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Ever wanted to know the secret to Picking the Perfect Event Venue? This is your episode! Our guests this week are Chris Kelly of Convene and Kate Snapp from Marriott. That’s right! These #EventIcons are here to address your questions about event venues and clue us in to what we can expect from future venues as well. We’re excited to get their insider information and to share it with all of you. How do you choose the perfect event venue? How do you market your venue? How do your venues incorporate event tech? Chris and Kate will be answering these questions and more. What a show! Not only are they live to answer your questions, they’re sharing some amazing resources too. Don’t forget to check out the links below! #EventIcons – Asking industry leaders YOUR questions every week!

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Transcript of this episode of #EventIcons:

Will: Everybody it’s Will Curran from Endless Entertainment and we are back episode 35, oh my gosh episode 35 of #EventIcons. I’m so exited to be here today, I am joined by my lovely co-hosts. All three of us are on screen this time, a rarity. Really exciting, Ms. Laura Lopez from Social Tables …


Laura: Hello.


Will: … and I’m not even sure I’m pointing in the right direction and Mr. Sean Holladay from Crowd Mics.


Sean: What’s up guys.


Will: It’s so exciting to have you guys here so I’m going to toss it over to Laura to explain what we are doing today and how to get engaged in the show.


Laura: Right, welcome everybody who has signed on, we’re so excited to have you here. The theme for today’s show is event venues so what makes for an awesome show is engagement from you all. Be sure to tweet and let your friends know that you’re signed on board and they can all signup over at or they can all tweet by using the #EventIcons. If you have a question for our panel today they can go ahead and just jump right into the conversation. Then Sean you wanted to talk about questions, how can people ask questions?


Sean: Yeah, so you can submit your questions now on the ping. You can tweet those in, if you’re here live with us listening in the GoToMeeting, go ahead and submit those. We’ll make sure to bring them in. It’s all about the audience letting you guys ask the question of these two amazing around the venues, Chrispine and owner, Kate being around all kind of huge venues. We are excited for today’s show, make sure you participate in one way or another.


Will: Awesome, awesome, so Laura you want to introduce our first amazing icon we have today?


Laura: Yes, so we have Chris Kelly and if you don’t know Chris you really should know him. He’s one of the co-founders of Convene, a beautiful, beautiful conference venue and they have a number of locations all over the country. Chris is the man when it comes to entrepreneurship, he’s opened quite a few conference centers. He also co-founded this awesome company called evoJets. From what I understand it’s a private jet charter so I want to say you can just rent jets if you are able to do that. Anyhow one day and also a fun fact, I know that Chris you run marathons. You’re a serial marathon runner and on top of that he was named Inc.’s 30 Under 30 entrepreneurs. Welcome Chris to the show.


Chris: Thank you.


Will: Awesome, thank you for joining us Chris and our second guest is a close personal friend of mine, Kate Snapp from Marriott. Everyone know the Marriott, I don’t have to really talk about it. I’m sure you guys are going to have a ton of questions with what’s going on with Marriott right now so get those ready but Kate is fantastic. She actually manages how many different properties now?


Kate: We have now 5,700 and growing everyday.


Will: Oh my gosh, it’s insane, it’s insane. Chris you’re going to go, Kate is going to be …


Chris: Why?


Will: Yeah exactly because you’re going to get there soon. Kate’s view also …


Chris: My mind has exploded.


Will: 5,700 Convenes would be crazy. Yeah, so Kate’s going to give us a perspective from the hotel aspect. I know a lot of you guys book hotels for your events and utilizes their conference centers so Kate is going to be awesome for that. Fun fact about Kate, she is a big fan of something that Will is personally tired to see, like a double fun fact of this one, Kate loves to skydive. Which being in Tucson there’s a lot of skydiving. I’m actually terrified of it so hopefully Kate’s going to fly in and save the day for Marriott today. Thank you so much Kate for joining us.


Kate: Thank you.


Sean: I got a quick idea, Chris’s jets, Kate’s skydiving into venues. I mean come on, anybody on there, anybody with me? Right.


Kate: I’m in.


Chris: Count me in.


Sean: We always start the show off with one base question. Right, this is the Event Icon Show, how did you get into the event industry? Chris, we’ll start with where did you start buying up in real estate around events?


Chris: Yeah, if I could trace all of Convene back to a phone call that I got from Ryan when I had my other business, I was not really expecting to leave my other business. He called me up in 2009 when the entire world was in chaos and as guys who had been in business together before he said, “Chris, every single thing about the world is about to change because of just the stirring of the panther was in 2009. We need to figure out how to be on the right end of this change.” We had brainstormed a bunch of different business ideas together and Ryan came across this amazing once in a lifetime opportunity that ended up being the catalyst for Convene. Long story short was that I never intended to be in this business. I flew out to New York to just help him to get things off the ground and I never went back home to my other apartment, never went back to my other office for my business.


We moved everything to New York and the rest is history but I think that the fundamental perspective that brought me into the industry is that as an entrepreneur, I believe that where there is change there is opportunity. That if you look at all the different changes that are happening in the world, not in the small view of just venues or meetings and events, but the larger macro themes that are changing in the world. There is a lot of things that point to massive paradigm shift in live events, in meetings, in real estate and hospitality. We feel that we are at the intersection of a lot of those trends and that there is an amazing opportunity here.


Sean: Thank you. Great insight. Like I’m familiar not in this industry, stumbled into it and it’s been amazing ever since. Kate, what got you into the event industry?


