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Reflections on IAM

Nov 17, 2014
There are plenty who will criticise IAM. Many of those criticisms are valid. But I will not be joining their number. On the contrary, I’m a fan. By Steve Jordan

I had been to IAM before, though never for the whole conference.  I knew what to expect, sort of, but I was surprised nonetheless. I was surprised by the size of it, the professionalism, the quality (and abundance) of the food, the attention to detail, and the care taken by most people (though not all) to keep arranged appointment times.  After 40 years of conference going, I am not easily impressed – but I was. 

The venue was the Marriott World Center in Orlando, Florida.  It’s a cavernous, energy-sapping place, that reminded me of Ceausescu’s palace in Bucharest.  But with 2000 business-hungry movers settling on the place, what else could it be? The hotel was perfect.  Bijou and charming are never going to work. It’s a place to do business, to work hard, it’s not a holiday. Most importantly it was big enough to keep everyone together, unlike last year in Vancouver when delegates were spread over five hotels and had most of their meetings on street corners halfway between somewhere and nowhere.

The Marriott is a palace of varieties set, as most hotels are in Orlando, amid acres of nothing. That is both a blessing and a curse: organisers like it because it helps prevent people from wandering off as there’s nowhere to go nearby; but the delegates do feel a little trapped.  It doesn’t seem as though you have visited America, just the Kingdom of Marriott.

But, I repeat, this is not a holiday. Delegates are there to work and Terry Head and his team did a marvellous job of providing every opportunity for commerce to flourish. Take the welcome breakfast, for example.  I expected, perhaps, a crusty croissant and jam with a few projected pictures of last year’s event. Not a bit of it.  At 8.30am I walked into a room occupied by the best part of 2000 people all sitting down to an individually served hot breakfast while being transfixed by an audio visual show and stage presentation that would have rivalled the Hollywood Oscars. It was a standard of performance that did not flag throughout. Head to head, continuous banter between Terry Head and Chuck White, with audience participation and live video links on a range of subjects, was hilarious even though I had no idea what they were taking about. Great theatre and stunning graphics.

Navigating the labyrinth might have been a problem were it not for some considerate planning. The hotel map wasn’t much help but the signage around the hotel, and the ubiquitous hotel marshals, more than compensated. There were also some nice touches too including a themed jigsaw piece on every delegate badge to be inserted in a puzzle in the exhibition hall; a device to encourage delegates to visit the exhibitors and give them some reward for their enterprise.  The fact that some people still had their piece at the end of the conference seemed to me to be a little mean spirited, particularly as most had visited the exhibition anyway. Surely we have not all grown so curmudgeonly that we can’t take time to play an innocent game when someone has been sufficiently innovative to think of it.  Some, obviously, have. Shame.

But the reason for anyone to visit IAM is the people. It is a place where all reserve is abandoned. As a Brit I always feel that selling is a subtle, gentle process.  Not at IAM.  It’s the reason you are there. You do as much of it as you can before the opportunity evaporates for another year. It reminded me of a swaying, swirling shoal of fish all reliant on each other, all feeding voraciously before the plankton was exhausted.

The criticisms hurled at IAM by so many for so long are valid It is a seething mass of moving humanity. It is a continuous rat race of meeting after meeting all completed with speed-dating efficiency and little apparent sincerity.  The business sessions are attended only by an elite few with specialist interest. The bar at night is a screaming rabble that builds in a crescendo as the alcohol level rises to its inevitable conclusion. People do hold conversations while looking through each other in case someone more interesting, or potentially profitable crosses their view, and show little concern about breaking off in preference for something potentially better. It is impossible to hold a conversation for more than a few minutes without someone, not part of the discussion, interrupting and, sometimes, joining in. People do pretend, it is all a play, adrenalin rules, then the curtain comes down.

But I like it.  I didn’t think I would, but I do. There is a strange honesty about it as if niceties of social intercourse have been abandoned for a while and everyone can relax focussing on a common strategy: to go home with the possibility of becoming richer than when they came. America seems to be the perfect place.  That IAM is considering venturing further afield in the future seems to me to be unwise: some of the commercial, unabashed, stripped-away rawness of it could be lost.  

There are plenty who whinge about IAM.  It seems to be cool to complain. But where else can you have the opportunity of rubbing shoulders with all your potential customers and suppliers under one roof? It must be virtually impossible to attend and not benefit in some way. But to get the most out of IAM you do need to work; and the harder you work, the luckier you get.  And rather than complain about their sore feet, their aching backs, the missed appointments, or even the undercutting competition (the mover’s mantra), perhaps people should reflect upon the privilege that attending such a powerful gathering undoubtedly is. And let’s appreciate the effort, dedication, and skill that the IAM team puts into making it work. 


Photos: Top to bottom: The hotel bar; The Marriot World Centre; The welcome night; The exhibition.

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