MPI’s World Education Congress (WEC) kicked off at MGM Grand, with a TED Talk-style opening General Session headlined by wellness and alternative medicine expert Deepak Chopra and an opening night performance by New Wave standard-bearers The B-52’s (writers of “Love Shack” and “Rock Lobster”).

Attendees at the June 19-22 event were constantly reminded by speakers “to stop planning meetings and start designing experiences.” To that end, most all of the opening session speakers were on message, including actual designers Sarah Prevette, founder of the Future Design School, and Bruce Mau, chief design officer for convention management company Freeman, who counts working with Frank Gehry, Coca-Cola and redesigning Mecca as some of his career accomplishments.

“The idea of a passive audience is a thing of the past,” Mau said. “What they’re looking for is engagement and productivity. If you want something to happen it’s either going to happen by accident or design.”

The opening session delved into some of the deeper questions of life, with Prevette telling the audience to check its ego and practice empathy in order to succeed in projects.

“The ego keeps us from hearing what other people are thinking and soliciting feedback,” she said, adding that empathy, ideation, validation and rapid prototyping are the keys to success, guided by honest customer feedback up front. “Nobody wants to hear [their] baby is ugly. Methods and process are key to ‘design thinking.’”

Not to dwell too far into the realm of self-discovery, humorist, advertising writer and creative director Ron Tite, founder and CEO of the Tite Group, told the audience to focus on personalization to turn the “Expression Economy” into the “Experience Economy.”

MPI CEO Paul Van Deventer, leading his fifth WEC, emphasized the importance of face-to-face meetings, and to remain vigilant in the face of mounting security challenges to the meetings and events industry.

“When we meet, we change the world,” Van Deventer said, before augmenting his oft-used phrase with a somber qualifier reflecting today’s security-challenged environment while urging communication with elected officials and corporate leaders. “[If] we can’t meet, we can’t facilitate change, we can’t facilitate advancement.”

Van Deventer also said meeting professionals should look to the world of sports to reinvigorate their meetings to make them engaging for modern audiences, who are distracted by mobile devices and other gadgets.

Closing the opening night speaker lineup, Chopra guided the audience on a journey of reflection and the importance of mediation and self-awareness to physical health, ticking off a list of six things that are the key to wellness: good sleep, stress management, movement, positive emotions, nature-based nutrition and tapping into negative ions by creating a connection to the Earth through practices such as walking barefoot.

“The lightness of being is the highest state we can be a part of,” Chopra advised.

Click here to check out our MPI WEC 2017 event gallery with highlights from the show.