Teambuilding on Alcatraz (and some other things you might want to know about).


I normally write some very humorous, entertaining and self-deprecating introduction to my blogs. This blog is already long, so consider this that.


During it’s nearly thirty-year history as America’s premier maximum security prison, thousands of the nation’s most incorrigible prisoners spent day and night trying to figure out how to escape the 22 acres of living hell. Irony being what it is, you can now pay to go there and have fun while learning valuable team building skills.

Picture this… and I am not making this up… back in the day, prisoners sent to “The Hole” tried to keep their sanity by ripping a button from their uniform, tossing it into the darkness, and then crawling around on hands and knees to find it… and repeat….and repeat.


Now you can cruise over on a luxury Hornblower yacht and upon arrival, you and seven of your colleagues are handcuffed together (I said, I am not making this up) and thrown in “the hole” along with a jar of 300 buttons. The door is closed plunging you all into complete darkness. The buttons are scattered around the small, cold cell and the team is given a certain amount of time to gather as many buttons as they can while handcuffed together. Now that’s what I call fun!

John, our Hornblower host, told me several other games he has helped organize for corporate clients, but I am afraid I don’t remember the details since I kept thinking about being handcuffed in a freezing, completely blackened 5 x 9 concrete cell to seven other people I don’t really know (not that that last part matters) trying to pick up buttons and put them in a jar.

Apparently the team that collects the most buttons gets a sort of pardon by the “warden” and they are allowed to start the next equally intense prison-related challenge with one of their team-members hand-cuff free. So you see, there IS light at the end of the tunnel.


The really good news is that after the games, and assuming everyone is still sane, your group can enjoy a gourmet meal in the prisoner’s cafeteria (or even in the prisoner’s shower room). If the pricing for that last part is a little over budget, no worries, you can follow up the team building with a Bay Cruise, dinner, drinks, and recovery time.

And one hint for those who do not wish to participate in the games… I am told that if you sew enough raincoats together you can make an inflatable raft, sail to Marin, steal a car, and head for Mexico. And now that I think about it, that could also be an excellent team-building exercise.

I am, of course, poking fun. Alcatraz is a very cool place to host an event. For more info… click here…

Announcing Two New Luxury Hotels in Napa Valley

Las Alcobas Napa Valley


Part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection, the recently opened 68-room Las Alcobas is located on Main Street in St. Helena, adjoining the Beringer Estate and Winery. It features a 2200 square foot “Event Barn” (with an exhibition kitchen thrown in), outdoor event spaces, and then, well…Beringer is right there and they have “stuff’ too. Plus all of that other Napa Valley stuff. Did someone say “fam trip”?

The Archer Napa


It’s been taking a while, but a new luxury, boutique hotel is coming to the heart of downtown Napa in 2017.  F&B at the 183-room, five-story property will be managed by The Charlie Palmer Group (if you are a foodie you know who that is).

Archer Napa will feature over 15,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting and event space, the largest single space with 2,540 square feet. For slightly smaller events there is a secondary event room (over 1,700 square feet) as well as two breakout rooms that are both nearly 600 square feet. 

The expansive rooftop will offer nearly 9,000 square feet prime for entertaining. With a rooftop bar, fire pits, a chef’s show kitchen along with a ledge pool, cabanas, indoor/outdoor fitness room, and spa treatment rooms, there is no other space like it in Napa.

The Brand New All Things Meetings Job Board


I am constantly being asked by people I know in the industry if I know of any job openings, or if I know anyone “good” that might be interested in an open position. I always say, if I hear of something I will let you know. Then, when I do hear of something I have to try and remember who asked me about what, and then look through old e-mails, and then try and introduce people… and… I don’t mind doing it, I just…. don’t really want to do it. So…  

All Things Meetings has launched a new addition to our All Things Meetings Online Community. The Job Board. (It’s free) Job Board is a place where people can post and find employment opportunities specifically for Meeting, Event and Conference Planners or the people who work with them. This can be anyone on any side of the table…  

Buyers… includes any corporation, association or third-party that is looking for a qualified Planner (either full-time, part-time or contract) or… an executive assistant position where planning is part of the job. 

Sellers… hotel sales and conference services, DMCs, event venues, essentially every service provider to the Meeting Industry. Whatever positions they need to fill that work with groups. 

We are providing this service free of charge. You get to define how and where you would like to receive applications and to be contacted by potential candidates.  


Here’s the thing…It’s new.  I mean… we are just starting it…like last week. Not many postings yet. So we are asking everyone we know… if you have a job to post, please do. It’s easy. Once we get enough postings we will begin to add filters by geography, job type and all of that… but for now… we ask that you help us get this thing started. And then with luck, it will take on a life of its own and I won’t have to dig through all of those e-mails anymore. AND… we will promote the new JOB Board heavily via our blogs, newsletters and posts on social media. Plus we do three All Things Meetings Events every year in northern California… we’ll talk about it there too. 

HOW TO POST A JOBGo directly to the submit job page. Fill out the required fields and submit. We’ll do a quick review and then post within 24 hours of submission 

SEEKING A NEW POSITIONYou can search anonymously and apply directly to any posted opportunity. Each employer will specify their preference on how to submit an application. 

And as you (hopefully know)… I will share cool stuff I find about people I trust with you, and then you can share cool stuff back, and then we'll keep it all on the web site in a kind of a search-able library thing so other people looking for cool ideas can find them… and maybe they will add some ideas of their own, maybe not… but at least they will know they can always find cool stuff they can trust when they need it… and if enough people share all that cool stuff, then everyone will be happy. 

ALL THINGS MEETINGS. Introducing People Who Know What They Are Doing

Oh, and this has absolutely nothing to do with meetings (or anything), but when you get a chance, please visit and enjoy a slide show. 


Donna Cohen

I have decades of experience creating and producing online marketing. I left the corporate world to work independently with people who need help establishing and maintaining their online presence. Not everyone knows how, has the aptitude, or time to learn how to use online marketing tools, and nor should they have to try. Those people who need help and/or don't want an in-house marketing team work with me. Each client has different needs, goals and expectations. I do custom work for each of my clients. I get to know each person and know their voice, their style, rhythm and budget. 

I have a large skill set that covers the range of tasks for online marketing. It is both easy and cost efficient to work directly with me. I can get the whole job done. 

Website Design, Build and Optimization, SEO, Keywords, Hashtags, PhotoShop, Email Marketing and Newsletters - Mailchimp, Google Forms (Registration & Surveys), Survey Monkey, SquareSpace, Wordpress, Square, Twitter, Blogger, Tumblr, PowerPoint, Acrobat, Facebook Ads, Pinterest, Instagram, Word, ePub, Excel, Audience Development, and more.

Book Production; Print and eBook, Design, coding, Marketing and building Audiences.

Things You Can Use


It may just be me, but the Universal Stress Level seems to have skyrocketed to new heights as the level of our political discourse has sunk to new lows. It is difficult to understand why, but I have decided that the Earth must be passing through the Van Allen Belt (look it up), and so as our electrons spin faster, it appears we are all going to Hell-in-a-Hand Basket. Yes, that must be it. It only appears that way. I feel so much better now.

This is also my excuse for being completely undisciplined and not being able to focus on a single-subject blog. That’s right… it’s not me, it’s the Van Allen Belt (look it up). So… once again… here are several subjects which we will divide up later in our web site archives. Let’s call this Potpourri. (Look it up.

As you may know, my mission is to share cool stuff I find about people I trust with you, and then you can share cool stuff back, and then we'll keep it all on the web site in a kind of a search-able library thing so other people looking for cool ideas can find them… and maybe they will add some ideas of their own, maybe not… but at least they will know they can always find cool stuff they can trust when they need it… and if enough people share all that cool stuff, then everyone will be happy.

Dopamine released. Stress levels down.

Team Building

Speaking of stress… imagine you are in a submarine lodged in a seabed fissure. If you can’t find a way out, you will sink like a rock and suffer a horrible death by suffocation. Or maybe you and your colleagues (that you don’t really know very well) stumbled into the wrong village only to find that it is about to be taken over by werewolves.

I have enough problems of my own without inventing any new ones, but oddly enough there are a lot of people who not only find this kind of horrific dilemma valuable as a team-builder, but also think it’s fun. If you are one of those, then welcome to SCRAP ENTERTAINMENT and The Real Escape Game.

