure pointed out in a 2003 story in the magazine. Not only that, but “we were still a decade removed from the delivery of online education.” Compared to most fields, Shure wrote, even in 2003, “the profession is still in its infancy.”

“We all wanted PCMA to do well — we wanted it to grow and to grow up,” Barbara Nichols, an early Convene editor and former PCMA president, said in a recent interview about the magazine’s founding. (PCMA staffer John Oliver was the first editor.) For decades, membership in PCMA had been a closed circle, limited to medical-meeting professionals. The circle got considerably bigger in 1987, with a vote to open up membership to professionals in the fields of science, education, and engineering, and bigger still in 1990, when all nonprofit association meeting professionals and CEOs were invited to join. “We wanted PCMA to expand and to be more proactive in the convention industry,” said Nichols, speaking from her home in Florida, where she is retired.

1986: Food can reinforce psycho-social behavior patterns, including the feeling of being caged with no escape.

Nichols’ pioneering writing in the field — she edited the first version of Professional Meeting Management, published in 1985 — turned her into a teacher, she said. She was invited to speak at industry events, where she met a number of planners who were new to the profession. She discovered that for many of them, the training that they received or had access to — “Now, this is my own opinion,” Nichols emphasized — was lacking. Outside of medical meetings, “those [organizations] that were going to have a meeting, instead of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland [putting on a show], it was the new secretary in the department. There was a lot of that at the time.”

Nichols initially recruited volunteer meeting professionals from all over the industry to submit stories for the new magazine, with the primary requirement that they be clear writers. “I tried,” Nichols said, “to stick with the basics.” She served as editor until 1990, “when I had dinner with Pete Shure,” she said. “The rest is history.” (See “Backstory,” p. 59.) Shure hired professional writers, but Convene has continued to take a case-study approach — and to rely on the generosity of meeting professionals to share their best practices.

Over time, even the basics were transformed. Convene has grown up not just alongside the meetings industry but during the revolution in business and personal technology. There is a long, meandering line from a 1989 story about how a medical association computerized its operations, beginning with a leased 64K microcomputer, to our June 2016 cover story about how technologies such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence are now being used at meetings and events.

Another big, ongoing story has been the transformation of the image that meeting professionals hold of themselves. One flex point came in a survey of nonprofit CEOs (“CEO Wish List,” April 2005) in which they ranked meeting planning as second only to executive management in importance to their organization’s mission, but ranked strategic planning ninth in a list of important skills for senior meeting planners.

As we paged through issues from the last 30 years — many of them bound in leather and available at the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library in Manhattan — we saw many signs of the evolution of Convene and our readers. From stories about fax machines to photos of 3D projection mapping, from advice about negotiating piles of paperwork to a roundtable discussion among female CEOs, we’ve gone from serving an industry in its infancy to one that has come of age.

To celebrate Convene’s first 30 years, we’ve prepared  a selection of excerpts from our archives — things we found insightful, interesting, relevant, or maybe even a little embarrassing.

A Meeting Runs on Its Stomach

“As every laboratory rat knows, food can create and reinforce psycho-social behavior patterns, including the feeling of being caged with no escape. Association meeting planners can do better than use it to reinforce a sense of helplessness in their members who are working on committees or attending meetings.…

“Turnips are a favorite vegetable of nouvelle cuisine, but be sure you have a sufficiently food-literate audience before you serve them. Many older Americans still equate turnips with poverty food consumed during the Great Depression, and older Europeans may remember turnips as the omnipresent taste of World War II food rationing.”

— “Food: The Underused Language,” Fall 1986

Heart Attack on a Plate

“Many hotel catering departments are remarkably unprepared to help meal planners in [the area of health and fitness] even though it is likely to be a major concern of affluent professionals such as physicians, attorneys, and corporate executives. At a recent large medical meeting in a major hotel, we found that the only food available in quantity for breakfast was what we called ‘the cardiologist’s breakfast’ — fried eggs, bacon, sausages, and buttered toast. The message we sent to our physician members was an (expletive deleted) insult.”

— “Saying It With Food,” January/February 1989

Convene - January 2015
In 1977, an IBM 64K computer cost $18,000, which would be approximately $73,000 in today’s dollars. A smartphone with 32 GB of memory has about 500,000 times more memory than AORN’s leased 64K computer.

Enter the ‘Magic Machine’

The Association of Operating Room Nurses (AORN) began the process of computerizing its meetings-related functions in 1977, after trying and failing to find outside vendors who would take on the job. It turned out to be a seven-year project: “In 1977 … a computer services specialist joined our … staff. A magic machine (called a micro-computer) was leased. It gave us one CPU with 64K capacity and two disks with 30 meg, as well as ten terminals.”

The change “brought some fear and trepidation into the hearts of some staff members, because they had heard stories of computers replacing people. Besides, who knew what ‘64K,’ ‘disks,’ ‘meg,’ and ‘terminals’ meant?”

By 1984, staff had been trained in computer literacy, and departments were linked on a PC network, which AORN used for membership, registration and housing, keeping track of continuing education, exhibitor management, and other functions, including an on-site messaging system, and badge and sign printing.

