Weird & wonderful in Austin

Paul Colston in Austin, Texas

Matthew McConaughey opened up Convening Leaders 2017 by saying: “I could live anywhere I like in the world and I choose to live in Austin.” The Hollywood A-lister and local boy’s endorsement of the Texan capital was no cheesey one-liner, he really did put on a show for his city, sprinkling some film star stardust on this “city of ideas” which is fiercely proud to be weird.

Day 2’s keynote, while not quite in the glamour boy category, brought some startling predictions about the coming Third Industrial Revolution. Futurist and economist Jeremy Rifkin said climate change was no longer imminent, but “at the house, in the door”. He gave meeting planners some mind expanding pearls of wisdom to tackle their future strategies.

Day 2 also saw the chair of the UK Events Industry Board, Nick de Bois, spar with David Wallace, a former mayor in south Houston and adviser to UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s foundation.

De Bois urged the largely US-based audience that now was the time to bring events to the UK. “Come on over, the UK is at a 15% currency discount.” He added that Brexit had provided an opportunity to move away from the EU trading bloc which, he said, had become protectionist.

The UK former MP urged meeting and event professionals to try to anticipate new skillsets the profession would need in future and said that business could solve problems of skill shortages itself.

Wallace agreed that tremendous disruption was afoot in the industry and said we needed to prepare students how to lead in the new economic environment with ‘soft skills’.

Unfortunately, for a conference that is so notoriously slick, the facilitation of the two politicians going toe-to-toe was plodding at best.

Convening Leaders does offer plenty of food for thought at lunch times and top speakers took to the stage as the audience gathered to eat in plenary formation.

This year the over-arching theme was ‘Designing colLABoration’ and the first day’s Networking Lunch, brought insights into ‘Seeing the Unseen’ with Dan Goods, visual strategist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Goods took the audience on a journey of scientific art projects that he shaped.

The idea of inviting leading economic and scientific speakers from outside the industry to stimulate the industry’s own thinking has proved popular.

The Austin conference was the most successful ever Convening Leaders with 4,175 delegates attending.

And the collaboration resounded throughout the city’s musical DNA, with many promising musicians pitching in to entertain delegates at pop up venues around town. One of the most popular was Austin House, across the road from the convention centre.

Nearly 1,500 further delegates attended Convening Leaders LIVE on-line, and an additional 180 Asian meetings professionals participated in a delayed rebroadcast of specific content for Asian audiences. Delegates came from 45 countries to attend the event this year, up from 36 countries in 2016.

The Austin Convention Center also hosted multiple Learning Labs and event tech displays.

Deborah Sexton, president and CEO, PCMA said: “Austin was the perfect destination to turn our lens towards the value of collaboration. The contributions of teams at the Austin CVB and Austin Convention Center, as well as many of Austin’s noted citizens, demonstrated the power of real-time collaboration to conference participants.”

Medical matters & leaving a legacy

Medical meeting professionals had an opportunity to explore the Dell Medical School

Delegates were also able to leave a social legacy, with 130 attendees participating in PCMA’s Hospitality Helping Hands, benefitting Sammy’s House, an Austin not-for-profit agency that provides services for children who are medically fragile..

The PCMA Education Foundation sold out this year’s Party With A Purpose (PWAP), with over 1,600 donating participants. In its 24th year, PWAP has raised more than US$2.4m for a range of notable causes.

Sexton also said security was now the No.1 issue facing the meetings industry and PCMA chairman William Reed added that the issue needed to be placed at a higher strategic level than purely drawing up crisis management plans. He also led the conference in remembering the victims of the recent shooting at Fort Lauderdale airport.

Mulling over all the mind blowing information I’d learned during my first Convening Leaders, I saw one of the keynote speakers, actor, entrepreneur, Harvard-trained lawyer and truly inspirational speaker Isaac Lidsky. His achievements are all the more remarkable because, as he revealed to the audience, he’s blind. Lidsky’s lesson was all about his achievements being made not in spite of his disability, but because of how he responded to it.

“Only you create your reality,” was his mantra and his development story held the audience rapt.

Lidsky certainly carries an aura that seemed to light a path through the airport for him.

You can follow the PCMA light to the next Convening Leaders in Nashville, Tennessee, 7-10 January, 2018


Paul Colston

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Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World. Write Paul an E-mail



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