Kate: Well my story is actually pretty quick and easy. I think with most hoteliers you’ll find especially as lifers is that you fall into it by accident and that you never get out. I started with events and concerts back about 32 years ago and then just I was one of those people that I’m like, “Hey, let’s have a good time. What’s going on? What’s happening out there?” That’s where I kept going to destination after destination and then really fell in love with the business and fell in love with being able to deal with all kinds of different people, all kinds of different industries and associations. There’s so much, everyday is a different day in our world and that’s what’s kept me going. Like I said, I think a lot of us fall into it but become lifers because of the opportunities that are there.


Will: Awesome, so was your first position with Marriott or did you … Were you at another hotel and moved to Marriott? How did that work?


Kate: I actually started out with Concerts to the Men down in Tucson with our convention center and then I worked for Disney and then I went and worked for Caesar’s in Lake Tahoe and then spent a good part of 15 years in Colorado with Vail Resorts. Then I said that I finally found the light and got over to Marriott and I’ve been here for the last 13 years. Again it keeps growing so the opportunities keep growing.


Will: Awesome, awesome.


Laura: Very cool.


Will: Laura, you want to take it off?


Laura: Yeah, so next question here so there’s a lot of competition when it comes to event venues. If I’m a planner and I’m trying to find a place to host my event. My question to both of you and Kate we’ll start with you first, how do you go about marketing your venue? It sounds like you’ve worked for quite a few, how do you differentiate yourselves from other venues down the street? What has worked best for you in your venue?


Kate: That’s a great question and I think everybody needs to ask themselves that very question when they are going into planning an event. The first thing you need to really and truly do is find out what the objective of your event is. Whether it’s something to promote or something to do a teamwork and team building thing or an incentive. Really and truly then you need to partner with those people that are in the industry and let them know first what it is that you’re trying to accomplish so that you can help them find the best place. The best relationships start with helping those out so that you’re not trying to force somebody into a venue that doesn’t work for them. That you truly are understanding what they want to accomplish. The first thing to do is as a person looking for a venue, it’s to really and truly figure out what your objective is of your event and how you want the outcome to be. Then that will help you determine what the best location is as well as what the best venue is.


Laura: Great. Well Chris what about you, how do you market your venue to potential planners or current ones too? How do you make sure that you stay top of mind?


Chris: I think that great businesses are the best in the world at the one thing that they do. That increasingly businesses are specialized so that they can make that claim legitimately and genuinely. When we came into this industry we saw that most venues were trying to be multipurpose and they were trying to be good at everything. We abandoned the idea of trying to be good at everything in exchange for being the best at one thing and it was professional business meetings. That’s what we specialize in and I believe that markets ultimately deliver the best products to the client for their specific need. We really focus on just being the best in the world at the business meetings but we let other people do the social stuff. I think that that resonates really well with people. We tell that story and for people who are looking to participate in that type of experience we’re a good fit for them. We’re really forthcoming when we think that we are not the best option for our clients. We know what we’re good at and we know what we’re not.


Will: Awesome, I know that you guys are super transparent about this stuff because it’s like yeah there are some things that it just doesn’t workout on and it’s all about helping on that. My quick question to you guys is on that same lines of marketing and getting in front of customers, how do you guys prevent yourselves from being super commoditized, right? Venues these days it’s four walls, some outlets, some lights and maybe hotel rooms involved. Like in Chris’s cases he gets maybe with it, how do you really standout to keep people from just saying, “This ballroom versus this ballroom or this room versus this room?” I guess I will kick it off Chris since you are obviously trying to differentiate yourself by throwing some niche. What are your thoughts on not being commoditized?


Chris: My number one rule for a site tour is that you can’t say anything that people can see with their own eyes. The entire dialog around the way we talk about our spaces and our experience it starts with we believe. Then we talk about our belief system as a company and then we substantiate that with that’s why the features and amenities are what you see here. Everything is fundamentally rooted in a belief system of what we think makes for a great experience. Then the product is just the result of that but the product is more of just the outcome of our thinking as opposed to being a starting point.


Will: Well that got deep really fast, sorry, I totally muted myself on that one. Kate, what are your thoughts?


Kate: Well I agree completely with Chris and what he was saying. Ms. Marriott always says that if somebody walks away from a meeting or an event and says, “The dinner was good or the lunch was good, the space worked well,” then we failed. We need to really and truly talk about what experiences that somebody has had and if somebody is telling you a story or an experience about what has happened during the event, then you’ve succeeded. Then you know that you have made a difference in somebody’s event.


Sean: I like that, that’s good insight, so segwaying into the next question, what should planners be looking for in a venue or what are some things to keep in mind? I know you are not planners yourselves so the perspective is more, what do you see them coming to you looking for or asking common questions? Kate, what are some insights there?


Kate: I actually did think about that a little bit and the biggest thing that I can say is especially from doing site tours is a lot of people come in with a predispositioned opinion of what they want to do. Say for example a Hawaiian themed event in Tucson, Arizona, probably not going to be the best and most successful event. Maybe we need to look at doing things that are more naturally themed and help each other out with, “Okay, what’s going to be most successful and really take into account doing natural themed events.” We also want to take into account again we can help them out saying you don’t need just rounds, you don’t need just going around. That you can do a combination of really and truly get to the point of what’s the flow of your meeting? What technologies you need? There’s a lot of different things that we can do to help the planners come to make sure that they checkoff all those boxes and to even think about things that they hadn’t thought of yet.


Will: Nice, awesome.


