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CMP SERIES CERTIFICATION MADE POSSIBLE I


f anyone can be described as impas- sioned about attendee engagement, it’s Greg Fuson. For nearly two


decades, Fuson was vice president for content development for PCBC, the Pacific Coast Build- ers Conference, where he founded The Vine, a smaller, PCBC-sponsored conference dedicated to exploring the nature of community. Now principal of a company called Artful Engagement, Fuson presented a session last month at PCMA Conven- ing Leaders in Orlando called “The Art of Engage- ment: Making Your Conferences Extraordinary, Not Extra Ordinary.” So when I interviewed Fuson by phone at his home in Sacramento, Calif., I took a deep breath before I asked him this question: Has the term “engagement” become so common- place in the meetings industry that its meaning has become diluted? “Absolutely,” Fuson said. “Engagement is a


term that is very much in danger of becoming a cli- ché. It is so overused and, in a lot of cases, so mis- used that within the meetings community I think that it’s this sort of nice, warm, and fuzzy term that we like to use because people want to hear it.” The problem is that the term “is ultimately hollow unless we can define and illustrate it in ways that are practical, actionable, and that you can actually do something with.” But that can be a double-edged sword. “Engage-


ment is this phenomenon that’s sort of like love,” Fuson said. “You know it when you feel it, but it’s something that defies formulization. We all try to create meetings that have engagement baked into them. The temptation is that we try to overpre- scribe it, and we end up doing things that can be counter to engagement, that don’t engage people.” Like love, “when you try to force yourself upon


someone, it’s not attractive. It’s kind of weird and awkward. It drives them away instead of making them wanting to come closer to you.” Instead, Fuson said, “think of yourself as a gardener or


52 PCMA CONVENE FEBRUARY 2013


something organic, because that’s what interac- tion is.” We decided to follow Fuson’s advice and offer


not a step-by-step guide to attendee engagement, but something more: an invitation to listen in on conversations about engagement with industry experts. Along with Fuson, we talked to speaker, consultant, and conference designer Kare Anderson, a columnist for Forbes.com and The Huffington Post, who has worked with Marriott International, Yahoo!, and state and national polit- ical candidates; and Dave Serino, strategist and educator for Think! Social Media and founder of the fast-growing Symposium on the Use of Social Media in the Tourism Industry (SoMeT), which is held in the United States and Australia. Here are some of the things Fuson, Anderson,


and Serino had to say about engaging meeting attendees that most engaged us:


Begin Before the Beginning Greg Fuson The first and most essential step towards creating an engaging conference is that it doesn’t begin when people arrive. It starts well in advance. It needs to be an ongoing commu- nity that occasionally meets in person, not the other way around. It’s not an in-person meeting that’s trying to layer on a year-round community through social media. You have to be a commu- nity first.


Direct Attendee Experience Kare Anderson The goal, in my view, is this: to increase the number of meaningful, memorable, positive moments, and to decrease the number of boring, irritating, or embarrassing ones. You don’t know [in advance] which moments will matter to people. But just as directors “storyboard” a movie, TV show, advertisement, or photo op for their can- didate, leverage your opportunity to optimize an experience by making every moment count. And,


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SOMET PHOTOGRAPHS (RIGHT AND ON PAGE 56) BY BRANDON WILLIAMS


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