“I can live where I wanna live,” Matthew McConaughey said as his trademark drawl echoed against the walls of the Main Stage environment at Convening Leaders 2017. “And I live in Austin, Texas.”
For the audience of more than 4,000 meeting professionals and suppliers, it wasn’t hard to see why McConaughey chooses to call the capital of Texas home. By the time the Oscar-winning actor made a surprise appearance on Monday, January 9, the PCMA community already felt a Texas-sized loved for the host city. The Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau transformed the arrival experience the day before with a margarita-infused celebration in the baggage claim area of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The party would have made McConaughey’s David Wooderson character from Dazed and Confused mighty proud.
Once they left the airport, the welcome party continued. Austin planted a glowing stamp for the meetings industry throughout downtown with PCMA-branded neon pink signs, and host hotels offered live music in their lobby bars for a taste of the electric energy that helped the city earn the title of Live Music Capital of the World. At the opening reception, Convening Leaders attendees tasted two of the other ingredients that can make anyone fall in love with Austin: tacos and rock and roll. Sure, Austin may be better known for mouthwatering brisket from Franklin Barbecue and Lamberts, but the city can capture anyone’s heart with tortillas served from food trucks. And the music lineup featured The Bright Light Social Hour, a southern psychedelic rock band based in Austin that gave the Convening Leaders crowd a taste of the amped-up sounds of SXSW.
WATCH: Check Out The Full Road To Convening Leaders Webisode Series
But food, booze and music — three of the items that made up McConaughey’s “DNA of the Austin village” — were the appetizers to the real entrée that awaited on the rest of the program. “We are a city of ideas,” McConaughey proclaimed.
The Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Austin Convention Center and PCMA’s Education and Events team worked together to make sure that the next three days offered a proper introduction to these ideas. Stephen Courter, an award-winning faculty member in the department of management at The University of Texas at Austin, walked attendees through the essentials of strategic thinking. Mike Shea, Chief Logistics Officer for SXSW, offered a look at the 30-year evolution of one of the most recognized names in the conference world. Roy Spence, the chairman and co-founder of Austin-based GSD&M advertising agency, reminded meeting professionals of the importance of the face-to-face industry. Side note: Spence’s session “The Power Of Purpose In Business And Life” was the best breakout session I’ve ever attended; I recommend marking this as a must-watch when it’s available in the PCMA OnDemand library.
But the reflection of Austin’s oversized intellectual capital wasn’t confined to the four floors of the Austin Convention Center. Medical meeting professionals had an opportunity to explore the next generation of education for physicians with tours of the Dell Medical School, the first medical school built in nearly half a century. Outside of the medical space, other Convening Leaders attendees had an opportunity to discover why the Kauffman Foundation has named Austin the number one city for startups for the past two years. Josh Baer, a renowned tech entrepreneur, invited attendees to tour Capital Factory, the space where bright minds find the resources and knowledge to turn their ideas into realities. When attendees had crammed their minds with insights, they had a place to turn for a break: Austin House. Located across the street from the convention center, Austin House included daily happy hours, pop-up shops from some of Austin’s most well-known local businesses and live music from more of the buzzing bands that call Austin home.
As I waited to board my flight home, I realized that I wished I had the same authority over where I live as McConaughey. If I did, I might look for a place on South Congress and become one of the many, many transplants who have opted to relocate to Austin. Alas, I don’t have that kind of control, and neither do most non-Hollywood names. But Convening Leaders attendees like me returned home knowing that whenever we’re back to visit, we can feel right at home. “If you can be yourself,” McConaughey said, “you’re a local.”
Get the inside scoop on the thinking behind the conference with the Road to Convening Leaders virtual panel on February 15th. Members from the Austin team, PCMA’s Education and Events team and the on-site production experts at Freeman will take questions from the PCMA community on how they collaborated to bring the collective vision to life. Register HERE.