Laura: Cool. You both have alluded to something that is very interesting when it comes to venues is the site visits. What if you have a client and say they are not able to visit the site but maybe on a recommendation they decide to host their event with you site unseen, how do you manage client expectations if they can’t see the venue before the event even happens? Chris we’ll get started with you?


Chris: Let them see the venue before it even happens. For us it’s just about being really transparent about what the space is like and what the features are. We’ve done Google Virtual Tours through every single one of the Convene locations. If you go to and you’re curious to see what any venue looks like, you can fly through on Google Street View and you can see everything. Which means that it’s not just the pictures of the part of the room that looks great and that’s omitting the enormous column in the middle of the room or the stain on the carpet. You can go and you can see everything for yourself. We again we really drive the concept of transparency with our clients and we want them to come and see everything. You can do a virtual walkthrough and really understand what you’re getting. The other thing is that with Convene we have standard amenities inside of different meeting rooms. We have three different room types called studio, hubs and forums.


The technology and resources in each of those studios, hubs and forums are standardized across the portfolio. Anybody who’s done business with us before has the confidence of going into a location and knowing exactly what to find. That it’s never, sometimes it will be a little bit different from one location to the next but it will always be better than what the baseline is but the baseline is standard.


Laura: Great, Kate, what about you, I’m sure you’ve run into this situation before?


Kate: Many times especially when we’re doing something internationally and so what we’ll do is we’ll have … I just had a big program in Dubai and what we had the Director of Sales do over there is take pictures and take some video of a program that they were doing that was like the one that was coming in. We had them then send it electronically to my client in Phoenix and it worked out really well so they could actually see what something like that would look like and how it will work for them. We do that from all over the world and I think nowadays I think it’s almost expectations that we can do those things. I think the planners always say well what have you done? What have you know and right now every hotel and every venue out there should have a library of photos that of things that they have taken that are similar to what somebody else is looking for. Even if it’s not the exact same thing but they can get a really good feel for what’s going on and how it’s going to look.


Laura: Awesome and then we’ve named a couple of tools here so Chris you will use Google Street View or Virtual Tours, Kate you have a very reliable and up-to-date Photo Library or Video Library. Are there any other tools you all use for site visits?


Chris: Okay, I use Social Tables.


Laura: No, no, it’s not …


Chris: No, really, no, I totally should have mentioned it because it’s something that we do because the pictures that you look and feel the standard technology stuff gets people comfortable with that but the Social Tables really helps for meeting planners. Especially for when people are pushing the capacity for a room for them to really get comfortable with the layout and avoid a disastrous situation where you have people who are paying top dollar or who really need to be in a room and there’s not a chair there for them.


Laura: Okay and then how do you get setup with Google Street View to come and take pictures of your venue?


Chris: Yeah, so great question, so it’s actually it’s not called Google Street View, it’s called Google Business Photos I think. It’s the exact same thing but they call it something different. The way that it works is they in Google Fashion they have partner photographers in every single market all around the world and you go through their database. You find a photographer who’s trained in their method and also has the right hardware and equipment to be able to make the tour happen. Then they come and they just walkthrough, they take pictures every couple of feet and then Google does its magic. It already does stuff and it all comes together in the end. The other benefit though and you guys asked about it at marketing earlier is that Google loves when people play in their ecosystem.


Then the Google Business Photos, those things start to get integrated into your Google Maps listings, into Google Maps in general, into your Google Plus location pages. Ultimately even though they won’t say this, ultimately I think that every single time you play well within the Google ecosystem I think that it helps by in some way, shape or form with your search rankings.


Laura: Good to know. All right.


Chris: Yeah and I’m sure there is a link to the Google Business Photos.


Laura: I’ll check that out.


Will: We will find that and then post it in the show links afterwards.


Laura: Yes, yes. Kate, do you have any other tools that you use?


Kate: There is a great tool that anyone can have access to and it is under Marriott but it’s called Meetings Imagined and anyone can Google that and just hop on to Meetings Imagined. It literally has thousands of ideas of setups and questions, checklists. All kinds of amazing resources for anyone to use at any time.


Will: I love it, I love it. I love how we are already getting resources and we haven’t even got to the last question and I’m so excited. We actually have a question from the audience. Audience if you didn’t know you can ask questions anytime either on Twitter with #EventIcons or in the question hanging like this one coming from Melissa Lombardi, our good friend over at etouches. Melissa actually had mentioned that she actually has done a bunch of corporate events at Convene and loves the business feel of it so congrats Chris. You got a royal fan out in the crowd. Directing this one towards Kate, she wants to know does Marriott have any venues in New York City, Connecticut area that’s very similar to what Chris is providing? As far as that business feel, already pre-done sieving, the AV is already done, everything like that and then I’ll flip, I have another question for you Chris.


Kate: We do and good question, thanks Melissa for asking. We have several hotels in New York that we can do Meeting Planner Packages that will be all inclusive in that depending upon how big your meeting is. We have set boardrooms and we have set meeting spaces that can do that or we can create that for you and create a complete Meeting Planner Package that could handle anything that you may have.


Will: Awesome. Anything you need, Marriott’s got it. Then I want to flip the question over to you Chris, so honestly you guys have decided to get that need filled you can say guys. Is there any plans for you guys to do anything that’s more a ballroom style or open format as well for your guys’ venues?


