Feed Me Friday: Top Chef Portland (DC Edition)

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SEASONED VETERANS George Pagonis (left) and Gregory Gourdet crossed knives at a cooking competition staged by Travel Portland in Washington, D.C., the other night.

You may think of Portland, Oregon, as a funky, carefree place where people follow their own groove and do unto others, but if a Travel Portland reception in Washington, D.C., the other night is any indication, Rose City also has a wicked competitive streak. The event was held at Kapnos, a terrific Greek restaurant from Mike Isabella in D.C.’s hot, hot, hot Columbia Heights neighborhood. Travel Portland brought along one of its own rock-star chefs — Gregory Gourdet, executive chef at Departure, a popular pan-Asian restaurant. As it happens, Gourdet not only had competed against Kapnos’ executive chef, George Pagonis, on the most recent season of the TV show “Top Chef,” but made it further in the cooking competition than Pagonis, all the way to the season finale.

Travel Portland decided to play off that dynamic by staging a “Top Chef”–style competition between Gourdet and Pagonis. Their challenge: In 10 minutes, create an amazing dish using the special ingredient, which was freshly caught tuna. “There’s no bad blood between us, I don’t think,” Gourdet said, smiling, as he and Pagonis prepared to throw down. Pagonis replied with mock seriousness: “I’m over it now.”

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And then they disappeared into Kapnos’ pantry and freezer, returning to prepare their dishes in the bright, open kitchen, against a backdrop of slowly roasting lamb racks and whole pigs. They moved quickly, chopping and whisking and seasoning, playing to the crowd of Travel Portland guests who clustered around the kitchen’s counter to snap photos. While they cooked, we also enjoyed a spread of Kapnos’ food, which tends toward bright, clean flavors, as well as an Oregon-stocked bar that included Mouton Noir’s O.P.P. (Other People’s Pinot Gris), Primarius Pinot Noir, Yin Yang’s Pinot Grigio Rosé, Willamette Valley Vineyards’ Dijon Clone Chardonnay, Deschutes Brewery’s Mirror Pond Pale Ale, and Rogue Ales’ Dead Guy Ale.

IMG_2468Ten minutes went by quickly, and soon Pagonis and Gourdet had plated their dishes, both of which looked amazing: Mediterranean-style tuna tartare (Pagonis) and Asian-spiced tuna poke (Gourdet). Their next challenge was even tougher — facing a five-person panel of judges hand-picked by Travel Portland: Lisa Dyson, CMP, director of conference services for TESOL International Association; Elisa Dozono, chair of the Orgeon Lottery Commission; Rosina Romano, CMP, director of meetings for the Entomological Society of America; Monique Morgan, CMP, meetings manager for the American Dental Education Association; and Michael Jordan, senior planner for the Nuclear Energy Institute.

It wasn’t easy, having to choose between two succulent dishes prepared specially for them by two world-class chefs, but in the end, the judges rendered a split decision, 3-2, in favor of Gourdet. Who was gracious in victory, and very happy to be representing his city. “Today I’m a true booster,” Gourdet said, “for everything we have in Portland.”

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NYT Mag — Now With 100% More Conferences!

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 1.31.33 PMWhen I wrote about magazine companies staging their own health-care conferences about a year and a half ago, it seems I was getting the trend only half right. Because really, they’re putting on all kinds of conferences. The latest pub to get in on the action: The New York Times Magazine, which next month is presenting its first-ever live event — NYT Mag Live. Scheduled for the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco on Sunday, June 7, the three-hour program will be hosted by Editor in Chief Jake Silverstein and built around the magazine’s Design & Technology special issue, which is being published that same day.

The New York Times itself has long hosted events such as TimesTalks and The New York Times Travel Show. Why is the magazine just now following its lead? “Our readers are already highly engaged with our journalism — in print, online and on mobile,” Silverstein said in a statement, “and we created NYT Mag Live so they can connect with our journalists directly, in an immediate and interactive forum.”

In other words, a publication that is the epitome of old media — a daily newspaper’s weekly magazine — but hasn’t been shy about exploring new media thinks that there’s still an experience its readers are missing out on: face-to-face. It makes me wonder what meeting planners might in turn learn from that example. Are you fully leveraging the content you create for your events across all the other platforms at your disposal? Your organization’s magazine and website? Social-media channels? And at your events, are you allowing your attendees to fully engage with the people who are supplying your content?

The New York Times Magazine has been around for 120 years. But maybe it has a few new tricks to teach us.

