Best in Show

2012 Best in Show

Our readers nominated the industry’s best programs, services, and venues in 10 different categories. We culled the top five for each. Convene proudly presents the 50 best things in meetings today.

Famous view of San Francisco at Alamo Square.
Famous view of San Francisco at Alamo Square.

Best Destination Videos

“Tourism Toronto wanted to convey to our meeting-planner audience that Toronto is an unfolding city, always evolving, always inspiring with vibrant people, stunning venues, and infectious creative energy that together build an imaginative backdrop for their signature event. If you think you’ve seen it all, let us surpass your expectations and surprise you over and over again. Simply put: We’d love to have you!”
— Tara Gordon, CMP, vice president of meeting and convention sales, Tourism Toronto

“The Tourism Toronto video does a terrific job of showcasing the city. It highlights the city’s cultural diversity, which is so unique to any other North American city. The video is truly representative of all that the city has to offer (sport, arts and culture, restaurants — some within smaller communities within a large city, the waterfront, and more). All in all, colorful!”
— Andréa Bright, CMP, conference and meeting planner for organizational learning and development, Ontario Nurses’ Association

‘A Day in the Life:San Francisco’
“It’s been said that ‘San Francisco isn’t a short story, but a classic that must be perused and consumed like a multiple-course meal, that will always be equal parts drama, adventure, history, and romance, and that must be returned to again and again to fully understand.’ With that backdrop, the challenge of creating a two- to three-minute video Destination Videos seemed initially daunting. … It was important for the video to touch on the core ‘themes’ of San Francisco — our diverse neighborhoods, commitment to sustainability, welcoming LGBT travel, kaleidoscopic arts and culture scene, rich and ever-changing food and wine experience, as well as our festivals and yearly events. … Our strategy was to tell the story of a ‘Day in the Life’ of San Francisco, to let viewers know that no matter how familiar they are with the city, there’s always something new to see, do, taste, and explore. Meeting planners who have viewed the video have been captivated by it — the energy, the editing, the music — but most of all because it illustrates everything that’s magical about the city as a meeting destination. … The video was created to be an invaluable tool for meeting planners who either a) want to convince a C-level executive that San Francisco would be a great place to host a meeting, or b) want to get the attendees excited about their upcoming meeting. By all accounts, meeting planners feel it will work extremely well to help them achieve those goals.”
— John Reyes, CMP, executive vice president and chief customer officer, San Francisco Travel Association

“We do shows in many different great cities all over the country. The San Francisco Travel video truly captures the city’s beauty, uniqueness, and overall appeal. Whether you travel to San Francisco frequently on business or you’ve never been, the video makes you want to go back again and again.”
—Doug Miller, partner and president, Urban Expositions

‘ASAE Goes to Dallas’
“This video was shown at the ASAE Annual Meeting held in St. Louis in 2011 to promote Dallas for the August 2012 meeting. We wanted to do something different, so we asked four association professionals [who were well-known to the ASAE community] — Shannon Watson, CMP, CAE, Solar Energy Industries Association; Peter O’Neil, CAE, American Industrial Hygiene Association and ASAE board chair; Cedric Calhoun, CAE, Alliance of Hazardous Materials Professionals; and Jaime Andriopoulos, American Society for Clinical Pathology — to star in the video and show four different perspectives of the Dallas experience.”
—Dustin Clark, director of marketing, Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau

“Dallas! I loved the way they portrayed their cosmopolitan city through the eyes of the attendee experiencing it! It gives a great overview of all Dallas has to offer.”
— Shannon Watson, CMP, CAE, video star and director of meetings and education, Solar Energy Industries Association

‘It’s You_Vancouver’
“We’re thrilled that meeting planners are so receptive to ‘It’s You… Vancouver.’ Through the video, we wanted to share with the world Vancouver’s iconic attractions, natural beauty, and artistic talent, and to showcase the city as a four-season destination. And Watasun’s song — fun, original, and engaging — absolutely reflects Vancouver as a young, up-and-coming world city.” — Walt Judas, vice president of marketing communications and member services, Tourism Vancouver “The video won over our entire team. We’re using it at our convention next year, and have posted it to our website. It’s a great departure from the usual destination promotion video.”
— Fabienne April, global com-munication strategist, Kiwanis International