Chris: Yes, we just opened a location 10 days ago that is it’s in some ways it’s intended for some events to replace a traditional hotel ballroom but it’s a single 5000 square foot room with capacity for about 500 people. What we did was going back to the theme of being the best in the world at something is we think that there is a lot of reasons why you would host a large meeting at a place like Marriott and we are not the right fit for every single group. What we do really well is at this new venue that we opened which is Convene 117 West 46th Street. You can see the renderings on the website and photos are coming soon. Is it’s a 500 person ballroom but you are the only group inside of that venue in that day. The goal that we were trying to achieve there was to create an intimate experience for a large format meeting. Within that we anticipated a lot of the uses of the larger ballroom style meetings. There’s an entire lobby area that’s been created very much with exhibitions in mind for sponsor tables and things of that nature.


The real accomplishment of that venue was to create a special purpose ballroom that’s built for business meetings but that is also intimate serving one group at a time. Just for as an example of why people might want that specifically is like we just had a Fortune 100 client who launched a new product line and their pre-release of their new products to the press happened at that location. Well, the confidentiality of the product release was really huge for them to be able to keep that at bay from the general public so that they are most coveted press contacts could have first shot at breaking the story. Those are the types of very high end events that and intimate large scale events that we’re looking to host there. If you wanted to host a wedding I’m going to tell you, there’s probably more romantic places in the world than our new area.


Will: I love it, I love it.


Laura: All right, oh, this is a great question, so what is the new venue that was recently built that you both are super excited to checkout and why? There’s new venues being built everyday so Kate we’ll start with you.


Kate: That is a great question and with all that we have right now, one of the … The ones the I have been working with a lot and that I’m really excited about is the Gaylord that’s opening in Aurora outside of Denver and so that’s really big. There is also one right now, a hotel in Dallas and Houston is opening up some JWs. The one in Houston has an actual a pool in the shape of Texas so it’s fun with the a lazy river and things like that. Depending upon what you are looking at, you can go really big and I can start with the Gaylord style. Then we have a lot of … We are bringing over some of the AC Hotels and we are getting one in Tucson that is more European cheek right here in the downtown of Tucson so there’s a lot of exciting new things that are happening.


Laura: That is really cool, a lazy river? I wonder how people are going to incorporate that into their events. They’ll probably have to sign some waiver armature.


Kate: Right.


Will: It’s even on the list.


Chris: We should have a completion like what’s the coolest thing you can do in a pool shaped like that? They are the best in the world pool in like barbecue contest, hot source contest, there is … You can throw a real party up there.


Laura: Oh, yeah.


Will: The question is is the pool massive?


Kate: It is and it’s actually not on ground level either and so it is very cool and I will definitely get some pictures out to everybody so that you can see what’s happening down there.


Will: Awesome.


Laura: That is very cool. Chris, what about you, what’s a venue that you are excited to visit or check out?


Will: One is, I’m really excited about some of our original venues that we’ve just renovated so for all the Convene fans who’ve been to 733rd or 87th Avenue which is about to undergo renovation. We’ve been reimagining some of the original properties that put us on the map. If the people who haven’t been back there in a little while definitely go checkout the original locations. The new locations I think introduced a couple of new thought processes and beliefs around our products. One of them is we spend a lot of time thinking about the shift that’s happening in our lives between work life balance and work life integration and the millennial lifestyle of where work goes home with us and our personal lives come to work with us. We start to think about well how does that manifest itself in the new product?


What we started to do is start to create a little bit more of a casual and residential feel especially in the common areas that really bring a sense of warmth and comfort and hospitality in the definition of welcoming somebody into your home. Now all of a sudden some of the newer venues really start to have these residential feels that actually emotionally trigger the feeling that you get when you walk into a comfortable place like the house that you grew up in or something like that. It gives you this warmth and fuzzy. I think that you will see those design principles exhibited in the new locations like 237 Park Avenue in New York, 117 West 46th Street in New York. We are taking those lessons learned and actually pulling those back into our original venue. You can start to see that 733rd in Midtown East was recently refurnished


We are redoing our West side Property and our Tucson Corner Virginia location is a great example of that. Then I guess we acquired the Hub venues in Philadelphia this year and so those are all rolling into being Convenes and we are investing in the properties there too. That’s a different type of … We are excited about that on a different level and especially in just bringing Convenes in New York. Sorry, if you ask me for one location, I listed all of them but you basically asked me who my favorite child is and when I’m with each one of them, they are my favorite child but I think every single property that we have has something that I’m excited about right now.


Will: I love the idea you are saying about making it feel like home because as someone who literally travels so much as I do and literally has never … Last month I spent six days at home, I will totally take a place that feels like home, so I supper appreciate that big time. I’m going to flip back …


Will: Actually …


Will: Sorry, go ahead.


Will: Well just really quick, I put the links to the Google site tour of the 237 Park location, I put it in the notes. If people want it, the intersection of the Google Maps thing and looking and see the new residential feel, just click the link and people will know what I’m talking about really quickly.


Will: Sweet, awesome. Well thank you, yeah, definitely checkout the show notes after the show on the blog to get a chat link because it’s pretty cool. I have clicked on it really quick and I’m really sure that it looks pretty awesome. I am going to flip that same question and put it back at Laura because I want to know Laura, what is your favorite venue that you’ve seen?


Laura: Favorite venue, so actually a venue that I’m excited about? We just opened up an MGM over in the national harbor, so which is right on the boarder of DC and Maryland. Actually I really want to go check it out because for the longest time the only hotel that was over there was the Gaylord so … They have tons and tons of conferences there. Nerdy moment that I will just share right now, there is a retrogaming conference that’s held at the Gaylord but I think they are actually at … Don’t quote me on this and we can maybe edit this out but I think they may be moving it the following year to the MGM because there’s more space because they just they constantly run out of rooms and the room blocks and it’s just totally packed. It’s nice to just shift the backdrop of that event but yeah totally nerdy moment there with the retrogaming. If you are into Nintendos, this is your conference. I’m actually really excited to check it out, hopefully it’s got tons and tons of like treat that with all the types of Event Technologies embedded in the conference rooms and spaces. I’ll be very interested to see how that building turned out.


