#Throwback Thursday: Overwhelmed by Choice

I recently attended a conference where more than 100 experts spoke in dozens of sessions packed into two days. Afterwards, I told a friend I was happy to get back home, partly to be relieved of the stress of making decisions about which conference sessions I should choices-2attend. We laughed, but I was half-serious.

Only during the plenaries and a couple of other outstanding sessions did I escape the feeling that I might have made the wrong choice, and that I was missing out on something somewhere else.

And according to Columbia University’s  Dr. Sheena Iyengar, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to choice.  Iyengar,  a speaker at Convening Leaders 2011, told Convene that studies have shown that having too many choices can leave us  less satisfied with what we do choose. It can also overwhelm us and make us less likely to act.

There are ways to present content in ways that aren’t overwhelming,  Iyengar suggested, including dividing choices into categories and then limiting choices in each category.

Here’s a link to the February 2011 article.

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Ebola Update: Meetings Doing What They Do Best


A last-minute press conference about Ebola at IDWeek in Philadelphia.

Convene and PCMA have been doing a crackerjack job covering how the meetings and hospitality industry is being affected by — and responding to — the Ebola crisis. Which is obviously the biggest piece of the story for meeting professionals at this point. Another big piece? How the crisis showcases what meeting planners and meetings themselves tend to do best — respectively, rolling with the punches and serving as an important source of information, education, and discussion. For example:

Rolling with the punches. The American Bankers Association (ABA) held its 2014 Annual Convention this past Sunday–Tuesday — in Dallas, which has been ground zero for Ebola in the United States. Mincing no words, ABA posted this message high on its conference website: “As you prepare for your trip, we want to assure you that we continue to closely monitor the Ebola situation. We have talked with the leadership at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Dallas health department and continue to work with hotel officials to ensure the safety of our attendees. Your safety, comfort, and satisfaction with our program is our top priority.”

Information, education, and discussion. Meanwhile, medical and health-care conferences have been stepping up to fill the information void. When IDWeek 2014 — a collaboration between the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, the HIV Medicine Association, and the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society — met in Philadelphia on Oct. 8–12, it placed Ebola front and center on its program. That included extending its Opening Special Plenary Session by 30 minutes to accommodate a presentation on “Treating Patients With Ebola Virus Infection in the U.S.: Lessons Learned” by Dr. Bruce Ribner, an infectious-diseases specialist at Emory University Hospital, which in August treated two Americans who contracted Ebola in Africa. Ribner and two other physicians also participated in an emergency press conference about Ebola at IDWeek. Similarly, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) 2014 Scientific Assembly, convening in Chicago next Monday–Thursday, will present two interrelated sessions: “Ebola: Hemorrhagic Fever and the U.S. Experience” and “Inside the Hot Zone: Highly Infectious Pathogens in the Emergency Department.”

The full extent of the Ebola outbreak in the United States and Africa and throughout the rest of the world remains to be seen, but for now it’s reassuring to see that meetings and meeting planners are part of the response — and making contributions that could reduce the possibility of future outbreaks.

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Dr. Paul Farmer on Ebola: ‘Assume That People Can Be Saved’

In its Talks@Google series, Google has brought hundreds of  speakers to the company’s Mountain View, California, campus for discussions that, the company writes on its website, “capture the popular and intellectual zeitgeist of the day.”

This month the zeitgeist has been Ebola, and on Oct. 3, the expert talking at Google was medical anthropologist and infectious disease expert, Dr. Paul Farmer, chair of Harvard University’s Department of Global Health & Social Medicine and a founder of Partners in Health, which is working in Sierra Leone and Liberia to treat the sick and stop the spread of the disease.

Farmer was interviewed by Jacqueline Fuller, director of Google.org, the company’s philanthropic arm. The talk was broadcast to 42 Google offices around the world and posted to the Talks@Google channel on YouTube on Oct. 10.

Should we be worried in the U.S.?

Fuller first asked Farmer the question on everyone’s minds: “Should we be worried in the U.S. or other developed nations? Do you see this spreading in Europe?”

No, Farmer said.

