24 Jan 2017

Looking back over an inspiring, exciting year by Fiona Pelham

MPI International Board of Directors Immediate Past Chair looks back at 2016

January 2017 marks the handover of the role of MPI International Chair and gives me the opportunity to look back over the past inspiring, exciting and often challenging 12 months.

When I joined MPI in 2004 I did so because I wanted to contribute to a community of passionate event professionals. Throughout my years of volunteering with the MPI U.K. & Ireland Chapter, on international taskforces and then on the international board, I was inspired by being part of a global community that understood “when we meet we change the world.” Over the past 12 months I had the unique opportunity to spend time with our global community from Finland to New York, from Tokyo to Ottawa, and as different as our geographical cultures may be, our passion to bring people together is clearly shared.

Being MPI chair is only possible because of the hard work and dedication of the MPI Global Team, MPI Volunteer leaders around the world and our more than 17,000 members. As I said during my comments at the World Education Congress (WEC), every year one person is chair and they represent the members, just as the members represent the chair. While my hope is that I represented our community well, I do know that the support I received from our community made a huge difference to me. It’s hard to know how to say thank you for that (and I do want to say a big thank you), so rather than write a traditional list of thank you notes I thought I would share three stories of learning from the past 12 months with the hope that these stories might also be useful to you in your future.

On one of my final chapter visits (with the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter), a small group of attendees stayed behind the event for an extra hour to ask me any questions they wanted. They loved the session and that experience inspired this approach to saying thank you to the global MPI community for the difference that you make bringing people together to create, collaborate and innovate to create a world that works for everyone.

1. Making a difference always starts with taking an action.
This sounds very obvious, but on every single visit to one of our MPI chapters around the world I heard stories of people who had had an idea and turned it into action. From the Ottawa and Montreal chapters arranging education sessions on the train to the Belgium Chapter asking for an MPI Foundation grant to keep their event on just days after a terrorist attack. From the Finland Chapter that invited the minister of tourism to their event to the Chicago Area Chapter that spent significant funds on a famous speaker. After a year of chapter visits, the WEC and the European Meetings & Events Conference, the interesting thing is that I can’t remember any actions that didn’t make a positive difference. The learning there is be brave, bold and take those risks--the MPI community is a safe space to try your idea!

2. Understanding your triggers will make you a better leader.
We all have triggers, and unless we own them, they will get in the way! I found this out the first week of January 2016 during my first weekly call with MPI’s CEO (part of the role of the chair is to manage the CEO as he leads the MPI Global team to deliver the strategy and targets set by the international board). During that first call the CEO mentioned a few times about asking other people for advice; rather than hearing that as a sensible strategy, I heard that I couldn’t provide enough advice. I spoke to a mentor who pointed out that I had a trigger and I would always hear what I was listening for. That’s the annoying thing about triggers--you always hear them but they mean nothing to everyone else. The trigger of “is this an older male professional telling me I can’t do this” is one of my triggers. During my year as chair I had the opportunity to get so familiar with it I can defuse it in seconds, so that’s one less thing to get in the way!

3. Saying thank you to people is like a secret super power!
Saying thank you to our amazing community of volunteers, our dedicated staff at MPI Global and our many partners was by far my favorite part of the role of MPI IBOD chair. At most chapter and MPI Global events I would be given the chance to do so, and this routine changed me because I started to pay more attention to what I could say thank you for. I started to notice the MPI Global staff member who brought me fruit during a run of long press briefings (enough to make anyone hungry!) or a chapter volunteer who had arrived early to test the PowerPoint or the chapter volunteers who rearranged childcare to keep their commitments. I was inspired to make time to do things I usually resist; motivated by the opportunity to thank people, I wrote a blog for International Women’s Day that inspired an MPI Facebook campaign that recognized more than 200 inspiring women from the MPI community. Every opportunity I got to say thank you reminded me of why I was MPI chair--to shine the spotlight on the passion and commitment of our MPI community. In 2017, under Brian Stevens’ leadership, as each member of the international board continues to be connected to chapters and taskforces the practice of saying thank you and listening will continue.

In a time when world leaders are choosing to tweet rather than meet, the role of our industry has never been more important. We don’t set up a room–we are the guardians of experiences where people can share their ideas. We don’t arrange food–we ensure people’s health and wellbeing is maintained. Over the last year it has been my honor to chair a community of professionals–professionals meeting to change the world.

Thank you - Fiona Pelham, Immediate Past Chair or MPI International Board of Directors (curation from MPI blog)

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