October saw around 2000 of the industry’s finest attend the annual IAM convention, this time in New Orleans – the big easy. As usual it was exhausting, productive, frustrating and immensely enjoyable – it was IAM, what do you expect?
Firstly I should confess, other commitments meant that I was only able to stay at IAM for two of the four days, so any comments I make relate only to what I saw. But I saw plenty.
Secondly, whatever you might think of the event itself, you can’t fault the presentation. Everything is spot on. Take a look at the event guide for example: first class! Everything you could ever want to know including: a comprehensive and a short-form meeting schedule; speaker biographies; tributes in the Hall of Honor; the IAM Logistics Network; a complete list of sponsors and exhibitors with a detailed explanation of what each does; and a list of attendees, with an appendix of last-minute bookers, by country. The only thing missing was the email addresses of the attendees and photos (such as you get in the FIDI handbook), but I suspect that’s by design. Excellent!
The presentations too are far more professional that anything else I have seen in the industry. Exceptional graphics, twin screen simultaneous feed, and excellent acoustics. As you can tell, I was really impressed. I always have been. I was also very impressed by the quality of the IAM membership breakfast that preceded Terry Head’s ‘State of IAM’ address. Quite how, even a hotel such as The Hyatt, can produce such food for so many people in such a short time, I have no idea.
It’s also a bit of a puzzle as to how that same hotel can’t quite work out that people prefer to be reasonably warm while attending meetings. In a place such as New Orleans, where the ambient temperature is hovering around 30°C, why does the hotel have to turn the AC up to the point that you lose the power of speech and icicles start to form on extremities. OK, I exaggerate a little, but it was cold. And I thought we were supposed to be saving the planet! Not IAM’s fault of course.
Most people were crammed into one bar in the evenings which, I was convinced, was too small. However, as bars go it wasn’t so bad, partly because the staff were brilliant and because, I suspect, there were plenty of off-site meetings that took the crowds elsewhere.
That said I thought the hotel worked well as a venue. It was vast, but it was also largely vertical so most of the wandering was done by the lifts not the legs. The intelligent lifts worked well too most of the time, identifying which car to use by a brief wave of a key card across a sensor. Brilliant! That is until about 1500 people all want to get down for dinner at the same time; then it went into meltdown with people cramming into any car that would accept them and so enjoying the scenic route to the lobby.
I’m being very picky – an a bit unfair in the cause of levity. It would also be picky to complain that there were not enough places to sit. The constant cycle of 30-minute meetings require convenient spots for people to park their rears and study their documents and these were, on day one at least, like hen’s teeth. I conducted one interview, for example, sitting on a wall outside the lobby in a near gale. Quite refreshing though. But when people found their way around a little, and the exhibition opened with additional seating, largely thanks to Africa Worldwide Movers, the problem eased somewhat. The exhibition was enormous, the biggest ever apparently. But it was light, spacious, and reasonably easy to navigate once you got the hang of it.
I thought IAM was very brave on the opening night. Against the council of common sense it bussed 2000 delegates across town for an off-site reception in the Generations Hall, an old sugar mill built in 1820 (not that any of the venue staff knew that, I had to look it up on Google). It was a recipe destined for disaster – but it worked. It was a miraculous feat of crowd management that ushered everyone through the hotel lobbies, relaxing them with cocktails as they stood in line, and filing them onto a convoy of busses supplied by AGS. Genius! IAM should offer its services to the immigration department at Atlanta airport as a consultant. The food was tasty and traditional, but it did take 20 minutes to get a drink at the bar at the start, a situation that eased as the evening drew on. When the time came to leave, no matter whether you had one drink or stayed until closing time, the busses were there ready to whisk you home again. Well done everyone. Mind you, judging by Terry Head’s reaction the following morning, the stress level was pretty high. “It’s been 20 years since we took people off site and it’ll probably be another 20 years before we do it again,” he said. “I was scared to death of those busses. Getting 2000 people on a bus and in the same spot at the same time is a true logistic feat.”
I have very few criticisms of IAM. I rarely do. Those I do have are usually just a consequence of trying to manage such a huge group of people in a confined area. I think IAM does it pretty well and the conference is a heaven-sent opportunity to see, be seen and do business.
IAM is a glorious maelstrom of frenetic activity, all with a totally unselfconscious motive of increasing sales. It’s either horrific or wonderful depending on your point of view. I like it. I like too the business sessions that are very informative and, as I said earlier, beautifully presented. It’s just a shame that so many people are locked into the cycle of one-to-one meetings and miss the opportunity of expanding their minds. But, it is what people make it – so, I guess, it must be perfect.
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