Their event-style games are great team building opportunities for any group. It's an exciting way to spend time with coworkers and most importantly the group will have a wonderful shared experience (assuming they survive). This is a very mobile game style and they can fill a variety of venues while accommodating anywhere from 20-300 players at one time.

Actual Real Escape Rooms are currently located in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and Toronto, but they can come to you and tailor the experience/game to your needs.

Cool On-line Resources

Here’s a cool online resource when your high-living Executive type says he/she wants something really cool and different for their next high-level retreat.

Chateauform’ has been operating venues dedicated to corporate meetings and events in Europe since 1996. Today these 45 “houses” are located in France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, and … China (which as far as I remember is not in Europe…yet). They are situated in countryside settings close to major European cities with easy access to and from international airports and with breathing space for working, reflection and relaxation.

All-inclusive, unique and generous residential packages (which include all meeting and break-out rooms with high-tech A.V. equipment, WiFi, all meals and breaks, refreshments, wine with lunch and dinner, open self-serve bar, guestrooms, plus many leisure and sport activities). No hidden costs since the total price is provided upfront. And huge bottom line savings because no European VAT is charged on U.S master billing (except in Germany – read the fine print and the verb comes at the end). The Chateau’s also provide scrumptious homemade food cooked by The Chef (presumably) and inspired by local recipes, using fresh local produce in seasonal dishes.

More Cool On-Line Resources

OK… want to keep dreaming (while being educated)? Just go to Scroll through it and dream (and plan your next company incentive or board retreat. Just make sure you get to go along to make sure everything goes “right”.

A Little Bit Of This, A Little Bit Of That


For those of you who have anxiously been waiting most of the summer for my next blog, I apologize.

I was deeply involved in our All Things Meetings Silicon Valley Event in July (it was good), and have been laying the groundwork for our next All Things Meetings Contra Costa event in November (it will be good). Remember… Save The Date of November 16, 2016, 5:30-8pm, at the Roundhouse Conference center in San Ramon. Invitations will go out September 20th. And now to the business at hand…

As you may know, my mission is to share cool stuff I find about people I trust with you, and then you can share cool stuff back, and then we'll keep it all on the web site in a kind of a search-able library thing so other people looking for cool ideas can find them… and maybe they will add some ideas of their own, maybe not… but at least they will know they can always find cool stuff they can trust when they need it… and if enough people share all that cool stuff, then everyone will be happy.

I usually try and keep each blog to a specific subject like team-building, or helpful on-line resources for meeting planners, or whatever. But… it’s the end of summer and I am feeling lazy so I am just going to throw a bunch of “stuff” out there (as in a little bit of this and a little bit of that), and sort it out later in the web site library.

Some Team Building Stuff

Hawaii… This recommendation comes courtesy of Joan Palmtag with Meet Hawaii (and she knows what she is talking about). Joan said… “There is an untapped source for inspiration and team building on the Kailua side of Oahu called Kualoa Ranch. We went there on our last annual meeting and did several team building activities. Kualoa Ranch is one of the most beautiful places I have been to on Oahu.”

Joan also says, “There is another smaller organization called Preserve Hawaii – with this one you go places where most tourists do not go and able to do things like clean endangered green sea turtle shells, or plant taro plants.”

Lake Tahoe…  "Extreme" Team Building with Full Access Tahoe gets participants out of their comfort zone... and in theory (they say) that is where growth and change happen (and they end that statement with an exclamation point!). I would just like to interject that I am very comfortable in my comfort zone and at my age… growth and change is not such a big deal. On the other hand… you will love it.

You may have been off-roading but this experience adds a team-building element. Using top-of-the-line 4-seater SUVs, participants race (and bounce) from base camp to different challenges armed with a map (and courage). The event directors are experts when it comes to designing challenges to reinforce key objectives and high-performing team metrics.

I would also like to interject that the term “team metrics” is one of those terms that makes me smile because… it’s one of those terms. Regardless of my seemingly genetic-based cynicism and sarcasm, you will have a great time. Just ignore me and check it out at 

Full Access Tahoe is based out of South Lake Tahoe and runs team building events throughout Northern California and Nevada for groups as small as 6 and as large as 50. 

A combo cool-online resource for team building (and entertainment of all kinds)…… Their web site says… “Over 80,000 bands, entertainers and event services for hire”. I did not count. They also say they are “the largest and most diverse marketplace for entertainment and event services”. I do not know if that is true, not that it matters. It’s a cool resource and they have some very impressive testimonials to back it up.

Think of it as a specialized search engine targeting the kind of stuff meeting planners need. First type in the type of service you are looking for (team builders, party bands, face painters, comedians, whatever (and I mean whatever), and then you type in your location. Somehow electrons, bits, bytes, zeros, ones… they do their thing… and voila… recommendations appear. I have no idea how that works and despite what you say, you don’t really know either.

For those who are organizing events—anything from a small weekend gathering to a grand gala—you get connected with your local talented performers and vendors. And then you can connect with and book through their system.

At least check it out. You will like it (and they seem nice).

One more cool on-like resource. I asked my contact to describe the service. Is it, I asked, like other meeting space search engines that style themselves as “the Air BnB” of meeting spaces? He said, nope. Think of it as the “ZipCar” of meeting spaces. For the most part, Breather either owns or leases the spaces. They are not the middleman.

They say… Breather spaces are available on-demand, and can be rented by the hour, by the day or by the week. With close to 200 locations in 10 cities (at the moment) you'll find a Breather when and where you need one. The only thing you'll need to access Breather is your smartphone– reserve a space and unlock the door with a unique PIN code when you arrive.

Note… currently their inventory contains rooms comfortable to fit as few as 2 people and as many as 75, Whether your team needs white glove service and catering for 50, or just need some space to talk, Breather's has options. All rooms include free high-speed wifi, a work and lounge area, as well as AV equipment.

OK… THAT’S ALL FOR NOW. I will keep researching, and send me any cool things you find useful for meeting and event planners, I’ll check it out, and if it works, share it with “you guys”. Or… tell me what subject you would like me to write about (or write more about) and I will take that under advisement. :)

And one more time… if you are a meeting planner anywhere near Contra Costa County, or know someone who is… tell them to Save The Date of November 16th, and check out for details.

More (and inspiring) Team Building Ideas


Adding to the Team Building Idea Library

In keeping with our Mission…to share cool stuff in every aspect of All Things Meetings (and events and conferences and incentives, trade shows and other appropriate words)… here are a few more Team Building ideas to add to our Library. Whenever you need some inspiration for your next “thing”… check them out. (link to library)

First up… i.Art Fitness

I used to take reasonably good care of myself, but now that I am north of 60-ish I figured it is time to relax and let things slide. The hope is that by the time I am done I will still have enough range of motion to be able to reach the TV remote. The jury is still out on my decision… fingers crossed (and so far, I can still cross my fingers). Anyway… for people who think that is a bad idea and that practicing wellness makes you (and/or your team) happier, smarter, and more productive, then here is an outfit that can definitely help…

The core value of their business: The belief lies in the notion that the sum of many personally “well” individuals equates to a healthy team and in turn a vigorous business culture. This, it appears, is a trend that’s here to stay. I suspect this is true because while I am sitting outside my favorite San Francisco café sipping a small triple-shot soy latte with just two pumps of vanilla, I notice that about every third person is carrying a yoga mat and doing something on a smart phone (which I assume is related to their very successful (and vigorous) career as a something).

iart fitness team building

Consequently, your team members will more than appreciate… a “they bring it to you” Spin Class. i.Art Fitness rolls in their stationary bikes, the sound equipment, fitness towels, water and staging. Sure, it can be done in your meeting room, but the class can also be outside: ocean side, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, at a winery vineyard paired with a lunch and wine tasting, and an infinite number of other cool and/or iconic locations. Best part, i.Art fitness will plan it all - permits, catering, transportation… and all of that meeting planning stuff.

But wellness is not just about the body. It’s also about the Mind and Soul. Personal note… Presumably, if I have a Soul, it is already well and doesn’t need me to make it “well-er”. On the other hand, I whole-heartedly admit I know absolutely nothing about pretty much everything.

I tend to believe that rather than a Soul, I am just an emergent quality of a complex system (and maybe that’s the same thing) and will dissipate when the system “un-systems”. Kind of like an ant colony. But that’s just me. I also don’t think I have chakras, chi or karma. It seems other people do and they enjoy having them.

