2013 was my fourth and final year at PCMA Convening Leaders as a Student, although, as my Professor pointed out, I’ll never know for sure. I think I do know, because no matter how much I have enjoyed studying at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, I cannot wait to get out there and get my hands dirty and having attended four PCMA Annual Meetings is most certainly one of the reasons for that.
I experienced my first Convening Leaders in Dallas, TX as greenhorn in the meetings and events industry and it was also my first year as a student in a different country, speaking a language that was not my mother tongue. Therefor the predominant feeling was being deeply impressed and a little overwhelmed. The most important thing I learned that year was how to network, which, as an outgoing and interested student, was something I took great joy in. All I had to do was watch our Professor, Joe Goldblatt, do it and repeat after him. I quickly figured out, which icebreakers work best, what professionals were interested in and what the dos and don’ts of networking are. We all agreed that the best thing to include in our elevator speech was to mention that we were from Europe. The professionals, mostly US Americans, loved meeting students from across the pond. So, my ProTip from Dallas is that you should think about what your own personal ‘Europe’ is. It might be a little more difficult, if you are meeting fellow countrymen and women, but there is something interesting about everyone.
In 2011 over 3,000 PCMA members met in Las Vegas, Nevada. In April the year before I had applied for the Student Planner Of The Year Scholarship, which included writing a proposal for one of the official educational sessions during the conference. I pitched my idea for a student panel discussion around the topic ‘Generation Y looks to the future’. I won the award and invited six interviewees, which were students from all over the US and a friend of mine from QMU. Jmichaele Keller, who, back then, was President and CEO of MeetingMatrix International, kindly agreed to lead the discussion. Because of the session I was quite busy during the conference and did not attend many other sessions. However, experiencing Las Vegas itself was impressive on its own and I met very interesting people and, again, our group had lots of exciting additional little trips organised in addition to the conference programme. One of my most memorable experiences was our visit of the MGM Resorts Events facilities where we got a tour of the impressive MGM in-house event company.
The session I organised in Vegas taught me that although us students are the future of the industry, we might not know where we are headed. After all, having experienced the past does matter, if you want to predict the future.
In January 2012 six QMU students and Joe met in San Diego. The moment my plane touched Californian soil I felt that there was something different about that place. I just came from a vacation with my family in Florida, which one the one hand is very similar, but simultaneously has a completely different vibe to it. We spent the first night at Lucky D’s Hostel, which is one of the greatest of its kind, before we moved to the Manchester Grand Hyatt for the duration of the conference. The service quality we experienced at the Hyatt was impressive. I have never before experienced such friendly and helpful staff at a hotel. They made our stay very special. Luckily we had the chance to meet up with the HR director, who told us all about the challenges of achieving and sustaining such a high service quality standard. We also met their head of food and beverage, who organised some of the conference’s receptions talking to us about how difficult it was to organise an event for event professionals. I have never actually thought about the PCMA Annual Meeting in that way, but when 3000 industry pros meet up, I can imagine that they won’t miss the tiniest detail.
I have to admit that the city of San Diego, its famous Zoo, the Gas Lamp District and the beach distracted me quite a lot from the conference, but that year I learned how tricky and elaborate it is to run a large business such as the Manchester Grand while making sure that each and every employee is always in top form and reads all your wishes from your lips.
Finally, our largest group ever to attend a PCMA conference flew to Orlando, Florida, unfortunately, for the first time without Joe, but he organised a great replacement. Richard Bent is also a lecturer at QMU, who is a Disney specialist. He has written several academic papers about the theme parks and knows his way around the city very well. We also met up with Joe’s best friend, Gene Columbus, who worked for Disney for 40 years and who took us around all the Disney parks constantly running into interesting people he knew and of which he had employed most himself.
That year I was awarded the Chairmen’s Scholarship, which got me into the Chairmen’s reception, which was a great opportunity to network with the big players of PCMA. As sort of a surprise the other recipient and I were offered work experience tailored to our career plans, which we expressed in our application.
Orlando might just have been my overall favourite conference. Sure, Las Vegas had the best opening reception, Dallas the most amazing closing event and San Diego the most delicious food, but Orlando with its theme parks, where we got several behind the scene tours, the conference sessions and our QMU group, which I am very proud of for being so professional and committed, scored the most overall points. One reason, I am sure, was that it was my fourth Convening Leaders and that I felt a little like a student attendee pro by then.
No matter, if you are a professional or still a student; I believe that attending conferences such as Convening Leaders is a great chance for personal and professional growth, as you get a sense of what’s really going on in the industry and you can meet old and new friends that might just open up the door to the next great chapter of your career. So get out there and start networking!