AORN’s only regret was not moving faster: “In retrospect, we could have gotten to this point much sooner if in the beginning we had not focused on only one or two applications such as registration and housing.”

— “A Not So Grim Fairy Tale,”
September/October 1989

Convene - January 2015We Ain’t Afraid of No Spouse

In the 1980s, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) had a problem. Its exhibit hall was booming, as companies competed with one another for attention, including by handing out samples. Cosmetic and skin-care product samples were particularly attractive to AAD registrants’ spouses and guests, the then-director of meetings and conventions wrote in a story titled “Spouse Busters.”

But aisles were so packed that physicians began to complain about “a mob scene in the exhibit hall,” the author wrote. The issue was complicated by the presence of children, which the story attributed to changing concepts of parenting. “Rather than leaving their children with Grandma or a sitter, more physicians were traveling to the annual meeting with them. If the children did not come to the exhibit hall with the physician registrant, they invariably arrived with the spouse.” Too often, they were “loosely supervised and indiscriminately grabbed at products and displays.”

Exhibitors didn’t want to stop handing out samples, so in 1984, AAD decided to set aside a few dedicated hours on the show floor in the middle of the day for physician members. To enforce the policy, signs reading “Physicians Only” were posted outside the exhibit hall at the appointed time — and created unexpected havoc. “Although the intent seemed clear,” the author wrote, “the words muddled the situation.” Arguments “ensued at the entrance as registered spouses who were also physicians from other specialty fields demanded to be admitted.” The situation “created considerable opportunity for staff interaction with the attendees. Unfortunately, too many of these verged on hostility.”

AAD changed the wording to allow “Physician Registrants Only.” They also found that many of the spouses were medical-office managers or served in other non-physician positions in dermatology offices, so the next year AAD added a new category for office staff, allowing them unrestricted access to the show floor.

— “Spouse Busters,” May/June 1990

Our Very, Very Slow Start

“When, in the early 1980s, Roy Evans first proposed the idea of a PCMA journal to the board of directors, the response was ‘underwhelming,’ to say the least. The silence, I was told, was absolutely deafening. In fact it took Roy four years to sell the concept of a magazine he christened Convene.”

— Sylvia Rottman, “President’s Message,” July 1990

Remember Cash?

Until the day arrives when registration fees can all be electronically collected, Convene warned, “you should be concerned about cash skimming by unethical personnel.” In the case of a hypothetical organization with 3,000 participants and a $400 fee, “fifty ‘lost’ registration cards and $20,000 can easily be skimmed in the hectic environment of most conventions or meetings when adequate controls are not in place.”

Among the recommended controls were numbered badges and sequentially numbered cash-transaction forms, so registrants and transactions couldn’t easily go missing, along with the money.

— “On-Site Financial Controls,” March 1991

Informal, Yet Aggressive

“Does a planner’s attitude make a difference when negotiating with hotels?” Convene Editor Barbara Nichols asked, then answered: “Certainly the flies and honey adage applies here. Our industry is a very informal one, filled with aggressive personalities. Because of the very nature of the buyer–seller relationship, most of the aggressiveness is on the planners’ side of the fence. Can you imagine what it must be like to spend part of every day dickering with potential customers? Surely there’s a tolerance level, and hitting that level just might cost you a few bucks. Who knows? Flexibility and a pleasant attitude surely can’t hurt.”

— “Negotiating With a Hotel,” May/June 1991

Beware of ‘Softwareization’

“According to the Japanese way of thinking, as we move from a smokestack economy into the information age, we are progressing into the ‘softwareization’ of business and of life — the voice mail that transfers a caller from one electronic operator to the next, the automatic teller machine that spits out currency at the touch of a button, and the computerized ticketing device that provides you and your attendees with the flight coupons for travel to your next convention destination.

“The Japanese reason that ‘events’ creatively conceived and elaborately delivered will put color and intimacy back into people’s lives.”

— “Dateline: Japan,” February 1992

The More Things Change

“It comes as no surprise that ‘costs’ will be the watchword of the ’90s. The surprising thing about the PCMA ‘Meetings Survey’ was how many different ways planners could say it. Consider this sample: High costs, rising costs, hotel costs, travel costs, cost containment, cost control, keeping costs down, escalating costs, cost effectiveness, cost management, and the ‘proverbial’ cost squeeze.

“Also known as: budget cuts, budgetary constraints, keeping within budget funding meetings, and pressure to maintain meetings as a profit center.

“The prime reason for the budget squeeze is a widespread decline in registration revenues and exhibit space sales. Recession was cited as the major culprit, but expect the ’90s to reveal other, more fundamental changes in the convention and exposition marketplace.

“The ‘splintering of large national associations is decreasing attendance at major events,’ wrote one planner. ‘National conventions,’ said another, ‘appear to be white elephants for many of us, with a new emphasis on local and state meetings due to travel and expense limitations.’”

“What Are They Saying?,” March 1992

Please Pass the Salt — and the Ammunition

“Adventure is definitely a favorite at Amelia Island when it comes to theme parties. A popular theme is the airplane hangar party: It is a literal bomb, but never a figurative one. The World War II reenactment takes place at a local municipal airport for small groups outfitted in fatigues and dog tags. The attendees are put through a series of drills and run through an obstacle course before boarding old-time bomber planes and riding down the runway under simulated attack. After escaping to ‘bomb shelters,’ the ‘soldiers’ watch five fighters perform mock dogfights and bombings. Dinner on picnic tables follows in the shelters.”