I also sometimes think that The Matrix (Part One) is a true story and when the Powers That Be realized that too much information had been disclosed, they purposefully made Matrix Two and Three so bad that everyone just dismissed all of them as nonsense. So don’t let me stop the illusion of you from experiencing the illusion of experience. Or, as my seven-year old tells his friends, ”That’s my Dad. Just ignore him”. I digress.

With i.Art Fitness, meeting planners can easily build a wellness track and incorporate it into their meeting agenda, be it a 4 day conference or a 1 day planning session.  Every service or event they create is customizable.  For example, a “wellness for the body” spin class can become a glow in the dark spin class with a live D.J; a “wellness for the Soul” build-a-bike program can become a Gilligan Island theme party, etc.  If you have a meeting theme or fun idea and want to play---i.Art Fitness will do it.  Check out their web site for the details.

After your team is all sweated up, they may appreciate the next idea courtesy of ID Events, Australia

Essence of Excellence

The success of a “Signature Scent” depends on chemistry and marketing. Behind the scenes are teams of professional chemists experimenting with all manner of exotic extracts to capture the essence of their celebrity endorsers. Next comes an army of marketers convincing consumers they need to smell that way. Weird but true.

Essence of Excellence places teams in both of these demanding roles, presenting a challenge to create and blend an individual fragrance that appeals to a given target market.

essence excellence team building

Teams carefully choose their ingredients paired with a range of moods and character traits. Successful teams understand the world from their customer’s perspective, aiming to produce both a new fragrance and an associated targeted marketing campaign within a tight deadline.

Having learnt the basic techniques of perfumery, teams blend base, mid and top ‘notes’ to create a ready-to-wear fragrance. Essence of Excellence is by no means restricted to female fragrances; some teams will be working with unisex and male customer profiles.

ID Events provides all of the “stuff” your teams need to get it done, and their consultants/facilitators are standing by to help with the chemistry and the presentations… but it’s up to your teams to find the proper leadership, inspiration, imagination, cooperation and discipline to create both the product and the campaign, and then present it to the group.

If you like smelling things, it sounds like fun.

Speaking of fun… if you happen to be in Cleveland (assuming it is still there after the Republican convention), and you want to do something cool that you can only do in Cleveland, then you must go to the…

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Yes, I have written before about Scavenger Hunts and Theme Parties, but here is a great place to put them together. You can pick a decade or musical style… tell your attendees in advance to dress the part… they enter the world’s only Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Soaring up to 160 feet, this glass monument to the history of Rock and Roll presents (what they describe as) a stunning sweep of Downtown Cleveland and Lake Erie.

rock and roll hall of fame team building

OK – for those of you Coast chauvinists who are thinking, “stunning sweep of downtown Cleveland”? Stop thinking that (if you can).

Anyway, back to the party… everyone comes in to this incredible museum and they are separated into teams and given i-pads, and the DJ pushes clues through the ipads tied to your particular chosen theme and the teams scurry around the museum looking for answers… and yes they have the whole “selfie” thing going on as they run (wander) around… and there is food, drink, laughter, fun, music… and they can all get together in one of the many galleries for dinner and awards… or maybe into the theater for a show.. or if you have the budget you can get some famous (or once famous or soon to be famous) performer and although the museum kind of frowns on karaoke I guess you could do that too. As I like to say… anyway…check it out and talk to them about creating a unique experience Thing. Details and inquiry

That’s all for today. Again… please check out our Libraries for ideas on everything to do with Meetings and Events and stuff… and please… if you have any ideas about any of the different areas, send them to me, I will check them out, and if I can, include them in the next blog update.

AND ONE MORE QUESTION… One of my blog themes is “What is The Most Difficult Part Of Your Job?” I want to hear from everyone from all sides of the biz… full-time planners, third-party planners, the “It’s just a part of my job” kind of Executive Assistant planners, PLUS.. all types of vendor/suppliers… convention hotels, boutique hotels, resorts, DMCs, CVBs, Venues, team-builders, meeting technology providers… everyone. Email Me

I add them all together so we can all see the issues that our business partners face and maybe it will help us all get along. :)

And I am not sure how this works at all, but someone told me it would be good if you could like my blogs, or share them with someone… or in general make me famous so I can just sit all day outside my favorite café thinking about stuff. Thanks.

What’s The Hardest Part Of Your Job?

An ongoing discussion… 


Reflecting on the co-operative spirit of our times and the deep currents of understanding and respect evident in our political process, I thought it would be appropriate to interview people from every side of the Meeting Planning biz and ask them the question, “What is the most difficult part of your job”?

Perhaps if we walk for a moment in “the other guy’s shoes”, we may learn what obstacles our business partners (whether they be clients or vendors) have to overcome in order to have the best possible outcome, and thus foster a sense of shared commitment.

Put more simply… if we understand each other, cooperate, and everyone gets what they need, then everyone is happy. Well, except the people who are never happy. Must be difficult for them. 

Side point… is the ability to be happy hard-wired? And an even more important corollary question… is free will… the ability to change one’s outlook on life (from unhappy to happy), also hard-wired? Does it come much more easily to some than to others? And can happy people judge unhappy people, when in reality it has absolutely nothing to do with their strength of will, just some molecule over here instead of over there? Maybe not free will after all… just random luck? Is luck also hard-wired? Should we not believe everything we think?

OK… I have now given you a glimpse into my mind and what I am probably thinking about when you see me staring off into space. And that’s just a tiny sample. Trust me… you do not want to go in there for very long… or as I overheard my seven-year old son say to a friend the other day…”That’s my Dad. Just ignore him”.

Anyway, we took the opportunity presented at the 15th Annual All Things Meetings Reception & Trade Show, attended by as many sides of the meeting biz as you can imagine, and randomly asked a wide range of planners and vendors the same question. We recorded them for a podcast, but for the sake of the NOW (you are reading this), I have summarized many of their points of view as certain themes independently emerged.

The first wave of vendors we interviewed, including large convention hotels, exclusive resorts, boutique hotels, venues, DMCs, CVBs and other service providers, all said roughly the same things. Remember, by nature, they are sales “people-pleasers”… the most difficult part of their jobs…

1.    Getting their clients to communicate the goal and vision of what they really want upfront, so they, the vendors, can respond with targeted proposals that fit the client’s budget.

2.   Fulfilling expectations within the clients price point

3.   Educating clients that prices keep going up, and what they spent last time may no longer be adequate to give them what they need… and clients usually want more than last time.

4.   As a corollary to number 2… relationships are important, but in high-demand properties or during high-demand seasons, the salespeople no longer have the authority to set pricing. Faceless revenue managers do that and the salespeople are caught in the middle. Being “pleasers”, they find that a difficult place to be.

5.   With high touch (and high-priced) luxury properties or service providers, the salespeople need enough advance notice to fulfill the client’s very high expectations. Getting as much detail upfront is critical to provide that wow level of service. They are good at scrambling, but even better when they can prepare.

6.   RFP Spam. Planners do not realize it, but because of changes in technology, suppliers are inundated with hundreds of requests for proposals, many unqualified for their property or service. But… they all require a response. This was actually quite a “biggie” on the difficulty scale.

7.   For the non-traditional service providers, it’s getting their message through the general “noise” of our marketing culture to educate clients that the service they provide exists, let alone is valuable.

We also interviewed a wide range of meeting planners… C-Level Executive Assistants, full-time “Meeting Planners” in charge of all levels and sizes of corporate events, and Corporate Executives who are in charge of their own specific events but have a team that handles logistics… it was a little bit of everything. Their responses had more variance, but some themes emerged as well…

1.    The biggest challenge is not with vendors, but with getting the details, budgets and commitments from their own internal executive team. C+ Level EAs shared similar difficulties… the business environment and opportunities come, go and change so frequently, and at the last minute… and there is always some key player or component that is holding up the decision-making process… that it is extremely difficult to provide their vendors with everything they ask for in a timely manner… but when they do know, often at the last minute, they need their vendor to understand the sense of urgency.

2.   In the same vein, these planners are constantly getting “follow-up” and “touching base” calls or e-mails from vendors, and although they understand why, they are so, so busy that it is difficult to respond, especially since they really don’t know the answer to the vendors question. If they knew, they would have already called.

3.   This one is a tough one… The planner plans very short-term (not her idea, but reflective of their rapidly changing business), and needs immediate responses… within 24 hours, with venue availability and pricing. They said their biggest difficulty is salespeople “sitting” on their responses for 24 to 48 hours. We asked… how many rfps do you typically send out for each event… the answer… five to eight. We were just neutral interviewers so we had to stay neutral (see vendor difficulty #6).

