National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals’ Virtual Event Uplifts Spirits During Pandemic

Author: Casey Gale       

black meeting professionals

Donald Lassere, president and CEO of the Muhammad Ali Center (left), and Marlinda A. Henry, president of NCBMP, speak during a session of NCBMP’s Be Inspired Speaker Series: A Night at the Museum.

COVID-19 has wreaked economic havoc on many industries, particularly the meetings, hospitality, travel, and tourism sectors, where many employees have been furloughed or laid off. Members of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals (NCBMP) are among them.

“There’s an emotional perspective that isn’t being discussed,” said Jason Dunn, board chairman of NCBMP. Dunn, who serves as GVP of diversity sales and inclusion at the Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau, was speaking specifically about the effects of COVID-19, before the current social unrest and Black Lives Matter movement.

With so many people losing their jobs or watching friends and family lose their jobs, Dunn wondered how NCBMP could uplift its 1,000 members.

“The conversation was, how do we remind people of the greatness that is within them?” Dunn said. “And then, [we considered] how to remind folks how to reinvent themselves and to reach down and find that inner spirit or inner courage that many of our ancestors had before.”

Dunn said there are many stories throughout history where African Americans have been challenged, from past laws that hindered the community from progressing to systemic racism that exists today. “But despite it all, we’re here and we’ve made accomplishments that have furthered this country and many others,” Dunn said. “Because we spoke up, despite the circumstances, it has made a better America.”

NCBMP wanted to find a way to highlight cultural institutions that embodied and educated visitors on the resilience and passion of the Black community. The organization reached out to five establishments — Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) in Alabama; Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky; Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) in Kansas City, Missouri; National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (NURFC) in Cincinnati, Ohio; and Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama — to learn how NCBMP could not only encourage members to visit in person post-COVID-19, but how it also could leverage the institutions’ educational offerings in the present.

The result was a five-night virtual event that was open to the public — NCBMP’s Be Inspired Speaker Series: A Night at the Museum, which took place May 18–22. The event featured speakers representing each of the five venues presenting live on location, with NCBMP president Marlinda A. Henry and vice president Nicholas I. Wiggins serving as moderator each night to create a conversation between the attendees and speakers.

black meeting professionals

Each session of the digital event included a live Q&A between attendees and presenters hosted NCBMP president Marlinda A. Henry and vice president Nicholas I. Wiggins.

Putting It Together

NCBMP called upon member Tess Vismale, CMP, DES, chief event executioner for iSocialExecution Inc. and tech whisperer for DAHLIA+ Agency, to pull together a team and execute the five-location virtual event just four days before it launched — essentially five different events, rather than a regular series, Vismale said, which would have normally required at least eight weeks of lead time.

Executing on such a unique experience in a short amount of time required Vismale and her team to use “all the elements of fundamental meeting planning,” Vismale said. “It’s not like [NCBMP] hired a meeting planner to plan the event and then a production company to come in and produce the event. We had to work on it all simultaneously in four days.”

A primary concern for Vismale was adapting the technology and format to meet the individual educational institutions’ needs, especially since many of the cultural institutions participating were closed and only had limited staff available due to COVID-19. “Do they have an up-to-date cell phone? What camera do they have? Do they have access to Internet via a hardline? How comfortable are they with technology? [There were] all kinds of different things that had to come into play to produce something people would enjoy,” Vismale said.

This meant that each of the 45-minute sessions looked a little different from one another — for example, the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church was able to film a live walkthrough of the entire church, while the BCRI, Muhammad Ali Center, and NURFC only filmed from a section of their museums — spots that served as an aesthetically-pleasing backdrop for the sessions, and also had proper Internet connections for a live broadcast. NLBM broadcasted a fireside chat moderated by Wiggins from the office of the museum’s president, Bob Kendrick.

“That was done because it was a comfortable place for him,” Vismale said, “and we could run visuals of the players Bob mentioned while the discussion was going on.”

Each session included a live Q&A session between attendees and presenters hosted by Henry and Wiggins, who were being forwarded audience questions in real-time by the iSocialX team. “We met everyone where they were with an understanding of what they could produce,” Vismale said.

“What we did from an experiential standpoint was find a way to stream what is happening in the various cities and at the various centers based on their current situation,” said Mahoganey Jones, CMP, DES, HMCC, who served on Vismale’s team for this initiative. “Due to COVID-19,” added Jones, the founder of EventPreneur Success Club and Event Specialists, and national corporate sales manager for the Halifax Convention Centre, “obviously we had to recreate and reimagine how we showcase the facilities.”

The organizers used regmatch for the event’s registration system and the event was held on PINE, an event platform Vismale said has not been used in the United States previously. On the platform, attendees were able to, via a virtual tour, access information and videos to learn about each institution, read about the presenters, create virtual business cards to network with one another, and watch the live sessions — all while simultaneously engaging in a chat. Vismale said a number of Black archivists and historians joined in the conversation, which made the content delivery even more powerful.

“We were in the museum experiencing it as though we were at a cocktail reception,” Jones said. “We were there to have a conversation, learn about what the institution has to offer, and then speak to those who work there and can share the stories from there.”

In total, 1,800 people attended the week-long virtual event, and after positive feedback from members, NCBMP plans to rebroadcast the event starting on June 23. There have been “countless stories of inspiration” from the series, Dunn said, “and interest in visiting the museums.”

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