‘Let’s Go’ Denver
“VISIT DENVER’s ‘Let’s Go’ video creates an emotional connection to the Mile High City, with its high-energy pace, music, and dazzling Denver visuals. The video is informative as well, showing viewers many aspects of the city, from Denver’s active spirit and exciting nightlife, to its vibrant arts and cul-ture scene, sports, and breathtaking Rocky Mountain backdrop.”
— Rachel Benedick, vice president of sales and services, VISIT DENVER

“The Visit Denver video is extremely well put together. The opening slide with the statement ‘The View From Denver is Amazing ’ [makes] you want to see what is going to [come next]. The statement is answered in quickly building layers of photos with a minimum of text. I like the fact that there is no voiceover, only music that helps build the pace. The occasional text slide leads you along a fast-paced view of the city.”
— Stephen Emery, senior manager of meetings and expositions, Society of Exploration Geophysicists High-Tech Facilities

Best High-Tech Facilities

Aria Las Vegas
ARIA features 300,000 square feet of convention and meeting space, but the tech-savvy details don’t stop at the exhibit halls. Each of the property’s 4,004 guest rooms offers the best in high-tech amenities. “Everything is dig-ital in the rooms,” said Jane Walbridge, vice president of meetings and events for Aimia, who has held trade shows at ARIA for two years in a row. “ They’ve also thought of everything in the function space — hanging points, lighting, audio. All of it is just state-of-the-art and very easy for a production group to work with.”

Ottawa Convention Centre
The Ottawa Convention Centre’s technology and communications infra-structure is customer-centric and easy to use. In addition to projectors and screens in every room, the facility offers digital-media and HDTV video services, simultaneous interpretation equipment, and state-of-the-art teleprompters and lighting services throughout the entire property. And an on-site tech team will work with you to make sure you’re meeting all of your goals — and your budget.

Virginia Beach Convention Center
The 29,000 square feet of meeting space, 31,029-square-foot ballroom, and more than 150,000 square feet of column-free exhibit space at the Virginia Beach Convention Center all come fully equipped with the latest technological amenities. These include a 360-foot video wall, perfect for presentations for large groups, state-of-the-art audiovisual capabilities, and convenient, reliable wired and wireless high-speed Inter-net throughout the property. And with a warm and hospitable staff, there is always someone nearby willing to lend technical assistance.

Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, National Harbor, MD
The newest member of Gaylord’s “best in class” line of hotels (which includes Gaylord Opryland, one of our picks for Best Hotel Spaces, on p. 49), the Gaylord National keeps meeting planners seamlessly connected throughout its 470,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. The entire property is wired with state-of-the-art high-speed Internet connectivity, while an in-house team of technical professionals is available both pre-function to help planners prepare and during meetings for any last-minute tech needs, providing the ultimate amenity: peace of mind.

Amsterdam RAI
The Amsterdam RAI convention center regularly hosts inspiring events in its 94,500 square meters of exhibit space, 11 halls, 64 conference and meeting rooms, and multifunctional ballroom and auditorium. All of this comes with the added benefit of state-of-the-art technology services, including a unique, new digital signage medium called RAI Live!, which provides attendees with dynamic information via 700 screens in all of RAI’s rooms and halls. Targeted messages can be broadcast at any time on any screen, helping personalize each attendee’s experience. For support, a staff of experienced specialists is on hand to assist.

Paradise Point Resort & Spa, San Diego
Few properties know how to incorporate their surrounding natural beauty quite like Paradise Point. “The location and the view are ideal, because they feature Mission Bay, a distinct feature of San Diego,” said Jenny Boyd, CMP, with Rady Children’s Hospital. Within Paradise Point’s lush, 44-acre oasis is more than 30,000 square feet of outdoor meeting and banquet space, in addition to 35,057 square feet of flexible indoor space. “The facilities are wonderful,” Boyd said. “Conference space and rooms have a great resort feel for professionals. I’ve had education conferences there, and it’s always fabulous.”

Best Hotel Spaces

InterContinental San Francisco
This 32-floor, 550-room, cool-blue tower rises above the lively South of Market neighborhood in San Francisco, and provides 43,000 square feet of meeting and function space. Located right across from Moscone West Convention Center, the InterContinental San Francisco has a vast culinary scene, including American-style breakfast and lunch at the Michelin-starred Luce Restaurant and exotic cocktails at Bar 888. The property is also the third-largest LEED Gold–certified building in the United States, making for the best of eco-friendly events.