4.   This one is certainly understandable when the economy is booming… finding availability for large groups that need a lot of meeting space. Yes, Tell me about it.

5.   My favorite one… what is the most difficult part of your meeting planning job? The answer… “So many details”. Yeah, tell me about that too.

Ok. That’s more than enough for now. Hopefully you get the idea… we keep adding to the discussion and with luck (?), we will begin to understand what is happening to the other guy… and if you haven’t figured it out yet, the other guy is really us.

 More later.




Why It’s A Really Good Idea To Get Out Of Your Office

This is not an old-guy rant about how the “younger generation” doesn’t understand the value of personal relationships, that they are over-connected to and over-dependent upon technology and that the world is going to hell-in-a-hand-basket (blah, blah, blah).
First of all… I have no idea if it is true. Second, it’s probably not (except for the hell-in-a-hand-basket thing) and third… if it is true, well, being an old guy, I will be dead (relatively) sooner rather than later and I don’t want to live in that world anyway, so good luck with that. I digress.
The reason I am writing about this is we just completed the 15th Annual San Francisco All Things Meetings Reception & Tradeshow where we brought together about 165 meeting planners and introduced them to 100+ exhibitor vendors representing every aspect of the industry (hotels, venues, CVBs, DMCs, Team Builders, AV Production Companies, Trade Show Booth and Prop Designers, Meeting Technology Companies, Transportation companies, Banner makers, Gift Amenity providers and “more”).

There was great food, wine, cool displays, prizes, and a lot of talking, laughing, hugging and that “networking” thing.

Before I ramble on about my theories about humans, the universe and everything,
here’s some attendee feedback…

I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for a great event!  All of us who plan events know the effort put forth for a successful outcome!  I enjoyed speaking with many of the vendors and making numerous contacts”. – Barbara A. –Shoretel
“Once again, last night was awesome!  THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!!!!!” Lena S. – Lazard
“Thank you for a great event. I made some excellent contacts and it was especially good exposure to so many vendors.” Scott T. – Helpshift
“THANK YOU for such a great event!  There were some new vendors there and it was great finding out about their services.” – Patti F. – Ellen Michaels Presents

“It was a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for the invite. I found lots of great vendors to connect with at the All Things Meetings Reception and Trade Show”. Fredda O. - UC Berkeley School of Law

“I just wanted to say that I thought last night was a fabulous event, and I was able to meet people I'd worked with over email, as well as meet a lot of new (and exciting!) vendors!  I already have my "favorites" on the list, and will hope to work with them in the future.” – Nancy S. – Genentech
“Thank you, Neil, for organizing and hosting - always a fun and super useful network promoting and enabling event! Wonderful to see how it's growing and offering ever more opportunities for both vendors and planners”. – Naila M. –
“It was a great event.  It was nice to connect with folks with venues and services that could useful for future programs.” – Thelma D. – Pacific Coast Opthamologic Society
“Another great event this year - my team had a fun time and met lots of new folks.” – Joanna Z. – Appirio
“It was so wonderful to connect with old friends and colleagues and to catch up on some of the latest changes at many destinations and hotels. Every year I look forward to your event!  Thank you so much! “– Loretta L.. CMP

And now for my theory about humans, the universe, why you should get out more, and everything…

We’re animals.

Take billions of years of evolution with trillions of acts of random natural selection. One turned out to be us. The DNA codes of this particular (and very recent) branch, combined with the DNA codes of an enormous host of bacteria, parasites, viruses, and other “things”, mindlessly experiment with survival techniques to successfully replicate within a narrow band of energetic vibration we like to call ‘reality”. 

I won’t even address the idea that we don’t really exist as individuals but are part of a continuum… let’s save that for a conversation in a café over a triple espresso (with a bearded guy playing bongos in the corner)… but for the sake of this discussion about meetings…
One of these survival techniques we human animals are good at is social interaction. We survive better when we are in a group (aka herd, pack, tribe, nation, religion… you get the idea) because DNA encoded cooperation increases our chance of survival long enough to reproduce.
It’s too soon to know if this really works (a million years is kind of nothing), but here we are. What was I talking about?
An important part of this social interaction/survival thing is that the human brain evolved to be really good at pattern recognition. Back in the wandering around the savannah days, it helped to be able to read the facial expressions and gruntal intonations of our fellow primates so we knew who was about to give us food and who was about to hit us over the head with a sharp rock. Everyone had to know where they fit in and our brains are amazing at “reading” each other.
What does this have to do with why it’s a really good idea to get out of your office, away from your computer and e-mails, and go to an industry trade-show?
To over-simplify… Meetings are incredibly complicated. You can’t do it without good relationships with your vendors… and you can’t really tell whom you can trust… I mean really trust… until you shake their hand, look them in the eye, listen to them talk, and in general use your ancient pattern-recognition skills to see if you can trust them enough to give them your business. Will they protect you or abandon you? Are they who they say they are? The face-to-face moment may be brief, but you build on that.
Of course you may misjudge them. Obviously they have to be accountable for what they promise (the contract thing). But it’s a good start. E-mails and web sites cannot compare no matter what anyone says.

Remember… you think you know everything. You don’t.
Don’t believe everything you read on the internet or in a text message.
Get out and meet people. It’s what we do.
That’s why.

Outrageous Theme Parties as Team Builders

Definition of Terms. Putting a hay bale and a wagon wheel on the buffet table and handing everyone a red kerchief and cowboy hat when they arrive is not a Theme Party. It’s what we professionals in the business refer to as “a stupid waste of money”.

My apologies go out to Directors of Catering Everywhere. But to calm everyone down, I am not saying that having incredible décor is not a great thing to have at your event. There are some amazing things available to make the party elegant or fun or crazy. It’s just not a theme party (by my definition and hey, this is my blog).

What I call a Theme Party is something inclusive, something so over-the-top that your attendees (and the hotel or venue staff) will be talking about for years to come. It’s an inter-active environment. It’s something attendees could never re-produce on their own. It breaks down barriers. Consider it team-building.

For example, a Casino Night is always (usually) a big hit. It gets people involved, mixes people together that might not normally socialize, all of that jazz. But by itself, although fun and occupying a rightful place in “things to entertain your group with” category, it’s not a Theme Party (by our hitherto agreed upon definition).

Want to make the Casino Night something memorable (and yes, we are talking big budgets here… like I said, it’s my blog), how about re-creating the set of Casablanca’s famous Rick’s Café Americain? Restaurant-style seating that can be adjusted, long bar, Moroccan-style furniture and décor, ceiling fans… you get the idea… have fun with it… a big band (and a guy who can sing As Time Goes By and a woman who can sing La Marseillaise)… and the casino is still a big part of the event, but in style… and the whole place is staffed with actors from the film… Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, the crazy Russian bartender, the good-natured head waiter… (we’ll leave out the Germans), and the serving staff is also in costume and in character.

Even better… tell your guests in advance about the dress-up party and give awards for the best costumes for movie characters, or a 1940’s dance contest. And…and…and… as you can see, I like this kind of thing.

So with that in mind… here are some other random, cool ideas for your next Real Theme Party…

Alice in Wonderland/Through The Looking Glass

The iconic Jaki Baskow (Baskow & Associates, Las Vegas, suggested this one (in a kind of stream of consciousness way)… Everything is backwards, nothing matches, all place settings are different sizes (plates, cups, glassware, utensils, flower arrangements, watering cans), lots of stripes, polka dots and/or eyes. Tables are long Mad Tea Party settings covered with all kinds of crazy stuff.

Lots of entertainers, in character. Jaki says that even the strolling magician does his tricks backwards (I guess I have to see that one). Servers dressed like Playing Cards. Guests enter through a Rabbit Hole or Looking Glass and can participate in games like Flamingo Croquet (Styrofoam flamingoes – they don’t talk back). The Mad Queen is there. The Cheshire Cat, of course. Have a professional in-character MC… Music and dancing… and if you can… send invitations (from the Queen) to guests before the event… and do that costume contest thing. For those who don’t come in costume, have some accessories available. I guess if you have outdoor access and can get far enough away from the door, you can have a hookah-sharing Caterpillar for the smokers in the group… OK, maybe that went a bit too far… play with it. 