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The Knowledge Economy: What’s Next?

241-MCB-Lightbox-5650x2000-v1.inddI’m sorry to be missing IMEX this year and all its buzz about new developments in global meeting destinations. Yesterday, for example, Melbourne Convention Bureau CEO Karen Bolinger unveiled the city’s new branding for business events: The Melbourne Effect. (Which called up in my mind the Bourne movie franchise titles — in terms of intrigue, not a bad association.)

What captured my attention about the brand positioning is how it builds on the Knowledge Economy, which we’ve written about in Convene in numerous ways, including Barbara Palmer’s cover story back in December 2012. Melbourne’s previous branding — Melbourne IQ, the Intelligent Choice for Conferences — has drawn on its intellectual capital to attract international conventions. Knowledge, however, is just one of the many factors that entice planners to choose the city, Bolinger said during the press conference at IMEX.

The bureau conducted extensive research across its “key market segments, international associations and corporate and incentive planners, she said, “and what stood out was their desire for a city and bureau to not just tick the boxes, but to facilitate collaboration and deliver real outcomes.”

The new branding showcases the city as not just a place where groups can access centers of knowledge, but where they can actively “create legacies that will last long after the business event is over,” Bolinger said. That includes “research collaborations, policy delivery, membership engagement, and empowered employees — which ultimately drive our clients’ growth and performance.”

I’m looking forward to learning more about the research that led to this branding and asking Bolinger to provide real examples of how different professional segments and industries can take the next step — from access to significant outcomes — in the Knowledge Economy. Stay tuned.

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Baltimore Strong

The debate over police tactics is far from over in Baltimore, but still, the situation is nothing like it was the last week of April, when protests over the death of resident Freddie Gray in police custody led to riots, arson, and looting. Look for a nuts-and-bolts look in the June issue of Convene at how that week affected meetings and conferences that were scheduled in Baltimore — with snapshots of groups that postponed, canceled, or went ahead with their events.

But meanwhile, since June went to press, Visit Baltimore has created a page on its website called “Baltimore Voices” that’s dedicated to “sharing the stories of Baltimore residents, hospitality workers, industry leaders, and, most important, visitors like you who are eager to share their thoughts about the city and why it is such a great place to visit.” First up: a few visitor updates from Visit Baltimore President and CEO Tom Noonan, and a testimonial from Joyce Paschall, CAE, CMP-HC, director of meetings and education for the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, which held the 2015 American Occupational Health Conference at the Hilton Baltimore on May 3–6. “Baltimore clearly values people coming here for meetings and conventions and tourism,” Paschall says in her video (posted in its entirety above). “It’s evident in every place that you go.”

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Your Networking Reception is Too Loud

partyNetworking receptions are supposed to be lively, stimulating, and have a buzz. But they often have too much of a good thing, and when music is added to the mix, it gets increasingly difficult for attendees to do the one thing they came for: to have meaningful conversations with each other.

When I interviewed Steve Bush, senior technical support specialist and instructor in the audio-education program at sound-engineering company Meyer Sound for our May issue cover story, he told us that the problem — reverberation — is similar to what happens when you’re in a restaurant. When it’s empty, he said, a high level “of reverberation is needed for privacy so that people three tables away cannot understand our conversation.” Once the room fills up and there are more and more noise sources, “the signal-to-noise ratio is so poor that people two feet apart cannot understand each other,” he said. “Everybody is yelling.” That’s because the room has too much reverberation for a large number of people, although it may be just right when there are very few people in the room.

Meyer Sound has implemented a technology solution at two San Francisco–area restaurants, by installing acoustic material to dampen the room reverberation, Bush said, so that when it is full, “you can actually understand the person sitting across the table speaking in a ‘normal’ voice.” When the room empties out, the system adds some reverb back into the room, which makes it feel very comfortable even when there are only 20 people in a room that seats 350.

“It’s a subtle thing,” he said, “that has an immediate impact.”

Can that kind of sound technology be put to work at networking receptions? Sounds like a great idea to me.

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Feed Me Friday: It’s Food Revolution Day

jamie_oliverWhen I was a child, I was lucky enough to have my grandfather show me how to grow strawberries, stake tomatoes, and pluck Japanese beetles from Concord grapes, eventually followed by the pleasures of eating ripe fruit from the vine (even if Hostess’ Twinkies were my true love).

