I’ve been the Director of Meetings at the American Association of Orthodontists for about 18 months. And, somewhere around the middle of 2019, I learned that my department’s budget for continuing education had been drastically cut from what had been spent in year’s past. Immediately it registered that this cut meant some of us would not be able to attend PCMA’s Convening Leaders. Now, I believe in the transformative power of shared experiences, and I know that PCMA works hard all year long to deliver relevant and timely content our team could immediately apply in providing exceptional experiences for our members. So, I was determined to find a way to get us all there. Each one of us began applying for scholarships and as hosted buyers – in order to get ourselves to San Francisco. Thankfully, I was selected to be the Heartland Chapter’s scholarship recipient, and another member of my team was chosen to be a hosted buyer, so all 3 of us were able to experience PCMA’s 2020 Convening Leaders together!
I had attended Convening Leaders several times in the past. However, before I joined the AAO, I was working as a Supplier – so I had only experienced it from that perspective. This time I am on the Planner side of the industry. And, while many of the elements and the people stayed the same, the experience was completely different. It was almost as if I was attending Convening Leaders for the first time. The 4 days I spent in San Francisco was so jam packed – and so rich – I couldn’t possibly summarize all that I learned, but here is a quick run-down of some of my key take-aways:
- We have a lot of fun, but we also get the job done! For the most part, everyone in the Meetings Industry attends or is somehow represented at Convening Leaders. I must admit that, in my new role, I am not always as quick to respond to a phone call or an email as I would like to be. But, attending Convening Leaders gave me the opportunity to meet with all of the Suppliers to whom I owed a response, update, or with whom I needed to collaborate. We laughed a lot together, did a little business housekeeping, but otherwise spent time strengthening the relationships that bind us together. The parties are great, but, more than anything, I was so grateful to be able to have one significant face-to-face conversation after another with those suppliers upon whom I rely so heavily.
- When in doubt, phone a friend. As I mentioned above, I’ve been serving in my role of Director of Meetings & Sponsorships for just about 18 months. As the Director, your organization looks to you to know, understand, and have solutions to the problems facing your team. But I had reached a moment on the job, where I just wasn’t sure what the best next step to take was. For a classic “Type A” personality like myself, that is not a comfortable spot to be in. So, when I arrived in San Francisco and a supplier event gave me the opportunity to reconnect with some colleagues from Chicago, I was able to share with them what was on my mind. It was a concern they knew, understood, and could easily offer suggestions on ways to address! What a blessing that was! (And I hadn’t even been in town for 12 hours at that point!) The next day, another supplier event gave me the opportunity to reconnect with an old friend from Philadelphia. Not only was I beyond happy to see her, but as we quickly caught up with each other’s lives since the last time we were together, she insisted I call her whenever I needed help or advice on how to proceed. Words fail to express how much pressure those two interactions alleviated – how great it feels to know that you aren’t alone, that you have a safety net – or, rather a “safety network” ready to catch you when you are out of ideas!
- Attendee-centric Meeting Design: Like so many of you, the AAO Meetings Department is tasked with understanding the trends necessary to keep our conferences relevant and exciting as attendee preferences change and evolve, and more competition enters our space. As we lead our volunteer members in selecting content and making other choices for our meetings, we will be also be working with them to understand the attendee journey in order to understand why they attend our meetings – so we can deliver on those expectations. I was able to attend multiple sessions that helped me understand how to lead the conversations I need to have with our staff, our volunteers, and our leadership in order to create vibrant and relevant meeting experiences for our members.
- Be fierce and unapologetically your authentic self. I take my work very seriously. Some may say I’m intense. I can be loud and little crass. I’m assertive, and I won’t shy away from a fight if I think the cause is important enough. Now, I’m a woman of a particular age, and I’m not ashamed to say that I used to think I needed to learn to quiet down, smooth out my rough edges, and be more “lady-like.” But I’ve learned that those qualities I wanted to change are actually gifts, and I possess them in a very unique combination with many others. I’ve needed and used those gifts at different points during my life. So, when I saw Bozoma St. John at the Convening Leader’s keynote, and heard her speak, her words really resonated with me. Listening to her story gave me permission to crank up the volume on everything I am, and all that I am meant to bring to my organization. She was so confident and yet so real. Her presentation made a profound impact on what I am expecting of myself in 2020.
- Meatless Mondays probably wouldn’t work for my group. But that’s OK. I appreciate that the folks at PCMA are willing to take the risks that I can’t afford to take. I want to test new ideas, see how they work, experience them personally, before I commit my organization to anything. In fact, I attended the 2018 Convening Leaders in Nashville as a supplier, but still participated in the Guinness World Record attempt there. In 2020, attendees at the AAO’s upcoming Annual Session will be making a similar attempt – and we expect that it will be wildly successful. We would never be trying this if our staff hadn’t been able to experience it personally a few years ago.
- The Detroit Children’s Choir & Drumbots. Talk about stepping out of the box to deliver a message! How quickly can I work either of these elements into my next program? (Or both!)
Long story short: I learned new things – tried new things – met new people – and reconnected with trusted colleagues. I’m certain that every bit of Convening Leaders that I am taking home with me with help me make the next 12 months successful – until I am able to meet up and do it all over again in 2021 in Houston! Many thanks to the PCMA Heartland Chapter for making it possible!
No longer was I a Supplier trying to gain (and hold) the attention of my buyer amidst a sea of Suppliers trying to do the same.