Will: Awesome, awesome, if I were to pick one, I know you didn’t ask me but I’m going to answer it anyways.


Laura: No, I wanted to. I was going to flip that one over to you.


Will: I’m actually so excited over the new venue but I wanted to give a shout out. I know Kate don’t be mad at me for not mentioning Maryland property but I was … We stayed at the Los Miami Beach and Miami is just not one of my favorite markets to work in because it’s just too humid, it’s hot and apart from Phoenix, it’s humidity and hot so it’s really hard for me to do. As an AV guy, I come in a lot of times and a lot of times I’m the enemy it feels like when I go to the venue. They make me feel really at home, the venue was super welcoming, the in-house AV company was awesome, the contact to the venue was awesome, the service is amazing so. Los Miami Beach, huge shout out to you guys for being awesome and providing great service. I always appreciate that and I know a lot of Maryland Properties are that way too, so awesome. I have a question for you guys, so everyone wants to know, no one wants to hear just about all the cool things. Some people want to know what challenges do you see venues coming to now in the coming years? What challenges are you guys facing as venues today? Well let’s start off with Kate.


Kate: I was going to say I can jump in. I think the biggest thing that’s going to be up coming is technology and where we are at with what we can do in the amount of technology that somebody needs. I think we are even seeing that now and Will, you and I have had these conversations where we try and educate the planners and educate those that are planning the events that really and truly what kind of technology are you going to be using? In order to make sure that there aren’t any glitches, and the average person is bringing in three to five devices and that’s not even including if you want to string something or have a webcast or do … If everybody needs to be logged into the system. I think so that’s the biggest thing and I think it’s going to continue to be for a while is just the education and technology and what those people need to be expecting when they are coming into a venue. Then make sure that they are asking the right questions in case the venue is not asking them for their specifics just so that they don’t have any glitches when they do get on site.


Will: Awesome, I love it, I love it and me as a technology person I appreciate that too. Chris, what about you, what challenges do you run into on a day and day for Convene? I can’t hear Chris, can you hear Chris?


Laura: No.


Will: Chris I think you might be muted. Let’s see, oh, technology for you guys. All right, this is why we do a live show so while Chris is figuring that out, I’m going to followup with a second question. Just to followup with you were talking about technology and everything like that Kate, it that a lot of Venues now have these required in-house requirements for catering or AV or because they have a preferred list that they require you to use. Venues are a place where you you can utilize this whether it’s to maximize revenue or it’s just to make the Convenes easier for the planner. What are your thoughts on these required vendors that they have to use? Are you a fan or them? Do you think they are good, bad? Do you think they work in good scenarios fasteners? Just give us all you thoughts.


Kate: I think the overall thinking on it is that they have preferred vendors because then those vendors know the properties. When they are doing different programs they know they can come in and they can get it done really quick and easily. Whereas if they have somebody new coming in to help them out, it’s more of, “Okay, well, you don’t know each other so well.” Sometimes the communications can get difficult and just it’s just like if you have a program two years in a row, the second year is going to go much smoother. Well that’s why they have preferred vendors. Now, I’m not saying though that you have to and I think all of our hotels are open to having other people come in. I think it’s just that there are a lot of planners out there and again not everybody that does meetings is an actual planner. For those people who are executive assistants or people that are in an office that don’t do this for their living, it’s easy for them to ask for, “Hey, who’s your preferred vendor?” It’s just it works out quicker and easier for them. I think that again all of our hotels are definitely open to outside vendors coming in, it’s just a matter of ease, of comfort and working with them that they have a preferred vendors list.


Will: Fantastic, all right, Chris, you got two questions lined up for you.


Chris: All right, I think I’m back so remind me because I got … The challenge is the one I’ll answer. I think that more than they are being an operational challenge, I think that the challenge that meeting planners but also their customers are putting on venues right now is how do we transcend the basic utility of meetings? That x number of people and x number of seats and lunches at this time and cocktails at time. How do we transcend that basic approach to the meetings and really deliver on an experience? How do we make it something that’s memorable and meaningful and it ties back to the strategic purpose of why people are getting together to begin with? I think that the answer to that is that there is a requirement for a much closer working relationship between venues and the myriad service providers that are in the industry to support them in doing that.


I believe that at Convene we try to think of ourselves as being a permeable organization that really is open sourced. Where people in the community could come and bring assets in whether it be music or specialty food or some type of feature that wouldn’t otherwise be stock. I think that transcending the utility to achieve experience is really what the big challenge is right now. I measure an experience by the concept of if people are Instagraming it then it’s an experience and if they are not then you are missing the mark.


Will: I like that, if you are not Instagraming it, then it’s a learning experience which I like that a lot. It shows you like, “Hey, if it’s so good they have to capture it in the moment.” I love that for sure. What are you thoughts on that?


Chris: Even if it’s a binary if you by needle.


Will: Sorry, say again.


Chris: No, I just said to me it’s a binary measure of like, if you move the needle and they and they want to share it with their friends and be like, “Hey, look at how cool this is?” Then you got it and if not then you sell short and should have tried harder.