Consequently, some of the most rewarding reporting I’ve done has been about school gardens — but even so, I rarely thought much about hyperkinetic chef Jamie Oliver, who has pushed healthy eating for so long that I tend to zone out his frequent calls to action. The father of four has rarely waned in his mission, though, and he has dubbed May 15 (today) Food Revolution Day, devoted to promoting the “global campaign to put compulsory practical food education on the school curriculum.” Essentially, he wants to compel schools to teach children how to grow and cook nutritious food.

Even though Oliver’s efforts have spanned a decade, the reasons behind them haven’t much changed. Visitors to the Food Revolution Day website encounter some arresting facts: 42 million children worldwide are overweight or obese, and “Children today are the first generation predicted to live shorter lives than their parents.” An impassioned Oliver blasts rising rates of diabetes and disease among children, offers up recipes for dishes such as vegan shepherd’s pie and chocolate-and-beetroot cake, and urges people to sign a petition to “inspire governments to do the right thing.” (1.2 million have signed so far).

The pièce de résistance was revealed earlier today: A video of Paul McCartney, Hugh Jackman, Alesha, and other notables rapping about food education, a song that was written by Ed Sheeran. While Food Revolution Day is a solidly U.K.-borne effort, the campaign is going crazy on Twitter, with hundreds of tweets pouring in from across the world every half hour.

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Oliver has often singled out Americans’ unflagging love of junk food. So what’s happening stateside? Lots, especially on the meetings front. The 8th Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference happens in San Diego on June 29-July 2. The Partnership for Healthy America, which works with private enterprise to end childhood obesity, is planning their next Building A Healthier Future Summit for May 18-20, 2016, in Washington, D.C. We have dozens of conferences on the regional level, too, as well as a famous First Lady who has thrown her weight behind the cause.

Not every child has that opportunity to learn where food comes from, or why they should eat some grapes instead of a cream-filled sponge cake with 37 ingredients. Will today change that?

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But He Plays One on TV

LyonsHOC1When I interviewed meetings and exhibitions industry vet Mike Lyons about his side gig as a professional actor two years ago, he told me that his two jobs tend to complement one another — so when he’s acting in a role as a business professional, “it has been easier for me to do that because that is what I do in my real job”; and likewise he’s “able to apply some of the techniques that I’ve acquired as an actor over these past 20 years” to his day job. So when I learned that Mike turned up as a U.S. senator in the most recent season of “House of Cards,” Netflix’s addictive political melodrama, I was intrigued. How had the meetings industry prepared him for Capitol Hill?

In his big scene, Mike is part of a Senate committee that’s holding a confirmation hearing for First Lady Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), whom her husband, President Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey), has nominated as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. It’s not the friendliest proceeding, and in the photo above you can see Mike doing his part to project an air of frosty disapproval. How did the meetings industry help prepare him for this? Was he imagining a hostile exhibitor advisory panel? Maybe channeling a plenary session gone bad? Or picturing your everyday board finance committee meeting?

Nope. “Have to admit that my experience in our industry did not influence my performance,” Mike tells me. “On the contrary, as opposed to the nice demeanor all of us in our F2F industry try to project, in this case I was a stern and serious senator.”

Hmmm. Maybe playing a politician isn’t so much of a stretch for him at all.

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To Lead Innovation, Create Capable Communities

Leading innovation is not about creating a vision, and inspiring others to execute it.”

When I heard Harvard business professor Linda Hill say those words in her TEDxCambridge talk, I stopped the video and went back a few seconds, just to make sure I  got that not right. The idea that successful companies are borne along by visionary leadership is so deeply ingrained, I thought I was hearing things.

Hill, the author of Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation,  is an expert on leadership, and say it also came as a surprise to her that what we think of as great leadership doesn’t work when it comes to innovation. An ethnographer, Hill and colleagues used anthropological tools to look at the leadership and cultures of  16 innovative and successful businesses in seven countries, including Pixar and Google. What they found was that those companies had turned the ideas of conventional leadership on their head. Their leaders focused their energy, not on creating communities, but on cultivating three key capabilities.

In her talk, Hill described the capabilities and how they work as follows:

1. Creative abrasion. This is about being able to create a marketplace of ideas through debate and discourse. It’s not about not about brainstorming, where people suspend their judgment, but about knowing how to have heated but constructive arguments to create a portfolio of alternatives.

2. Creative agility. This is about being able to test and refine ideas a process of quick pursuit, reflection, and adjustment. It’s about discovery-driven learning where you act, as opposed to plan, your way to the future.

