Category Archives: Diversity & Inclusion

Accessibility, the ADA and Inclusion – It’s Our Job!

Accessibility, the ADA and Inclusion – It's Our Job!

Shortly after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I was an MPI delegate to the board of the Convention Liaison Council—the previous name of what is now the Convention Industry Council (CIC). Speakers were invited to address and inform the board about topical issues, such as music licensing and the ADA, that impacted our industry and each organization. Cricket Park, then deputy executive director of the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD), and now, the Rev’d C.B. “Cricket” Park, rector, The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, Bethesda, Md., addressed us about the ADA and its impact on the meetings and hospitality industry.

Cricket was the only person to ever write a book and, for PCMA, a white paper, on the ADA and meetings. Alas, both are out of print.

Like many of you, I was blown away by what we hadn’t paid enough attention to and what we needed to learn and to implement in regard to the ADA. Not many years later, my company was responsible to help plan and execute a meeting conducted in the U.S. by the U.S. and Canadian governments on issues of accessibility around the world.

On a site visit with representatives of both governments, I observed how clueless the hotel salespersons were about the ADA and compliance and general accessibility issues. Illustrative of that: the clients were in the guest room bathrooms taking measurements and there the sales people were telling us about their turndown service and wonderful spa and pool, the latter two which were totally inaccessible for someone with a disability and had no materials or people to help those with hearing or sight needs.

To date, not all countries have disabilities acts. This blog and the accompanying newsletter specifically address laws in the United States. For those who are in or do meetings outside the U.S., these resources will help: U.S. State Department “International Disability Rights”Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DRED)Disability Rights International; and International Disability Rights.

Alas, none of the above noted resources, unlike this from the U.S. Department of Justice, specifically address meetings. Reading further into this blog post and referencing the somewhat limited resources from our industry—thanks to Event Service Professionals Association (ESPA), formerly ACOM, for their work creating an accessibility toolkit—will help make our industry more accessible, in addition to asking participants what they need to fully participate and experiencing some of the obstacles they face firsthand.

That and common sense on the part of meeting professionals—planners, professional development designers and suppliers to our industry—can help guide us to better inclusion practices and simple adjustments.

I am not an expert on the ADA and all the components of helping to make meetings and facilities inclusive. Niesa Silzer and I, with assistance from Kristen McCosh (here’s a profile and a short bio) who is the Boston Mayor’s Commission for People with Disabilities, at a PCMA’s Convening Leaders in Boston in 2014, lead an experiential session in which attendees participated in several hands-on exercises. This will be somewhat replicated again, as they did a few years ago, at this year’s SGMP NEC on June 7, for more than discussion about disabilities and inclusive hospitality and meetings.

And why this is personal: I took my unassisted mobility for granted. Yes, I’d broken bones necessitating crutches, but somehow I managed. Even after back surgery, I was immobile for a bit but eventually regained my ability to walk and move about well.

Until I couldn’t.

The need for a mobility scooter came long after my knowledge of the ADA. By the time I needed assistance, I was already aware of and in tune with the extreme difficulty of being a person with a different ability or with a disability when traveling or even just getting around in my own city (Washington D.C.)! Others may not be.

These are ways to begin thinking and planning differently in order to have more inclusive meetings. They are by far not all you need to know or do and do not include sensory and other areas of disability. It’s up to you to do more research by starting with a list of questions for your meeting participants and hotel guests.

1. Conduct site inspections using a wheelchair or power chair or mobility scooter.

  • Consider the timing for elevators and see what it takes alone and with others to get to the elevator once it arrives.
  • Once the elevator arrives—or will it? See this video, created by The Cerebral Palsy Foundation and Zach Anner, experienced with humor that I sometimes don’t have—is there room and will you and your device fit?
  • Check on the restroom(s) that have this sign (or the more traditional version):

    …to see if they really are accessible from the outside as well as the inside. A wide stall is not all it takes to make a restroom accessible. If the door can’t be easily opened from inside or out or the turning radius isn’t great enough for a power chair or scooter, how is it then accessible?
  • For guest rooms, how does one traveling alone using a power chair or other device open the door and access the room? How easily is it to exit the room or get around? And where can you park and charge your mobility device in the room? Where are the controls for HVAC? Are the window blind pulls accessible?
  • While moving around the hotel (or other venue) did you find that all doors have push buttons to open them? Or do you, as I have done, just push through hoping not to break glass and wood and not to injure yourself?