The Summer of Love

I was a tad to young to participate in ’67, and my mother wouldn’t let me go to Woodstock (which is probably the last time I ever let her tell me what to do or not do), and so didn’t I join the party until 1970. By that time the narrative had switched from Woodstock to Altamont, and you definitely do not want to have an Altamont theme party (look it up).

So, although reading The Electric Kool-Aid Test and my search for the Merry Pranksters got me on the road to California, and I do have some hippie-cred having lived three months on a commune in Sweden (honestly, I can’t remember why I was there), and I spent a fair amount of time in remote hot springs chanting OM during various equinox’s and solstices – I missed the Summer of Love. Bummer.

If you missed it too, the Production Alliance Network ( can re-create it in all of its hazily remembered glory.

The most critical part of any ’67 theme party… the music. You definitely need a great cover band, and although gyrating with outstretched wriggling arms to the Grateful Dead’s Dark Star helped you experience psychic liberation... you really didn’t need a partner (even though you thought you had one). I strongly suggest going the Soul Music route since anything with back-up singers is going to get everyone out on the dance floor with a big smile on their face. It’s irresistible.

Add in a vintage VW van, a Woodie (for the surfing crowd), a Mustang convertible… lots of peace signs, flowers, beads, light shows (lots of them), face painters, street jugglers, poetry readers, tarot and palm readers, big pillows and blankets spread out everywhere (it’s a Be-In… don’t need chairs – OK… you can have a chair)… lots of costume accessories (including wigs), photo booths, have a picnic, a parade… alcohol is still the only legal drug (most places for now), but it will do. Everyone can relax, party, and pretend that everything that happened after the summer of 1967 didn’t happen.

Studio 54

Jaclyn Bernstein with Empire Force Events/Access NY Metro ( suggested this one… The event she described to me was staged at The Capitale, allowing the use of two large events spaces in a Beaux Arts venue, but it can be staged in many suitable locations.

The foyer area was turned into a street scene, with a carpet printed street and sidewalks and realistic police barricades and steam pipes. Burly doormen kept the velvet rope pulled tight allowing no entry except for recognized celebrities—portrayed by impersonators—such as Grace Jones and Liza Minnelli, and those selected as “the beautiful people” by a dead ringer for night-club impresario Steve Rubell. Of course this created just the right amount of anticipation as guests jockeyed for admission utilizing all of their wiles and charm to get through the doors and into the real party.

Signature lighting systems were recreated by some of Studio 54’s original designers, and the iconic Man in the Moon hung over a modernized illuminated dance floor. Caged go-go dancers flanked the stage and a practically nude Lady Godiva rode her white horse across the dance floor. The evening climaxed with a surprise appearance by original Studio 54 performers, The Village People.

Once again I say… tell your people in advance that they are going to a dress-up party… and have prizes for costumes. Get people to go beyond their comfort zone and reveal themselves to their co-workers as real people, not just the guy in the next cubicle or the voice on the phone in the district office. Build camaraderie, and at the same time create a buzz that they will bring back to their work world… I mean… Lady Godiva on a horse on the dance floor? The Village People? Cool.

OK… you get the idea. There are an infinite number of possibilities and I will continue to add them to our Theme Party Blog and to our Library Archive at

Please send me your favorite theme party ideas, we will check them out and share with everyone. The same goes for all of our other blog subjects.

Oh, and this too… if you have a particular subject you want to know more about, tell me, we’ll do the research and post it in one of our newsletters with links to resources. All subjects will be considered. :)

Vol: V – To Third Party Or Not To Third Party

I am Not a Third Party.

Here are some reasons you might want to use one.
For thousand of years, philosopher/planners have long debated whether they plan large events themselves or hire an “expert” to help.
You may not have known this, but during the first Olympics it was decided to save some drachma and the whole shebang was assigned to an EA. Not that they weren’t supremely qualified in their job… but this was something they knew nothing about (although they may have thought they did). “What could be so hard”, they said. “Just hire a caterer (everyone loves lamb), a band (can we get Orpheus?), invite everyone on the list, big guys will wrestle, and we’ll have a party. I love parties”.
Well, as it turned out, the Athenians were seated next to the Spartans (AWWWKward!!!), the Discus-Throwers sign had to be hand-chiseled at the last minute (talk about overtime – and if you think unions are tough, try dealing with the stone-cutters guild on a weekend), Aphrodite’s welcome amenity was WAY nicer than both Athena’s and Hera’s (Google “Trojan War”), and when Hades’ VIP chariot didn’t show up, all Hell broke loose (literally).
Yes. I’m a riot. :)

The bottom line question: Is the mark-up you pay to an Event Management Company more or less than what you will have to pay when things don’t go the way you expected?

I am not a full-service Third Party. I am The Guy Who Introduces Good People to Other Good People (ask me for referrals any time)… but I have spent many years of my career as a third-party guy and have been on all sides of the table in this discussion. Here’s my take on it (in a few paragraphs) for The Basic Scenarios…

You have to plan a small internal meeting...

in a destination you are familiar with. You know who is coming, need some rooms, a place to meet, some F&B, and an off-property activity. My advice: Do it yourself. If you like details, everything will be fine. (Important Note –read the hotel contract before you sign it and don’t hire any vendors no one in your professional network has ever used. Did I mention I was a free referral service?).

 Next level… it’s a bigger meeting...

you’ve done this before but you have a lot on your plate, there are several simultaneous tracks, all of your Executives will be there and you can only hold a few hands at a time. Consider one of the zillion “independent” planners or smaller “houses” out there, some more competent than others (ask me and I will make some recommendations), who will work on a contract/fee basis. Give them specific pieces of the project they are accountable for. They can relieve some of the burden, advise you on some of the tricks of the trade (they will read and actually understand the hotel contract), and be in places where you can’t be because you are someplace else. When the meeting is over, they move on. It’s worth it.

One step up… You have to organize a large conference...

top customers, users, developers, investors, the press… and your executives will be there too. The whole world is watching. We are not just talking about meeting logistics. It’s a Branding Thing.  You’ve got to think strategically and identify your audience, avoid conflicting industry events, formulate a message that will inspire your audience to attend, design logos, manage sponsors and exhibitors, etc. times a million. Never forget that the logistics of the event reflect your brand, so all of your vendors better be up to snuff, because your audience (and your boss) will not blame the AV guy if the lights go out. And so on.

What can a good third-party do for you?

If they are good (that’s a big question), tell them everything you need to do, everything you want to do, and how much you have to spend (and be honest)… and if they are good (still a big question), they will come back to you with questions and then options...lots of them. The good ones not only know what they know, they know everyone who knows what they don’t know (just as important), and they walk you through the insane process of it all. Their job is to make you look good. The good ones want your repeat business.

Sure they mark it up (remember to keep your eye on that… has to be transparent). Think of them as an insurance policy… they are paid not only to make sure things go right, they are paid to think of everything that could go wrong, prevent it from happening, and have a back-up plan when it happens anyway.

I could rattle on about it all but won’t. For those of you who actually read my newsletter and blogs, you know this is the part where I recommend some resource… and here is just one for the moment… I will continue the conversation in future blogs… but I like these guys…

San Francisco based Production Alliance Network (PAN), a new venture combining a pre-exisiting Conference Management company (The Host group but not the one you are thinking of) with several Full-Service Production, Lighting and Audio-Visual divisions. Forget all the old names (except for their client lists and experience), and just think PAN.
Why do I like them?
I think of them as the New Old Kids on the Block (or the Old New Kids). The two principals, Kyle Edwards and Stefan Gosiewski have arm-length resume’s going back 35-40 years, each with their own specialties. Together they provide something unique.

Kyle has been producing and managing corporate events for just about every major company you can think of… meetings, trade shows, conferences, conventions, incentives… you name it… and understands both the Branding Thing and the Budget Thing (combined with the Service Thing… never say no, provide options).

Stefan’s experience goes back to England in the 70’s where he pioneered the introduction of video in the London Club Scene, and then on to New York where he installed the first video system in Club 54. His resume’ includes producing all sorts of festivals, concerts (Elton John’s 60th Bday – just one example), films, commercials, and lots of other cool stuff. What do they bring to the table? They bring the two worlds together… combining everything Stefan knows from the festival, concert and film world with Kyle’s experience with the special Branding and service requirements of the Corporate World. In addition, they work with all of the top vendors (and I mean top) in all of those specialties and can combine the technologies and techniques of one with the other.