The Peabody Orlando
With such a wide variety of suites and exclusive lofts, it’s hard to pick a favorite space in The Peabody Orlando, a luxury hotel in the heart of Orlando’s celebrated meetings epicenter — and directly connected to the Orange County Convention Center. “The expanded and newly renovated Peabody Orlando has transformed that property into one of the most user-friendly, quality venues in the U.S.,” said John Wasilewski, president of JRW Associates. “The meeting space is now significantly greater, with a variety of options to meet a variety of needs. It is clean, high-tech, and exciting. The restaurant and gathering-place options are plentiful and conducive to business meetings. While it’s considered a higher-end venue, the value is appropriate.”

Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, Nashville, TN
Two words: Teal Coats. What helps make the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville so unique are its renowned conference coordinators, nicknamed “Teal Coats” for their easily identifiable teal jackets. They keep operations running smoothly throughout the property’s 600,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. “The service is by far the best we’ve ever experienced,” said Becky Seiler, learning & development and events administrator for BrightStar Care. “Any request we had was met instantaneously. The Teal Coats were always right there with the radio to reach out to who-ever we needed; they’d act as liaison for the concierge, and help change room setups.”

Omni Dallas Convention Center Hotel
As the newest meetings destination in Dallas, the 1,001-room Omni Dallas doesn’t disappoint. The property offers more than 110,000 square feet of usable function space, with a sky bridge that connects directly to the Dallas Convention Center — and more than 2.1 million square feet of additional meeting facilities. The Omni Dallas’ on-site restaurants offer everything from farm-to-table meals at Texas Spice to elegant dinners at Bob’s Steak & Chop House. In every way, the Omni Dallas expands planners’ possibilities. “ The new Omni Dallas has great meeting space,” said Kristy Breaux, associate director of TCEA, “with lots of flexibility and convenience.”

Best Places for Small Meetings

San Francisco
Rated one of “America’s Favorite Cities” by Travel + Leisure in 2011, San Francisco is also an ideal place for meetings — and not just big citywide events. The city’s stunning location, culture, and shopping are just some of the things that delight attendees, and its distinct, intimate neighborhoods help you tailor an authentic backdrop for groups of any size. “There is a high demand from many of my customers to place groups in San Francisco,” said Dawn Aronson, global account executive for Conference-Direct. “It has the best of all worlds: things to do and see, great restaurants and famous eating establishments, fresh local seafood, transportation means for those who don’t want to drive, and great meeting hotels that have functional meeting space to accommodate large or small groups.”

Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers, New York City
While the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers works for larger meetings — the Metropolitan Ballroom alone can host up to 2,500 guests — it’s the little things that make the property ideal for small meetings. The Executive Conference Center level features 13 rooms for meetings of up to 100 attendees, and the hotel’s location is ideal for out-of-town visitors. “The Sheraton New York has worked hard to include all conference center amenities, both for the planner and for the attendees,” said Connie Bergeron, CMP, president of Site Selection Solutions Inc. “Plus great restaurants, fun attractions, and even beautiful churches are all within a three- to four-block radius, and it feels very safe to walk up to Central Park when on a break.”

@The Space, Ottawa
@The Space is Ottawa’s only venue designed for and dedicated exclusively to small events. Capacity is limited to 70 people, with flexible food-and-beverage options and no purchase requirements, which makes the facility ideal for networking and team-building events, holiday parties, or small board retreats. “@The Space is very informal, but its setting is perfect,” said Chantal Montpetit, CMP, director of meetings and conference for the Canadian Construction Association. “The lounge furniture, complete with an iPod docking station for music, is welcome and relaxing. We had a lovely dinner there and felt almost at home.”

With great pricing, big-city amenities, and a rich history, Philadelphia is a particularly good destination for East Coast meetings. Only about an hour-and-a-half from both New York City and Washington, D.C., downtown Philadelphia is also just a short trip from Philadelphia International Air-port. “Many of the attendees from my last meeting in Philadelphia, which was a group of about 100, had nothing but great things to say about the area,” said Paige Woodburn, event manager for MD Events. “They loved the fact that they could walk or take a quick cab ride to Independence Mall, … and the proximity of fine dining, cultural exhibits, and historical attractions make Philadelphia an easy, yet elegant, option for meetings.”