​2. Conduct a site inspection wearing an eye patch or with cotton or ear plugs in your earsNOTE: for safety, just like in commercials for cars with a professional driver winding down a mountain road where it tells you not try this at home, it is advised you not do this on your own.

  • What’s printed in Braille or where and how accessible are human beings to assist? If the hotel uses robots, how do they interact with people who are deaf, hard of hearing or blind or low vision? How much of the printed-for-sighted-people materials—in-room safety cards? Menus in guest rooms and restaurants? Menus and ingredient labels on food for your events?—are accessible for all?
  • As Shane Feldman notes in the accompanying Q&A sidebar, take note of how much information on the in-room television and elsewhere is close- or option-captioned.
  • Ask about all recreational facilities and those who work in them. What Stacy Patnode Bassett experienced on her honeymoon and at the movie theatre (see Q1 in the related Q&A sidebar) was so stunning to me because it’s not 1950 or 1970 or even 1980 or 1990! Yet, I know that her experiences are not unusual.

3. Check guest rooms for accommodations.

  • Is there a bar in the closet that can be raised and lowered for clothing? Or is the only bar a low one that makes all clothing pick up lint from the floor? Just because we use mobility devices doesn’t mean our clothes are short or that we aren’t traveling with someone who needs their clothes to hang higher!
  • Is the extra roll of toilet paper, the hair dryer, the safe and everything else within easy reach regardless of one’s height or ability?
  • How many cases do they have to make any room accessible for someone who is deaf, hard of hearing, has low vision or is blind?
  • What is the owner/developer/management company doing to create designs that are more inclusive? (See: “Making Hotel Rooms Fully Accessible, Discreetly” and “An Artist’s Manifesto for Accessible Hotels”).

4. Check meeting and public space for more inclusive features.

  • Measure the height of buffet tables and items on them (chafing dishes and other food or food displays) to see if everyone can access them. Discern the knowledge of the convention services and banquet staff about doing so. Determine how your group or the hotel will assist those who cannot carry a plate of food on their own.
  • Is the hotel designed for what it is assumed all millennials want and need—that is, with low seating and lighting and many other “modern amenities”—that for anyone, millennials and Gen Zers included, might not be accessible?
  • Is the knowledge of meeting room seating audience-centric for sight-lines? (One of my favorite books, “Seating Matters” by Dr. Paul Radde*, shows how).

*I learned long after I wrote the foreword for the book—I was and am not compensated for the foreword I wrote or for “plugging” the book except to hear great things from people like Gail Hernandez who used seating from Paul’s book and how successful it was!—that Paul worked with Interpreters and the Deaf community on seating to ensure good sight lines.

5. Know what the Amendment to the ADA included.

  • In addition to swimming pool lifts, which a segment of our industry fought, and are now mandated, food allergies and chemical sensitivities are also now included within the ADA. Determine if hotels have unscented guest rooms and unscented products for those who need them.
  • When in doubt, contact the U.S. Department of Justice/U.S. ADA Hotlines: 800.514.0301 (voice) 800.514.0383 (TTY).

6. Make no assumptions!

  • On your registration, use the mobile wheelchair symbol and the statement “Tell us what you need to fully participate in the meeting, including mobility, sight, hearing, food and scent” with multiple methods of contact.
  • Just because someone doesn’t “look” like they have a disability, or because, when the registration form asked they didn’t note it, plan for all possibilities. Someone could be injured just before or while traveling to your meeting. Many who have disabilities do not want to disclose that because it may harm their reputation “if it gets out.” Others have what are considered “invisible disabilities” and prefer to keep that quiet (I’m forever indebted to the Invisible Disabilities Association and their great booklet, “But you LOOK Good”). When you see a person who has a placard and parks in a “handicapped” space and “looks fine,” stop before you admonish them.

7. Prepare for everyone.

  • Our jobs are to be hospitable. To be hospitable is to be inclusive. To be inclusive is to consider all those who may attend your meetings and stay in your facilities.
  • Know the ADA and go beyond it where and when possible. If room service has a “policy” of not substituting meals for those with, say, low-salt diets which may be a result of serious health issues, work with the chef to come up with menus for different diets (See what Tracy Stuckrath has written and said about these issues).

