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Getting creative.

Darkness enveloped the ballroom of the Moscone Center in San Francisco. It was 9 am., time for the opening session of the annual meeting and exposition of the Association Of School Business officials International (ASBO), Reston, Virginia.

Suddenly, spotlights keyed on center stage and a magician appeared out of nowhere. Much to the audience's delight, he climbed inside a metal cage, planning to make himself disappear. And he did. In his place? The new president of the association.

The ASBO president that year took a lot of ribbing about the magic trick. Some members teased that they would rather have had the magician stay on stage. Others wondered how the trick worked, but the president kept the magician's secret - even from the association staffers responsible for seeing that things went right.

Developing a creative beginning to a general session or picking an unusual meeting location takes guts.

Here are some examples of creative meetings put together by members of the ASAE Conventions & Expositions Section with help from Joe Jeff Goldblatt, noted creative events manager and author of the book Special Events - The Art and Science of Celebration.

For Susan Perry-Poirer, director of meetings and expositions for the International Sleep Products Association, Alexandria, Virginia, the annual leadership conference calls for some creative planning.

ISPA's meeting features four intense days of activity for the association's board, suppliers' council, and industry chief executives. For relaxation and camaraderie, the final day is "Sports Day."

Sports Day started about 10 years ago when the meeting was held in Phoenix. One of the participants brought a set of bocce balls to the meeting. Bocce, for the uninitiated, is similar to lawn bowling. Teams of two roll bocce balls in a battle to get a ball closest to the jack, staying within a chalked grass court area.

To accommodate the game, the association's specifications for this meeting include a large, flat, grassy area about one third the size of a football field. But the game has been played on a beach or in a breakout room, when weather or conditions demanded. The final banquet features an award to the best new bocce player. The award presentation always draws a big laugh - the trophy actually is a toilet bowl plunger painted gold with the new winner's name engraved onto a plaque nailed to the handle. It seems a bocce ball is the exact size of the plunger's active part. According to Perry-Poirer, you have to be there to get the full effect.

Another creative idea implemented at the ISPA meeting is a theme banquet. For the year the banquet fell on Halloween, afl the members dressed in costume. The staff came in their pajamas. (They're the bedding association; get it?)

Jo Schaefer, assistant manager of education and training at the Wisconsin Credit Union League, Milwaukee, figured out a way to get double duty from a speaker who just happened to be former Miss America Maria Beale Fletcher.

She worked with the hotel to construct a stage and runway and have five members enter the Mr. America Contest. The judges were hotel staff, and the winner received a free weekend at the hotel. Categories for the competition included formal attire, bathing attire, talent, and a question on credit unions.

At another meeting, the association turned the parking lot at a Florida hotel into a German beer garden for an evening banquet.

Once they had a welcome reception on the roadside of Interstate 80. Actually, that event became a little more creative than they had planned when the bus taking a group from the Poconos to New York City broke down.

Anna Beal, manager for board and committee meetings for the National Automobile Dealers Association, McLean, Virginia, created a casino and evening auction for one meeting.

Penny Maldonado, executive director of the Society of Association Executives of Upstate New York, Albany, planned an entire meeting - promotion to program - around the theme "Teamwork Makes a Difference." The promotional brochure featured team pennants. Banquet favors were minifootballs. Speakers emphasized teamwork, and a videotape covered professional performance.

Sometimes circumstances force association staffers to become creative. For example, Hank Roeder, a veteran association meeting planner, found himself looking for flexibility and creative logistics in Atlanta.

Roeder was with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), Washington, D.C., in 1990 when the association's 50,000-participant convention converged on the Georgia World Congress Center. The careful planning of Roeder and his meeting staff became moot once they learned a rock concert by the Grateful Dead was scheduled across the street at the Omni.

In addition, the President of the United States decided to accept the association's invitation to speak.

The scene on the street became almost comical - unless you were the meeting planner. Just picture 50,000 meeting participants with name badges, 20,000 "Dead Heads" in tie-dyed T-shirts, and hoards of Secret Service - all mingling about on the street among outdoor exhibits such as satellite dishes and production trucks.

For NAB, the 1990 meeting in Atlanta will be remembered not just for the President's address, but for the creative logistics that kept the event from becoming a mob scene.

But Roeder and other seasoned association staffers know that meetings sometimes create their own magic.

Judy Comeaux, CAE, director of advertising for ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT, previously handled meetings logistics for the Association of School Business Officials International, Reston, Virginia. For more information on related topics or the ASAE Conventions & Expositions Section, call Barbara Silversmith at (202) 626-2789.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society of Association Executives
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:services of meeting planners
Author:Comeaux, Judy
Publication:Association Management
Date:Nov 1, 1991
Words:910
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