Will: Absolutely. What are your thoughts … I know that Sophie is able to Convene, you guys have it setup where a vendor can walk in and they have all their AV taken care of. You have the screens and you have the mics and everything like that already taken care of, what are your thoughts as far as on those preferred requirements? Obviously what you guys case has provided as part of the rental so there’s nothing really bad, I guess that was just a bonus. For people who maybe are required to use a certain caterer or a florist what are you guys’ thoughts on that? Do you think that creates good relationships or do you think that it’s something that is of old business now? What are your thoughts?


Chris: Yes, like I said we are a permeable organization and we play well with others. What we ask our clients is that if there’s infrastructure in talent that we’ve already invested in, then we would like for you to work with it because we find ourselves in equality of the services that we deliver. If we’ve invested in having something, you essentially are already paying for it. If it’s fallen below your expectation, then let us know what that is but I think that that’s not usually the case. We encourage working with outside providers to do the things that we don’t do well so going back to my philosophy of a great business is a business you can say they are the best in the world at something. Convene is not the best florist, Convene is falling short on … If you are looking for live entertainment, if you are looking for comedians, if you are looking for a meeting facilitator, if you are looking for some type of specialty thing, you need a loose side podium. Well we don’t have all of those things covered, we don’t pretend to, we don’t want to and so we play well with others in areas where we need the help.


Will: Awesome. I love it, I love it.


Laura: Fantastic. Chris, just to back pedal real quick, this is a followup to the thing that you mentioned about Instagram and if it was truly an experience that people will want to tweet about it, Instagram about it. The followup question here is what is the most shareable aspect of your venue and why would I want to tweet or Instagram that venue? Why should I take a picture or post it on social media?


Will: Awesome question from the audience.


Chris: Yeah, phenomenal question, for me it’s there’s the static attributes of the venue of just what it looks like and I think that when somebody walks into our Convene locations that they could look at it and say, “I’ve never seen conference center that looks like this before?” Just even that alone is something that we see a lot of traffic on but what we get really excited about is that when we build the venues, we envision them being populated and used and enjoyed by people. What I think to me the vision that I want to see is I want to see a group team building shop where they’ve built something, they’ve achieved something, they’ve done something that they are proud of. You’ve got a bunch of people with arms around each other and just having a phenomenal time. To me that’s the pinnacle that we are trying to achieve.


We are trying to achieve a sense of belonging, a sense of community, a sense of excitement, a sense of togetherness, a sense of enjoyment, a sense of we’ve accomplished something that we … I might be in the room with the same people that I work with every single day but today was different, today we did better, today we did our best work. I think that that’s the outcome that we trying to achieve and so if you said, “What’s the picture that I want to see?” I want to see a team standing in front of a bunch of whiteboards really proud of whatever they have accomplished that day. It’s their accomplishment that we are most proud of, not just the things that we have.


Laura: Okay, what about you, what is the most shareable aspect of your venue?


Kate: I think Chris hit it. It’s you know what? You want it to be people centric and then other than that, it’s also great to have those wows. A lot of people take pictures of their food or take pictures of unique and different things within the building. There are some display things that are pretty incredible that we do that hang from the roof or there’s a unique way of doing a new beverage or a drink or … There’s a lot of different things like that but I think really and truly it is people centric first and then some of those other unique things there. Each hotel, each property, each venue has something unique about it and if you center something around that, that will showcase it very well as well.


Laura: Very cool.


Kate: Fantastic.


Laura: Yeah, I think as the kids say, “If it’s not on Instagram, it didn’t happen” It sort of didn’t happen. The same goes with events. All right.


Will: Awesome, cool. Well we started talking a little bit about and then tackled a bit little earlier, comments, probably one of our hottest topics that we ever have on this show is talking about all the cool apps that are coming out, all these different cool AV technologies that are coming out. Can you talk a little bit about … I know I have danced over this a little bit especially with Chris, talking about okay, you guys have screens in this, but can you talk about the Event Tech that you guys are incorporating into your venues? What ways are you … What problems are you guys solving with Event Tech? Chris, you guys are full Event Tech at your gadget site. Can you talk a little bit about the stuff that you are incorporating into your gadget sites?


Chris: Yeah, so the most exciting thing about our Event Technology platform is not particularly sexy but it’s just having unbelievably fast internet, having it completely accessible, having fully redundant internet connections, having the WiFi routers that actually distribute the full extent of the bandwidth that you have. Then having tons of internet connected screens so that people can put on the content as they can … As they envision or dream it. That really simple element of our venue is something that is not only very hard to find but it’s not something that you can roll in in a black fuzzy car. If the venue doesn’t have the fundamental infrastructure that you need to do high performance meetings then you just don’t have it. When it fails, if the internet goes out and it’s your big day or if you have 300 people in a training program and they all had downloaded the document at the exact same time then things go wrong quickly. The feature that I’m most proud of at Convene is just unbelievable internet connectivity, unbelievable accessibility, internet connected screens all over the place and not charging people a single dollar for it.


Will: I love it, I love it and I will give a testimony on you guys on that, we hosted the Control-Alt-Delete, one of pop up events at the New York City, our location. Then you guys hosted us graciously.


Laura: Graciously.


Will: That’s the word I’m looking for and it was you guys have those, everyone had super stable internet the entire time. We were doing this massive GoTo Webinar and tweeting and slack and we really appreciate it, so yeah, good internet is always appreciated.