“I see it coming to Europe, but not spreading,” he said. I see it coming to the United States. But I agree with the CDC director Tom Frieden … It’s not going to spread here, because we have the ability to do what’s needed, which is isolate the infectious patient while actually giving him good care, and then doing contact tracing. To do it, it requires a lot of resources. … So I think we’ve got a very good chance of seeing cases, but not of seeing much in the way of person-to-person spread.”

That’s not the case in West Africa, where more than 4,500 hundred people have died. Farmer shifted attention away from the U.S., sharply questioning the inevitability of the disease’s reported 90 percent fatality rate in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia.

In those countries, the healthcare system was overwhelmed and has collapsed, he said.

“You hear that the case fatality rate is really high, but what does that mean?” he asked. ” It means that a lot of people who get the virus are dying. But that doesn’t mean that they should die.”

“I think the message of 90 percent case fatality is damaging,” he added. “I think we should believe that we can flip those numbers on their head. This is a failure of delivery of basic supportive care.” In the most affected countries, the disease “has already made the health system fall apart — that is a done deal,” he said. “It already took down the health system in Sierra Leone and in Liberia.” In those countries, and in Guinea, “there’s not a lot of T in the ETUs — Ebola treatment units.”

For the sake of argument, Farmer asked the audience, “what if the 90 percent was not the fatality rate, but the survival rate? And if the goal or plan is ‘Let’s make sure everybody survives’ — then we have to work really hard to make sure that people are diagnosed early, that they’re given proper care.”

The kinds of symptoms that Ebola presents early on are the kinds that any American emergency room can treat, he said.  Treating Ebola is about getting the right “staff, stuff, and systems,” in place, he has said.


“This is just me saying live to the planet, wherever this stuff goes,” Farmer said: “I think that we should assume that we are able to save the great majority of people already sick with Ebola.What if we assume that 95 percent of people could be saved, and we — pardon me, but bust our asses to try and get them diagnosed and cared for early on and do everything we can?

“One little happy thing,” Farmer said, “is that when I was leaving Monrovia, they were just opening up a new Ebola treatment unit. And the ‘they’ was the Liberians, working with colleagues mostly from Uganda. And it was the day before the grand opening and there was a huge crowd in front of the Ebola treatment unit, and they were volunteers. And it was all Liberians.

“People want to help. And we’ve got to help them help, right?”

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Ebola Update From the European Meetings Industry

euro_boardNews about Ebola continues to evolve hour-by-hour. This morning, the World Health Organization declared Nigeria Ebola-free, a significant step forward in the outbreak; also today, 43 people in the Dallas area who came into contact with now-deceased Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan left quarantine disease-free (though two nurses who cared for him are still hospitalized with the virus). Even so, concern over Ebola’s spread continues to affect American lives, from airport screenings to possibly overcautious reactions.

In Europe, a poll conducted by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives found that a majority of international business travelers are only “mildly concerned” about the Ebola threat, while two-thirds remain confident in governmental agencies to “assess and address” the Ebola crisis. Even so, 41 percent of the respondents — all part of ACTE’s ongoing global business conference in Copenhagen, and hailing from 34 countries — said their companies have restricted travel to parts of West Africa.


Switzerland-based meetings management firm the MCI Group is among those who are avoiding the affected region. Emmanuel Andre, MCI Group’s Health and Safety Director, has provided Convene with a glimpse into how precautions over the current outbreak are impacting both their internal policies as well as the European meetings industry as a whole. He called this a “defining moment” in the outbreak, adding that “Each European country’s capacity to react to this crisis is therefore key.”

Convene: From your perch in Europe, do you see the meetings industry taking extra precautions against the spread of Ebola (for instance, screening at meetings)?

MCI Group: In terms of Europe as a whole, governments are continuing to advise against all but essential travel to countries in West Africa affected by Ebola, but until very recently there were no procedures in place for screening passengers arriving from these countries in Europe.

The European meetings industry itself not been significantly impacted by Ebola and is not currently implementing extra precautions, such as screenings during events.  This is no doubt due to the fact that advice from international health organizations, including the WHO, remains reassuring and that the epidemic is still very much concentrated in West Africa.

However, although the risk of an Ebola case during a European is low, it is not negligible.  If a case of Ebola was to occur during a meeting or large congress in Europe, it could have dramatic consequences, both from a health and safety and an organizational point of view.