Meydenbauer Center, Bellevue, WA 
Meydenbauer Center is designed for larger events, but also features an Executive Conference Suite, with room for smaller meetings of eight to 60 guests. Its human scale mirrors its destination. Located just east of Seattle across Lake Washington, Bellevue is a walkable city with many unique stores and boutiques and some of the Pacific Northwest’s best dining. “The Meydenbauer Center is a great venue with a great team,” said Niki Kinkelaar, CMP, project lead of meetings and incentives for The Pampered Chefs Ltd. “The meeting space is functional and the pre-function area is spacious. I had such a great experience in 2010 that I am thrilled to be back in August 2012.”

Best CSR Initiatives

Clean the World
What happens to all those used bars of soap your attendees leave in their hotel rooms? The majority are thrown out, according to Clean the World Foundation, an Orlando-based nonprofit that recycles and redistributes hotel soap and shampoo to impoverished people throughout the world. Currently, Clean the World partners with Starwood Hotels and more than 1,000 individual hotels across the country, including Caesars Windsor, where Jeremy Tyrrell, senior manager of resort and hotel sales, helped to implement the program. “It seems so small a thing,” Tyrrell said. “But anyone who’s had to compromise their hygiene because of a circumstance beyond their control knows just how much it means to have a fresh bar of soap.”

Westin Denver Downtown’s Holiday Give-Back Program
Holidays are often a time for celebration and giving thanks — at home and in the workplace. They can also be a time for giving back, as is the case with the Westin Denver Downtown, which two years ago implemented a Holiday Give-Back program. When an organization books a holiday party, the hotel donates 4 percent of the food-and-beverage total to one of four local charities in Colorado — and plants one indigenous tree for each attendee. “This Give-Back program, and commitment to the community, differentiated the Westin from all the other venues,” said Trish Lowe, sales and conference associate at Denver-based BEN-TEK Energy. “We immediately made our decision to host our holiday party there.”

Free the Children’s We Day Events
We Day events are an offshoot of the work done by Free The Children, an international charity whose programs educate, engage, and empower youth across North America and the United Kingdom. At the events, which feature figures from the Jonas Brothers to the Dalai Lama, young people join to celebrate the actions they are taking to give back. There’s no cost to attend — instead, youths earn their way in through their own fundraising or community-service efforts. We Day events don’t just inspire children, though, said Jacqui Sullivan, CMP, with Absolute Conferences and Events Inc. They are “an exceptional example of how powerful an event can be to inspire and lead to real change for the better.”

Architects of Healing at AIA’s 2012 National Convention
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) honored the lead and project architects of post–Sept. 11 restoration projects at the Pentagon, the World Trade Center, and the Flight 93 National Memorial in the Architects of Healing ceremony at its 2012 National Convention last May — as many of those projects are nearing completion. “This was the first national gathering where honorees [publicly] shared their feelings and observations about how, as an architect, they responded,” said Phil Simon, CAE, AIA’s managing director of communications and publishing. Honorees presented “a first-person observation about what it meant to use passion and the architect’s skill to help inspire hope for a better world.”

Marketplace 2.0 at ISES NYC’s 2012 Sustainability Summit

The International Special Events Society (ISES) NY Metro Chapter’s 2012 Sustainability Summit focused on fostering green practices for the meetings and events industry, with the specific goal of providing stakeholders with the education and resources to achieve their own sustainability goals. One of the event’s standout features was Marketplace 2.0, a unique approach to the trade show, billed as a “marketplace of ideas” and made up of social spaces to encourage discussion between attendees, sponsors, and green experts. “I believe sustainability is not a cause, it is an imperative,” said Jill Taub Drury, ISES NY Metro Chapter’s director at large for CSR and sustainability. “I didn’t want us to just talk about sustainability. … I looked to create a sustainable event for our attendees to experience firsthand.”