They also have the latest equipment and actually are a rental source for a lot of other AVProduction companies. Their San Francisco warehouse and showroom is crammed with “stuff”, and they have equipment stored in five major US cities.

And they are really nice guys.

Ok… I obviously trust them and that is a huge hurdle right there. Check them out. I’ll have more suggestions in future blogs. Stay tuned.

That’s it for the moment… but we’ll keep building the Library. Tell every meeting planner you know to visit the site and share their ideas (and click on everything :) 

Next month we'll be talking about Theme Parties … or whatever other random idea pops into my head between now and then.

Join the conversation and share your experiences…

Vol: IV Luxury Retreats With Horses


I like Luxury. I like Horses.
Last month I mentioned the new Auberge-managed resort in the Costa Rican mountains that, among many other wonderful features, also has a world-class stable. I thought… I write about a lot of things that meeting and incentive planners can use, so here are some of my favorite North American luxury retreats… perfect for small meetings, retreats, incentives, team-building (and all of that jazz)… that have good horses. I want to go.
Whenever planners get together to talk shop, or for that matter, whenever anyone finds out the business I am in, the question invariably arises… what’s the best place you ever stayed?

It’s an almost impossible question to answer because I have had the good fortune of visiting and staying in some really amazing places over the last 40 years in the biz (and of course it depends on the category… Resort? City? Luxury? Adventure?)… but when pushed, I usually say…

Miraval Resort & Spa, Tucson, AZ

Why is it one of the best places I have ever stayed? Granted… there are probably a lot of really beautiful all-inclusive resorts with 117 casitas on 400 acres about 35 minutes north of Tucson with a (really) world-class destination spa, delicious, healthy food, dozens of activities, 4500 square feet of indoor meeting space, and probably the friendliest and caring staff of any place I have ever been. But, do they also have horses? Miraval does.

I have gone through the Equine Experience twice now and space prohibits me from giving it its due. I will summarize quickly… Cowboy therapist, Wyatt Webb, and his staff, take a group of “dudes”, tell them how horses view the world, and then have the dudes a) clean the horses hooves, b) walk them up and down and c) end up in a ring (just you and a horse), where without touching the horse you learn to get it to walk, trot and canter in one direction, turn around, do the same in the other direction… stop the horse, have it walk towards you and out its head down.
What do you learn? It’s not about the horse.
I could talk for an hour about it, but another thing I learned… I don’t need to talk about it for an hour. The only thing I will say is that if you ever have a chance, bring your group to Miraval and have them do it. And while you’re at Miraval, do all of the other stuff they offer too.
Moving north (and maybe a little west)…

Rancho de los Caballeros, Wickenburg,AZ
They self-describe themselves as “a dude ranch in the Sonoran desert”, and I guess it’s that if you think of a dude ranch also having one of the top 10 golf courses in Arizona and a spa. The 79-room all-inclusive resort is located on 20,000 acres (yes, 20k), 75 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor.
Besides great golf, a great spa, a super-relaxed ranch atmosphere, hearty food and friendly (and real) staff, they have trap & skeet shooting, hot air ballooning, desert jeep and ATV tours, nature programs and my favorite… lots of horses.
And ranked as one of my favorite team building activities of all time… Team Penning. Simple… everyone gets a horse suited to their riding experience, the group is separated into teams, and given the task of herding three steers from one big pen into a smaller pen. Trust me, it is not as easy as it sounds, and requires teamwork. Let’s just say, there is a lot of laughing and whooping going on while participants learn to co-operate (and overcome fear). It is the best. J

Time to jump north… because if you are talking about Luxury and Horses, you have to talk about Montana…

The Ranch at Rock Creek, Phiipsburg, MT
There is luxury, and there is luxury. The RRC is the latter. It’s the world’s only 5-Star Guest Ranch, a member of Relais & Chateaux, and is even a charter member of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World (and yes, I am sure you can name the other charter members).
Long story short… The 6600-acre all-inclusive year-round ranch resort offers 29 one-of-a-kind accommodations providing 38 private bedroom/bathroom combinations, truly world-class cuisine, and over 20 activities with guides, gear and expert instruction. The activities include fly-fishing, shooting, archery, ropes courses, mountainbiking, rodeos, plenty of winter sports, and in-season… 75 horses.

The “thing” about the RRC… when you first look at their all-inclusive pricing you may say… whoa! … but if you really break it down to what is included (everything), it is in-line with all of the other resorts in it’s class. So make sure you are comparing all of the components before freaking out.

And while we are in Montana…Lone Mountain Ranch, Big Sky, MT

Just twenty miles from Yellowstone National Park (and one hour from the Bozeman, MT airport), Lone Mountain Ranch (aka “The Real Montana”) has been a destination ranch for about 100 years. They offer 24 unique accommodations from creek-side cabins to six-bedroom homes… the total being 50 separate bedroom/bath combinations with the ability to accommodate 100 guests (and everyone gets their own horse). 

It’s an all-inclusive resort and they can do everything from the cowboy steak fry to an elegant gourmet meal, and depending upon the season include horseback riding (of course), guided tours of Yellowstone Park, sleigh rides, cross-country and downhill skiing, guided fly-fishing, whitewater rafting, hot air ballooning, massage (really good after horseback riding), and a menu of teambuilding options. The staff is made up of real people (this is, after all, the real Montana) who truly care that you have a good time.

That’s it for the moment… but we’ll keep building the Library. Tell every meeting planner you know to visit the site and share their ideas (and click on everything :) Next month we'll be talking about Theme Parties … or whatever other random idea pops into my head between now and then.

Vol III: The Tropical Edition: New Luxury Hotels

I am completely biased. “But Neil”, you say, “we trust you to give us an unbiased opinion on all of the really cool things out there for us meeting planners to use and share. How are you biased (say it ain’t so)?”  “OK”, I say…”I’ll tell you. I am biased in two big ways… 1) I really, really like high levels of service and 2) I like people I have known for a long time that have never steered me wrong (the trust thing).”

This month’s editorial?. I’m pretty sure I like them but, being new, I have never actually stayed at any of them. How can I recommend them? Two reasons… 1) Their brands have always provided me with a high level of service and 2) I trust the people who have told me about them.
Not that I would ever book a group anywhere, site un-seen, but at least these new properties will make it into my “consideration set” when I recommend a destination to one of my clients (and forgive me for using the phrase “consideration set”).
Special note… if anyone from any of these hotels really wants me to site so I can write about them first hand, e-mail me and I will tell you my preferred seat assignment.

Second Note – When I decided to write about hotel openings and reached out to my various connections for ideas, I was inundated with information about new properties… so much so that I have to divide it into parts… so for now… The Tropical Edition…
As with all of my newsletter/blogs, the information here will be posted on our website (bookmark it) and then put in our Resource Library so you can always check them out. Oh… although I am sure the hotels I talk about are happy to get free press, they may have to endure my de-constructing their press releases… here goes…

First up… Hacienda AltaGracia, “a luxury resort teeming with life-altering experiences”.  OK… let the de-construction begin… ah, never mind… too easy… we continue…

Located in the mountains of southern Costa Rica, this 50 hacienda-style casita resort was originally a family retreat and coffee farm but now boasts one of Central America’s finest spas (the press release actually calls it a “wellness haven :), gourmet fusion cuisine, a world-class equestrian program, all sorts of Costa Rica-style “critters” (my word) and Auberge-Resort level service.
One thing about it… you have to want to be there. It’s a three-hour drive from San Jose Intl airport (their San Jose, not ours), or a very short flight on one of the resort’s private planes (that’s extra). Seems like an incredible destination for a top-tier incentive or a high-end Board retreat. Combine all that with nature stuff, waterfalls and horses (I like horses)… I am now officially biased.

A little closer to home (assuming you do not live south of Costa Rica) the 299-room JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort & Spa, offering over 38,000 square feet (a lot) of meeting space, is located within the exclusive (as in gated) 2000-acre residential development of Puerto Los Cabos. Just 20 minutes from the airport, the resort overlooks a “pristine” beach (de-construction question – can you combine the words development and pristine in one paragraph?) with “breath-taking” (their word) views of the Sea of Cortez. The pristine development also has golf. And just to make it even more interesting, the resort includes The Griffin Club, a 45-room luxury hotel within the luxury hotel. Yes, it also has a spa, several restaurants and bars and pools and lots of things to do. My experience with JW is that they are good.