— “Deliver the Expected,” June 1992

Blow Up Your F&B

“It’s kind of neat, because you don’t know what you have in front of you,” observed Dave Griffin, director of marketing, Lexington Marriot at Griffin Gate (Lexington, KY). “Then everybody pops their balloon at once, and there’s your food.”

— “Best in Show, Best Food Presentation,” June 1992

From Old Boys to Young Women

“Meeting planning, which used to be described as an ‘Old Boys’’ network, may soon be a ‘Young Women’s’ network. Nearly 70 percent of those responding to the PCMA Survey were female.

“Respondents were asked to categorize themselves as ‘director,’ ‘manager,’ or ‘staff.’ Directors, with an average of 13 years’ planning experience, reported a mean salary of $60,735. The salary for those describing themselves as managers was $37,516, while the mean salary of staff respondents was $31,500.

“Age and education, as well as years of experience clearly influence compensation. As for sex, it’s hard to say. While the mean salary of all women surveyed is considerably less than the males sampled, so is their level of responsibility. While nearly 90 percent of the ‘staff’ and ‘manager’ respondents were female, they accounted for only 56 percent of ‘directors.’”

— “Sustained Recovery Necessary to Boost Attendance,” March 1993

The Ethics of Fams

In 1993, Convene published the results of an interactive keypad survey taken at a meeting of PCMA’s Philadelphia chapter. One question was: “Is it ethical to acquiesce to having your name added to a fam invite list — even though the host hotelier knows you are not considering his city for a meeting?”

More than half of respondents — 55 percent — said yes, while 45 percent said no. “Respondents on both sides of the issue said that it was imperative to be upfront with the host. They noted (and suppliers agree) it is ethical to accept the invitation, provided there is potential for business somewhere down the road.”


In March of this year, we asked a differently worded question on the same basic issue: “When is it ethical for suppliers to issue and for planners to accept invitations to events?” This time, respondents were more stringent: 56 percent said only when there was business on the table, while 3 percent said it’s never ethical.4

— “To Fam or Not to Fam: These Are the Questions,”
September/October 1993

Cruising the Electronic Highway

When business writer Richard Ensman set out to demystify technology for readers, he got a lot right about the rise of electronic devices, which he called an “electronic receptacle.”

“Whatever form the superhighway eventually takes,” Ensman wrote, “users will almost certainly be able to make telephone calls, watch videos, search data bases, read electronic magazines, shop, and exchange written messages from a single electronic receptacle — a cross, perhaps, among the traditional computer, telephone, and television set.”

But Ensman had a hard time envisioning the basic tools that we take for granted today, such as Google: “Tomorrow’s superhighway will be much easier to navigate than today’s internet. While the sheer size of the superhighway will make a ‘master menu’ all but impossible, new navigational software will be available to help both serious and casual users locate — and reach — destinations quickly.”

Help was on the way. Alta Vista, an early search engine, was founded in 1995; Google came along in 1998.

— “Basics of the Internet,” October 1994

After Tailhook

The so-called Tailhook scandal in 1991, in which more than 100 U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps officers allegedly assaulted 83 women and seven men during a three-day aviators’ conference in Las Vegas, resulted in the discipline of several officers and sweeping reform related to the treatment of women in the military.

But it also vividly illustrated the risks to organizations and venues, and served as a reminder of the legal duties that event planners and venues have to attendees and guests. Both the Las Vegas hotel where the meeting was held, and the Tailhook Association, which organized the meeting, were held liable in the incident. The Tailhook Association settled out of court, and in 1995, the hotel was ordered to pay $7.1 million to plaintiffs for failure to provide adequate security.

— “The Lesson of Tailhook,” February 1995

But Go Ahead and Interrupt Men

“Unfortunately most [exhibition] sales training methods have provided salespeople with selling methods based on how men make decisions — which is different in some ways from the decision process for women.

“Tip 1. Women dislike being interrupted. Frequently, men interrupt women when they are speaking. This is perceived as lack of respect to the woman and as condescending and showing unwillingness to listen. Always avoid interrupting.”

— “The Nuances of Selling to the Woman Buyer,”
November 1995

Convene - January 2015In Mere … Hours

“Fax broadcasting is quickly becoming one of the most timely and most cost-effective ways of delivering a message.”

“Every month, a one-page ‘Fast Fax’ meeting announcement was created using a word processor and laser printer. It was then faxed to a service bureau…. A personalized fax message was transmitted to [the Philadelphia Direct Marketing Association’s] members with a response mechanism (fill-in box and fax back) on the bottom of the page.”

“Often, before the office even opened, meeting registrations would arrive back via fax. Member notification was cut from seven to 10 days to hours. Plus, the cost of paper, printing, and postage were eliminated.”

— “All the Fax,” December 1995

Convene - January 2015Paper Trails for Miles

“Take a look around your office. Are there reams of meeting resumes and contracts stacked on your desk? Is there a clutter of messages from people with whom you’ve been playing phone tag for three days? Has a convention-center floor plan swallowed your bulletin board?

