Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

July 20 2015

Why Debates Might Be The Most Important Addition To Your Meeting’s Program

By David McMillin



Meeting professionals are constantly trying to elevate the engagement factor in their educational programming. They organize panel discussions, crowdsource their learning topics and leave time for Q&A at the end of presentations. While all these efforts can produce a more compelling session experience, some of them still fall flat.

So what can you do to infuse a new level of interaction and excitement among your attendees? Take a cue from the political world, and host a debate.

I saw the potential of the debate format in action at the DMAI Annual Convention in Austin last week. After plenty of concurrent breakout session time slots, the organization invited the entire audience into the general session ballroom for The Great DMO Debates. Ted Sullivan, Vice President, Resort and Destination Analytics at Adara, moderated the debate, and he highlighted why the debate format can be such a powerful tool: it gives everyone a license to speak the truth.

“A lot of times, we’re too nice in this industry,” Sullivan joked.

SEE ALSO: Top 10 Reasons Why Your Panel Discussion Might Fail

Rather than getting to the heart of big issues in educational sessions, Sullivan said that the hotel bar is often the place where the real discussion happens. So, instead of waiting until cocktail hour to talk about the key questions shaping the future of the destination marketing landscape, Sullivan and DMAI asked six people to represent opposing perspectives on topics including the importance of Millennials, the need for destinations to evolve their thinking and the overall business model of a DMO.

The result? It was one of my favorite sessions of the entire conference. At times, the debaters were funny with one Millennial infusing a great dose of sarcasm in her argument. Other times, the debaters were serious with one highlighting the need for DMOs to change if they want to exist by 2025. It was fun, engaging and most importantly, real.

Delivering The Value Of A Debate At Your Meeting

There are sensitive issues at every meeting. New compliance codes at medical meetings, privacy concerns in the IT world, education reform at conferences for teachers — the list goes on. As you look ahead to your next meeting, consider the big issues that may be causing some friction among the different segments of your audience. Instead of leaving a few minutes for those issues in a Q&A period where some attendees may be afraid to speak their minds, think about dedicating an entire session to a debate that lets everyone in the room hear the pros and cons of the matter at hand.

Catch up on more insights from the DMAI Annual Convention in “Why Your Meeting Needs Your DMO Partner More Than Ever Before.”

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