Behind the Scenes

Writing a Trends Piece

Convention centers are evolving in ways that speak about our society as a whole.

Recently, I read a Harvard Business Review article that reinforced the importance of “provocative storytelling” in the business world, specifically in the consumer-products industry. “Rather than bludgeon audiences with data,” according to the article, Unilever consumer and market insights group’s “presentations include compelling imagery and vignettes to advance a story line that has implications for strategy.”

Of course, storytelling is at the heart of our business as Convene writers and editors. In our world, it’s not just the telling part that requires skill, it’s often finding what comes before that — the story — that takes special ability. We need to be able to survey the landscape, make connections between seemingly unrelated items, and identify a trend. For this month’s cover story on the evolution of convention centers, Senior Editor Barbara Palmer has done just that.

Barbara looked at a number of convention centers in various phases of development or redevelopment, all strategically placed within an urban core. She then linked the rise of centers in downtown environments to the growing influx of people — specifically Millennials — who choose to live there. When those trends intersect, there is an expectation that convention centers will not only contribute to the city’s architecture and economy, but benefit the community in other ways — in other words, that they are designed to serve visiting delegates and local residents alike.

And increasingly, those residents are key. An invested citizenry has more of a say about the integration of a convention center in a downtown environment — and whether they even want it there in the first place. In the course of her research, Barbara read about several U.S. convention-center projects where communities have questioned their physical size, shape, and infrastructure.

It’s important to remember that when convention centers claimed space 30 or 40 years ago, it was during an era of urban renewal. They were a way to bring commerce into cities at a time when offices and retail were moving to suburbia. With people and companies now moving back into downtowns, the competition for land use can be intense.

The truth is, the convention centers of the past — squat, windowless big boxes that did nothing to inspire from an architectural or attendee-learning perspective, and built for vehicles and shuttle buses rather than pedestrians — no longer make sense in a now-dense urban environment. Convention centers today face an interesting set of problems, and they have many masters to serve.

Some venues have evolved to fit more seamlessly into the urban landscape — putting exhibit halls underground and green space on the roof, and connecting  to shops, museums, and restaurants. For other ways the convention center of the future is taking shape, don’t miss our cover story. Barbara’s use of “compelling imagery and vignettes to advance a story line” would make the consumer insights folks at Unilever proud.

A Dose of Reality

The latest professional mandate for physicians — maintenance of certification (MOC) — has changed the way they keep their board certifications in specialty areas of medicine, and become a major source of frustration for some of them. How are health-care meetings rising to the challenge? Our CMP Series story checks in with a handful of medical associations to find out.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.