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Connecting the Dots at MPI

What word connects the following three: pine, sauce, and tree?” Jonah Lehrer, author, academic, and former staff writer for The New Yorker, asked the audience at MPI’s 2012 World Education Congress (WEC). A few people in the front row called out the answer: “Apple!”

Impressed, Lehrer, the keynote speaker for MPI’s opening general session, said: “You guessed it; we have a creative crowd here.” He went on to explain how the “science of creativity” applies to circumstances in which powerful moments of intuition and hard work connect.  Our minds can make some connections we’re aware of and others we’re not, and epiphanies can result from seemingly unrelated ideas.  But in order to take these moments of inspiration further, Lehrer said, grit and persistence are necessary.  He ended with inspiring words: “Meetings are the most vital way to connect and share ideas.”

And so it was at 2012 WEC, where the entire theme was connectivity, and where more than 2,000 attendees connected at the America’s Center Convention Complex in St. Louis on July 28–31.  This year, WEC’s “Global Village” included member lounges, the Hive (a hub of audiovisual and interactive meeting tools), cyber cafés, a silent auction, and the two-story MarketSquare trade-show space.  Stressed attendees could snuggle up with friendly canine companions saved by the Stray Rescue of St. Louis at a “Puppy Cuddling” station.  At an IT booth, attendees could find assistance with MPI’s event app – in particular, the “Goose Chase,” a photo scavenger hunt that involved taking pictures of particular sites and sessions as part of a series of challenges.

Throughout the meeting, connections seemed to be instantaneous.  Within minutes of the orientation session, “WEC for Me,” people were introducing themselves to new faces or re-connecting with old friends.  Sitting to my left was Alexandra Kenyan, lecturer of hospitality and retailing at Leeds Metropolitan University.  My connection with her led me to attend her educational session about CSR the following day.  She and her colleagues connected planners with a St. Louis nonprofit, fostering conversation about how organizations can give back to their meetings’ host cities.

To my right at the orientation session was Terry Miller, a recently retired meeting professional who is in the process of starting his own consulting firm and looking for new ideas and customers.  And next to him was Karen Cartwright, CMP, special events coordinator for the Medical College of Wisconsin.  “I like to come here to stay on top of industry trends,” she said.  “Since my work is so niche, I need to expand outside that bubble.”

The opening reception that evening was held on the field of Busch Stadium, where bars were situated in the dugouts, and where food stations with ribs, crab-filled artichokes, and other local cuisine lined the diamond.  I connected with Corbin Ball, founder of Corbin Ball Associates and an expert on meetings technologies, and the next day I attended his educational session, “There’s an App for That,” where I was introduced to a wealth of meetings apps and futuristic technology.  (Read more on Convene’s blog, here.)

Closing out 2012 WEC was keynote speaker Nicholas Christakis, a social-media expert who discussed how important it is to directly appeal to particular subsets of a community in order to strengthen the group as a whole.  As I watched attendees sit at separate tables making connections with the people to their left and right, I realized they were really connecting with a much larger group – and partaking in an exchange of ideas that reached far beyond the convention center walls.

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Sarah Beauchamp

Sarah Beauchamp was formerly assistant editor of Convene.