As you read the stories from D’Arcee Charington Neal, Shane Feldman, and Stacy Patnode Bassett in the accompanying April 2017 Friday With Joan Q&A sidebar, think about what you would have done in their situations and more, what you will do now to ensure others at your facilities and your meetings do not endure these types of incidents.

When a venue says they are “in compliance with the ADA” ask them how they know. Then take it the next step to see if they go beyond compliance to real inclusion.

Q&A With Gen Zers on Marketing and Hospitality

Nick Jain, Jüv Consulting, COO

 Melinda Guo: Chief Executive Officer    Ziad Ahmed: Chief Visionary Officer

 

When I read the print edition of Businessweek in which the three principals of Jüv Consulting were featured, I was intrigued by how they met and them in general. As a baby boomer who hears all the time from other boomers and Geneneration Yers about how lazy both millennials and Generation Z are, I wanted to learn more from these three—who are, as you will see in the responses below, in no way lazy—about their work.

If it had been possible to meet face to face and record the entire conversation, we’d have gone even deeper. I’ve asked them, time permitting and without asking them to consult for free, to respond to questions in the comment area of the related Friday With Joan blog so that perhaps we can enhance the conversation among generations. For now, see what they have to say about their generation and learn how it can impact the marketing and performance of meetings and hospitality industry providers. I am grateful to all three for their input.

Jüv Consulting’s founders:
Nick Jain:
 Chief Operating Officer
Ziad Ahmed: Chief Visionary Officer
Melinda Guo: Chief Executive Officer

Q1: In reading the Nov. 30, 2016, print edition of Businessweek, I was drawn to the article about the three of you and Jüv Consulting, and that you met at a Cornell University—known to those in the hospitality industry for their hotel school—camp for high school students intrigued me about the three of you, the structure of the “camp” and how my (hospitality/meetings) industry can make changes in marketing and structure.

Tell us about the format and structure of the camp, how it was conducted and what facilitated the three of you connecting. Was it what most of us think of as a “traditional camp” with an edge? Or did it look like a business meeting, which often looks like the worst high school setup, with rooms with chairs in rows?

What elements did it have that made it conducive to you beginning this process? Add your thoughts about the camp itself; things that readers who plan meetings could use to enhance how traditional meetings could be less traditional and more interactive, informative and push the desire to learn and move forward.

A1: The camp was Cornell University’s Summer College. Essentially, the essence of the camp is that it is an opportunity for high school students to take college courses on a college campus, thereby being able to experience a sense of college life. Therefore, the camp was run very similarly to the way college will feel in some ways (obviously with greater restrictions considering that we were just in high school). At the camp, Ziad (Ahmed) and Melinda (Guo) were in a business course, and I (Nick) was in a debate and rhetoric course.

We were all there at the same time, just in two different courses. Throughout the three weeks that we spent there we got to spend many hours considering topics within the business world (in the case of Ziad and Melinda) and how to appeal to various people (in my course), and overwhelmingly, we began to see many flaws in the way that the business world was attempting to market to teens across the world.

Cornell Summer College gave us a platform to discuss the issues of the business world, and after having done so we came to realize that many of these flaws were coming from adults trying to be teen experts.

We are something far simpler, yet far more profound—we are teens.

There is no other company out on the market that understands the teenage demographic in the authentic way that we do—real teenagers with real understandings for real solutions.

Q2: From this initial interaction came Jüv Consulting and Vine, “a pool of about 300 teens from various socioeconomic backgrounds around the world—a global focus group for hire.” Have hotel companies or CVBs or corporations or associations who create meetings and conventions, contacted you about how to appeal more broadly generationally? I ask because what I’ve seen is that hotels are bending over backwards to create what they believe are guest rooms and public spaces that appeal to millennials only and are not conducive to, well, aging boomers and to people with disabilities. If you’ve either worked with hotel companies or if you could entice them to work with you, what would be the start of the conversation?

A2: We haven’t yet had a client from the hospitality sector, but we would certainly be interested in exploring that. The tourism industry is constantly looking for ways to innovate to accommodate for the changing trends of their visitors, and [we] certainly think we could be useful in assisting with that.

