Zoo Story: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at an Annual Meeting
ASSOCIATIONS NOW, December 2012 , Feature
|Summary: Conventions and expos are hard work. But the people who perform these logistical miracles make it look easy. Welcome to three days in the life of one of the greatest shows on earth, courtesy of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.||
With 141 exhibitor booths—up from 125 in 2009—the 190,000-square-foot hall becomes an ad hoc nerve center for attendees. "Our biggest challenge right now is growing pains," says Muri Dueppen, director of integrated marketing at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
|Melissa Howerton, vice president of conferences and membership, Association of Zoos and Aquariums.|
Melissa Howerton leans in to reveal her secret to hosting a successful six-day meeting for 1,850 attendees from zoos and aquariums around the world. "Band-Aids," says the vice president of conferences and membership at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), on a quick pit stop in the west ballroom of the Phoenix Convention Center, the site of its 88th annual conference in September. "I'm wearing two on my feet right now."
Of course, Howerton—a laser-focused blonde with a sly smile and speedy gait—has no time to tend to aching arches or blisters. Less than an hour ago, she gently assured legendary animal scientist and autism advocate Temple Grandin that her slide presentation would go smoothly. And it did. At the moment, Howerton is overseeing the elaborate setup for an awards luncheon later in the day.
"The attendees don't see all the back-end work that we do," she says.
Meeting that goal—and the larger one of having the meeting come off seamlessly—requires a lot of foresight. Or everything must seem like it's coming off seamlessly. With limited resources, big agendas, changing technologies, high member and exhibitor expectations, and miles of meeting space to cover, how do association pros like Howerton pull it off year after year? Hint: It includes many behind-the-scenes teammates with their own endless to-do lists.
Howerton and AZA meeting planner Cheryl Wallen first visited this 24-acre glass-and-steel convention center in downtown Phoenix five years ago. Programming the event, with provocative moderated panels like "Rhinos in Crisis," happened about six months out.
"We all wear multiple hats, being a smaller association," says Howerton. Twenty-six of the 28-person AZA staff are here working. "They are our eyes and ears in the hallways," she says.
Her conference wing women—Wallen and Director of Integrated Marketing Muri Dueppen—check in throughout each day to confer on the flow of the meeting. This year's expo hall boasted 141 exhibitor booths, ranging from one with a 5,000-pound animatronic Mexican redknee tarantula to another touting a high-tech hurricane simulator.
To close the conference out, attendees and staff enjoyed a day at the 125-acre Phoenix Zoo. After the months of intense prep and planning, Howerton and her team couldn't wait to meet the family of Bornean orangutans that call the zoo home.
"It was time to let our hair down, take a deep breath, and enjoy the animals. We felt like we were 10 years old," says Howerton.
Every evening, 50,000 square feet of carpet has to be vacuumed. "You have 2,000 people handing out business cards and eating and drinking. It gets messy," says David Lekich, director of sales for Paramount Convention Services in St. Louis. Lekich, riding the sweeper, flew in six people from his company and hired 30 local staffers to handle the exhibition.
Smooth transitions between meetings proves essential, and convention center staff (left to right) Tony Shunway, Feliciano Salinas, Johnny Sanchez, Pablo Ceballas, and Rocky King help AZA staff ensure the meeting trains run on time.
Interactive exhibits prove to be immensely popular with attendees, especially the Hurricane Simulator. Shirley Prince (right) operates the attraction and shows Vindi Minne the tunnel tests.
Behind the Scenes
Paramount Convention Services worker Shaun Spink uses a hand vacuum to clean corners. He wields a carpet knife to fix any frayed edges. Two thousand linear feet of drape was assembled to separate booths and hide maintenance areas. "All those shuffling feet wrinkle the carpets, so they need tightening every day," says Paramount's Lekich.
The exhibits run the educational gamut of scientific discovery, including the teaching tools from Jay Villemarette, president of Skulls Unlimited in Oklahoma City.
Have 6-D Glasses, Will Travel
Exhibitor Triotech features a 6-D "Safari Adventure" ride that has participants lurching wildly in their seats to capture poachers of an endangered baby rhino in Africa.
Spider in the House!
Scientist Monica Bond reacts to the 5,000-pound Mexican redknee tarantula made of 600,000 synthetic hairs. "People think it's real at first," says Trey Billings, VP of manufacturer The Dinosaur Company.
Robby Gilbert, prehistoric display advisor at The Dinosaur Company, preps one of the company's incredibly lifelike raptors for attendees, many of whom will ask, "How much does it weigh?" just before asking, "And what's the cost?"
"You always check your slides," says keynote speaker and renowned scientist Temple Grandin, just before going onstage to a packed ballroom to discuss animal behavior. "I once saw a woman make a presentation, and every third slide was missing." (Grandin's slides are in order. Phew.)
Fans of Grandin, who was diagnosed with autism as a child and was the subject of a recent HBO movie starring Claire Danes, include Heather Lerner. "I have a kid with autism, so this is special for me," says the executive director of a fundraising organization with the Happy Hollow Park & Zoo in San Jose, California.
Setting up for lunch, where vegetarian options abound for this crowd.
Exhibitor shows how her group teaches environmental issues through art.
Mike Golay, camera operator for Integrated Event Management, tapes a meeting segment.
Since 2000, the Phoenix Convention Center has hosted more than 650 meetings and more than 2 million attendees. A $600 million expansion project tripled its size and added a symphony hall.
Need a better way to get around your zoo or aquarium space? Rob Remund (right) and Leah Munoz would love to chat about the quick and energy-sipping options.
Rollin', Rollin', Rollin'
All of the exhibitors ship their moving parts to Paramount Convention Services, which oversees setup and breakdown. This year, 3,000 pounds of freight was delivered to the expo hall. Tony Shackleford (left) and Shaun Spink do the lifting.
Judy Wheatley, a trustee of the Zoological Society of San Diego, wears a hand-painted silk tunic that announces a passionate cause. "I'm supporting Okapi Conservation Project in the Congo, started by my friend John Lukas," she says. "It's an amazing organization."
Poster-area browsing by Constance Woodman (right), director of butterfly education at Brigham Young University, and Robert Hilsenroth (far left), executive director, American Association of Zoo Veterinarians.
A Face Only a Zoologist Could Love
Post-conference reception and fun at the Phoenix Zoo, hosted by the amazingly misunderstood Komodo dragon.
Attendees check out squirrel monkeys in the Monkey Village at the Phoenix Zoo.
Beauty in Motion
Phoenix Zoo employee Heather Wright feeds Reba, a 42-year-old Asian elephant who was brought to the sanctuary in 1999 and loves to splash in her pool. On the final day of the conference, attendees have eight hours to explore the 125-acre zoo and see its 1,200 animals.
Monica Corcoran's work has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles magazine, and InStyle, among other national publications.
|Rate this item:||Comments:|
To order reprints of any article in its original format, visit Scoopreprintsource.com
The Future of the Large Staff Executive Team
May 22, 2013
DC SAFE (DC Small Association Forum for Executives)
May 30, 2013
The Business of Meetings Certificate Program: Flawless Business Operations
June 3, 2013
|View full calendar|
ASAE U Online
Models & Samples
|Find a Job
Post a Job
Board of Directors
Standards of Conduct
Endorsed Business Solutions
American Society of Association Executives™ (ASAE), 1575 I St. NW, Washington, DC 20005
© Copyright 2011 ASAE. All rights reserved.
|Social Media | RSS | Advertise | Mobile Edition | Site Map | Contact Us | Privacy Notice|