This is the reason why, since the very beginning of the outbreak, MCI has been communicating clear recommendations to the managing directors of each of our 57 global offices. These guidelines consist of two main points:

• Do not organize events in the West African countries affected by Ebola, and do not travel there in a professional capacity.

• For any MCI-organized events involving participants coming from affected countries, define with clients in advance the appropriate communications and procedures.

A practical guide with all necessary information has also been made available to all 1,600 MCI employees.

Convene: Do you foresee concern over Ebola affecting the meetings industry in measurable ways?

MCI Group: As we start seeing the first cases outside of West Africa, the situation will no doubt evolve.

The fact that countries are now taking measures at borders and airports to scan and isolate people suspected of being infected could certainly have an effect on European meetings. In particular, organizers must start considering how to react in case delegates and speakers are stuck at airports.

To conclude, we’re at a defining moment in the Ebola crisis.  If the virus remains concentrated in West Africa, the European event industry should remain mostly unaffected. However, if multiple cases now occur outside of West Africa, consequences could be much more serious, with event restrictions or even cancellations.

Each European country’s capacity to react to this crisis is therefore key.

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Feed Me Friday: Postcard From Panama


At Tántalo Kitchen — a warm, funky vibe, vibrant cocktails, and delicious tapas.

The program and the Panama Canal were standouts at ASCE’s Global Engineering Conference last week, but let’s talk about what really matters: How was the food in Panama City? Quite good, thanks for asking. The Hotel Riu Plaza Panama interwove traditional conference cuisine with local Panamanian and Latin American foods, including empanadas, ceviche, and tortillas españolas. It was all delicious, but the real treats were to be had out in the city. I had two free evenings, and each time I went out for dinner:

1. The solid tourist place. Amanda Rushing, ASCE’s director of conferences and meeting services, had already been in Panama City for a week, overseeing move-in and setup, so when I found myself with an open night last Wednesday, I asked her where she’d been eating. She directed me to a neighborhood of restaurants just a few blocks from the hotel — which, after a full day of conference programming, offered the added advantage of a nice stroll through Panama City’s busy streets. I ended up at an Argentinian-style steakhouse called Gaucho’s, a relaxed, old-school place that seems to specialize in tourists without pandering to them (i.e., the food is fresh, carefully prepared, and good). I enjoyed the bife de chorizo — a perfectly grilled sirloin cut, served with a smoothly spiced chimichurri sauce — with a side of crisp, hot garlic-seasoned fries, all washed down with a cold Balboa beer. Verdict: Muy bueno.

2. The cool local experience. While I was in Panama, a friend back home messaged me on Facebook to remind me that one of her best friends is Panamanian, and to direct me to the restaurant — called the Kitchen — at the Tántalo hotel, a boutique property in Casco Viejo, Panama City’s historic district. So that’s where I headed on Thursday night, and it turned out to be a great insider tip. The Kitchen was funky and warm, offering a jarringly chic counterpoint to the cobblestoned streets and tree-shrouded plazas and Spanish-colonial architecture of Casco Viejo. I sat at the bar, ordered a Lulo Margarita — tart and cold, with fresh lulo and passionfruit pulp — and looked over Chef Pierre DeJanon’s menu of cold and hot tapas. My choices: Tántalo pulpo, probably the best grilled octopus I’ve ever had, expertly charred, sautéed with coconut milk, tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, and yellow Peruvian chili; and empanadas due, four little golden pockets of savory deliciousness — two stuffed with chorizo and potatoes, two with stuffed with black beans, plantains, and white cheese, all served with a delicate roasted-garlic aioli. As I ate my tapas and sipped another margarita, there wasn’t much else to do besides people-watch, and the Kitchen was more than up to the task. Verdict: Muy, muy bueno.

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Do’s and Don’ts of Swag: IMEX America 2014

Guest blogger Claire A. Harrington, CMP, manager of communications at Social Tables, reported live from the IMEX America 2014 show floor at the Sands Expo in Las Vegas. Claire serves as committee chair for Women In Travel (WINiT), and is actively involved in the MPI, IAEE and PCMA communities.

With more than 3,000 booths on the IMEX America 2014 show floor, attendees had a smorgasbord of swag options to choose from. Some was good. Some was bad. And some was ugly. Here are five examples of great swag spotted on the show floor — and three strategies that failed to make an impression.