Best Off-Site Venues

Illumination Disney World
Many people would describe their Disney World experience as “magical,” but the park takes magic to a whole new level at the IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth fireworks and water show in the Epcot theme park’s World Showcase. Frequently used for smaller private events, the viewing areas “[are] special, reasonably priced, and a fabulous experience,” said Shonna Shroedl, vice president of events at Kikaua, LLC. And Disney staff are known to be exceptionally accommodating. “Disney is by far one of the easiest venues to have a meeting or event,” said Shroedl, who organized a 40-person event in the fire-works viewing area. “Their customer service is outstanding.”

ACL Live at the Moody Theater, Austin, TX
Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater is a unique venue in a city where live music is king — a reimagining of an iconic piece of Austin’s music roots with an immediate connection to the authentic soul of the city. ACL Live is home to the PBS program “Austin City Limits” and is an official SXSW venue. “ACL Live is a beautifully state-of-the-art facility with a specific focus on the fan/guest experience,” said Nicole Portwood, brand manager of Fifth Generation Inc., which held Tito’s Handmade Vodka’s 2011 Hometown Shindig at the theater. “Everything from the first impression walking up the stairs to the number of bathrooms ensures that everyone has the best possible experience.”

Embassy of the Russian Federation, Washington, D.C.
A stark building reminiscent of the Soviet era takes guests back through history at the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Washington, D.C. Second-floor banquet rooms are furnished in the style of the Russian Empire — with authentic furniture, art, and artifacts from Peter the Great and the Romanovs. “Entering the rooms truly transports the guests into another era,” said Teri Jarvie, CMP, CAE, vice president of member programs for Association Forum of Chicagoland, who once organized a 600-person international meeting of oral surgeons at the embassy. And while there were logistical issues, including security, “it was worth the extra work to see the delight on the faces of the guests as they entered these rooms.”

Cipriani 42 Street, New York City
Described as “quintessential New York,” Cipriani 42nd Street in Mid-town Manhattan was the perfect backdrop for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s final dinner at its 2012 Annual Session. The black-tie-appropriate restaurant is decorated with Italian Renaissance–inspired marble columns and chandeliers, requiring very little décor for events held there, including corporate functions, fundraisers, and parties. “Guests marveled at the room upon entering,” said Tonya Almond, AAPD’s director of meeting services. “[And they] enjoyed themselves so much we actually had to extend the party, because nobody wanted to leave Cipriani’s.”

Capilano Suspension Bridge, Vancouver
One of Vancouver’s most popular tourist attractions, the Capilano Suspen-sion Bridge was built in 1889. Millions of people have crossed it since then. Situated in a West Coast rainforest and spanning 450 feet across the Capilano River, the bridge is “an amazing venue to complement a Vancouver experience,” said Tahira Endean, CMP, director of creative and production for Cantrav Services. The bridge area can accommodate groups from 30 to 700 in a variety of settings — including a private garden where visitors dine under trees as the river rushes below, and CLIFFWALK, where guests can take a cliff-side trek on high, narrow suspended walkways through the canyon.

Best Food and Beverage

The Broodmoor, Colorado Springs, CO
Mixing modern-day delicacies with the culinary traditions of the American West, The Broadmoor offers unique cuisine that spans the gamut. “ I’ve held meetings at The Broadmoor over the years,” said Steve Kinsley, president of Kinsley Meetings, “and they have every-thing from the very casual to the very elegant, and they do it all very well.” In addition to premier event-based F&B, attendees can enjoy pub fare and live music at The Tavern, locally sourced produce at Charles Court, or fine dining at Penrose Room, the only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond restaurant in Colorado. The Tavern also offers “Dine at Dusk,” a delicious pre-fixe menu served with breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains.

Vancouver Convention Centre
Going against the grain in mouth-watering ways is the norm for the Vancouver Convention Centre, where Executive Chef Blair Rasmussen offers a unique combination of Asian influences and innovative food pairings, all made with the freshest of local ingredients, from seafood to produce — creating, as Rasmussen describes it, food for the “mind, body, and soul.” “We were there two years ago for our Annual Convention and the food that we had was just so good, it wasn’t your norm meal from a convention center,” said Jacqueline Barnes, associate director of the American Association for Justice. “The staff was very accommodating and helped us with our menu selections.”