It is important to note though that Generation Z are those born after 1996, so the oldest members of Generation Z are only 20 years old. This means that many members of Generation Z are in school or still living at home and do not yet stay at hotels with their own dollars or without their families. In a few years, as Generation Z emerges more into the workforce, hotel companies will certainly be more interested in our services, and I think we would start the conversation simply by saying, “If you’re interested in having our contemporaries be interested in your hotel, interacting with those contemporaries directly is probably a good place to start.”

Q3: Ziad: It was written that you were “devoted to a diversity nonprofit” you’d started. How has that informed, in addition to the varied pool of Vine participants, your work with clients? In the increasing diversity and more nationalism in the U.S. and around the world, what will that mean to marketing? What are some good examples of changing marketing to be inclusive of a diverse marketplace?

A3, with responses from Ziad: My work with Redefy informs pretty much everything that I do, and has certainly translated into my work with JÜV Consulting in a very real way.

Most obviously, my commitment to diversity is exemplified through the emphasis we have taken to have a team of consultants and a team on the Vine that reflects the diversity (of all sorts) that exists in the world. Beyond that, we are still actively recruiting consultants and Vine members from communities that are not adequately already represented on our team, and that is a massive priority for me as CVO (chief visionary officer).

Furthermore, my commitment to equality is also realized in how we attempt to create our company culture as we seek to cultivate a sense of belonging, understanding and purpose. In regards to marketing, it is certainly true that there is increased diversity and nationalism in the U.S., but what you will find is that those from Generation Z tend to embrace the narrative of diversity far more than that of nationalism.

Our generation (for the most part) loves advertisements that celebrate different identities, and there are countless examples of that whether it be having diverse actors in commercials: James Charles becoming a CoverGirl or hijabi models at New York Fashion Week (NYFW).

The future of marketing is certainly centered around uplifting marginalized people, and we definitely think that is a powerful tool that many companies/brands should consider to gain Generation Z interest.

Q4: Boomers and Xers, in particular, seem to be always angry at millennials and Gen Z, using so many stereotypes of what they perceive to fuel their anger. What do you think contributes to those stereotypes?

In what ways, in addition to hiring Jüv Consulting, can we all begin to break down the preconceptions for interaction in communities? At work? In marketing?

A4: [We] think a lot of what contributes to those stereotypes is just the fact that we have grown up to do our work and be successful in a different way than many members of older generation(s). A lot of boomers and Gen Xers see us as being easily distracted or unable to focus because of the fact that we have grown up multitasking and doing a million different things in a given day, but I think it is important to notice that part of who we are is being able to do many different activities, and pushing ourselves to do and be as much as we can.

Generation Z as a whole generally rejects the notion that you should be good at one thing and stick with that one thing and do it monotonously and continuously. Instead, members of our generation take a vastly different approach, and this can create many negative stereotypes surrounding our generation, but it goes back to the idea that the way we work and the way we perceive ourselves to be successful [varies from other generations].

Additionally, possibly one of the most common stereotypes is that we have extremely [short] attention spans, and quite frankly this can be true, but it is important to recognize that this goes back to the importance we place on efficiency. So many members of Generation Z are trying to do so much that we hate the feeling that we are wasting time. In this way, when we see an ad, we expect to be intrigued after the first few seconds.

Again, these stereotypes can often cause others to feel angry because they don’t necessarily understand the place that they are coming from.

Yes, we may lose attention easily, but no, that’s not because we don’t care about what’s going on around us. In fact it’s often quite the opposite, as we feel as though we aren’t bettering the world when we are wasting time.

Finally, we expect results and we expect perfection. In this way, we can often seem as though we need to be instantly gratified, but what is interesting is to think about the extent to which this is a bad thing.

In our drive and expectation for perfection, we often raise the level of efficacy in the work we do and the work of our peers, and therefore, before casting negative judgement on any of our tendencies, it is important to think about why we might have these certain characteristics, and what effect they actually have. Consider the notion that observations become harmful stereotypes when misconstrued meaning is attached to them.

Q5: The Bloomberg Businessweek article says “Those born after 1996 make up almost a quarter of the U.S. population and wield $44 billion in buying power.” That’s a huge audience for conventions, tourism and hotels. What’s your best advice, without giving away all your knowledge for free, to those in my industry to begin to change perceptions for this market?

A5: Potentially the most important piece of advice that we can give clients is the importance of social media. Having grown up using it, Generation Z essentially speaks it “fluently,” and it is vital for companies and brands to be able to do so as well in order to catch the attention of Generation Z and be able to effectively market to them.