 Swag Do’s

1. Food. Specifically, food with cultural twist. It wins every time. The Munich Convention Center staff dressed in lederhosen to lure attendees into a Biergarten-themed booth using massive, warm pretzels.

Visit Hawaii's leis. Photo by Claire Harrington

2. Leis. Visit Hawaii was hospitable as always, greeting their appointments with a fresh lei placed over their heads. They were beautiful, smelled amazing, and created the kind of experience the destination is pitching. Smart.

3. Branded sunglasses. This isn’t new, but it sure is effective. I counted seven booths handing out neon-hued, company branded sunglasses. The beauty of the branded sunny is its longevity. No one throws away sunglasses. At worst, if the attendee who snagged a pair doesn’t want to be a walking billboard, they’ll bring them home to be snatched up by colleagues.

Infusion Water Bottle bar. Photo by Claire Harrington

4. Infusion water bottles. Visit Charlotte crushed it with a DIY fruit-infusion bar at the front of their booth, where attendees grabbed a branded infusion water bottle, and filled it with ice-cold water and scoops of raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, lemons, mint, or strawberries. This item was so popular that by 2 p.m, on Day 1, Visit Charlotte had to limit the bottles to those with appointments.

5. Auxiliary phone chargers. EventMobi’s branded phone chargers turned out to be a brainy move. There were no phone-charging stations on the show floor (not good), so dying batteries were the norm, not the exception. If you find swag that proves to be genuinely useful to your would-be customers, they’ll love you.

Swag Don’ts

Booths with the lowest amount of traffic, I observed, were those which offered the following items:

1. Mini candy bars. I have a sweet tooth that rivals Willy Wonka’s, but I have no interest in a mini Butterfinger bar sitting in a plastic bowl. If you’re going to do candy (which is a do), brand it and make it big. The Grand Rapids CVB handed out massive candy bars in wrappers that read: “Cool City. Sweet Treat.” Cheesy? Sure. Effective? Absolutely.

2. USBs. Stop. Just no. No one uses USBs. And those who do, bring their own.

3. Nothing. There’s competition out there. If you have nothing to lure people into your booth, what’s your go-to move when trying to convince someone to stop by your booth?

Something else I noted about these booths: the staff looked miserable. Is there a correlation between swag, attendee engagement, and the investment of an exhibitor in their product? I say yes. It stands to reason that if you don’t offer something tangible to interest attendees, your booth traffic will decrease, and leave the exhibitor staff bored or daydreaming.

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Will Panic over the Ebola Virus Affect The Meetings Industry?


News about Ebola is shifting rapidly. This morning, it emerged that a second Dallas health care worker has contracted the Ebola virus — news that comes on the heels of the World Health Organization’s prediction of 10,000 new cases each week in west Africa by Christmas. At late September’s SWIFT Sibos conference in Boston, organizers used thermal body scans on 7,000 attendees, according to a report in The New York Times. “We’ve had requests from across the country from other companies to do the same thing, in cities where there are other major events,” Dr. Robert L. Quigley of International SOS, the private company who performed the scans, told The Times.

Should the meetings industry and $2 trillion U.S. travel sector prepare for major impacts?

Industry leaders have focused on the value of keeping things in perspective. Media coverage of Ebola so far has occasionally been “overheated,” according to Roger Dow of the U.S. Travel Association, who last week led a phone-in industry briefing about the virus. “In our business, as we certainly know, perception is so often reality,” said Dow, USTA’s president and CEO. “And the public has made it clear that they have concerns over this issue.”

On the call, representatives from the Department of Homeland Security and the Center for Disease Control urged a level head about the virus. A CDC microbiologist stressed to callers that Ebola was a “contact-type” and not an airborne disease, and so could only be spread in the presence of “visible” symptoms. Michele James, the DHS’ acting director of operations, said that though the department had enacted temperature screenings at five major U.S. airports, incoming travelers from affected countries only numbered roughly 150 people per day.

In the Dallas area, where two nurses have so far fallen ill, meeting planners and travel industry executives are striking a measured tone. Dana Freker Doody, vice president of corporate communications for Las Colinas, Texas-based The Expo Group, wrote that the firm’s clients “have not altered their plans,” but with employees flying in and out of  Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport regularly, they’ve noticed individual precautions. “We’ve seen a few extra masks on passengers’ faces, and noticed a few more parents disinfecting tray tables on flights, which is probably a great idea during flu season.”

