When meeting in one of the culturally richest cities in the world, it only makes sense to embrace the depth of sensory touchstones to create a three-day journey everyone will remember. During the Smart Meetings Immersive Experience, the team worked with New Orleans partners to highlight the tastes, music, color, history and pomp that make the Mardi Gras capital unique.

The reimagined JW Marriott New Orleans on Canal Street at the edge of the French Quarter provided the stage for partners New Orleans & Company, ACCENT New Orleans and NOLA DMC to turn up the volume on the local flare.

hall filled with choir and attendees
Gospel choir

From a Second Line activation to dinner at Galerie de Galatoire in the French Quarter and a cover band with a twist at a lunch at House of Blues, to a surprise soulful gospel choir and jazz and blues trios, the sounds of New Orleans played a starring role. So did beignets, gumbo, gulf fish and bananas foster.

Center stage, however, was the human side of creating authentic connections and sharing innovative ideas.

Embracing the WEIRD

woman speaking on stage
Shelley Brown

Shelley Brown, the author of “Weird Girl Adventures,” suggested that when people feel like they can be themselves, they experience belonging, they feel valued and appreciated for who they are, and they feel more comfortable and safer. Her recipe for making room for authentic versions of our attendees is as follows.

W = welcoming. Hospitality is the intentional practice of welcoming and something that requires constant vigilance.

E = engaging. Staying present, open and mindful often looks like curiosity, a genuine interest in people’s preferences, perspectives and points of view. People want to feel like they matter as individuals, and when they do, engagement happens.

I = integrating. Human beings are the integration of their physical, mental and emotional health. Care for the entire attendee, not just one part.

R = risk-taking. When we meet individuals where they are, we take the risk of seeing each person as a human being who sometimes makes mistakes in the moment, just as we do.

D is for delivering. Empowering and encouraging leaders and talent with the right tools and the right amount of guidance so they can deliver on W.E.I.R.D. to take “You belong here” from a slogan into action.

An Exercise in Resilience

man and woman talking in front of camera
Amy Sins with Smart Meetings TV correspondent Mike Lyons

A Southern hospitality trait that thrums among New Orleanians is the instinct to take care of others and bounce back from even the unimaginable. New Orleans-born Louisiana chef and media personality Amy Sins lost everything in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and came back to develop a template for disaster relief, write an award-winning cookbook, launch a boutique hotel, a culinary event business and a radio show.

Read MoreBuilding Healthy Habits: Resiliency Training for Events

She shared her secret for achieving a higher purpose—adaptability and teamwork. Meeting professionals never work in a vacuum, as evidenced by the room full of peers in New Orleans eager to support and offer creative ideas.

Where there is a meeting professional, there is a way—and there is probably also an agenda and a red carpet for the journey.