PCMA Convening Leaders is one of my favorite industry events.
While I enjoy other conferences, Convening Leaders continues to be my top pick because it aligns with who I am and who I’m striving to become. I also appreciate how they push the limits on innovation. 2018 marked my ninth time attending Convening Leaders.
But there’s one thing I did differently this year; one new decision I made that diminished my event experience.
Time to Come Clean: I Stayed with Family
Our son and daughter-in-law recently moved to Nashville. When I mentioned that this conference would be in Nashville, they insisted that I stay with them. The first couple of times, I politely declined, explaining that I’d be gone from early morning through the evening hours – but I’d tack on a few extra days for a visit with them.
The third time they encouraged me to stay with them, I caved. Yep, the “Mom” in me took over, appreciating that they longed to be my local hosts.
If you’re familiar with this conference, you know that room blocks sell out fast. Some time ago, PCMA introduced a higher registration fee for those who don’t book in their room block.
Apparently, this room block incentive is working. Each year, hotels within close proximity of the Convening Leaders’ hub sell out fast. In fact, it seems like they sell out faster with each passing year.
For other industry events, I might delay booking my hotel room. For Convening Leaders, it’s common knowledge that if you want to be near the action, you better book your hotel room early.
While it was only a 15-minute ride to the conference each day, I started to notice how this well-intended decision to stay offsite was negatively impacting my conference experience.
At times, I felt like a commuter attending a college where most students live on campus. Each day, I was becoming painfully aware of the serendipitous encounters I was missing out on. After all, some of the best conversations often happen in hotel lobbies or in an elevator ride with peers. Those chance encounters weren’t happening for me, given my choice to stay offsite.
What’s Missing Outside the Block
Looking back, there were three categories where choosing to stay offsite proved to be a drag on experiential speed:
- Less Time
The round trip to and from the conference consumed at least 30 minutes of each day, sometimes more. Add another 10 minutes or so to hail a cab or book an Uber. By the way, when you call Uber, you need to keep a close eye on your phone to know exactly where to meet up with drivers.Sure enough, each time, the Uber driver would arrive at the exact opposite end of convention center from where I was standing. Did I mention it was cold and rainy most days? That didn’t help and a few days after the conference ended, I came down with a cold.
- Refresh Challenges
While the conference agenda was full, there were pockets of free time throughout the day. Yet these open times were never long enough time to warrant a round trip back to my offsite housing. As a next best option, I’d snag a seat in the lobby or at a coffee shop to rest up.When you’re staying onsite, even a 15-minute respite in your hotel room can be rejuvenating. Keep in mind, scouting out spots to recharge my devices also robbed my refresh bank. Often, the only open outlets for recharging devices were away from the action.
- More Gear to Tote
Each morning before leaving at 6:45 a.m., I’d pack up my bag with everything I needed to get me through the day. Preparing for a 12+ hour day meant I’d need to tote a bigger bag. Beyond the extra weight burden, toting more stuff won’t win you any fashion awards. Again, tapping the school metaphor, I felt like the student with the biggest pile of books—plus a clarinet—trying to move gracefully from one class to the next.
While each inconvenience might seem minor, in aggregate, they were draining my energy. When you consider the time and money invested to attend a conference, you want to be at your very best and capitalize on every moment.
Granted, this is the first and will be the last time I’ll stay offsite – but this recent experience also sparked new thoughts about how we might improve conference experiences for those who book within our block.
Here are a few initial thoughts:
- When there’s a break and attendees rush to the elevators for a quick refresh in their hotel room, how about sending an alert via the app to clue them in on less crowded elevator options?
- What other “creature comforts” might we have waiting in their hotel rooms? This could tee up new sponsorships.
- After the closing general session, how can we make their exit and journey home more pleasant? According to the Peak-End Rule, the last experience is one that’s remembered most of all. Perhaps a discount code for shuttles or limos to the airport for those who stay in the room block? The possibilities to improve their exiting experiences are endless – sounds like a great topic to brainstorm at your next event team meeting.
What other incentives and experience enhancers are you offering to reward those who book in your room block?