“Soon, the miles-long paper trails generated in the process of planning a meeting may come to an end as meeting specifications are efficiently produced and stored on meeting managers’ computer desktops.

“Slated to be up and running as a World Wide Web site this fall, the Meetings Exchange [a partnership between PCMA, ASAE, MPI, and other industry organizations] will ultimately be accessible to meeting managers through a variety of other channels, including the Internet, satellite, CD-ROM, and digital video disks.”

— “Paperless Meeting Management Draws Closer to a Reality,”
September 1996

Ahead of Her Time

When Convene interviewed Pegotty Cooper, CAE, director of special interest group services for the 75,000 members of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), she attributed ACM’s technological prowess to the fact that members were actively involved in keeping the association’s technology moving forward. But Cooper herself was thinking years ahead, organizing electronic focus groups and workshops, which, she explained, enabled people who couldn’t afford to travel to participate in meetings, as well as giving voice to people who have difficulty sharing questions and opinions face-to-face:

ConveneAre we all going to be isolated in cyberspace staring at our computers, filling our lonely brains with endless information?

Cooper  don’t believe so, and I certainly hope not. The people aspect of conferences will always be an important part of the equation. We need that fundamental interaction
to nourish our souls. But I believe technology is going to enable us to continue the interaction after the event is over. With the converging of technology, all kinds of wondrous things are possible.

I … suspect we are all going to have to get much more sophisticated about the delivery of information. We need to understand what it is our members want and how they want to receive it. And we need to learn how to structure that information so that it can be readily digested by groups of people that use different filter mechanisms.

— “High-Tech Conversations,” October 1996

Where’s the Beef?

“Culinary trends at London’s Queen Elizabeth II Conference Center indicate that budgets are steady, with alcohol consumption up and, because of the mad cow scare, ‘beef has all but disappeared’ from menus.”

— “International Briefs,”
December 1996

When a Transparency Was Something You Held in Your Hand

“Reinforce the peak moments of your conference, savor them in rapid-fire succession, and provide a last chance to capture the vital points. Use dramatization or another entertaining format.

Example: Using a transparency projector, capture on a collective ‘mind map’ the key ideas and strategies that conference participants plan to use when they get home. Duplicate and distribute this display of ideas before the end of the session so that attendees leave with the most valuable ideas on one eye-catching piece of paper.”

— “Send Them Home With Doggie Bags,” February 1997

Beyond Black and White

“Conventions and tradeshows in general will become more educational and less social. Time is becoming a more valuable asset, and convincing potential attendees that your show is worthwhile will require more specific and targeted advance promotion.

“The Show of the Future will strive to improve the ‘hands-on’ format which has been the foundation of its success story up to this point in time.… Exhibits will become more sophisticated, including multifaceted construction, theater, private conference ‘closing’ rooms, and permanently installed electronic communications systems, such as fax machines, voice-data lines, and translation equipment.… The ‘black or white vinyl’ choice in today’s furniture is being rapidly replaced with a full range of custom furniture in several colors and materials.”

— “Tradeshow of the Future,” September/October 1998

‘Tower of Babble’

“For years, suppliers have attempted to book meetings based on ‘sketchy’ verbal or written communication, much of which has proved to be inaccurate. This has resulted in numerous errors, needless changes, and increased costs.

“Market conditions require meeting sponsors to justify the value of their business to suppliers, but the resulting paper trail has become a nightmarish ‘Tower of Babble.’ No two profiles are the same, and every planner believes he or she has developed the best form.

“To provide better group histories, hotels have been encouraged to adhere to the standardized CIC post-convention reports. Now attention must be paid to standardize the front end of the process.”

— “An Endless Paper Trail to a ‘Tower of Babble’,”
February 1998

When Microsoft Was the Technology Solution

“Opportunities to learn about the newest innovations in technology will be among the first-time offerings at the 2001 Annual Meeting, including this: a computer room staffed with trained professionals ready to increase attendees’ knowledge about Microsoft Word,
Access, Excel, and their applications
to meeting

— “Technology
Solutions Headlined at the PCMA Annual Meeting,”
October 2000

She, Robot

“You walk into the meeting room, accompanied by Belinda, your meeting’s designated Android.… Upon arrival, she smiled, greeted you by name, and even had your favorite beverage waiting. In her hand, she held your schedule for the day, as well as an up-to-date list of emails and a series of faxes you need for the meeting.”

— “A Peek Into the Meeting Room of the Future,”
December 2000

Laptop as Traveling Companion

“Imagine [your] next site visit. You step off the plane in your host city and, bypassing baggage claim, head straight for the hotel. Upon arrival, a friendly attendant points you toward the registration kiosk. Seconds after, you wave your frequent guest card before a tiny screen and a room key appears in the slot below, along with a printed map of the property and directions to your room.…

“About 60 percent of business travelers travel with laptops, and they want to check e-mail from their room. These hotel guests spend a lot of time on the phone and they need room to lay out papers and information. Proper working space is important — they need bigger desks and chairs, better lighting, and more readily available office supplies.”

