By David McMillin, PCMA Staff Writer, Vancouver TED Experience Media Fam Attendee

It's 11:30 AM on a Thursday in Vancouver, and about 20 of the city's residents are sitting together in Potluck Cafe on Hastings Street. They're not saying a word. Most of them finished the fresh and local fare the cafe and catering company serves long ago. Right now, all of them have their eyes glued to a TV screen.

The broadcast is coming from a somewhat unlikely source: the Vancouver Convention Centre. These viewers are watching TED2015. Getting a seat inside the theater at the convention centre is impossible. The conference has been sold out for months, and even if there were tickets available, it's safe to say these Vancouverites probably wouldn't be able to be part of the program. Tickets started at $8,500. The viewing experience at Potluck comes with a friendly price tag: free.

"It's great for the community to be able to be part of TED," Colin Stansfield, Executive Director, Potluck Cafe and Catering, says. "When the ticket is so expensive, it can be hard for everyone in the city to feel connected to it."

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That connection can prove to be elusive in any destination during any conference. To many everyday citizens, the convention centres in their cities are big buildings that might occasionally come up in public tax discussions when officials are looking to finance a renovation or an expansion. Sure, some of these citizens might attend a trade show or a conference, but their understanding of the aggregate benefits of the meetings industry doesn't extend much further. While the industry has worked to showcase impressive statistics about the economic impact of meetings and conventions, dollar signs cannot communicate all the benefits of the meetings industry.

However, Vancouver is connecting the dots between the attendees that come to Western Canada and the people who call it home. Officials in Vancouver and TED organizers have worked together to make sure the entire city has access to the philosophers, scientists and visionaries in the conference's program guide. Potluck Cafe was just one of the locations that hosted a live stream of the conference. Secondary schools, libraries, community centres and a range of other locations were allowed to apply to stream the conference, too.

"Airing the TED Conference talks in real-time gave Vancouver locals and visitors from all backgrounds and walks of life the opportunity to participate in a conference that they might not otherwise have had the opportunity to attend," Sonu Purhar, Travel Media Relations Specialist, Tourism Vancouver, says. "TED organizers were very mindful of engaging with the local community, and this year's free live stream made the conference more accessible than it's ever been."

SEE ALSO: How To Take Your Meeting To Canada For The First Time

Making Conventions A Centerpiece Of The Community
The people who call Vancouver home aren't just reminded of the convention centre's importance when a world-famous event like TED comes to town. Claire Smith, Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Vancouver Convention Centre, says the team at the convention centre is always working to keep the facility top-of-mind.

"Every year, we open the centre to the public on Canada Day for a celebration," Smith says.

Last year, 120,000 visitors flocked to the convention centre for the festivities. In addition to welcoming guests in honor of Canada's birthday, the convention centre invites visitors to tour the facility throughout the year. The tours include educational information on the building's unique design, which includes walls made of woods from British Columbia, and its sustainability features such as the six-acre living roof and the fish habitat built into its foundation.

Do residents actually take advantage of the opportunity for an up-close view of the centre and a tutorial on the ins and outs of the meetings and convention industry? Yes. More than 14,000 people have gone on the one-hour tours since the building opened its doors in 2009.

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I brought a lot home from my recent visit to Vancouver. From memories of a run along the seawall in Stanley Park to the tastes of some of the finest wines from the Okanagan Valley to notes on what meeting planners can learn from TED, the trip delivered a wide range of reasons why more organizations are choosing Vancouver for their groups. But the piece of my travels that resonated strongest was the city's ability to communicate why meetings mean business, and matter to the citizens of the local community. It's a message that has been challenging to articulate. In Vancouver, though, people are hearing it loud and clear.