Farm-to-Fork Fare

fishy fishyI’m on the last leg of a wonderful whirlwind trip throughout Ireland, where I’ve been superbly hosted by the Meet in Ireland team. Since last Friday, I’ve spent time in Belfast, Derry-Londonderry, Dublin, Cork, Killarney, and I’m now in Limerick at the historic and majestic Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort.

This is my third trip to Ireland and I am no less awe-inspired than my first visit here more than five years ago. This is a country where it’s easy (as they say here) to “tick” the boxes: spectacular scenery, warm and friendly people, fascinating ancient history and inspiring recent history, and a rich culture — not to mention the many lovely hotels and state-of-the-art meeting venues that I’ve been shown around.

But if you were to ask me to name one thing has surprised me most on this trip, I’d have to boil it down to the food. It’s delightful. Ireland has really upped its culinary game in a way that is unpretentiously true to its roots, with fresh dairy items, meats, poultry, seafood, and organic produce — all locally sourced — on nearly every menu.

It really can make a difference to your dining experience when you know where your food comes from. Last night, the traditional Irish brown bread that accompanied my yummy Spiced Red Lentil & Vegetable Dahl at 1826 Adare was served with a round of creamy butter. Neatly over its top rested a paper identifying the local dairy supplier.glenilen

Earlier this week, I enjoyed fresh and flaky hake at Fishy Fishy in Kinsale, where owner/chef Martin Shanahan goes one step further in connecting diners to their food source. The local fishermen who bring him their daily bounty are not only named on the menu next to their catch, their photos line the restaurant’s walls. All of which adds to the pleasant memory of a most delicious meal.

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#Throwback Thursday: Back to the Future

10635776_10152729461190730_85846262127518285_nMore than a century ago, French artists were commissioned to create a series of postcards that imagined life as it would be for Parisians in the year 2000. As I prepare to join a Google Hangout that will link Convene editors in New York and Washington D.C., an image of the artist Villemard’s 1910 postcard seems particularly prescient.

Not pictured: Facebook, where a friend posted the image.

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#GloPro: We Happy Few, We Band of Brothers (and Sisters)

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Where everybody knows your name, aka PCMA’s Global Professionals Conference – Europe.

A few weeks ago I attended PCMA’s Global Professionals Conference – Europe in Lisbon — a great program hosted by the Lisbon Congress Centre that brought together 23 meeting planners and 13 suppliers for two-and-a-half days of education, networking, collaboration, and generally enjoying the food, culture, and splendor of a beautiful European capital. As I said it was a great program, with two thought-provoking keynote speakers — Sony Kapoor, managing director of an EU-based economic think tank, discussed “Evolving With the Rapidly Changing Euro-Economic Landscape,” while cross-cultural business expert Oscar van Weerdenburg presented a “Euro-Cultural Negotiations Workshop” — and a lot of small-group discussion, and numerous opportunities for everyone to get to know one another, formally and informally.

Indeed, in some ways the entire GloPro Conference was a small-group discussion. Including PCMA staff there were about 40 total participants, and that size lent itself perfectly to the sort of relaxed mingling that marks the most successful events. Between breakout exercises, coffee breaks, a Country Solutions Learning Lounge, networking lunches, and, of course, drinks and dinners, you kept bumping into someone new, or sitting next to someone you’d talked to the day before, or standing among a group of longstanding colleagues, and by the end of the program, everyone seemed to know everyone else pretty well.

As something of an introvert, I appreciated the opportunity to meet people in an organic, low-key way; and as an editor for a magazine that regularly writes about the growing importance of “chunking” content, it was interesting to see an entire conference that was itself chunked, from the attendee roster to the education program — with the size and scope of everything designed to maximize the experience.

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Feed Me Friday: Hand to Mouth at the Hawai’ian Food and Wine Festival

While on a fam trip to Hawai’i I was lucky enough to attend the Corks & Forks gala on the rooftop of the Hawai’i Convention Center. The event, part of the Hawai’ian Food and Wine Festival, drew celebrity chefs from all over the globe and some of the Napa Valley’s finest winemakers.

Here were my favorite moments.

