WEC: The Greatest Spectacle

Visit Indy CEO Leonard Hoops

Leonard Hoops, the energetic CEO of Visit Indy, told attendees at Meeting Professionals International’s World Education Congress that the winning driver of the famed Indianapolis 500 auto race—the greatest spectacle in racing—must successfully make 800 left turns to win the checkered flag.

“But I like to remind people that in Indy, there’s a surprise waiting around every one of those turns, many of which you’ll discover this week,” he said.

Turns out he was right. More than 2,200 registered attendees may have witnessed the “greatest spectacle in WEC history.” Forget the word conference; this was an event.

From Steve Connell’s inspiring and poetic opening to a grand finale of attendees

zipping around the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 120 mph and a bevy of education and business exchanges in the middle, the redesigned and reimagined WEC concluded a four-day run in the city that Hoops quite often touted as the “No. 1 convention city in the U.S.”

Mike Dominguez, the senior vice president and chief sales officer at MGM Resorts International, joked that Las Vegas and Orlando might contest that claim, but for this week, there was no doubt that a very impressive Indianapolis was indeed the crossroads of the meeting and event industry.

Hoops’ team at Visit Indy, the host committee and MPI’s event planning team promised a recrafted WEC around a broad theme of “Stop Planning Meetings, Start Designing Experiences,” and they delivered. The program honed in on an aspiration area—Inspiration, Ideation and Activation—each day. Keynote speakers Dustin Garis, Michael Cerbelli, Duncan Wardle, Mel Robbins and Hayley Barnard focused their presentations on those areas.

Forget an opening general session. Led by the always energizing Dena Blizzard in fine One Funny Mother form, WEC kicked off with a pep rally that was more a cornucopia of colors, music-and-lighting-infused, get-out-of-your-seats-and-dance, get-ready-to-open-your-minds, Hoosier hoedown.

“The one question I always ask is simple: How do you want the audience to feel?” said Connell, a “spoken word artist.”

“How can we do something that nobody expects?” he said. “Let the experience of each day inspire you to find new ways to design experience, new ways to experience design. I’m an artist, and whether you know it or not, so are you.”

The curtain was then raised and a drum corps led attendees into the Social, Leadership, Experiential and Innovation villages, a massive show floor for education and networking in innovative open areas, see-through walled rooms, igloos and even spinning chairs. There were more than 80 education sessions worth up to 11 clock hours offered.

In between education, attendees enjoyed food trucks, sporting activities and lunch on the football field at Lucas Oil Stadium, a block party at the city’s iconic Monument Circle and the traditional Rendezvous party to support the MPI Foundation.

Aside from networking, education and business exchanges, which included 1,800 Hosted Buyer appointments, MPI made several announcements during WEC.

The RISE Awards recipients were named: Young Professional, Alex Plaxen; Meeting Industry Leadership, Michael Owen; Member of the Year, Wojciech Liszka; Innovative Educational Programming, MPI Southern California Chapter; Marketplace Excellence, MPI Dallas/Fort Worth Chapter; Industry Advocate, MPI Chicago Area Chapter; Membership Achievement, MPI Tennessee Chapter.

Erin Scholes, MPI San Diego Chapter, was presented with the Chair’s Award by Amanda Armstrong, chair of MPI’s International Board of Directors.

MPI’s volunteer chapter leaders were honored at the President’s Dinner along with outgoing board members, Industry Champion Dave Johnson, CEO and chairman of Aimbridge Hospitality, and Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, who received the Industry Leader Award.

MPI announced several new initiatives:

  • The association is collaborating with the NYU School of Professional Studies (NYUSPS) Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality to conduct a research study that will examine tactics that can be utilized to make all attendees at meetings and conferences feel welcome through inclusive event design. Following completion of the study, sponsored by the MPI Foundation, MPI will present the findings at the MPI 2018 Thought Leaders Summit.

  • MPI will publish The Essential Guide to Safety and Security: Best Practices for Meeting and Event Planning 2018 by the end of this month. In addition, the association will develop education, research reports and case studies based on the guide’s recommended practices, with launch plans slated for later this year and in 2019. The new guide includes nearly 400 best practices to help meeting and event planners identify vulnerabilities, mitigate risks and protect critical assets, and is designed to serve as a reference tool for developing safety and security plans and procedures. It covers a variety of topics, from handling unattended packages and safely managing crowds to recovering from a vehicular attack and securing event data. All the best practices were evaluated by leading industry experts, who provided feedback on their technical accuracy, relevancy and feasibility.

  • MPI will collaborate with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, its executive education program and the IUPUI Department of Tourism, Conventions and Event Management to enhance and deliver MPI’s Certificate in Meeting Management (CMM) Program. MPI selected Indiana University following an intense three-month exploratory process, which entailed market research and a request for proposals targeting universities recommended by CMM designees. Over the next few months, MPI will conduct focus groups with CMM community members who volunteered to share insights on the program enhancements, and it will also make adjustments as needed based on their feedback.

Next year’s WEC will be in Toronto.