As teens move away from more conventional forms of entertainment, the way brands market to Generation Z becomes more important and more nuanced. Marketing materials have to appeal to Generation Z’s social media standards and have to quickly engage the viewer if they even want to be seen. More specifically to hotels, it’s essential to note that Generation Z expects perfection. The majority of us (in the U.S. at least) have been brought up in a reality where a slight lag on a website is enough for us to be frustrated.

Furthermore, Generation Z does not have the same brand loyalty that generations before us have, and we are certainly willing to abandon brands to find the best product. Ultimately, we want things to feel authentic, genuine, welcoming and most importantly, not cringe-worthy, but my best advice to hotels seeking to pivot to market toward Generation Z is really the basis of this company—talk to us. We exist in a three-dimensional world and whether it be JÜV Consulting or your nephew twice-removed, talk to a member of Generation Z and get a pulse on the evolving complexities that make up the fabric of our generation.

CONTACT INFORMATION for Jüv Consulting:
Website: http://www.juvconsulting.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/JUVConsulting
Twitter: @JUVConsulting.

5 Ways to Improve Intergenerational Interaction

5 Ways to Improve Intergenerational Interaction

“Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.”

~~ George Orwell, in a review for Poetry Quarterly, Winter 1945

It wasn’t until much later in life that I learned my generation (baby boomer) was the “center of the universe”! I’m sure in my formative years it was said how much influence we had and yet the research was far less sophisticated than it has become.

The first workshop on generations I attended was at the Nevada Governor’s Conference on Tourism in the mid-’90s where, after I’d presented a session, I sat in on one given by Ann Fishman on generational targeted marketing. I was smitten by what I learned, seeing applications for meetings in every way, and by Ann’s research and ability to present it in a way that made it relevant to us all.

It is said that a generation is a hybrid of both the birth dates identified by demographers and the major socio-historical events that occurred during that time period. This article from The Atlantic looks a bit differently at it; you will see that “Generation Z” is, as of 2014, still not defined!

Before you read further on here or on the interview with Jüv Consulting and in 140 or fewer characters (because Generation Z looks to social media for solutions and answers) write or think about what your greatest intergenerational frustration is.

Done? Please share in the comments section of this Friday With Joan blog post you’re reading now and respond to the poll question here. Now read on please.

Each time I’ve presented or attended a workshop incorporating intergenerational issues, there are always those, in which I include myself, who say, “But I have lots of the qualities of other generations.” How could we not? We adapt out of necessity, curiosity or expedience (I was an early-for-boomers adapter to social media joining “chat rooms” on AOL in the early ’90s).

What is also said in conversations and in sessions—join me at ExhibitorLive on Wed., March 15, 2017, for “Why Can’t We Just Get Along?”—is that they (millennials and Generation Z) are lazy job-switchers and aren’t at all like we (baby boomers and Generation Y) are about work-ethic.

In my early social media experiences came my first major “AH-HA!” moment about generational preconceived ideas: in our writers’ group, we often, in the early evening, had students come in asking for help writing papers.

No one was very nice to them; after all, we were grown-ups and those “young whippersnappers” (did I really use that?!) were using us for what they should have been doing themselves.

Observing this, one member, who participated in the poetry workshops and other chats, who wrote beautifully, kept her identity and age quiet.

Once, while traveling, this young woman IMed (“instant messaged”) me: “Got a minute?” she asked. “Sure,” I replied. She said she wanted to come clean and told me she was 13 and afraid to disclose it for fear of being booted from the group.

My hands flew from my laptop’s keyboard, so stunned was I that a person so much younger than I, and most of those in the chat groups, could write such superb poetry. It changed my perception forever (And Aurora Lee, if you see this or someone you know does, I’d love to be back in touch!).

We are influenced by our age, experience, and the times of our formative years: The “Greatest Generation” by the Great Depression and World War II; the “Silent Generation” by the Cold War; boomers by JFK’s assassination and the civil rights and women’s movements; millennials by social media; Generation Y by 9/11; Generation Z, the first African-American U.S. president.

We can read about all of these experiences and if older, live through them too at different times of our lives. Yet, if we’ve not lived through the experience, how can we expect others to understand except by empathizing about the influence of it on their lives?