Hilton Portland & Executive Tower’s Living Salad Bar 
There is only one natural response to the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower’s “Living Salad Bar”: Wow. That’s exactly what Jack Molisani, executive director of the LavaCon Conference, said when he first had a taste. “To find this kind of food in a hotel that caters to meetings attendees is incredible,” Molisani said. “Rather than setting out big plastic bowls of industrial pre-cut lettuce like many hotels, the Portland Hilton creates this amazing spread of locally sourced organic lettuces and vegetables. Attendees then point to the types of lettuces they want, and the hotel chef then lovingly shears, preps, and garnishes the salad, including your choice of protein — my favorite would have to be the seared Pacific salmon. Yum!”

San Diego Convention Center
Jeff Leidy, the executive chef at the San Diego Convention Center (SDCC), believes in altering the way people think about convention center food. He does this by showcasing fresh local ingredients presented with a classic flair, including organic produce and humanely raised, hormone-free livestock. Tides, the SDCC’s 138-seat on-site restaurant, features a top-shelf bar and offers the ideal atmosphere — themed to emulate the sparkling blue waterfront location — for pre- and post-conference relaxation. “Chef Jeff does an amazing job,” said Richard Toscano, senior director of special events for George P. Johnson. “He’s able to produce really delicious, artistic pieces in high quantities, and that’s hard to find.”

Hilton President’s Kansas City
One bite at the Hilton President Kansas City and you might develop a deep, long-lasting loyalty to its cuisine — much like Christi Thompson, executive assistant at HMC/CAH Consolidated Inc., did. “They offer an annual customer-appreciation luncheon that we always go to,” Thompson said, “and they never fail to have a great lineup of food, particularly desserts.” The property’s on-site restaurant — the historic Drum Room — offers delicious appetizers and live music, and has hosted a long list of legendary clientele such as Frank Sinatra and Patsy Cline. “We hold all of our retreats and big company meetings [at the Hilton President],” Thompson said, “and in four years we haven’t had one complaint.”

Best Social Media Initiatives

TIA’s Play Happens
What could be more fun than attending the Toy Industry Association’s (TIA) Annual Toy Fair, held every winter at the Javits Center in New York City? How about playing a game while attending the Toy Fair? Since last year’s show, TIA has turned the Big Apple into a giant game board, incorporating the city’s restaurants and landmarks into a smart-phone- and tablet-enabled game called “Play Happens.” Attendees earn points (and win prizes) for checking into designated spots and Toy Fair–related events, and for social-media engagement, said Marian Bossard, TIA’s vice president for meetings and events. The grand prize is a doozy — a hotel room overlooking Times Square on New Year’s Eve — but every player wins prizes.

NAR’s Conference Live
When the depressed housing market put a crimp in some National Association of Realtors (NAR) members’ plans to attend the REALTORS Conference & Expo, organizers opened a virtual window. Since 2010, NAR has recruited about two dozen attendees with large online followings to serve as a collective digital “voice of the conference,” said Allison Fitch-Markham, marketing director for NAR’s conventions division. NAR sets up individual pages on the conference website and gives invited attendees free rein to blog about sessions and post photos. Although it’s not rare for any conference’s attendees to blog about the meeting, the level of sup-port that NAR gives to its cadre of “Featured Attendees” is uncommon. NAR assigns two full-time staff members Social Media Initiatives whose job it is during the meeting to help bloggers upload content, so the social-media mavens are as free as possible to enjoy the event.

Active Network’s SMM Blog
A blog becomes a must-read by being narrowly focused enough to consistently yield relevant information and wide-ranging enough to encompass the news, white papers, and opinions you might otherwise miss. That would serve as a pretty good description of the Strategic Meetings Management blog by Kevin Iwamoto, vice president of enterprise strategy for Active Network, where Iwamoto calls on 20 years of managing corporate travel and meetings programs to look at everything from the euro crisis to the Sunshine Act from a meetings-related point of view. His blogging pace is steady, rather than frenetic, making it easy — if not mandatory — to keep up with him.

Salt Lake’s Social Media Hub
Visit Salt Lake offers organizers of city-wide conventions a service that combines an organization’s own social-media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs, with Visit Salt Lake’s social-media channels. That sounds like an offer that could come with a lot of strings attached, but, although Visit Salt Lake creates the tool, it carries the conference sponsor’s logo — Visit Salt Lake reserves only one tab for itself on the landing page. After the event, the tool can be turned over to the organization to keep. Visit the links above to com-pare how the same tool looks when used by two different organizations.

