Hacking a New Kind of Meeting Experience

Author: Barbara Palmer       

PCMA CL 2020 hackathon winners

Winning team members at the Hackathon are Patty Guidetti, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools; Samantha Moore, CMP, American Bakers Association; Matthew Kalb, CEM-AP, GES; Heather Rabinovitz, Hyatt Regency Baltimore; and Janet Jakobsen, CMP, Niagara College.

Imagine for a moment that Convening Leaders and Educon, along with all other PCMA events, vanish from the face of the earth. If you were starting from scratch, what kind of an event would you create to attract new and diverse audiences?

That was the design challenge facing the more than 50 Convening Leaders attendees who participated over the weekend in a pre-conference hackathon workshop, which began Saturday night. The solutions they offered ranged from creating a conference within a conference for nontraditional meeting planners; designating teams of learners who would travel through a conference together as a cohort; and designing a quartet of live and digital events on four continents.

But the winning pitch was for a series of regional, one-day events called “Gateway Gatherings,” which would bring meeting professionals together with local industries and community leaders to brainstorm mutually beneficial solutions to local challenges. In addition to a community breakfast, the agenda would include “knowledge tours,” which would take meeting professionals into local businesses and organizations, and an UnReception, where community leaders and meeting professionals would “digest the day” together. Among the events’ impact: raising awareness about the social and economic value of the meetings and hospitality industry, team members said.

The teams pitched their ideas to a panel of judges that included Zibby Aman, DES, PCMA’s senior manager of education; Keith Talbert, CMP, director of sales for the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau; and Johnnie White, CAE, CMP, CEO and executive vice president, American Society of Appraisers.

The workshop was organized by Jamie Murdock, vice president for sales at Maritz Global Events, and co-presented by Donna Kastner, founder of Retirepreneur. There are many different ways to organize a hackathon — a basic definition of which is a “sprint-like event that brings diverse minds together to solve a problem,” Murdock said. “Hackathons are about breaking things apart, and innovation and experimenting.”

Participants, who worked in nine teams made up of five or six members, met for two hours on Saturday night at Virgin Hotels San Francisco for a learning-infused reception, and then again on Sunday at the Moscone Center for an intense six hours. They were assisted by four mentors who offered expertise in organizing hackathons, along with their encouragement: Pippa O’Shea, education manager at the American Bakers Association; Megan Finnell, CMP, director of meetings and conferences at MGMA, the Medical Group Management Association; Tim Simpson, brand and creative engagement chief strategist for Maritz Global Events; and Lauren Parr, vice president, meetings, at American Geophysical Union.

For participants, the workshop not only served as a live demonstration of how to organize hackathons at events, but as an immersive way to connect with other conference attendees. Russell LoPinto, CMP, vice president of new business development, ON Services, has been coming to PCMA’s annual conference for 25 years and was a first-time participant in the hackathon workshop. Meeting dozens of new people and brainstorming with them all day was a valuable — and different — way to start off the conference, LoPinto said.

“I was super nervous,” about attending the hackathon, said Stacy Jacobs Royston, CMP, CMM, DES, senior manager for meeting and travel at USP. Usually at conferences, “I go to the back of the room and don’t talk to anyone,” Royston said. “This is 100-percent outside of my comfort zone.” But the format, she added, had put her at ease.

As the hackathon was concluding a few hours before Opening Reception was scheduled to begin, Audrey Goodnight, director for events and protocol at the University of Nevada, Reno, School of Medicine, took the microphone to tell the hackathon participants that she was feeling grateful for the quality of interactions with her team. “I’ve already gotten so much out of PCMA,” she said, “thanks to this session.”

The winning team was awarded $200, to be donated to the organization of their choice, and, in a surprise announcement, the Bombas sock and clothing company also donated 1,500 pairs of socks to an organization to be designated by the winning team.

PCMA CL 2020 Hackathon Pitches

More than 50 Convening Leaders attendees participated in a pre-conference hackathon workshop, pitching their ideas to create brand-new events to attract diverse audiences.