Leaping Beyond the Norm

For their joint LEAP 2014 Education Conference, two PCMA West Coast chapters decided to take some risks.

California is such a sprawling state that it’s covvered by not one but two PCMA chapters. Once a year, they think up ways to get all of their members together. As befits the Left Coast, the chapters’ joint LEAP 2014 Education Conference this past May put creative twists on almost every aspect of a meeting.

“We wanted to make it a different-feeling, inclusive kind of gathering,” said Dawn Norman, president of Normand Productions and a member of the Southwest & Pacific Chapter. “The concept was everything. Our objective was to come up with a different delivery system, and basically revamp everything we know about meetings.”

Rather than pulling ideas out of thin air, Gary Murakami, CMP, director of global sales for MGM Resorts International and a member of PCMA’s Northern California Chapter, said organizers were inspired by the PCMA Education Conference. He gave props to Norman for coming up with a new paradigm based on those ideas. “Dawn introduced this idea to innovate,” Murakami said. “How do we bring everyone together to think differently? To think about conference formats differently?”

The concept centered on holding the entire May 20 event in one meeting room at the L.A. Hotel Downtown. Planners called the collective gathering “community,” while the 30-minute discussion “huddles” that followed were structured around a TED-style format. While topics weren’t necessarily out of the ordinary — “Connectivity: How to Keep the Costs in Check?” and “LinkedIn: Your Online Brand?” were among them — presenters were gently limited to “no more than 12 slides each,” Norman said. “Honestly, I think the key to making this work was the presenters buying into the special interactivity of the sessions. And some could do it naturally, and others not so much.”

Attendees could float between huddles  — “grabbing knowledge and energy from everyone in the room,” Murakami observed — or they could decamp to a “hangout” area to recharge devices and have more informal chats. Because attendees were driving into notoriously busy downtown Los Angeles, the six-hour event began in the late morning and ended just before the evening rush hour. “This was a relatively fast program,” said Norman, who also told attendees to dress “comfort casual.” (“I don’t even know what the term ‘business casual’ means,” she said.)

LEAP’s educational component was partially embodied in the structure of the experience. “I’m one of those people who say, ‘No risk, no reward,’” Norman said. “I’m tired of doing the same old thing. It’s a meeting. So what’s going to happen if it’s not 100-percent successful?”

As it turns out, those risks yielded great rewards. Although this was only the second dual-chapter meeting, both Norman and Murakami fielded overwhelmingly positive feedback, and hope to harness that in 2015 and beyond. “Not everyone can go to Convening Leaders, not everyone can go to the Education Conference,” Murakami said. “Our chapter programs are crucial for our members, and every year we learn how to enhance. How do we get more momentum? It’s not necessarily about doing things better, it’s about doing things differently.”

Corin Hirsch

Corin Hirsch is a writer who specializes in food and drink.