— “The Hotel Room of the Future,” December 2000

‘Beyond Belief’

Seventy emergency doctors, nurses, and paramedics who were meeting on Sept. 11, 2001, at the Marriott Brooklyn to coordinate the Public Access Defibrillation (PAD) Trial were interrupted shortly after 9 a.m. by an announcement over the loudspeaker that “an incident has occurred at the World Trade Center,” and the request that they evacuate the building.

They headed like moths, one attendee recalled, to the Brooklyn Bridge and other points where they could see the fires and collapsed buildings across the East River. “What we saw seemed beyond belief, but the question quickly became, “What can we do?”’

The attendees divided themselves into four teams, three of which went into Manhattan near Ground Zero and St. Vincent’s Hospital, and one of which set up a first-aid center in the hotel’s ballroom.

“As people continued to pour over the Brooklyn Bridge for several hours, the hotel opened its doors to anyone who wanted shelter, medical help, or a place to clean up or watch the news.… More than 300 Manhattan evacuees were registered and treated at the first-aid center by the end of the day.

“‘I thought the line of people would never stop,’ said [meeting organizer Margit] Scholz. ‘People were covered with white plaster. Some had no purses, no money, no identification. One businessman had come down from the 84th floor of the tower and had no wallet, no anything. Some had no shoes, with abrasions and blisters on their feet.’”

— “From Brooklyn to Ground Zero,” December 2001

People were covered with white plaster. Some had no purses, no money, no identification

‘America Is For Everyone’

“Shortly after Sept. 11, a bookkeeper with the American Association of Ophthalmology (AAO) sat down at home with her mother and father, discussing her fears that the terrorist attacks would disastrously affect the upcoming annual meeting. Her young son, who had been nearby, disappeared for a few minutes and came back with a drawing.

“‘He drew an American flag and four little kids shaped like “South Park” characters,’ said David Noonan, AAO deputy executive vice president. ‘There were boys and girls, Hispanic, Asian, African-American, and Caucasian.’ On the front the drawing read, ‘America is for everyone,’ and on the back was written, ‘Please send this to all of your doctors so they will come for the meeting.’

“When the child’s mother brought the drawing to work the next day, the entire office was struck by the simplicity of its message. ‘That kid had, in just a heartbeat, captured the sense of the entire period,’ Noonan said.

“AAO posted the drawing on its Web site, and staff executives decided to use it as a T-shirt design for attendees. The drawing became a common sight throughout the annual meeting. And when the American Medical Association held its annual meeting, AAO sent the same T-shirts to sell to AMA attendees as well.”

— “Through a Child’s Eyes,” September 2002

What Glass Ceiling?

Convene Editor Peter Shure: “As the industry often grew out of administrative departments, many women in clerical positions found themselves planning meetings and began creating careers around those meetings.

“With the huge number of women entering or re-entering the workforce, support staffs were overwhelmingly female. When meeting management grew as a specialty and education became readily accessible, more and more of these women were promoted into management positions…. And because they were in on the ground floor, I don’t think there’s a glass ceiling for women.”

— “Why Women Dominate the Meetings Industry,” December 2003

The Birth of the App

James Spellos, CMP: “Many organizations are starting to look at the PDA as the way to disseminate information to their meeting attendees. A number of companies have been providing meeting planners with services — from session handouts (imagine doing away with thousands of unused handout copies) to attendee lists, from searchable exhibit hall maps to personalized schedules, all of which attendees can download onto their PDAs.”

— “More Palm Reading,” May 2004

High(ish) Tech

“What’s hot now? Wireless Internet Access. Also called ‘wi-fi,’ this technology ‘has taken the world by storm in the past two years,’ said David Giannini, CEO of Core Communication.” However, 42 percent of respondents to a survey on tech said that wireless was not important to their meetings, and 75 percent said it was not important at hotels.

In other tech news: “One of the latest gadgets in the revolution of handheld devices, USB keys, or USB drives, are … finding a place in the meeting room. These keychain-sized gadgets range from $30 to $50 and can hold 32 megabytes to a gigabyte of memory.”

— “Meetings Go High Tech,” February 2005

No Phones At Meetings! And Remember the 12-Foot Zone.

A business-etiquette column included the following tips for not offending others while using
cell phones:

If you must keep your phone on at work, put the ringer on vibrate.

Make and receive your calls in private. Respect others’ personal space and maintain at least a 12-foot zone from others while talking.

Turn your phone off, and keep it out of sight, during a business meeting, lunch, or other event where you should be giving others your full attention.

— “Unintentional Rudeness,” April 2005

Participate, Don’t Just Spectate

Jeffrey Cufaude: “I like cool and flashy as much as the next person. The problem with offering lots of spectacle (besides the obvious expense) is that it turns participants into mere spectators…. [The meeting] grows when the ideas, interests, and passion of individuals are given
a space that encourages engagement
with others.”

— “Keeping Wow From Becoming Not Now,” July 2006

2006: ‘The problem with offering lots of spectacle is that it turns participants into mere spectators.

Tick, Tick, Tick

“Humanity is sitting on a ticking time bomb. If the vast majority of the world’s scientists are right, we have just 10 years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tailspin of destruction involving extreme weather, floods, drought, epidemics, and killer heat waves beyond anything we have experienced. We can’t bury our heads in the sand — the meetings industry included.”