Adding to the hostility toward younger generations by baby boomers and Gen Yers is job loss fear.  We have seen people of a “certain age” fired and/or downsized (often because they make “too much money”) and those with less experience, hungry to learn and get their feet in the door and willing to work for less money, take jobs baby boomers and Generation Y once held. I too think there is envy of their ability to learn at one job and move on to something more fulfilling.

Boomers and Gen Yers talk about work-life balance; millennials and Gen Zers live it.

On top of the workplace issues, boomers (and many who are in the silent and greatest generation categories) see that businesses—hotels in particular—are designing and operating for millennials and Gen Zers: low furniture, low lighting (can you see the menus? Or even the room numbers on the guest room doors in the hallways?); casual attitudes and attire. Of course I think that even Generation Z, once they are spending their own money, will look differently at hotels and want a different experience.

For that, I’d look to Jüv for advice.

Here are some ways we can change the environment in which we live and work:

  1. Assume nothing. Treat each person as an individual and not just part of their generation. While doing so, learn about the influences on their generation and ask how they’ve been impacted (here’s one resource, among many).
  2. Use empathy. Put yourself in someone else’s place. This of course could be a great way to understand anyone and it should be. For this particular purpose and blog, use it generationally.
  3. Seek common ground. There’s a great exercise I learned from improv teacher and facilitator, Izzy Gesell—three things in common and one uniqueness—that works well in offices or departments or at meetings to discern our commonalities and develop greater camaraderie.
  4. Mentor up and down. Just as every article about how to use apps or new software or other electronics says to seek out a child or grandchild for assistance, in your workplace and at your meetings, pair up with someone of another generation and mentor. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu was a pioneer in doing this. Read more on the Deloitte website and within these survey results.
  5. Be proactive versus reactive. Seek out relationships with those of other generations. One of the reasons I was intrigued by and interviewed the three principals of Jüv Consulting was my interest in what they thought and experienced. Opportunities exist everywhere for these interactions.

As a baby boomer, I was graded as someone who “Plays well with others.” No wonder I want us to find common ground. Will you join me, please?

I’m especially grateful to the three principals of Jüv Consulting for their time. I reached out to them and they were willing to be interviewed with no payment. They’re smart and interesting, entrepreneurial and insightful with a wide base of people to provide more input. I hope hotel companies and others will work with them.

Make sure to read their responses on the related Friday With Joan Q&A.

And if you missed it, click here to access the March 2017 edition of the Friday With Joan newsletter for even more related content.

Giving Thanks and Expressing Gratitude

Original published Meeting Focus Blog

Giving Thanks and Expressing Gratitude

Funnya blog of thanks should have been easy to write. As I drafted it, I realized how much more complicated it was. Having been brought up to say “thank you” and express gratitude in many ways for the smallest act, the holiday of Thanksgiving and this blog are another opportunity to express thanks, although not the only day to do so. 

I hope leading by example, we each can find ways to thank others on a daily basis.

Thanksgiving, as many of us know it, is a particularly U.S.-centric holiday.* It is one about which my feelings are murky: once a day of family, friends and strangers around a table or of volunteering time to help others, it now is more about shopping and the day after, more shopping, and about eating and football. This year, I’ve read how many are worried about political conversations and fear of flying mashed potatoes.

Were we having a meal with others, the company would be carefully vetted especially for this day of thanks and giving. I hope that you too will think about those to whom you give thanks and will offer it to them and in the space below for comments.

My thanks go to many:

