A Surprise Approach to Networking

Author: David McMillin       

When Corey Fennessy, director of marketing at PCMA, started thinking about the program for Convening Leaders 2018, she wanted to add something that attendees had never seen on a convention agenda. That’s not an easy task for an audience of event professionals and suppliers who have spent large portions of their lives in convention centers, but Fennessy found a solution in a book that was first printed in 1955: Guinness World Records. The annual list of achievements includes a number of mass-participation titles — the longest Riverdance line, the largest gathering of people wearing akubra hats, and the longest head massage chain, to name a few. But one record stood out as an ideal attempt that aligned with the host destination, Nashville, and conference theme, “Amplifying Engagement.” “The record for most people assembled in the shape of a musical instrument seemed like a perfect fit,” Fennessy said. “We chose a guitar in honor of Nashville.”

Fennessy said that she looked at the attempt as an opportunity “to create a wow moment for thousands of members of the PCMA community. It’s a new twist on networking. Some companies use these record-breaking attempts as team-building experiences.”

Advance Preparations

The extra fun for attendees meant extra logistical work to follow all the guidelines from the judges at Guinness World Records. Breaking the record wasn’t as simple as finding people to participate. Kristen McGargill, president of McGargill Meetings and Events, helped oversee the details of the early-morning attempt, which included working with Nashville-based construction surveying firm S + H Engineering Design Consulting to design the outline of a guitar that fit in the boundaries of the Music City Walk of Fame Park across from Music City Center and could accommodate the number of people needed to break the record.

The local firm had some valuable local advice, too. “As they were designing the guitar, they mentioned that the Nashville Predators were playing [at the stadium across the street] the night before the attempt,” Fennessy said. “Knowing that hockey fans are no strangers to late-night revelry, we realized that we needed to hire last-minute security to monitor the guitar outline and prevent any potential damage.”

The details didn’t stay on the ground. Guinness World Records also required aerial photographic evidence of the attempt, so Fennessy hired Aerial Innovations to capture instant drone footage of the event.

Early Morning Energy

The attempt was planned for approximately 8:30 a.m. on the closing day of the program, and the atmosphere traded the usual formal conference code for tailgate-like festivities. A DJ played music as attendees filed into the space. “It was like planning a two-hour party in the morning,” Fennessy said.

The sponsors of the celebration received plenty of recognition. PCMA’s partners made the entire event possible, and flags for each of the organizations were planted around the park for extra visibility. It was clear that attendees enjoyed the party, too. (I was in the guitar and part of a ruckus singalong of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”) Across social media, participants shared their enthusiasm. “Those are the kinds of memories that stick with attendees long after they return home,” Fennessy said.

Unfortunately, in the end, the attempt fell short of breaking the record. Fennessy pointed out that some attendees may have been a little sluggish, due to the previous day’s agenda, which included a concert from Peter Frampton and Little Big Town. “We planned the attempt on Wednesday as a culmination of the conference,” Fennessy said. “Nashville obviously threw an outstanding party the night before, and I do not blame our attendees for going out and taking advantage of their last night in Music City. It was simply unfortunate timing.”

She is philosophical about the record-breaking attempt. After all, she said, the real purpose of the gathering was “not all about the outcome,” Fennessy said. “It’s about the experience.”

Tips for a Record-Breaking Attempt at Your Event 

Convening Leaders is one of many conferences where participants have aimed to set new Guinness World Records. If you are interested in adding your event’s name to the history books, Fennessy has some hard-earned advice for you:

  • Browse ideas with your budget in mind. Certain attempts will require additional dollars. For example, Fennessy said that PCMA had to buy thousands of shirts for attendees to wear because matching apparel was one of the rules. It paid off with extra sponsorship recognition.
  • Ask for help. Fennessy worked with an account manager at Guinness World Record for assistance throughout the process. The account manager can help develop specific records, or organizers can brainstorm new records to add to the list.
  • Spread the word outside your organization. As the events industry works to educate the public about what happens at conferences and conventions, Guinness World Record attempts are newsworthy items. In fact, PCMA and Convening Leaders landed on the front page of

Interested in learning more about what happened at Convening Leaders? Check out the most memorable quotes from Nashville.

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