This article went on to outline a series of recommended measures, many of which are now second nature, including collecting and reusing nametag holders, using water coolers instead of bottled water, replacing plastic stir sticks with spoons in coffee and tea service, and offering registration online. Other suggestions, including “eliminating box lunches” and asking suppliers to replace paper promotional materials — not so much.

The story also included an IMEX survey identifying the top 10 countries that respondents identified as displaying the most environmental leadership. In alphabetical order: Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, Greece, Ireland, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Sweden, and the UK.

— “Green Meetings,” December 2006

Time to Counterattack

Sam Lippman, President, Integrated Show Management & Marketing

“The exhibition industry in the United States is under siege! The reasons not to participate in a U.S. exhibition are multiplying at an alarming rate — rising costs, travel hassles, unemployment, the Internet, next-generation attitudes, new and greener marketing communication alternatives, and offshore opportunities.

“The need for a counterattack is real and here now.“

— “Meetings Industry Forecast,”

November 2008

The Economy Actually Was Half Empty

In June of 2008, technologist Peter Leyden told Convene that the economy was half full. We checked back in after the financial collapse to ask:  Were you surprised by the last six months?

“I have been surprised. I was of the mind, even back in June, that yeah, there were these bad loans, but the system was tolerant enough to work us through it and the core drivers of the economy were still working or were sick but could be healthy soon enough. For an industry like Wall Street to go through that dramatic of a collapse in such a short time, and then to have pushback politically when dramatic government intervention was proposed — that level of collapse I had not anticipated.”

— “Falling Up,” January 2009

When Yahoo Ruled the Internet

Facebook had 200 million users, LinkedIn had 40 million, and Twitter had 6 million — and the iPhone was only a year old — when we interviewed digital strategist and researcher Jennifer Trant about how social media was blurring the boundaries of Museums and the Web, the conference she co-founded. (For comparison, today Facebook has 1.65 billion users, LinkedIn 433 million, and Twitter 310 million.)

“Trant begins proactively establishing an online presence for Museums and the Web up to a year in advance of the conference, setting up a group on LinkedIn, creating identifying ‘tags’ for the photo-sharing site Flickr, and listing the conference in Yahoo’s event guide.… A Yahoo ‘Pipe’ allows her to aggregate the digital information in an integrated feed, which is displayed at the conference.

“‘I watch all those things, answer questions, or toss out things that might be useful in the discussion,’ Trant said. ‘I monitor, I orchestrate — but I don’t manage, in the traditional sense of the word. It’s really important to realize that groups are forming in spaces we don’t control anymore.’”

— “The Message Is the Medium,” July 2009

Here Comes Wellness

“A focus on health — of the planet as well as individual employees — will be a hallmark of tomorrow’s workplace [including] work-life balance, and creating spaces that are comfortable for people, and that’s on all levels. Daylighting is going to be a part of this, and everyone in the office having access to views.”

— “Tomorrow@Work,” July 2009

‘Crap! Cokie Roberts Is Coming!’

Convene launched a back-page feature called “Other Duties As Assigned” at the suggestion of Kirsten Olean, CAE, CMP, then the director of meetings for the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). The idea was to highlight the variety of tasks that meeting planners are called upon to do in the course of making sure the show goes on — the more unusual and/or undignified, the better.

For the feature’s debut, we asked Olean to go first, and she didn’t disappoint, recalling a time that she allowed AAMC student members to use a green room right before keynote speaker Cokie Roberts was scheduled to arrive:

“I got the call that Cokie was arriving, and we needed to make sure the students had cleared out. So I go in, and it’s pure chaos in there…. I go into the bathroom last, and someone had peed on the seat. And I was like, ‘Crap! Cokie Roberts is coming!’ It was a standard hotel bathroom, so there was only face cloths and hand soap. So I use a face cloth and hand soap to scrub down the toilet as much as possible. I finished scrubbing the toilet, threw the face cloth under the sink, washed my hands, and walked out of the bathroom — when in walks Cokie Roberts with my boss.”

— “Other Duties As Assigned,” May 2010

When Being Direct Can Put You Off Course

When Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) chose to feature a single cherry blossom for its 2008 meeting in Chiba, Japan, it raised objections in that country. But no one would say why. “Finally a staff member from an MDRT chapter in Japan explained that in the Japanese culture, they don’t look at the individual; it’s much more of a group culture,” said Jody Egel, CAE, CMP, then MDRT’s meetings manager. “And looking at one flower is like looking at one person.”

Egel explained: “In Japan, they won’t tell you no. If they don’t like something, they will say, ‘That would be difficult,’ or ‘That’s probably not a good idea.’ They won’t say, ‘You can’t do that because of [X, Y, or Z].’ You have to ask more questions to make sure that you’re getting the right information.”

— “The Lesson of the Cherry Blossom,” February 2011

‘You Look Very Silly’

“Last fall, we prefaced our e-mail invitation to participate in Convene’s annual Meetings Market Survey by noting, ‘The recession is over and the recovery is at hand.’ And that generated a few angry e-mails. One planner wrote, ‘I would not make the claim the recession is over, it makes you look very silly.’ Commented another, ‘Your cover memo said we are “out of the recession.” With the Federal government’s actions, we will be lucky to get out of this bad economic condition by mid-2012.’

