Chopra’s presentation was titled “The Environment as an Extension of Our Body.” A cascade of ideas followed: on limbic resonance, gene expression, and how we metabolize time. “The happiness of people around you affects your own wellbeing,” said Chopra, who received a standing ovation at the end.
If Chopra’s belief in contagious wellbeing is true, then WEC 2014 — which drew just under 2,000 attendees to the Minneapolis Convention Center from Aug. 2–5 — helped “happify” the entire city. During the opening reception, held in a tent pitched amid mill ruins on the Mississippi River, attendees greeted each other with hoots and hugs in a sensory-laden environment of live opera, vodka mojitos, hanging skewers of chocolate-covered bacon, and views of the river. That exuberance was stoked with a rousing video during the opening plenary session that called planners “superheroes” who “shape people’s ideas”; afterward, attendees cheered wildly during a collaborative game of pong fought by twirling plastic paddles in the air.
But despite the flash and the camaraderie, many attendees were in the house for nitty-gritty education, strategy, and new ideas. Fifteen-minute Flash Point Idea Assembly plenary sessions by outsized personalities such as Laura Schwartz, former White House director of events, teased forthcoming master classes. Nolan Bushnell — the “godfather of gaming” who founded Atari and Chuck E. Cheese’s, and famously hired a young Steve Jobs — told attendees to think about disruptive innovation “in everything we do.” Dozens of sessions covered apps, menu planning, engagement, Generation Y, neuroscience, health-care compliance, risk management, sales strategies, even hotel piracy. In between, attendees visited a CSR Central area set up in a ballroom to build bikes for children and assemble hygienic kits for homeless people. During the closing luncheon, Apple co-founder Steve “Woz” Wozniak encouraged attendees to continue their drive for in-the-flesh meetings. “Real communication,” Woz said, “happens person-to-person.”
Helping to orchestrate each WEC day was the colorful, comprehensive MPI ONSITE newsletter, delivered to attendees’ hotel-room doors every morning. A tech element also drove the event: In addition to program listings, the WEC app offered spaces to write tweets, send messages, take surveys during sessions, and engage in a “Discovery Game” that awarded points for tweeting, posting photos, visiting supplier booths, and finding hidden QR codes throughout the convention center. (Planner Liz King took an early lead, and ultimately won.)
Yet at its core, WEC 2014 was about capturing and directing the business that meeting planners wield. During Chopra’s speech, the physician and bestselling author announced his collaboration with Delos Living and Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Hotel & Resort: Stay Well Meetings, a floor of meeting rooms that draw on aromatherapy, circadian lighting, and healthy foods to engage and invigorate attendees. App developers and CVBs primarily filled a central MarketSquare, where relaxing on a chair might result in a friendly sales pitch. And after the day was over, dinners and receptions sponsored by various destinations filled attendees’ evening hours.