MPI Embraces Indy Spirit for WEC 2018

June 4, 2018

A “pep rally,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is an event before a school sports event that is meant to get students and fans excited and to encourage the team to win; also: a similar event in which speakers try to get a group of people excited and enthusiastic about something.

Meeting Professionals International (MPI) drew upon both of those definitions when designing its 2018 World Education Congress (WEC), held in Indianapolis. Indianapolis, or Indy as it is affectionately called, is of course known for sports. The conference Pep Rallies replace the traditional keynote with a shorter, more energetic format – and that is not an exaggeration – designed to increase attendees’ energy and also up the game for other industry events.

The opening rally on Sunday had attendees run a gauntlet of clapping, cheering staff and volunteers just to get into the hall, followed by drummers. Attendees had their choice of seats: traditional theater-style seating (albeit more comfortable than most), tables, and – in keeping with the rally theme – lots of bleacher seats.

Emcee Dena Blizzard, Visit Indy CEO Leonard Hoops, and MPI president Paul van Deventer opened the rally and warmed up the crowd for Dustin Garis, who challenged the audience to start creating memorable experiences for themselves and the attendees at their own events.

The general session area – which is in fact an exhibit hall – in which the Pep Rallies are held opens onto four “Villages”: Innovation, Social, Experiential and Leadership. These areas are tied to the types of content and experiences that can be found within each one.

Experience is the operative word. The overarching theme of the event is “stop planning meetings, start designing experiences.”

Last year, MPI used beacon technology to track session attendance and the overall traffic flow of the conference. This year’s WEC offers a more fluid event flow, with exhibitors, learning areas, and food and beverage incorporated almost seamlessly.

Matthew Marcial, MPI’s vice president of education and events, noted that the overall session feedback from WEC 2017 was extremely positive but that there was one obvious trend. Many attendees were only spending 20-30 minutes in each 60 minute session – even the ones that got the highest ratings.

This year’s agenda was directly informed by that data. There are options of 30 minute, 60 minute, and 90 minute sessions. Shorter sessions are held within the Villages, creating a more intimate environment and making it easier for attendees to get from place to place.

There are no printed schedules or maps, instead, attendees are encouraged to download the DoubleDutch event app which includes the agenda, a list of attendees, and allows attendees to communicate with each other.

“We live and die by the app,” said Melinda Burdette, CMP, director of events for MPI.

However, attendees need not be overly concerned if they don’t have a device handy. “Experience coaches” are located in each Village, replacing the expected model of having a single information desk located somewhere near registration with something akin to the retail experience you might find in an Apple store (albeit without sales). These coaches, who are local volunteers, are equipped with tablets loaded up with maps, the event app, and more, and are happy to answer any questions.

Indianapolis lends itself well to the event. The last meetings industry event held in the city was PCMA 2004, and since then there have been a number of infrastructure changes, including a significant convention center expansion. The Indiana Convention Center offers 566,000 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space, and there are 12 hotels connected to the center via skywalks – more than any other city in the U.S.

Leonard Hoops, president and CEO of Visit Indy, likened Indianapolis to Paris. The city layouts are similar. They are both inland, vs. being the typically coveted waterfront destination. And both have rivers: Hoops joked that Paris has the river Seine while Indy has the river White, aka the White River. Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport also now offers a daily direct flight to Indianapolis, further connecting the “sister” cities.

Each day of WEC has a focus. For Sunday, the theme was “Inspiration.” Monday will be “Ideation” and Tuesday’s focus will be on bringing the pieces together through “Activation.”

For those who are unable to be at the conference in person, MPI is offering a free Virtual pass. For more information and to register, go HERE.

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