7 Things I Learned at Connect Marketplace 2015

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1. Pittsburgh is a nice city framed by hills and great riverfront settings. It lives up to its reputation as a top city for food and just about everything else, including walkability. I would not have said this decades ago, when impressions still lingered from the grim, gritty city scenes in “The Deer Hunter,” but Pittsburgh is a different place now. Fireworks lighting up the riverfront from one of its many bridges was also an awesome way to welcome conference attendees. 2. The David L. Lawrence Convention Center is big, but still easy to get around. These days, that’s an anomaly. If you want to take a break and get outdoors, the second floor deck and rooftop terrace have inspiring views. Watching the rowers, kayakers and other boaters on the Allegheny River adds an interesting element rarely experienced at other convention centers. 3. Convention center food doesn’t have to be ho hum. The food at the convention center reflected the local vibe with a nod to fresh and seasonal ingredients and creative, yet simple presentation. Trays offering a selection of small Italian pastries and cookies kept people lingering and socializing over coffee at the end of one lunch session. Informal networking opportunities like this help relieve back-to-back education schedules. As one speaker suggested, we need more “white time.” 4. You can learn a lot in the hallway. Attendees carried on hallway discussions, seeking advice on which educational sessions to go to and which ones to miss. Some wished popular sessions could be offered twice. Educators commented on rooms not being filled due to so many competing sessions. While a variety of topics might cover the different levels and interests of participants—along with the real financial need to bring in more sponsorships, there are benefits to going against the norm and doing a few large, TED-style gatherings that might still cover a wide range of subjects. However, Connect Marketplace, being a conference for planners, is distinct from most non-industry events. It is designed to let planners sample the various formats they might want to try in their own conferences—panels, discussion groups, 10-minute presentations in Flashpoint and an afternoon of intensive workshops. 5. Make sure your educators, trainers and speakers fit the format. You may be very enthusiastic about a speaker after watching his or her video, or even using them for an earlier presentation. But some people are best in well-prepared classroom-style presentations, while others are free-style soloists who play to a crowd. Put either of these types on a panel together and you might find them competing for the audience’s attention, and losing sight of the panel’s purpose. Understand the goals of each format, and make sure your speakers do too. 6. There are many reasons why people chose to attend an event. The serious reasons (those you tell your supervisors or yourself to justify your time away from the office): to find solutions to pressing problems (really?); to uncover new opportunities, whether resources, networking or actual sales (OK); and to make sure the competition doesn’t get ahead (hmmm...). Then, the other ones: to get away from the office (Yes! even though you know it will cost you when you get back) and to get a break from everyday stress (yes, again!). The creator of this list (Thinkstock: Christian Chan) left off my favorites: to experience new places, maybe to have an adventure and, as we say at Connect Marketplace, to have fun. 7. Sometimes big name keynote speakers are really worth the money. Forget party affiliations and the blue dress scandal, the audience at the final keynote session loved Bill Clinton. Not traditional grandpa material, he wooed the crowd when he told them his first grandchild taught him not to be pessimistic. “Children make you realize that life is a miracle that makes it hard to be cynical.” What did you learn or love at Connect Marketplace? (Comment below.)