And while we are in Cabo… The recently opened 161-room The Cape (a Thompson Hotel) has been getting rave reviews. Positioned on a secluded (define secluded in Cabo) beach only three miles from downtown Cabo, the resort features unobstructed views of El Arco (presumably a good thing).  The hotel p.r. people want you to know the “beach boasts a left-breaking wave” (presumably also a good thing). The hotel has 2,000 square feet of meeting space, which does not include a very, very cool rooftop venue for special events.
They describe the hotel as a “1960's Baja-meets-SoCalsurfer style environment that reflects the Thompson brand's urban roots yet honors the resort's Baja setting.” I have no idea what that means. Can I still order guacamole’? If not, no worries, because their restaurant’s chef, world renowned Chef Enrique Olvera’s other restaurant, Pujol in Mexico City, is ranked #17 of the top restaurants in the world. I bet it’s good.

Speaking of good… any Four Seasons opening is a good thing. Another Four Seasons in Hawaii is a really good thing. It’s not “new” new, in that it used to be the JW Ihilani, but since everything will be different… Enter the new Four Seasons Resort O‘ahu at Ko Olina.
Adjacent to the Lanikuhonua (“where heaven meets earth”) Cultural Estate and nature preserve, the newest Four Seasons in Hawaii is located on the ocean in the resort community of Ko Olina, meaning “place of joy.” Note… I have a very stupid cultural question… when Hawaiians are talking does one say, “Hey where are you going today”, and the other replies… “To the place of joy where heaven meets earth. Wanna come?” And the first guy answers, “Nah… been there, done that.”?
Sorry… getting back on track… just 17 miles from Honolulu International Airport, the 358-room resort also has over 16,000 square feet of meeting space, a spa, five restaurants… and as a total surprise for an Hawaiian resort… a great beach and a bunch of pools. And remember, after relaxing for a few days at this resort, you can head over to the Four Seasons Lanai and un-wind.

OK… let’s all head back to Costa Rica and turn right. Opening December 2015 –Secrets Playa Bonita Panama Resort & Spa. This adults-only all-inclusive 310-room resort has what every luxury resort in Panama should have…golden sand beaches, jungle walkways, a freshwater infinity pool and a Spa. The resort has over 20,000 square feet of meeting space (the ballroom can accommodate banquets for up to 800) and if you really want to, you can swim in two oceans in the same day.
Assuming you know the geography of Panama… the resort is minutes away from the colonial and shopping districts of Panama City, the Panama Canal, and the Punta Bruja Nature Reserve. Great opportunities for eco-stuff. Fun Fact… The average daily temperature in Panama is 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Ah, you say… that’s the average. True… averages can be deceptive…except in Panama. Seriously, year-round…it’s 82 degrees. I mean it might get up to 87 during the day and 77 at night… but really… it’s 82 degrees.

And one more… keep going way southeast… and…Bem vindo ao Brasil!
Specifically, the Grand Hyatt Rio de Janeiro. The 436-room hotel occupies a privileged position on a beautiful stretch of beach in the heart of the “prestigious and exclusive” Barra da Tijuca neighborhood (translation… the rich people live there) and so you can retreat in style from the craziness that is Rio. Not necessarily too crazy, but crazy enough…and that’s why we go. With over 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including an 8,500 sq. ft. ballroom, the property can handle meetings of up to around 300 classroom style (or almost double that for a banquet).

Galeão International airport is approximately a 50-minute drive (and when the PR department says approximately… ha ha).


Volume II: Cool Online Resources

In the same way that the universe is continually expanding (or so I am told), I am compelled to continually add to and expand my web site’s Libraries. It’s a force of nature. Found two very interesting ones… Yes, that is its name, and for those of you snickering about it, MICE stands for Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Events. At least that is what I think it stands for since everyone seems to have a different answer for the C and E… but close enough for jazz.

The site is positioned as a “Supplier Relationship Management” tool (SRM). Now when someone says SRM you can nod like you know what they are talking about in the same way I nod when someone says CRM and I have no idea what they are talking about. The good news is this is a tool to manage the supply base, except Micebook keeps the contact details up to date for everyone. And the site is FREE to Meeting Planners.

Event planners can use MICEBOOK to search for CVBs, hotels, venues, DMCs, airlines, representation companies and an ever-growing database of other Meeting, Incentive, Conference and Exposition suppliers.  At the moment there are about 4000 global suppliers. It keeps growing.

I asked CEO Chetan Shah how positioning is determined when a planner does a broad search for a supplier in a particular destination. Do the highest paying vendors get the best positions? The answer… No. The order they appear is related to how many event planners have saved them as a “favourite” (and I spelled favorite with a “u” because the company is HQ’d in London and for some reason they put an extra “u” in for no apparent reason).

When I was in graduate school (impressed?), they made us read a small book called How to Lie with Statistics. Besides making me never trust anything anyone says, ever, it taught me how data can be skewed in just about any direction one wants. The point being, if you have a small sample of planners choosing favorites, the positioning near the top may not mean that they are the best supplier, only that the limited universe choosing favorites knows about them (or are their cousins).

At the moment there are only about 1000 planners registered (the site is new), but Mr. Shah says they expect that number to grow exponentially. Presumably the positioning of suppliers will change as more planners enter the system and will eventually become broad enough to eliminate the “relatives” factor.

You can even earn rewards for adding unlisted suppliers to MICEBOOK. The site folks vet them, and for every profile that becomes a paying member of MICEBOOK, you earn $25USD. (Wheels turning).


Yes, yes, I know everyone knows about LiveNation and that they manage like a million (over 100) really cool venues around the country… but did you know about this “secret url"?

Ah ha. You just learned something. Want to have an event in some iconic venue (I consider San Francisco’s The Fillmore my equivalent to the Vatican) or at any House of Blues or the Hollywood Palladium or Irving Plaza in NYC, or SF’s Masonic Auditorium or all of the other really cool places they manage? Fill out the rfp on-line for any one venue OR… use it to search multiple venues like… all at once.

They also have “people” you can work with for Entertainment and Production, Food and Beverage, Themed Events, Private Concerts and a bunch of other stuff for which meeting and event planners like to have “people”.

OK… that’s it for the moment, but I will keep adding as we go, along with the other Subject blogs and Resource Libraries.

When I told a friend that this month’s editorial would be about recommending cool online resources, she said, “Aren’t you afraid of giving away all your secrets?” My response… Combine the Internet of things with Google’s algorithms, add in a tech-savvy generation of buyers armed (and seemingly connected to) powerful hand-held smart devices… and so (other than anything that appears after Page One of a Google search), there are no secrets.
On the other hand, there is now so much information out there, it is almost impossible to tell who is good and who is not. Travel Advisor and Yelp may be good for individual experiences, but a) groups are different and b) I don’t know anyone who actually writes those reviews anyway. Why should I trust the crowd if I don’t even like the crowd?
I digress.  That’s kind of what I do for group stuff… vet the suppliers and vendors and then recommend them to meeting planners who don’t have the time to wade through it all. It’s the relationship thing (if you’re into that).
So these “Cool OnLine Resources” are no secret unless you did not know about them already. Check them out (since they are cool). And of course, all this info gets posted on our web site and in our Library Archives. We’ll keep adding as we go so that we, too, will remain a very “cool on-line resource” for All Things Meetings. And I am not anonymous. You can actually talk to me.
First up…
Think of it as “AirBnB” for private event spaces but with lots of added value stuff thrown in. It’s a simple concept (now that someone thought of it). Want to have a private event in a cool venue in (for now) San Francisco, Los Angeles and soon to be New York City (and then the world)?
Go to their web site and create a free account (and say I sent you), and you can browse through their entire inventory of cool places, or use one of their many filters… and once you find something you can connect directly with the venue OR… you can chat with one of the PeerSpace people and they’ll help you find what you need. And they are nice too. I use these guys a lot.

And I should mention… it’s not just for “events” in the “let’s have a party” mode. Their staff works closely with their users to help them book space and plan for all kinds of activities, from client meetings and team off-sites to product launch events, photo shoots, executive retreats and all of those other “events that need space things” that I decided not to mention.

An important note… the way they make their money. The venue pays PS most of the finder’s fee…so that’s good… but you pay PeerSpace a fee equivalent to 5% of the venue rental. For example…if the venue charges you $1000, you pay the venue $1k and PeerSpace $50. If the venue charges $300 an hour, you pay that to the venue plus $15 an hour to PeerSpace. And like that.