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Feed Me Friday: How A Suburban Chicago Convention Helped Supersize Fast-Food Wage Rallies

burger_dollarIt may not carry the gravitas of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference or the 1968 Democratic Convention, but a meeting that took place in suburban Chicago earlier this summer has a direct link to the fast-food wage protests that erupted across the country yesterday.

Those sit-ins, strikes and marches were the latest action in fast-food workers’ two-year campaign to earn an hourly wage of $15 — roughly double the federal minimum wage of $7.25. The “day of civil disobedience” went down in 100 cities, resulted in hundreds of arrests, and grew directly out of a July convention of 1,300 fast-food workers inside the Odeum Sports & Expo Center in Villa Park, Illinois.

Details of the unusual two-day event, which was organized by Service Employees International Union, were scarce — but according to the Associated Press, attendees discussed civil disobedience and eventually voted to “escalate their efforts” toward a $15-an-hour wage.

A direct result: A day of rallies and arrests six weeks later, and another spike in public visibility. Another result of the campaign is that cities from Chicago to Seattle are planning to raise their minimum wage higher than the federal level.

With President Obama’s verbal support, as well as financial support from the SEIU, it’s likely that the “Fight for $15″ campaign may have continued anyway — but as with many movements, a meeting helped propel it forward.

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Top 3 (Non-Academic) Lessons Learned From Nobel Laureates

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Talk about a Dream Team. Nearly all of the plenary speakers at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Metings, held annually in Lindau, Germany, are Nobel laureates, who have been gathering on an island in Lake Constance since 1951. I attended the 64th meeting, held early this summer, where 37 Nobel Laureates from medicine and physiology took the stage for 30-minute lectures.

Not everything the laureates said went over my non-scientist head, but there also was much to be gleaned about how we learn. I wrote about the meeting’s history and organization in the September issue of Convene; here are three non-science takeaways:

1. Storytelling really does help us learn. None of the topics that the Nobel laureates addressed could be described as lightweight, but I noticed that I had a far greater chance of understanding and retaining knowledge when presenters included stories about their work, not just equations and hypotheses.

For example, Elizabeth H. Blackburn, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and 2009 Laureate, titled her talk about the role that telomeres play in disease, “Adventures at the Ends of Chromosomes,” began by telling the audience that her research literally began with the study of pond scum, illustrated with a picture of a scummy pond. I was hooked.

2. Rituals are a glue that hold groups together. Many of social events scheduled during the meeting were traditions that went back decades and were a little corny, such as a Bavarian evening, complete with Lederhosen and folk music — see photo above —  and dance where attendees were randomly matched together. The dance is “an awkward situation for everyone,” says Wolfgang Huang, who, meeting organizer and director of the executive secretariat of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings.“That is part of the fun. And that brings people together.”

3. We need each other to do our best thinking. Nobel laureates are rightly honored and elevated for their intellectual discoveries and their own personal abilities to make brilliant leaps of thought and knit knowledge together in new ways. But it was striking to hear how many of the speakers began their talks by praising their colleagues and students for the contributions they had made and were making to their work. Not one laureate indicated that they had gotten to where they were standing without the help of others.

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#ThrowbackThursday: (Beautiful) Killer Questions

In our September cover story, Editor in Chief Michelle Russell talks with author Warren Berger about what he calls  “beautiful questions” — big ambitious questions that can be acted on – and how they can transform business.

When Convene talked Lisa Bodell in November 2013, the CEO and founder of the global innovation training company future think also was thinking about the power of the right questions — Bodell calls them “Killer Queries.”

“In our quest to always have the right answers, many of us have forgotten how to ask really smart questions,” Bodell said, “the kind that inspire you to truly think, address the elephant in the room, or even make people a little uncomfortable. Killer Queries should be open-ended, provocative, even outrageous, and they can target any aspect of your business.”

Bodell provided examples of the kinds of questions that meeting professionals should be asking as they design their events:

1. If we couldn’t do anything that we normally do when it comes to creating an event, what would we do?

2. What are all the assumptions you have around what must happen in a meeting? What if the opposite were true — what kind of meeting might result?

3. If you had unlimited funds to create the award-winning meeting of all time, what would you spend the money on?

4. You can only focus on one thing for your next meeting to make it a success — what is it? Why?

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24 Hours in Indy

photo[15]Late last month, I attended Visit Indy’s annual Hotel Symposium, a morning program that brings the local hotel community together to learn about how the city is doing in terms of leisure and group business and what’s on the horizon, including larger trends shaping the overall hospitality industry.