HIMSS 2012 Conference & Exhibition
At the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Annual Conference & Exhibition, social media is no marketing-message-laden frill, according to Cari McLean, HIMSS’s social media manager, but a tool used to deliver valuable content for attendees. Among the things that set HIMSS apart is the depth of its social-media training. Not only are HIMSS staff trained and given the go-ahead to use social media, this year for the first time, HIMSS trained speakers on using social media before the meeting, and hosted a pre-conference Twitter chat for first-time attendees. A social-media pavilion offered education on site. “We were also lucky,” McLean said, “to kick off the conference with Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, as our opening keynote speaker.”

Best Technology Tools

Mediasite is an enterprise webcasting, lecture-capture, and hybrid-event plat-form. Mediasite’s webcasting technology automates the recording, distribution, management, and analytics of high-quality video and multimedia presentations.

“We had a successful, fully hybrid EventCamp Vancouver [in 2011] due in large part to Sonic Foundry’s participation and ease of use. We already had planned a two-camera IMAG shoot, presenters, and a pod that could come in via Skype, and a full Twitter activation, and Sonic Foundry was able to seamlessly tap into the equipment already in place and offer a full video link to anyone who chose to register, offering a private forum for learning and discussion. We had four hours (from 4 a.m.) to set up the entire event, all the soft seating, staging, and technology before going live at 8:15 a.m., and their experienced staff and ‘solution in a box’ made this seamless. We also still have the materials catalogued and archived by session for anyone who still chooses to go back and use this resource. They are a great hybrid learning partner.”
— Tahira Endean, CMP, director of creative and production, Cantrav Services

“The features for this app include: schedule builder with session and presentation search, exhibitor search with custom-mapping technology, and daily news features. The site is a revenue generator for AADE, as are the emails tied to this site. These are deployed before, during, and after our Annual Meeting, and provide unique, ongoing exposure for our supporters. The site is up-to-date and comprehensive, allowing our attendees and our full member-ship access to our meeting content. The complimentary mobile app also has the comprehensive session search, agenda builder, and exhibitor search with mapping technology. Free download at .”
— Marian Long, CMP, director of meeting services, American Association of Diabetes Educators

EventPilot is a cross-platform, native mobile conference app that enables attendees to easily navigate large and complex conference schedules completely offline.

“Our clients, many of them in medi-cal or scientific fields, organize events with over 10,000 attendees, so they have massive conference programs that contain thousands of sessions, scientific posters, or medical abstracts. EventPilot 6.0 extends our intuitive interface and makes it easy to explore even the largest and most sophisticated conference programs without requiring Internet access.”
—Eric Converse, co-founder and CTO of ATIV Software

“Our attendees love the EventPilot meeting app! Not only has it cut down on the number of programs we have to print and created an alternative revenue stream with sponsor ads, but the interactive map feature has also reduced the number of times our attendees ask, ‘Where is this session room?’ EventPilot was the only app we found to have the capability to offer the handouts for all of the sessions right in the app, and function without constant Wi-Fi access. Our attendees love being able to email their conference notes to themselves and connect with other attendees through the app.”
— Kerri Leo, CAE, professional development manager, Society of Actuaries

Expresso is an easy-to-navigate, picture-driven online ordering system for exhibitors. With just a few clicks, exhibitors can order GES products and services, including booth furniture, carpet and flooring, material handling, labor, and more. A menu of additional features includes the ability to print shipping labels, track shipments, and download the show schedule into Out-look or iCalendar.

“I found Expresso to be an invaluable tool in aiding us to answer the usual myriad questions from exhibitors at WINDPOWER who had not necessarily seen information that we emailed to them or presented in webinars. Being able to directly link to up-to-date targeted floor plans and the shipping-label creator tool were some of the most commonly used tools; our small sales and services team probably referred to them on the phone at least 20 times a day in the month leading up to WIND -POWER. Our exhibitor surveys were filled with very positive comments about Expresso. This was our first year using GES’s services, and many exhibitors praised what they felt was a very intuitive layout of the various pieces of information and order forms, and the live-chat feature to connect directly with GES service reps was greatly appreciated by those who used it.” — Mike Swinburne, CEM, sales and operations manager, American Wind Energy Association

The San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau’s iLead tool allows the organization’s national sales directors to match specifications for any meeting that requires 10 or more sleeping rooms from among 135 hotels and resorts through-out San Diego County. Features include matching meeting specifications to only those hotels that fit the meeting ’s needs, and compiling all responses into a summary format that can be downloaded to Excel for ease of comparison. San Diego hotels respond in real time using an electronic proposal template.

