PCMA Annual Meeting Attracts Record Attendance in San Diego

January 12, 2012

Renewed optimism and enthusiasm appeared to be the overall tenor at the Professional Convention Management Association’s annual meeting, Convening Leaders. Held at the San Diego Convention Center Jan. 8-11, the 56th annual event for meeting professionals and industry suppliers drew an all-time high in participation, with attendance expected to meet or exceed last year’s figure of 3,743, according to PCMA officials.

The event kicked off Sunday evening at the festive Welcome Reception, held at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. Throngs of planners, suppliers and students enjoyed mingling and networking in two grand ballrooms and an elegant lounge corridor, partaking of delicious food in colorful surroundings enhanced by unique, New Age-style musical entertainment.

“The Welcome Reception was very impressive, from the entertainment to the set-up, the presentation of the food and the layout,” said Sheryl Vermont, meetings manager of the Physician Assistant Education Association. “The event seems very well organized, and I’m very impressed.”

On Monday, attendees appeared to be taking full advantage of the event’s robust offerings, from two general sessions and more than 60 cutting-edge education sessions to panel discussions, networking opportunities, informal Learning Lounge discussions and virtual event-oriented sessions at the third annual collocated Virtual Edge Summit.

According to Susan Katz, PCMA outgoing chairman of the board, the association continues to fine-tune Convening Leaders each year in an effort to meet the needs of its membership and stay ahead of industry trends and changes.

“This year, we’ve completely upended our regular scheduling, allowing you to customize your schedule so it best fits your needs,” said Katz at the Opening General Session. “We’ve added different session lengths, moved our general sessions around, and we’ve also enhanced the Learning Lounge with more options and extended hours. PCMA believes in constantly taking risks with our annual meeting on your behalf.”

Also revamped were the event’s two general sessions, which integrated a TED Conference-style format. The Opening General Session, “Rules For Epic Wins that Fascinate,” included three diverse speakers who addressed different topics under the common theme of how to make meetings more meaningful, interesting and exciting for attendees, while at the afternoon General Session, “The Social Animal: the Role of Our Unconscious Mind in How We Meet and Succeed,” David Brooks, New York Times political columnist and author of “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement,” discussed the workings of the unconscious brain in important life decisions and why meeting face-to-face is an essential human endeavor.

According PCMA President and CEO Deborah Sexton, who spoke at the event’s press conference, there were more professional members at this year’s Convening Leaders than ever in the history of PCMA. In addition, the organization also was enjoying record membership, with an 83-percent retention rate for the year, Katz added.

Going forward, the association plans to follow a strategic plan that includes building community and education scholarships; continuing to invest in research and providing cutting-edge professional education; and leading the industry with a strong emphasis on innovation in face-to-face meetings. The foundation spends approximately $200,000 per year on grants and scholarships, Sexton said.

But, regardless of what was happening behind the scenes of Convening Leaders, planners and suppliers alike said the event was an essential one they could not miss.

“We’re here obviously from a sales perspective but we understand that in a non-traditional or non-trade show event, there’s the ability to educate alongside the planner, to network alongside the planner and to understand some of what they need in solutions,” said Loren Gold, executive vice president of Visit Raleigh. “The venues, the events, the food functions and the evening entertainment are very conducive to that.”

PCMA 2013 is scheduled Jan. 13-16 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.

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