3. Creative resolution. This is about making decisions in a way that combines even opposing ideas in new combinations to produce useful new solutions.  

 “Innovative organizations never go along to get along,” Hill said. “They don’t compromise. They don’t let one group or one individual dominate, even if it’s the boss, even if it’s the expert. Instead, they have developed a patient and more inclusive decision-making process.”

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How Creative Are You? Take the Test

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Left to right: Corin Hirsch, Kate Mulcrone, Michelle Russell, Barbara Palmer. Photo by Chris Durso.

Are you left-brained (logical, analytical, and objective) or right-brained (intuitive, thoughtful, and imaginative)? That’s the question London & Partners is asking planners.  Continue reading

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9 Tips for Managing Sound

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In our May cover story, we took a comprehensive look at the science of sound and the art of managing it at your meetings.

Here, three sound experts, Jim Russell, executive vice president of sales for Freeman; Mark Consiglio, product manager for audio and IT at PSAV; and Michael Bogden, a sound designer and mixer at Visual Horizon Communications; offer a list of best practices for managing sound.

 1. Arrange your speakers carefully

Not your keynoters— your audio speakers. Design elements sometimes will take precedence over speakers, but their placement is a key factor in overall sound quality.

2. Read the room

Don’t take good audio for granted — it has to be considered upfront, ideally at the time of site inspection, Russell said. “Larger sessions, especially, can be a challenge.” There’s a pervasive myth that sound engineers can fix anything given the right equipment, but that’s not true, he said. “If there’s an echo in the room, there will be an echo during a session, too.”

3. It’s called audiovisual for a reason

Make sure well in advance that audio and visual elements are in sync. “If a person hears a message and looks at a related graphic,”or she absorbs an additional 91 percent of the message,” compared to audio alone.

4. Talk to your creative partners — early and often

Collaboration among your sound engineers, set designers, and the team in charge of visuals is also critical for the best audience experience. “Even though it might be the optimal speaker position, I can’t hang a speaker array in front of a screen, and if there’s an interesting scene-piece that plays a big part in the show, I can’t hang in front of that either,” says, Bogden said. “What I like to do, from the get-go, is sit down with everyone involved to find ways that I can design my speaker system into a piece of scenery, or to hang between two screens. The key is early and constant collaboration with everyone involved.”

5. Make the most of your budget

Budget is a huge driving force in sound design because it determines the size of your sound system and what equipment will be used on site. When you bring your sound team into the fold, they can offer suggestions and advice about making the most out of budgets of any size. Consiglio also recommends setting aside money for recording and livestreaming. “Don’t skimp on the labor or equipment recommended by your audio specialist,” he said. “We have spent a lot of time and energy determining the best way to ensure a successful event recording.”

 6Use the buddy system

Think of your sound provider as a partner, not a supplier. “We can help provide suggestions that would make a scenario that much better, but we can’t do that if we’re not at the table,” Bogden said. “Anybody can supply gear, but not everyone can be a partner. I think it’s important to be a really good partner.”

7. Don’t automatically go wireless

Consiglio cautions against putting all your faith in wireless microphones for speakers — your sound provider may have a better suggestion for your particular meeting space or room setup. “One of the biggest misconceptions when dealing with sound design in the meeting space is that wireless microphones are 100-percent infallible, which is not the case at all, “Wireless microphones have a lot of variables, like interference and battery life, that can bring a meeting to its knees. In some cases, a wired microphone may be recommended, and that could be because the representative knows from experience that wireless mics could be an issue in that space.”

8. Consider what not to wear

It may seem like a minor detail, but presenters’ clothing can be a roadblock when it comes to wireless microphones, according to Bogden. Sweaters, dresses, and even earrings can make it difficult for the sound team to place microphones for optimal sound quality. Ask for advice early on, so you can brief your speakers well in advance of the meeting or request special equipment, such as necklace microphones.

9. Go small or go home

“Everyone wants to try something new,” Bogden said. “They always want to experiment with something, whether it’s a new technology, a new piece of gear, a new application for a certain type of speaker, or a new design idea.The best piece of advice I got from a college professor was ‘Do that in very small steps.’

If you’re at a meeting and you want to try something new, just try one thing. Don’t do too many things at once, because you’ll increase the opportunity for failure. It would be a bad idea to try new microphones on all the presenters. If it doesn’t work, and the sound isn’t right, that’s a big deal.”

 

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