Yes…it’s money. But you just saved yourself time and found some places you never would have found on your own. Click Here

Next up…
You’re a meeting and event planner. The boss says… “I want to entertain our 25 best customers at the next big game. Want one of those VIP suites. Set that up.” And you say OK… and then stare at your computer screen trying to figure out what to do next.

The answer? Go to (makes sense). They just happen to be the main supplier of luxury suites at all sporting events and concerts in North America. And they are also really nice (at least to me, so far).

Important - They are NOT just another ticket broker. Truth be told, in a world of over 10,000 ticket brokers, nearly every suite purchased from a broker is coming from LuxuryVIPsuites. LVS is contracted with corporations and private suite owners who have long term contracts with the venue. They are the source! Hey… I can get it for you wholesale! (Just kidding). 
Anyway…good deals. And I say good deals assuming you understand that VIP Luxury Suites at major sporting events are not what you would call… cheap… but considering the ROI one gets from hanging out for a few hours with your top customers… worth it. Visit their web site… Click Here
Oh…this is an editorial and these guys have not paid me anything to say all of this about them. I chose it because I like them… but they said… tell your readers that if they mention All Things Meetings when they buy something, they’ll get a special gift. I have no idea what that is, and like I said, this is an editorial so you don’t have to say anything you don’t want to say. Just saying.

And finally (for today)…
I get asked all the time… hey, can you recommend a restaurant in San Francisco with a private room that can seat x number of people on such and such a date? Easy question. Dilemma: It takes a lot of time to figure out what matches the client’s demographic and budget, and then find out what’s available. (Unlike many places in the world), SF restaurants usually don’t pay finders fees or commissions… (don’t get me started). What is the solution to the “lots of time for no money” dilemma? If I can’t convince my clients the benefits of having an exclusive event in a really cool private venue so they can theme it, choose the perfect menu… and all of the other things I say to them, then I recommend my clients go directly… and here’s why…

San Francisco Private Dining Venues is free search engine and RFP platform for event planners to locate the best possible venue for their private dining needs. Venues range from fun and casual to fine dining with lots of choices in between. You can submit an RFP on the web site and choose which restaurants should receive it. It’s actually pretty cool. Click Here

That’s it for the moment… but we’ll keep building the Library. Tell every meeting planner you know to visit the site and share their ideas (and click on everything :) 

Next month we'll be talking about Theme Parties … or whatever other random idea pops into my head between now and then.

Please share your "Most Wow" Team Building experience, or your recommendation for the "Coolest On-Line Resource" with us (and everyone) on the Blog on our new site (so we can all check it out).

Volume I: Team Building

(Like Love) Team building is one of those things that mean something different to everyone.  To the Organizational Development guy, Team building is an ongoing process that helps a work group evolve into a cohesive unit. The team members not only share expectations for accomplishing group tasks, but also learn to trust and support one another and respect one another's individual differences.

You know, that team building stuff. On the other end of the spectrum… let’s call them Company Outings. As much fun as they are, taking your group to a Giant’s Game is not really team building in the true sense of the word. It’s fun, and a good thing, and let’s people get to know each other as real people, not just as fellow workers… but still…it’s a company outing (side-note…take me). 

If I am an “attendee” and hear the event organizers announce team building, my brain groans and I think… "Can’t I just go back to my room and take a nap... or since I don’t have a TV at home, can I just find some Cops re-runs on Cable, lay on the bed, and relax until it’s time for the reception?"

But… I go, I participate, and (almost) always have a great time and feel closer to the group and to my fellow humans in general. That lasts for a few minutes, but it’s a great feeling. Just kidding. The reality of it is that  if done right, and with the proper follow-up, it actually changes the way you view yourself and how you work with people. You know, the relationship thing (that is, if you’re into that).

What is critical to the success of any team building exercise, or a company outing for that matter, is the follow-up. How do you translate the positive experience into something that can be used to increase harmony and productivity, because my friends… no matter what anyone says, that’s why it’s done. You know…the money thing.

So let me take a moment to highlight a few cool ideas you can do for your group right here in northern California…  there are dozens of possibilities but in deference to space and attention spans, we’ll have to grow the library as we go… just remember, whatever you do for your team, develop a strategy to follow-up, either with your team-builder or with your HR department. Like the Organizational Guy said, it’s an ongoing process. Otherwise it’s just a very expensive memory.

First Up Comedy Sportz The performers use improvisation skills onstage to get people laughing, but they specialize in teaching people HOW to use improvisation techniques in their work lives. Improvisation is not "winging it". It's a highly refined system of observing, connecting and responding.

  • Listening - with true focus, staying in the moment
  • Accepting - circumstances and what others bring to the table 
  • Supporting - making others look good
  • Taking Competent Risks - trusting and using your intuition
  • Letting Go of Mistakes - learn and move on

One of the most valuable team building skills… laughing together. There’s a lot more to it.  Click here to visit their web site

Want a little more physical action… try ACSailingSF…The “only” America’s Cup yacht in SF….’USA76’ (84 Ft of “awesomeness”!).

Your group races the yacht against the clock to get ‘USA76’ across the 2013 AC race course, around the Golden Gate Bridge and back to the starting line. Groups up to 20 are divided in two, team captains are educated in a short separate session and those leaders then have to dispense their new knowledge upon their team members to get this big yacht around the race course as quickly as possible. Four professional crew members are there for guidance and to make sure no one is left behind (important in a boat).

Want to sail but have a larger group? SF Sailing Company has multiple yachts (not Americas Cup yachts, but… still really cool yachts) and offers Intro to Sailing lessons - They divide up the groups and practice maneuvers such as tacking and jibbing which both require very clear communication and coordination not only for safety, but also to maximize the speed and efficiency of the boat. They then follow it with a race between multiple boats.

This 3  hour team builder is the standard event, but they also have full day activities built around sailing. Lots of possibilities. Click here to visit their web site.

They have two identical vessels that carry 28 and 36 passengers and with their partners can organize regattas and team building events for many more.  Click here to visit their web site.

We want to build on what we started last month and create a Library of some more cool “team-building ideas. So… here are a few more for you to consider, and please feel free to add to the conversation with some of the team building experiences you have had that proved successful. The idea is to let these ideas give you more ideas. You know… the sharing ideas thing.

rome urban safari.png

When in Rome… Gastaldi Travel presents the Urban Safari (with Flash Mob)

OK, you’ve got your normal Treasure Hunt with clues, puzzles and the need for creative thinking and team cooperation and then…. Add in a team building adventure powered by modern technology – TABLETS- SMART PHONES – GPS… and Rome.

Divided in teams each one equipped with devices to receive the game instructions and clues, guests will take Photos with their smart phones, send them to the “board”, that will assign scores, coordinate team positions via GPS, and then assign the next clue.

Participants will also prepare a short artistic flash mob, helped by Gastaldi’s choreographers (!), in some suitable location in Rome (there must be some somewhere). Connect with Gastaldi Travel

Maybe you’re not in Rome but still like the ‘teams of people wandering around an international city” idea?

Then… San Francisco Bay Area based Corporate Games might be just the thing.

The Amazing Journey - It’s part “foreign mission,” part intercontinental race. Teams must figure out the 10 cities in the world that comprise the “race route” by finding and deciphering clues, along with attempting fun challenges from facilitators stationed at different places around the city. There are creative elements that draw upon the skills of every team member. Resourcefulness, access to technology and the internet play key roles. The teams are also challenged to amass as much (play) money as possible as they go, since money is what would be needed to finance such a trip. CFO’s will like this part.

The Journey can be customized to fit your company’s current theme or history… or whatever. Visit Corporate Games Website


Don’t want to wander around too much? Hungry? How about Teambuilding ROI’s Food Truck Challenge?

You do the “divide into teams” thing and assigned to a truck, and the number of food trucks depends on the size of your group. When the Giant Clock starts ticking, the teams compete to earn necessary items (like ingredients, décor, chalkboards etc), and then work with their Food Truck chef to prep, cook and serve their creations to the rest of the group and a panel of judges. You get the idea… fun, food, and more fun.

That’s it for the moment… but we’ll keep building the Library. Tell every meeting planner you know to visit the site and share their ideas (and click on everything :) 

Join the conversation! Share your thoughts, ideas, and/or experiences in the comment box below.

Next month we'll be talking about International Team Building Ideas… and whatever other random idea pops into my head between now and then.