Chris: Yeah, I appreciate that, we have bells and whistles like audience response systems and other things but video conferencing camera built into every room but fundamentally, I just I drive that point home. Because meeting planners walkthrough and they think because they can’t see it, it doesn’t matter. I’m like what you really want to talk about is like some Michael Jackson however Amber something but what you really need is just internet that works.


Will: Touche, touche, that’s good thoughts.


Laura: Even if and I don’t know about you all but when I go to an event and it says, “Oh, there’s free WiFi,” and you log on, it’s just it’s never that great, so when … The thing about … Because I actually just attended an event at Convene. It was Visible, if you all know them, they are fantastic but they hosted an event planner branch. It was one of those things where you can go into the meeting or the event and know that when you are going to Convene that the WiFi will actually work and that your AV will actually work. Which is really nice.


Chris: Thanks.


Will: That is nice, something so simple, it’s just amazing.


Laura: I know, WiFi.


Will: Awesome. Kate, what about you, what Event Technologies are you guys implementing to take events to the next level? What problems are you solving?


Kate: I think the biggest thing that we are doing right now is we have an app that on the meeting planner has and it’s basically if people are familiar with Marriott, it’s called the Red Coats are the ones that are walking around the floor and making sure you have everything you need. There’s an actual app that it’s live talking with all your Red Coats so you can be sitting in your meeting room and you can hit that app and you tell them the room is too cold, the room is too hot, is my break ready, I need to change this set up and the next break out that’s coming up in 10 minutes. It’s really and truly it’s instant communication, no matter where either one of you are and so that we can address those things immediately. The other thing that we do is we make sure that we are checking out all of the Instagrams, the tweets. All of that to make sure that we are actually monitoring to see if anyone is having any difficulties within the meeting.


Because not only will they Instagram and tweet out the positive things but sometimes if there is a glitch within the meeting, they’ll also tweet those out and Instagram those. That way we are really monitoring those so we can hop right on it which it really gives us the opportunity to turn something around immediately which is never been the case in the past. Then sometimes it kicks in and then you hear about it at the end and so we are really cautious of about making sure we are tapped into everything that’s going on within the meeting and within within the meeting so that we are addressing things immediately.


Laura: That’s great. I think a lot of restaurants could learn something from you all. Because I think that I think there isn’t … I’m pretty sure that there is an Instagram account somewhere where it’s just like hall of shame and it’s what you see on the menu or what you think it’s going to be and what it actually looks like when the food actually comes out and they are just like a hall of shame. I know that restaurants always jump on that and they are like, “Oh, no that must have been an off day.” That’s really cool that you all react immediately when there is an issue before it grows into a social media storm. That’s actually very, very cool, I’m glad that technology exists.


Kate: Yeah, it’s very helpful.


Laura: Very, very helpful. Which brings me now that we are on the subject of technology, my next question which I’m super excited to ask is what does the venue of the future look like? In the way of technology, robots, what is it going to look like tomorrow? Chris we’ll get started with you, what do you think that the venue of the future will look like?


Chris: I think that the screens get bigger and more connected and more enabled. Will’s jumping up and down but I think that we are going to start to see a much higher level of just digital screens being used to reshape the aesthetic of the spaces every single time. Then I also think that collaboration technology hasn’t really advanced very much since the whiteboard. I think that the Microsoft surface hub is going to change that and we’ve been privileged to be one of their test pilot partners on this new product. I think that digital collaboration has not really had its iPhone moment yet. I think that we might be on the coast of that change and I think that Microsoft surface hub might be the product to do it.


I think of … I imagine that the venue of the future might have different people working from different venues that are connected live and real time that are doing real collaboration. Not just like a broadcasted lecture or a panel discussion but real live whiteboarding from multiple locations that feels natural. To me that would be the challenge that I would put. Instead of having them fly people in from all over the world, is it possible that we could have multi location real time collaboration that feels natural?


Laura: Very cool, and Kate what about you?


Kate: I agree, I think that that is going to be a big deal. I think the other thing is far in the whole electronic and technology thing we are going to go. I think we are also going to see more and more spaces pop up where you disconnect. I think that they are going to have to have some place out there that while everything is going on in this fast paced 27, 24/7 world that while we do that we also need the places to disconnect. I think you might find some gun serenity or something like that built in within those environments as well so that when people can step, they are really and truly just releasing and reenergizing to go into the next session of whatever is going to be like I said I think the technology part of it is going to be huge. I think that break is going to be also be huge.


Will: Awesome, I love it, I love it, I think we both agreed with the disconnecting meeting law are super connected to people so when you said disconnected we go, “Yeah.”


Laura: I do it for fun, I actually put my phone on airplane mode because it just halts all of the … When I’m not even in an airplane, I just to really just go off the grid, I just turn on airplane mode, fun for tip.


Will: Well that’s ballsy.


Laura: Yeah, you should try it sometimes.


Will: Yeah, awesome, I got a couple more minutes left so we want to ask our last two questions that we have for you guys. The first question that we have is that we want to compile you guys great knowledge that you have and whether it’s about venue or it’s about AV or if it’s about planning in general on social media, anything at all. If you had one tip and only one, maybe we’ll take two, one tip that you would give to planners for planning their events this year or next year, what would be your one tip for them be? Chris you want to kick it off?


