by Sarah J.F. Braley | July 28, 2011

Meeting Professionals International's 2011 World Education Congress wrapped up on July 26, following three days of thought-provoking sessions and networking events at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. Attendance numbers won't be available until next week, but organizers and participants were pleased with the turnout. This was the debut of a new format for the WEC show, without a trade show component.

The event kicked off Saturday evening, July 23, with a welcome reception at Walt Disney World's EPCOT. Sunday evening offered a new event called The Blitz, during which participants had the chance to meet with a number of suppliers in the main hallway of the OCCC, while enjoying specialty cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. Lunch on Sunday featured MPI's RISE Awards presentation, which included the following:

• The Young Professional Achievement award was given to Central Michigan University graduate Courtney Stanley for creating networking and hands-on opportunities for CMU Event Management students;
• The award for Meeting Industry Leadership was presented to Maarten Vanneste, CMM, author of Meeting Architecture, A Manifesto, who is challenging how meetings are designed;
• MaryAnne Bobrow, CAE, CMP, CMM, CHE, was chosen as Member of the Year for her volunteerism in the MPI community;
• The RISE Award for Community Achievement in Knowledge and Ideas was handed to the MPI Minnesota Chapter for its development and execution of the Emerging Leaders Program; and
• The Organizational Achievement award was presented to the Cape Town (South Africa) International Convention Centre for its use of meetings and events to enhance economic spinoff and improve its local community.

St. Louis, the host of next year's WEC, entertained the gathering at Tuesday's lunch with well-loved comedian Kathleen Madigan, veteran of the Tonight Show and Late Night with David Letterman. Capping off the four days was an evening at Universal CityWalk.

The World Education Congress will travel to St. Louis next summer and Las Vegas in 2013. MPI also has announced that Minneapolis will welcome the group in 2014, San Francisco in 2015 and Philadelphia in 2016.

MPI switched to a hosted-buyer format this year, rather than setting up a full trade show floor for planners to mingle with suppliers. Opinions on the change varied. Jeff Hewitt, vice president of business development for Visit Savannah (Ga.), loved the new format, feeling he made much more meaningful connections with the planners he and his colleagues met with during the 16 appointments his organization had purchased. He found the leads were much more promising than those he would have gotten from random drop-ins at a booth. A planner for third-party firm ConferenceDirect, also favored the change. "I would definitely do it again," she said.

On the other hand, two planners who were not hosted buyers told M&C they missed the trade show. According to Charlene C. Richard, CMM, global events manager for Mannatech, makers of nutrition and other wellness products, "I have just gone from domestic events to international, and for me it was very important to learn more about international venues. Last year [during the expo], it was very easy for me to walk around and introduce myself and learn more about international venues. I missed that aspect of it this time. I am also looking for event management software, and I was interested in learning about several types of software, and I didn't have that opportunity."

A planner who wished to comment anonymously understood that the expo had been eliminated because IMEX America, to be held in Las Vegas in October, would be offering that opportunity. "For me, personally, they've reduced the value of the WEC. I know IMEX is now our trade show. But we cannot go to two events. I'm going to have to look at that next year to see where my dollars are best spent. Which one do they want us to attend? It seems they should just have one conference. I think next year I will definitely try IMEX and forego the WEC."

Before the WEC began, there was much discussion (particularly on our industry blog, "Liz on the Biz"), about MPI's recent decision to raise membership fees for just suppliers (for the first time in seven years) and not planners. During the "Conversation with MPI" session on the last day, president and CEO Bruce MacMillan and current chair of the board, Sebastien Tondeur, CEO of the Geneva, Switzerland, office of international event management firm MCI, were asked why suppliers were singled out. In response, MacMillan said, "We did a lot of survey work, asking how much are you prepared to pay. Our planners were going through chaos, [but] our suppliers said, 'We want more access to planners.' So we made a choice." He also pointed out that in the past, about 23 percent of planner members paid dues out of their own pocket; that number has risen in the past few years to 43 percent. MacMillan added, "We don't want to put up any more barriers to getting planners to participate."

In the same session, MacMillan and Tondeur spoke extensively about plans to shore up MPI's chapter system. MacMillan said there was a gap between how important it is to offer education on the chapter level and how it's being delivered. "Chapters are run by volunteers," he said, "and there was a loss of sponsorship at the local level; we have to help that." Look for the existing Chapter Content Database to be updated this fall with a more automated and user-friendly version with enhanced speaker ratings and information features, as well as several other upgrades. 

Also coming soon are results from a recent survey of 1,272 industry professionals (81 percent of whom were MPI members) conducted by George P. Johnson. Among findings, according to Tondeur: "Meetings on a chapter level is the number-one source of value for our members. This was the big confirmation."

Sunday's opening general session speaker, Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, was quite a hit, despite wearing the jeans that were frowned upon in the "know before you go" e-mail sent out by the organization in advance of the convention. Sinek's message, that "people don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it," resonated with the crowd as he suggested getting to the heart of why each meeting is put on the schedule.

Tuesday's general session, a more free-flowing event facilitate by “performance expert" Joe Calloway, featured chats with Michael Dominguez of Loews Hotels; Fiona Pelham of the U.K.'s Sustainable Events; and Kelly Cutrone, founder of People's Revolution.

Two new services had set up booths in the prefunction space at the convention center., a short-term booking engine for meetings, had gone live on Saturday, and its team was on hand to introduce the technology to all who stopped by. The service is strictly for meetings that will be held within 90 days, offering planners the ability to book a hotel within hours instead of days. The initial database comprises more than 200 upscale and luxury properties with 150 rooms or more. One fun feature: Planners will be able to see who the last planner was who booked hotels they are considering and send him or her a question through the Zentila system. There is no advertising on the site, and there are no plans to go that route. The service is supported by private funding.

The other new service, launched in the spring, was, which works with a stable of vetted suppliers to handle audiovisual RFPs.