“I have had successful results using San Diego’s iLead for the past four years to assist me with site selection for our yearly Fitness Symposium. The iLead system is extremely user-friendly on three platforms. One, it allowed me to easily walk through entering in all my RFP information. Second, it allowed me to easily assess each site’s response and details. Third and most importantly, while you have the advanced technology of the iLead system, you also have the amazing customer service of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau staff at your fingertips to help you with any questions you may have. They are proactive in letting you know that your RFP has been received and they will be working with the hotels to accommodate your request. You get the best of both worlds: technology and human personal assistance.”
— Kerrie Smith, event marketing coordinator, American Council on Exercise

Best Venue Initiatives

Free Wi-Fi

Attendees and organizers alike are demanding more and more band-width for the content-rich apps that orbit every meeting, and, slowly but steadily, venues are responding with free facility-wide wireless access. That makes planners happy. “Not only do our attendees need to stay in touch with their associates back home, but they need access to our newly launched mobile applications and wayfinding systems — which ultimately lead to a better attendee experience overall,” said Carrie Abernathy, CMP, CEM, director of education, training, and events for Practice Greenhealth. “Today, being without Internet is like being disconnected from the pulse. Making it free for us to provide to our attendees is icing on the cake.”

MCEC’s Food and Wine Blog
How seriously does the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) take food and wine? Seriously enough to create a foodie blog dedicated exclusively to MCEC’s kitchen operation. Visit the blog for “our recipes, an insight into the kitchen, and some of the team’s culinary adventures across Victoria” — from an interview with sous chef Billy Palmer, to pastry chef Mike Belcher’s recipe for hot cross buns, to a behind-the-scenes look at the kitchen’s preparations for AIME (Asia-Pacific Incentives & Meetings Expo), to a report on MCEC’s stand at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival’s Cellar Door & Farm Gate event, which offered “a perfect opportunity to illustrate our from-farm-to-fork philosophy.” Much like the blog itself.

Philly’s Eliminated 8% Fee
Lest you think Chicago has cornered the market on trade-show labor reforms, the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority (PCCA) in Philadelphia recently announced that it was eliminating its 8-percent labor-management fee as of July 1 — part of a campaign to transition the 2.3-million-square-foot facility to a more customer-focused business model. “Our business is customer service, so when our customers told us that eliminating the 8-percent fee would make us more competitive, we listened,” said Ahmeenah Young, PCCA’s president and CEO. “All of us — management, unions, and con-tractors alike — recognize that we succeed only when our customers succeed, and we’re united in achieving that goal.”

Pedestrian Safety at the OCCC
The Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) sits at the heart of a sprawling meetings district that also includes the Hilton Orlando, The Peabody Orlando, and Rosen Centre — 4,375 guest rooms, well more than two million square feet of event space, and a never-ending traffic jam of attendees, taxis, and buses. Until the OCCC embarked on a comprehensive pedestrian-safety initiative that has built covered bridges to the three hotels, with a fourth bridge in the works; enhanced wayfinding signage outside the OCCC; and added covered waiting areas for bus and trolley stops. “We are known as the number-one tourist destination,” said Kathie Canning, the OCCC’s general manager. “Now we want to be known as the safest place in the United States for pedestrians.”

Atlanta Marriott Marquis’ Green Program
Lots of hotels have green programs, but for Cori Dossett, CEM, CMP, president of Dallas-based Conferences Designed, the appeal of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis is that “the hotel cares enough about our footprint to take active steps toward conservation” — from meeting rooms with linen-less tables, to an ample supply of recycling bins, to a staff member who helped her group donate more than a thousand granola bars to a local food bank. And unlike other venues, the hotel delivered on every sustainability item it promised in its RFP. “These are just a few examples of the many steps they are taking toward improvement,” Dossett said. “It is a total package.”

Convene Editors