“Of course, we weren’t being presumptuous.… The National Bureau of Economic Research had announced in September that the Great Recession had officially ended in June 2009.”

— “Primed for Takeoff,” March 2011

And Hallways Are the New Ballrooms

“My line right now for us is, ‘The foyer is the new meeting room,’ [Claire Smith, CMP, vice president of sales and marketing for the Vancouver Convention Centre,] said. “Everyone wants to do everything in the hallways, rather than the meeting rooms. Part of that is because we have spectacular hallways, but I am constantly surprised and excited about planners’ creative use of our foyers.”

— “Breaking Convention,”
October 2012

Conventional Wisdom

2012 Republican National Convention, Tampa, Fla., Aug. 27–30

“Whether you believe in Romney’s vision for America or not, and whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, or none of the above, Tampa 2012 likely will influence the form and function of political conventions going forward. That’s because the RNC was, in many ways, the convention of the future — from the omnipresent thumbprint of technology, to the strategic packaging and delivery of messaging across multiple platforms.”

2012 Democratic National Convention, Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 4–6

“Word came down on Wednesday morning, the second day of the 2012 Democratic National Convention (DNC), that things would not be proceeding as planned. Rain had been coming off and on throughout the week, and Thursday night’s forecast wasn’t looking good. Which meant that the culmination of the entire program, the centerpiece production in which President Obama accepted his party’s nomination, wasn’t just going to have to be moved. It would need to be downsized. Drastically.”

— “When Elephants and Donkeys Meet,” November 2012

A Plan for Harassment

“Rachel Frick is director of the Digital Library Federation (DLF) in Washington, D.C., and author of the organization’s code of conduct. She cautions meeting planners from traditional industries against dismissing harassment as something that occurs at fringe events. ‘I’m 45 years old, I don’t have a goatee, I don’t dress up in costume, and this is still very relevant to my industry,’ Frick said. ‘You would think librarians know how to behave. They don’t. When you bring a diverse community together, people’s rules of engagement are different, and you have to plan for that.’”

— “Zero Tolerance,” December 2012

Convene - January 2015Planners Predict

“Imagine it’s 2022 and you’re still planning large meetings,” we told planners. “What’s different?”

“As personal time becomes more valuable, ease of access, sophisticated use of technology, high-quality hotels, and restaurants will become more important. It’s the ‘why should I travel to this meeting.’”

“All attendees will be able to interactively participate in all sessions via wireless devices. Many sessions will have holographic speakers, beamed in from around the world. An equal number of attendees will be virtual and on-site. All attendees will have an opportunity to present their expertise to other attendees via spontaneous, interactive hybrid sessions. All attendees will be instantaneously locatable via GPS badges.”

—“Planners Speak Their Minds,” January 2013

Sharpening Your Edge

We asked experts inside and outside the meetings industry to talk about strategies that would help meeting professionals get and keep a competitive edge:

Roch Parayre, Decision Strategies International “Say you had been a travel agent 20 years ago. With the benefit of hindsight, how would you have retooled to remain relevant? I would argue that ship has sailed [for travel agents]. It’s too late. You’re a meeting planner today. You are today where travel agents were 20 years ago. What are doing to retool yourself?”

Kristin Foldvik, CMP, Blackbaud Inc.“I think meeting planners are being asked to look at the strategic piece a lot more — strategic plans, ROI skills. I also have a master’s degree [in business]. Business skills are definitely important in helping meeting planners stay current.… I’ve definitely had to — I wouldn’t say let go, but reduce the amount of time I spend on logistics and spend more time on the strategic goal-planning and messages.”

Mike Walsh, futurist“Meetings are becoming more important than ever. Rather than reducing the need to interact, [technology] has addicted us to networks and interactions. People often think about technology in binary terms — that one technology replaces the others. That is, the meetings industry was going to be in decline because new forms of communication would mean we weren’t going to meet anymore…. At the same time, we have realized that in order for those connections to make sense, we need to provide them with context.”

— “This Is How Your Career Will Evolve,” June 2013

‘Penny Wise, Pound Foolish’

“Face-to-face interaction cannot be replaced with anything else. Regarding the government, I think they believe they are being financially accountable by cutting back on employees attending meetings. But in reality they are being penny wise and pound foolish. Washington is far too insular. Government employees must get out and explore ideas with others if they are to be successful.”

— “One on One: Condoleezza Rice,” June 2013

Making International Attendees Feel at Home

“When it comes to programming, organizers must walk a fine line between creating customized content and isolating international attendees. ‘The mistake that I often see is that the international visitors are not exactly ghettoized, but they might be separated in their own track,’ said Martin Sirk, CEO of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA). ‘The international issues should be integrated into the overall program.’”

— “Welcoming the World,” September 2013

The Ultimate Cut

“On the eighth day of the U.S. government shutdown, with no clear resolution in sight, the U.S. Department of State was still planning on hosting a 450-attendee conference in Durban, South Africa, the following Monday, Oct. 14 — on what would be the 14th day of the shutdown. But no one could say with 100-percent certainty that it would actually go off.…

“That was life in the meetings industry as the effects of the shutdown rippled through the government sector, spilling over into the association market, and trickling throughout travel and hospitality. Meeting professionals who over the last year and a half dealt with fallout from the GSA conference spending scandal, federal sequestration, and across-the-board cuts in government travel spending now were dealing with the ultimate cut: everything.”