Chris: I think to challenge themselves to move past the tactical and logistical role that has traditionally been the focus of meeting planning and look to really achieve a strategic role in your organization. In that, the world has never needed a facilitated collaboration more than it does today. There is nobody in organizations that are in a more well positioned than meeting planners to step into that seat. I think that they should start really thinking more strategically about the way that events are planned and really align the event and its construction with the strategic purpose of those meetings. The best advice that I can give them is we have a ton of thought leadership where we nerd out hard on the stuff in our blog, on the Convene website,


If you want to get deep into it, if you don’t want to read just like click bait article but if you want to really have some deep thought leadership around how to step the game up, we are really trying to be very transparent and forthcoming with our best practices. For people look at Convene and say these guys are doing something right. We spill our guts every single week on our blog and so we invite people to check that out and I think we can all work together to raise the bar in the industry.


Will: Awesome, I love it, I love it, I love the transparency again, it’s huge. Kate?


Kate: I think the biggest thing is the tip is to really and truly come into something open minded and being flexible and not going into something with just a closed box idea of exactly what you want. Be open minded to really your partnerships that are in the industry and ask them what do you do best? Instead of coming in and saying this is what I want. Really and truly work together to find out, okay, what does … What do you do best? Listen to both sides so that you make sure as Chris had mentioned you are strategic but at the same time, just make sure you are open minded and really and truly create those partnerships within the industry that can really take you to that next level.


Will: Awesome, I love it. Laura, you want to take the last question, my favorite question?


Laura: Oh, yes, so we’ve alluded to a couple but do you all have any new cool resources or not even new just the resources that you always reach for? That you want to share with the audience? Do you have websites, blogs that you always visit, always read books, gadgets, your favorite Scuba mask, favorite app? Actually, I say Scuba mask because there is a guy that we interviewed and he actually had his favorite Scuba mask which I had no idea that there were that many technological advances with Scuba masks but if you have one let us know. All right, Kate we’ll start with you.


Kate: First of all if anybody needs anything travel related the biggest thing is just to reach out to me, no, just kidding. Really and truly, I think some of the websites I use most are industry websites, the MPIs, the PCMAs, the SAEs, those have some great tips and techniques on there. There is so many training resources on there. I get an email everyday from travel polls that just tells me some highlights of what’s going on in the industry. I also check in and do business journal that it summarizes all that’s happening all across the United States. Just for seeing what companies are doing out there, what new trends and your CVVs, depending upon the area that you are in. There is always a local CVV and that they have some great information on there. As I mentioned, Meetings Imagined is great just for a cover all to anything that you may need but I’d be happy to send a list and post it onto the blogs so that it could be included as well.


Will: I love it.


Laura: Perfect. All right Chris, resources?


Chris: All right, I got three things, one, just for industry stuff, Skift. I hope everybody is aware of Skift but they put out legitimate thought leadership and I love those guys for their contribution they make to the industry. I definitely get my trends and things like that from Two apps that I have that I absolutely love are one is a training app called Pear like the fruit, P-E-A-R. It basically it provides real time heart rate monitor based interval training so it’s equivalent of having a coach in your ear at all times, helping you to maintain your intervals. Some of the world’s best athletes have training programs on there. You can go for a run with the best iron man in the world and they will give you their tips and tricks.


The last one is this app I just downloaded, it’s called Hiya, H-I-Y-A. It sits on your phone and like what Ways does for traffic it does to spam calls. It crowd sources all the spammer information so like, “Hey, you’ve won this cruise to wherever or congratulations you’ve been pre-approved to refinance your credit cards.” It knows all those phone numbers and then it blocks them from interrupting your life and disrupting your focus and wasting your time. I believe that technology will make the world a better place and that is one step closer to that happening.


Will: Awesome, I just look that up and that was an awesome map.


Laura: Yeah and I really love that, yeah, especially when it comes to … Your information looks old if you use your actual cell phone which I learned the hard way. If you sign up for a conference or something and use your cell phone, whenever they sell attendee data, yeah so best to put your office phone for that or use an app to block these spam calls.


Will: Yeah, there you go. Awesome, one cool resource that I have for everyone that I recently picked up is a thing called Roost Stand, R-O-O-S-T Stand. Basically what it is, is it’s a thing that holds up. It’s like literally it’s the size of like … I don’t even know how to describe it. Like maybe this big maybe. Basically you unfold it and so you have like a coffee shop, you slide your laptop and put your laptop at a good distance. Then that way you can sit up, you use an external mouse and keep work for it so it’s super compact, it allows you to get your computer up so then that way you are not hunching over your laptop or destroying your back. If you work in coffee shops or remotely or in hotels, Roost Stand, I totally recommend it. Yeah, awesome, Laura, do you have any resources you want to share?


Laura: No, not at the moment.


Will: I took Laura off on that.


Laura: I wasn’t prepared, yeah, and I don’t have my phone on me.


Will: Well everyone, that brings us to the end of today’s show. I want to give a huge round of applause and thank you to our guests, Kate and Chris. You guys are just so awesome, thank you guys so much for being on the show today.


Chris: Thank you.


Kate: Thank you.


Will: For all you guys tuned in right now live or if you are watching the recording, we do this every single Wednesday at 5p.m. Eastern. I almost forgot what time we do it at. Don’t forget, clocks change over next week so make sure you get the right time in and we do this every single week interviewing amazing icons. Join the conversation, we are going to keep tweeting with #EventIcons on Twitter so feel free to join us. We look forward to watching and joining you guys in conversation next week. We will catch you guys all later, goodbye.


Will Curran

Author Will Curran

Information junkie, energetic, and work-a-holic are just some of the words we can use to describe Will Curran. Aside from spending 20 out of 24 hours a day working as the Chief Event Einstein of Endless Events, you can catch Will ordering a chai latte or watching The Flash with his cats. He is also well known for his love of all things pretzels.

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