Event Design Shapes MPI's WEC in San Francisco

More than 1,800 meeting professionals gathered in person to help celebrate the organization's 50th anniversary.

MPI WEC Poland Chapter
Members of the MPI Poland Chapter were among the in-person crowd celebrating the organization's 50th anniversary. Photo Credit: Blair Potter

Meeting Professionals International's World Education Congress wrapped up yesterday at San Francisco's Moscone Center, in celebration of the association's 50th anniversary — and its ability to remain relevant through the pandemic.

Paul VanDeventer, president and CEO of Meeting Professionals International
Paul VanDeventer, president and CEO of Meeting Professionals International

"Associations all quickly learned that they are a business, and they have to run like a business," said Paul VanDeventer, president and CEO of MPI, who guided the organization through a streamlining process over the past two years. MPI cut permanent staff from 80 to about 50 people and cultivated a flexible stable of freelance workers as support staff, a structure that will remain going forward.

"You can't give value back to your membership if you're not there anymore," VanDeventer added. "We wanted to have an organization that has a core set of strategic thinkers and really strong managers."

More than 1,800 planners and suppliers attended the organization's main event this week, with another 300 people joining in online. Jesse States, vice president of the MPI Academy, worked with planning firm George P. Johnson to create the three-day event, shortened from the traditional four days, with a distinct theme for each day: new world, new perspectives; a pathway to professional enlightenment; and a future call to action. General session panels tackled the future of event tech; how to design successful events, with examples from Salesforce, Cisco and Google Cloud; and how to get the most out of MPI, through a conversation with current, past and up-and-coming leaders. 

Acting on the organization's ongoing research, more time for networking among peers was scheduled, as well. "When we talked [in the past] about why people attend an event, the number-one reason was always the educational content. But we saw a complete flip. Networking by far is the most important reason people want to attend an event right now," said VanDeventer.

As part of the celebration of the organization's founding in 1972, MPI named 50 influential meeting professionals, 50 up-and-comers to watch and 50 legacy members — many of whom were in attendance and were feted at the association's largest President's Dinner ever, with 750 on hand at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square.

WEC will head to Mexico for the first time, to the Riviera Maya June 12-15, 2023, with following events scheduled to take place in St. Louis in 2024; Louisville, Ky., in 2025; and San Antonio in 2026.