Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

June 2013

An Object Lesson

By Michelle Russell, Editor in Chief

‘A single object lets you journey immediately into another world.’

“The cover photo of Boston magazine's May issue (at left) — a multicolored collection of running shoes worn by some of this year's Boston Marathon participants, artfully assembled into a heart — tells the story of that tragic day in a different way than a photo taken in the bombings’ aftermath would. Collectively, the shoes become sacred objects of a sort, transcending their original function.

Objects tell stories — even the story of civilization, which is the premise of the bestselling book A History of the World in 100 Objects. Author Neil MacGregor chose 100 objects from human history housed at the British Museum, where he serves as director — from a two-million-year-old stone chipped into a sharp edge to a modern-day solar panel. “A single object,” MacGregor told PBS News-Hour, “lets you journey immediately into another world.” 

The strategic use of objects at meetings can be equally captivating. In our
May issue, Fast Company co-founder Alan Webber shared how management guru Tom Peters was invited to speak at one of the magazine's events with the proviso that he couldn't use PowerPoint during his presentation. “So [Peters] showed up on stage,” Webber told Convene, “carrying a large pillowcase filled with stuff, emptied the pillowcase, and proceeded to tell the audience why these objects, which were in his suitcase, are important. He gave the most brilliant talk I have ever seen and... kept the audience entranced.” 

Likewise, when meeting designers Eric de Groot and Mike van der Vijver — authors of the book Into the Heart of Meetings were asked to create a format for a series of multicultural presentations at a conference on school improvements, they made objects their linchpin. “We designed a format,” they write, “in which we asked the project representatives to focus on the single most important success factor of their project and to take along an object that symbolized this success factor.” Those objects blurred the borders that separated the conference's “wildly diverse” participants, who came from around the globe.

An object can be so recognizable that we easily grasp its symbolism. That was the thinking behind the art concept for this month's cover story and CMP Series article. When we discussed the theme — the skills meeting professionals need to cultivate to stay relevant in the near future — with our talented team of graphic designers at Point Five, they drew inspiration from the badges earned by scouts. Each badge you see on our cover and within the story represents a skill culled from our 13 interviews with thought leaders inside and outside our industry.

Just as scouts must work diligently in a particular focus area to earn a badge, those meeting professionals successfully plying their trade in the next few years will be the ones who are constantly learning new things to add to their toolkit. The rest, according to many of our interviewees, maybe history.

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