— “‘A Lapse in Appropriations’,” November 2013

The Return of the Hotel Lobby

“A meeting is a production, often a grand one, so its focal points tend to be onstage, in the public spotlight. But hotels are starting to look seriously at nontraditional meeting spaces —
still public, but less formal and more intimate, in response to the increasing commingling
of business travelers’ personal and
professional lives.

“‘This is probably something that everybody knows,” [Erin Hoover, vice president of design for Westin Hotels & Resorts, a Starwood brand,] said, ‘but lobbies are now where people do lots of things that they didn’t used to do, mainly as a result of technology and also a result of the fact that the workday is now 24/7. It’s not 9-to-5 anymore. People were having informal meetings in our lobbies, and we did a lot with design to facilitate that.’”

—“Beyond the Ballroom,” April 2014

Exhibits Without Walls

“Agenda’s show floor included public spaces such as a magazine stand, conversation nooks, and dining areas — all built with or bordered by the shipping pallets, and further tricked out with weathered oil drums, exposed light bulbs, and other design elements that matched the show’s street-chic aesthetic. ‘These pieces were just trying to resource what’s out there, just everyday items,’ said [GES designer Robert] Tu. ‘The wooden crates — the pallets — are just your typical 48-by-40[-inch pallets], so I took these pieces and put them into the computer, and it’s kind of like LEGOs. You start stacking the pieces and putting it together.’”

— “Thinking Outside the Booth,” July 2014

Asking More Beautiful Questions

“One of the things you can do with ‘what-if’ questions is you can take ideas from other industries or whole other disciplines. You say, ‘What if in the meeting-planning industry, we borrowed a technique from Hollywood?’ or ‘What if’ — and I see Silicon Valley startups doing this kind of thing — ‘we applied that technique when we roll out a new program? What if we did it the way these startups roll out their new companies or their new products? Is there an idea we could borrow from them and bring it into the industry?’ So when you’re doing that kind of ‘what-if’ questioning, you can do all that kind of combinatorial thinking. It’s really wonderful.”

— “All You Have to Do Is Ask,” September 2014

The AV Guy Is Suffering, Too

Steve Bush, Meyer Sound

“It’s really frustrating for everyone when half the room can’t understand what the keynote speaker is saying — more so for the people who are responsible for making it sound good.”

— “The Art of Noise,” May 2015

Are You Letting Attendees Get Enough Shut-Eye?

“As people sleep, the brain forms new pathways to help them learn, process, and remember information. Shorting your sleep by even one night can lead to decreased cognitive function and trouble concentrating, according to Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine. In fact, going sleepless for 17 hours causes the same level of cognitive and motor impairment as being legally drunk. ‘It doesn’t have to be over a long period of time,’ said Stuart Quan, M.D., a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School. ‘In the short term, sleep deprivation affects your mood and ability to learn and acquire knowledge. If you don’t get any sleep and then sit in a session, you likely won’t remember any of it.’”

— “Wake Up!,” June 2015

Globalizing Knowledge

“Cities are entering a new era of competition, as they remake their identities and rebrand themselves around clusters of innovation, according to Greg Clark, an expert on and consultant to cities, delivering the keynote address at AIPC 2015, the International Association of Convention Centres’ Annual Conference and General Assembly, in Boston last July. Rapid globalization, triggered by the 2008 financial crisis, is helping draw what amounts to a new map of the world, Clark said. ‘There has been more change in the last five years,’ he said, ‘than there was in 50 years before it.’”

— “Remaking the World,” December 2015


Former PCMA President Roy Evans had published a magazine when he worked for another association. That helped give him the idea for Convene.

“PCMA had just produced a textbook, a rather expensive textbook [Professional Meeting Management], so I said, ‘We can have our own magazine, and if we run out of copy we can always take a chapter out of the textbook and put it in there.’ We never had to do that.

“There were a number of board members who had never published anything, so they were skeptical of it, since we were very young and we were starting from scratch, and didn’t have a whole lot of money, and they just didn’t know enough about publishing to really give it any serious thought. I guess, with a little lobbying on the backside, I knew how to do it, and I wasn’t worried about it. I take no credit for the name. I knew a newspaper editor in Birmingham [Alabama, where PCMA was headquartered at the time], and he gave me the name.

“We finally got it done, and of course it’s all [been good]. We never lost a dime. We made money from the start. It was successful from the start, and then obviously what you guys have done with it has made it the premier magazine in the world. I’m very proud of what y’all have done with it.

“Peter Shure [who was hired as Convene’s editor in chief in 1991] actually made the magazine what it was. We had several editors before Peter got there, but he’s the one that actually knew the business, because he was one of the founders of Meeting News. So when we got Peter, we got somebody that knew what they were doing. Peter made the magazine relevant. And then Michael Golding was our marketing genius. Without them, the magazine probably would have never gotten off the ground.”

— Michelle Russell

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor of Convene.