Thursday, June 16, 2011

My Spin on SPINCon

I was really curious how SPINCon would play out for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve known Shawna Suckow, the founder of Senior Planners Industry Network (SPIN) for quite a few years, and have admired her entrepreneurial spirit—she’s not afraid to break out of the box and try sometimes-daring new ideas. And I was wondering what kind of crowd she would draw to this inaugural event—a three-day conference that was intended to “hatch” innovation and inspiration with SPIN members. (SPIN began in 2008 as an online forum for planners with at least 10 years of experience, and has evolved into a networking group of more than 2,000. This was the group’s first in-person conference.)

I was able to attend portions of the conference and was impressed. (That’s impressive because I am the veteran of countless boring conferences over the course of many years, and tend to be a bit cynical.) This was a fresh, Event Camp-type experience. Lots of technology (some good, some not) and engagement activities (some good, some not). About 100 people attended from around the country. Lots of association planners, some indies and some corporate.

I really liked the room set-up in the main ballroom at the St. Paul Crowne Plaza. Lounge furniture was interspersed with traditional rounds of 10, and many people gravitated to the comfy furniture. The stage had a runway that projected into the audience, making the setting more engaging and intimate. Large monitors were set up on each table and in the lounge areas, bringing the action up close to the attendees.

No business cards allowed. We were all issued Pokens (see related story, Top Tips) to exchange contact information, and it worked pretty well. The conference had its own app and I used my iPhone throughout the conference to check on the agenda and speakers.

One piece of tech that we just didn’t get: whooznear, an app that is supposed to show you who is in the room. Just didn’t work, although I checked it every hour or so. I’m not sure what the story was, but I’ll let you know what happened.

You can read about the social activities at I did not attend these because of schedule conflicts, but the people I talked to said they came off just fine. A baby shower at the Mall of America and a floating tradeshow on a riverboat added novelty to the event.

The highly anticipated presentation, The Cheater’s Guide to Awesome Hybrid Events, had a great concept: have part of the group break off into another room and become “Canada,” and another group break off into another room and become “home,” plus live-stream the whole thing to a virtual audience. Sam Smith and Erica St. Angel are engaging presenters, but sadly, the hotel’s band-width couldn’t carry off the connectivity. “Canada” had a terrible experience with no slides and bad audio and “home” had to come back to the main group when their computers couldn’t link in. The virtual audience deserted when they couldn’t access the presentation.

But these things happen, especially when you’re experimenting with brave, new ideas.

I thought that, in general, it was a noble effort on SPIN’s part. I appreciated taking part in it, and offer kudos to Shawna and SPIN for taking chances and breaking new ground!