In a nutshell, business is good in Indianapolis. And I was able to see why for myself. It was my first time visiting Indianapolis in more than 10 years — the first time I visited the city was to attend my first PCMA Annual Meeting in 2004. When I landed the afternoon before the symposium, I checked into my hotel, and struck out on my own, with no particular goal in mind other than to get a sense of this place.

In Indy, you can check off all the necessities for groups: beautiful, state-of-the art convention center, great hotel product, modern airport. But after my short one-hour stroll, I saw so many other ingredients that give the city character — modern buildings alongside historical landmarks, parks, world-class museums, and cool shops and restaurants. Indy’s a vibrant city that is exceptionally walkable, compact, and welcoming.

photo[13]And cultural! I stayed at The Alexander, a boutique art hotel that Senior Editor Barbara Palmer wrote about last year. Mesmerized by the large-screen video art installation on my room’s floor, where buildings appeared and disappeared in pop-up-book fashion, I was almost late for Visit Indy’s tastings dinner at Cerulean, conveniently located downstairs. Sometimes tasting menus are hardly that and are actually too much of a good thing. But as we nibbled our way through seven yummy, adventurous tiny courses — from rabbit terrine with raspberry verjus, to dueling tartare (beef, tomato, quail egg, potato chip, arugula, black garlic), to a two-dessert denouement including macadamia financier — it struck me that it somehow captured the essence of my brief experience of Indy: forward-thinking yet completely manageable.

 

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A Conversation about Questions

3DCover2AMoreBeautifulQuestionShadowIt’s easy to get so focused on having all the right answers, you miss out on the rewards that come from asking the right questions. Convene‘s September cover story digs deep into the power of asking questions with an interview by Editor in Chief Michelle Russell with Warren Berger, the author of A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas.

Michelle talked with Senior Editor Barbara Palmer about interviewing Berger and the insights that Michelle took away from the experience Two things to listen for: How to think differently about so-called “dumb” questions, and how our approach to time management and productivity may be short-circuiting our most creative work.

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Feed Me Friday: The Power of a Phone Call

shiro-plumsMany people jet of the office early today, this last afternoon before our last summer holiday. The weekend will start slightly late for me: I’m speaking at a historical society Connecticut tonight, at an event that will feature a guided tasting of colonial-era drinks.

Sipping grog (rum, water, sugar, and lime) and Stone-Fences (sparkling hard cider and rum) is certainly a relaxing way to kick off the holiday weekend. But due to spotty communication, I assumed the staff had their own bartender to mix the drinks; turns out that I’ll be blending them myself.

After a quick schedule recalibration, I kicked myself for communicating with the organizer solely via email; we waited to talk until the week of the event to talk, then played phone tag until it the day before the talk. With multiple devices in hand, and schedules packed to the gills, it’s an easy trap to fall into: We both forgot how much more is accomplished during a phone call (or even better, a face-to-face meeting or video call) than ever gets hammered out via email.

I wonder how many planners — who build their careers around the smooth execution of events — could have cautioned me that relying solely on e-mail can make for miscommunication and last-minute rejigging of plans.

Luckily for us, tonight’s gathering will probably have no more than two or three dozen people; yet another gap that emerged during our talk was which nonalcoholic drink would be served. Back in the day, nonalcoholic drinks tended to be more complex  — and take more time to prepare — than spiritous drinks. They also often derived their kick from vinegar. I scanned the kitchen: On my counter was a pile of locally grown shiro plums, with mild, sweet flesh but tart skins — perfect for shrub. I cored and chopped them, slathered them with a handful of white sugar, and left them on the counter for a few hours, letting the sugar leach the juices from the fruit. This afternoon, I’ll combine the juice with some rice and apple vinegars for a plum shrub that, when combined with some sparkling water, fills the hole in our program and may even sate a guest or two. Then I’ll grab the bottle and race to the event, which will be a lot of fun despite the last-minute scramble.

It’s a miniature version of what chefs, and planners, do every day: Improvisation. Next time, though, I’ll close my email and pick up the phone — with plenty of time to spare.

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