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Designing an Event That Is Recognizably Familiar and Completely Different

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Curate was something entirely new — presented by the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) this past April as an exclusive benefit for HSMAI’s recently introduced Organizational Member category. Combining dynamic polling technology with small-group brainstorming, the program facilitated an executive-level conversation about challenges and opportunities facing hospitality sales, marketing, and revenue-optimization professionals. In the process, Curate both offered a premier networking and engagement experience for attendees and provided insights for future resources from HSMAI, an MCI USA full-service association management client, where I serve as Vice President of Content Development.

All in all, it was a one-of-a-kind event, except not even five months later we had to do it all over again.

Whereas Spring Curate 2018 unfolded against the gorgeous backdrop of Terranea resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, April 18–19, Fall Curate 2018 took place September 5–6 in a vibrant urban setting, at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore Inner Harbor. Two events, each with 70 to 80 attendees, about 25 percent of whom would overlap. Here’s how we created something that was both recognizably familiar to and completely different for them:

 

  1. We embraced the destination outside our venue. Terranea is a top-tier resort set right on the Pacific Ocean, about 30 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. It’s a self-contained environment, so we kept Spring Curate there — our welcome reception on an outdoor terrace overlooking the ocean, the event itself in a spacious ballroom with floor-to-ceiling windows and doors opening onto the terrace, and lunch back on the terrace, topped off with a demonstration by Terranea’s resident falconer.

But the Hyatt Regency, while an attractive venue, is more of a traditional conference property, so we shifted the focus to our entire host destination: Baltimore. We began with a welcome reception at Sagamore Spirit, a rye distillery located beyond the Inner Harbor in Port Covington — an ambitious waterfront neighborhood development project by Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour (which is headquartered in Baltimore). In addition to tours and tastings, the evening included a presentation about Port Covington and the role that hospitality is playing in revitalizing this part of Baltimore. Our conference program the next day also included speakers from Under Armour — and was staged in a room offering magnificent top-floor views of the Inner Harbor. The result, we think — we hope — was an experience that didn’t just immerse our attendees in Baltimore but connected the city’s story to their industry.

  1. We adapted our program to fit a unique space. Speaking of those majestic views of the Inner Harbor, one thing we learned from Spring Curate — which benefited enormously from its highly windowed setting — was that natural light is our friend. At the Hyatt Regency, rather than use one of the property’s perfectly functional interior meeting spaces, we opted for the Pisces room, on the 15th (and top) floor. The space was formerly home to a restaurant, and it shows: It’s an oddly shaped, oddly configured room, long and narrow, with upper and lower levels, a bar area, and lots of light wood and brass railings. But its floor-to-ceiling windows look out over the Inner Harbor, which is pretty dazzling, and the room is somewhat isolated from the rest of the hotel, which is important for the intimate, insular feel we strive for with Curate.

We worked with the Hyatt Regency to design a room set that would accommodate Curate. Pisces has off-kilter lines of sight, so one of our priorities was making sure that all 80 or so attendees would be able to see presentation slides and other displays, especially the interactive polling that drives much of Curate. We arranged 10 roundtables with eight seats each, a tight but comfortable fit in the boomerang-shaped, 2,600-square-foot Pisces, and spaced seven high-definition monitors throughout the room — two 70-inch screens and five 55-inch screens. That gave everyone a clear look at the displays, and also contributed to a room set that our attendees hadn’t seen before.

  1. We wove Spring Curate throughout Fall Curate. At Spring Curate, attendees identified three priority issues to discuss: innovation, data analytics, and talent development. We wanted to incorporate those topics into Fall Curate while also offering attendees new content. We hit on talent right at the outset, with a “cold open” that had two HSMAI student members and three college faculty members rise, one after another, to welcome attendees and remind them that the hospitality industry has a robust talent pipeline that includes hospitality schools, HSMAI collegiate chapters, and eager, involved students. Innovation came through in our two keynotes, with representatives from Under Armour and Amazon.com talking about how their companies embrace the new and different. And we spotlighted data analytics in our use of Mentimeter and GroupMap — online voting and brainstorming platforms, respectively — which helped demonstrate the importance of visual storytelling when it comes to presenting information coherently.

What was new? Attendees voted to explore two additional priority issues — distribution costs and inadequate technology platforms — and delved into them in some detail. We added more icebreakers, networking breaks, and other opportunities for attendees to get to know one another. And we capped off the day with “Flash Points,” in which attendees answered 30 rapid-fired questions via Mentimeter, with answers displayed on our screens in real time. It was fun and inventive, and ended our program on a note of real substance — which we hope describes every Curate event, wherever it takes place.

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