At the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, vice president of communications Frank Librio reported status quo, so far. “The medical professionals at the local, county,and federal levels have made it clear thart the public at learge is not at risk,” said Librio. “They’ve done a very good and impressive job. We’ve received a few requests for informaton from groups that are due to visit Dallas, but these groups are not overly concerned.”

Not so for Africa. Business trips and cruises to the continent are being canceled — despite Africa’s enormity relative to the size of the affected area — as are meetings, and meeting planners in Africa brace for dramatic economic impacts.  (That’s bad news for South Africa, especially, which hosted 94,000 business events last year, for $185 million in economic impact).

Convene is curious to hear from planners: Are you or your clients taking any measures to protect against Ebola, or are we seeing the beginnings of an unnecessary hysteria?


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Feed Me Friday: Welcome to Cleveland’s Greenhouse Tavern

I traveled to Cleveland a couple of weeks ago to attend Content Marketing World, and, over three days, I ate dinner twice at the Greenhouse Taverneast fourth. I’m usually more adventurous in a city that I am visiting for the first time.  But I immediately forgave myself for being such a sucker for the restaurant when I started reading about the restaurant and its founder, Chef Jonathon Sawyer.

The food was fabulous — Food and Wine named Sawyer a  “Best New Chef” in 2010 and he was nominated earler this year for a 2014 James Beard Award.  I had the “properly butchered rib steak,” and, although I thought the Buttered Popcorn Pot de Creme with Caramel and Sea Salt that I had for dessert might be over the top,  it, too, was perfect.

The last item, "Kitchen Coffee," is an invitation to buy the kitchen staff some after-work beers.

The last item, “Kitchen Coffee,” is an invitation to buy the kitchen staff some after-work beers.

I was ordering from the gluten-free menu, which meant that I couldn’t try everything. It’s no fun to have restrictions, but I have found that it makes me pretty well-attuned to a restaurant’s overall atmosphere. If I like spending time in a restaurant where I can only eat a fraction of the menu, that means it has something more than good food going for it.

One of the things that Greenhouse Tavern has going for it is that Sawyer flat-out loves Cleveland. He worked in some of New York City’s premier kitchens before returning:  “For us, Cleveland is at the beginning of its glory and we love a good Renaissance,” he writes on his website. “From vegan to carnivore, gluten free to vegetarian, all are welcome in our house.” And that’s exactly how I felt there, welcome. And that — along with the rosemary-topped pommes frites — is what brought me back.

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Michael Lyons: Keep Reaching


Change is something Michael Lyons has come to embrace in his more-than-40-year career in the hospitality industry. Convene Editor in Chief Michelle Russell spoke to Lyons about his latest move — from exhibition director for IBTM America, a position he held for two years until this past August — to pursuing his other passion, professional speaking and acting.

Lyons now speaks to groups about how to follow your heart while still earning a paycheck. Here is what he has to say:

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‘Traveling With Passion and Purpose’

TravelerYear2014_ErikThis is part Throwback Thursday, part update, and part congratulations. Way back in March of 2012, I interviewed Rebecca Rothney, founder of the innovative charity Pack for a Purpose. It’s a simple idea — leave some room in your luggage to pack supplies to communities in need in the places you travel. Via the website, you can select a destination; find an accommodation venue and project it supports; choose the items you wish to bring from the specific items that are in need (anything from stethoscopes to soccer balls to pencils); and drop off the supplies at the accommodation once you arrive. They will be delivered to those who need it.

It struck me then and now as a great CSR idea for attendees traveling to international meeting destinations, from Mexico to Africa.

Today it was announced that Rebecca has been named a National Geographic Traveler of the Year — one of ten honorees who, as National Geographic Traveler says, “travel with passion and purpose, have an exceptional story to tell, and represent a style of travel, motivation, or method that can inform and inspire us all.”

I’m pleased that we shared Rebecca’s story more than two years ago, and that the supplies Pack for a Purpose travelers have donated so far have amounted to more than 28 tons. Seems her passion for traveling with purpose is rubbing off.

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