by Deanna Ting | March 02, 2015

4. Find Connections
Finding historic or significant connections can make a meeting all the more meaningful and inspiring, as is the case for the Opticians Association of Massachusetts (OAM).


Members of the Opticians Association
of Massachusetts find special meaning
and historical connection by meeting
at the Southbridge Conference Center
in Southbridge, MA

Every fall for the past five years, approximately 350 opticians from the OAM have met every year at the Southbridge Hotel & Conference Center in Southbridge, MA, for their annual continuing education conference. The center's history lends itself to being a perfect location for opticians. This is where American Optical, a U.S.-based eyewear manufacturer, had its corporate headquarters from 1871 up until the 1970s. In 2000, the main plant's buildings were demolished, except for the façade, and in their place, the Southbridge center emerged, the product of a government contract with the Department of Defense (DoD). Until a few years ago, it was almost exclusively used by the DoD for senior leadership training; today, it's open to all groups.

During OAM's two-day meeting, attendees shuffle into the Prism Auditorium or Crystal Ballroom for general sessions, gatherings, and sessions. During breaks, they might head to the Focus Fitness Center, the Shades Lounge, or Visions Restaurant. Groups also tour the local Optical Heritage Museum, located only a few blocks away.

"The museum is unique for the optical industry," explains Diane Matuck, a member of OAM's board of directors and its main meeting organizer. "It's filled with these priceless artifacts. The location is just perfect for our group. Our members love it, and they feel inspired by it. They learn so much just by being here." Last year, a number of courses were held at the museum.

"We were very lucky to have found a meeting location that could basically be called a home for opticians," says Blair Wong, OAM's executive director. "I think the center is a great facility for any organization, but it also has special meaning for us, and we're lucky to have that here."

For his part, Tew recalls one meeting he facilitated where the conference center was located close to the historic site of the Gettysburg battle in Gettysburg, PA. "We could take the attendees to the battlefield, and integrate the history of that battle into their leadership learning," he explains. "Having that history, that connection, so accessible was really invaluable."

5. Go Back to School
One of the best advantages of meeting at a dedicated conference center is the variety of resources available, especially at venues like the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, the Babson Executive Conference Center, and the Mission Bay Conference Center, all of which are located on university campuses. Relationships to academia make it easier for meeting organizers to find and bring in the right experts and, in some cases, develop the right content.

At AT&T, there's a definite "synergy" between the Texas Executive Education program at The University of Texas at Austin's McCombs School of Business and the center management team, says Mickey D'Armi, Texas Executive Education director of marketing. "There's a real strategic alignment between the center and the Executive Education program."

D'Armi and his colleagues, who include Nancy Nagle, director of custom programs, and Lynn Slattery, director of open enrollment programs, often work in tandem with FLIK Hotels & Conference Centers, which manages the AT&T Center as well as the center at Babson. Says Nagle, "We can work with the faculty and have them help to enhance the program."

That's exactly what Nagle has done for ExxonMobil's Russ Roberts and BBVA Compass' Eric Simpson. Houston-based Roberts, a senior public affairs planning manager, manages an advocacy training program for ExxonMobil's public and government affairs employees around the globe, and has been working with Nagle on the program since its inception in 2008. The program serves approximately 450 to 500 employees, with multiple sessions taking place on an annual basis. Roberts just completed his 17th program at the center.

"The university has professors who are experts in this area, so we chose to tap into their abilities and research to help round the program out," Roberts says. "They worked with us one-on-one on the curriculum and customized the materials for what we needed."

Adds Nagle, "We want to deliver great education and we want the person doing that to look like a hero." Likewise, Nagle assisted Simpson, BBVA Compass' senior vice president and director of leadership and employee development, in creating a customized management training program for the Madrid-based financial service provider's U.S. workforce. "Nancy and her group helped us map out the program from a content standpoint -- which professors to use, what content to include," he says. "The experts they use are not only from an academic perspective but also from consulting and they also have tremendous industry knowledge of financial services."

The Center also works with other university departments, including the Center for Lifelong Engineering Education (CLE), which delivers professional development programs for engineers, including open-enrollment courses. "Because we're part of the school of engineering, it's a great relationship for us," says Marie Giradot, conference coordinator for CLE.

"When you can find that conference center training facility that has the right environment, resources, and connections for your particular group, that's magic right there," says Tew.

Questions or comments? Email [email protected]

This article appears in the March 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.