As the proud winner of the 2009 IMEX-MPI Foundation Student Scholarship Award, the MPI Foundation was very kind to sponsor my attendance at MeetDifferent in Cancun. On arrival and as expected it was clear that Cancun is a favourite holiday destination for many North Americans, but not necessarily a meeting destination. The custom control is curious to say the least, with a random traffic light signal deciding the fate of your passage through Mexican customs. I have since learnt that this was put in place on request from the US government, so as to ensure that the customs checks are random by removing the possibility of corruption. Less impressive was the number of timeshare sales people waiting for passengers as soon as the doors open, who pose as airport information and drag you in to their sales pitch. I must have looked Mexican enough that I was not hassled, but as soon as I realised what was going on, I made sure to look straight ahead and walk fast.
The Ground services and the hotel check in all worked well, despite the large numbers of attendees arriving, perhaps here again the practice of receiving large numbers of tourists was to our advantage. The Moon Palace Resort presents itself wonderfully, with a variety of large restaurants, spacious bedrooms with in-room Jacuzzis, and of course free flowing alcohol that is typical of all-inclusive resorts. From the first moment in the grounds of the Moon Palace, I knew there would not be a dull moment.
Following a lukewarm off-site reception, the 1st general session started with a fresh faced Jeremy Gutsche, who presented his content quickly and directly almost with a TED style intensity. Jeremy’s main message was “obsess relentlessly about your message”, and he also offered good tips to those of us creating headlines or trying to get messages to members on how to make these “supercharged”. All in all I was quite pleased with Jeremy’s content and delivery. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the remaining two general sessions, the second of which focussed on the spectacular failure of Microsoft Bob, a product that failed so badly no one who I met had ever learnt about it. The last general session was entitled “Viva la Business Revolution”, yet somehow the concept of business revolution seemed to get lost in a very long winded speech which had its highlights in pause slides, where a nice scenic picture would appear on screen and the presenter would pause and have a drink of water. I shall keep these presenters nameless, but I would like to point out that Glenn Thayer our host for all three sessions did an excellent job of interacting and challenging both speakers, and by doing so managed to largely salvage two average sessions.
With my thirst for knowledge insufficiently quenched from general sessions, I was happy to find that the knowledge sessions offered a variety of topics. Here too not all the sessions were outstanding, but some did indeed stand out. Jim Spellos and Deborah Gardner’s Social Media trial stands out as one of the best. The Social Media trial dealt with serious questions on the usefulness, application and responsibility of social media in meetings (conferences, events etc.) in a very creative way, a mock trial with each presenter arguing their case and Bruce MacMillan (in pre-recorded video format) acting as the judge. This is an example of a great session and if all sessions were this creative and well delivered, I would have remembered them all.
Other highlights of the conference were the excellent illustrations of most of the knowledge sessions by ImageThink. These very talented and creative illustrators mapped out these sessions for our pleasure and you can still find them here: http://www.imagethink.net/meetdifferent_2010/meetdifferent_2010.html
Overall the knowledge sessions were well attended and largely focussed on each member’s personal development. There were even Spanish lessons available. It is worth noting that this personal focus was different to other MPI conferences, particularly EMEC where I find the focus shifts to more technical aspects of the industry.
Receptions and side events were frequent, at least once a day and many quite extravagant, especially those of competing Cancun properties looking to show off their properties. One factor did seem to bring the magic of the receptions one notch down, that is the free-flowing alcohol and food that was available at the host property. The fact that many of the receptions involved 20m+ bus transfers also made the easy option of some down time very appealing. The on-site disco was also popular, here again detracting from the overall flow of the various events. The closing night party included a faux pas Mexican market and a live band of rockers from 70s rock bands which charmed the MPI only audience and kept the whole resort awake until mid-night. Despite all the distractions there were many good conversations to be had and excellent connections to be made with mostly US based MPI members, but also a handful of Canadians and Europeans.
The Moon Palace’s conference facilities were very impressive, easily putting many European conference hotels to shame. The rooms were standard ballroom style, which unfortunately meant that the wonderful Mexican sun that all the participants enjoyed outside, was hidden away behind air walls and curtains. Technically all the services were adequate, with one in particular standing out as very useful: Free property-wide Wi-Fi. This had a much bigger impact on the conference than I had anticipated. The free Wi-Fi meant that attendees could use their mobile applications and laptops freely and the wealth of knowledge that was transmitted online surpassed my expectations by far. Twitter in particular took on a life of its own, with over 30 very active users constantly reporting on sessions and events during the conference. If I enjoyed my use of twitter before hand, this conference made me realise its incredible power and without a doubt is one of the reasons I actively advocate its use.
All in all I enjoyed attending MeetDifferent 2010 in Cancun very much and I am extremely thankful to the MPI Foundation for making this possible. My overall impression of what we now know was the last educational conference was positive. When asked if we did indeed MeetDifferent my answer is complex, yes and no. Yes, we met different because we tried something new in Mexico and a beach property. Yes, because many of the knowledge sessions had an excellent impact on the attendees. Yes, because twitter made the conference geeks a united MPI front. Of course the real innovation that may be expected with such a suggestive title to the conference in my opinion was not present. As an apprentice of Meeting Architecture I feel the core messages were transmitted in very solid but not innovative nor memorable ways. With the exception of some of the items mentioned here, the sessions involved mostly speaker to audience communication and interaction, the rooms were dark and set in rigid formats, the food was delicious but not very health conscious and most importantly the majority of the sessions were not memorable, and thus ineffective.
We did indeed meet differently in Cancun, but I hope will do my best to urge MPI to practice what they preach and make future conferences memorable and revolutionary.