  • To those whose jobs require that they work on Thanksgiving including those in our industry who will toil much of the day to clean, cook and serve guests. And just as I do when I stay in hotels, a note of thanks with a tip (for me, it’s at the end of the stay because I do not have my room cleaned daily) is a way to thank those whose work is back-breaking when they clean hotel rooms.
  • The many organizations and people who give to those who do not have what most of us have: shelter and food. In this time of great homelessness and hunger, I hope that you will find organizations like Rock and Wrap it Up (with special thanks to Jim Spellos for his work to spread the word) that can help your meetings share your abundance.
  • Colleagues who read and comment and thank me for the help from this blog, webinars, other teaching; those who have come to me for career and job advice, about ethics dilemmas and how to better manage risk—thank you for entrusting me with your learning.
  • Kiki, Shelly, Jeff, Elizabeth and Sherry for ensuring your values and your actions are in sync.
  • The kind people of the Grand Rapids CVB who, seeing me struggling to find a meeting room and avoid steps for a recent industry meeting gave me hugs, guidance and then brought me a cuppa coffee. You always make me feel better!
  • My parents, of blessed memory, who gave me, by word and deed, values that drive me to be kind, to learn, to help, to accept and embrace others who may be unlike me, and who lived by example.
  • My friends and family who give so much love and support—with a special thank you to my husband, Joel Levy, who I met in an AOL writers chat room (early social media!) years ago and with whom I’ll have, when you read this, just celebrated 20 years of marriage. And childhood and still friends Kathy, Kathy, Maggie, Sarita and Vickie, who remain steadfast in my life sharing values and caring deeply about others as we did then and still do.
  • Colleagues who set bad examples (of not thanking others, or writing bad contracts; of setting rooms in straight rows, and other “meeting crimes”) so that I can remember to do better—thank you! Learning from bad examples as well as good (“Seating Matters”** by Dr. Paul Radde for example) helps all of us learn.
  • A friend named “Susan” who sent me the perfect post-election gift—you rock! I’ve checked with four “Susans” in my life and all swear it wasn’t them. If you see this, ‘fess up! I am so grateful for the note and laughter!
  • To the industry associations, especially MPI and PMPI, in which I got involved when I moved to DC in 1978, and was afforded the opportunity for leadership by the late Bill Myles that propelled me within a few years to be Chapter President. To you, Doug Heath (MPI’s second CEO) who gave me opportunities for which I am still grateful.
  • Without Doug appointing me to serve on the CIC Board for MPI, I’d have never met Cricket Park (now the Reverend Cricket Park) who, after the ADA passed, came to a CIC Board meeting to teach us about meetings and accommodation. Who knew then how a) I’d need it for my own life and b) the importance it would make to helping others. Thanks, Crick! You continue to rock the world!
  • Deborah Sexton, CEO of PCMA, thank you for acts of kindness, great and gracious.
  • Immense gratitude to the many people from whom I’ve learned—public school teachers in Dayton, Ohio (you, especially, Stan Blum, Jim Payne, Bing Davis, and the late Lenore Clippinger), industry folks like Howard Feiertag from whom I learned some of the best negotiating skills; industry attorneys who helped me learn from their words and my work negotiating with, or testifying as an expert witness for, them; clients, beginning in 1981 when I started my business, who entrust me with their meetings and staff training; And to you, Karen Mulhauser who hired me in my first meeting planner-with-a-title job in 1978, how did you know?
  • The animal shelters (two that have now combined into one) from which we adopted our dear kitties—rescue is best!—are owed thanks for allowing me to learn to love and care for pets and laugh at how much I didn’t know about cats!
  • Those who are speaking out about racism, misogony, Islamophobia, homophobia and other hate have my gratitude. Meetings have always meant a way to bring people together. Now, we have even greater reasons to use our skills to bridge chasms opened by the last U.S. election and by the hate throughout the world directed at refugees and others. You, Vic Basile, when you were HRC(then F)’s ED and hired me to do the events; you, Bob Witeck, who became my friend when I moved here and have continued to help guide companies including those in the hospitality industry to be inclusive; you, Charles Chan Massey, for your work with the Personal Stories Project; you, Gaby Pacheco [just one link; search for more about her and her remarkable life and work] who included me and have taught me so much  more about what it means to be an immigrant and how I have a responsibility to speak out for inclusion.
  • President Obama and his family for leading with head and heart, with empathy, and for being role models for families everywhere. Partisan or not, I know a good family when I see them! Thanks too for showing the world that “Washington” is not evil—that the District of Columbia, a place I’ve called home since 1978, is a diverse and wonderful place with museums, parks and real people, not just politicians.
  • The editors of a meetings publication that gave me my first industry writing opportunities, that’s you, Tony Rutigliano and Dave McCann, in particular, who believed that because I could teach I could write. You helped me hone my skills.
  • My amazing editor, Eric Andersen, at Meetings Today, who not only ensures that it all makes sense but looks good too and Tyler Davidson, content editor for Meetings Today, my thanks for a platform to teach and learn more.
  • The civil rights and social justice icons who lead by example, some putting their lives on the line, two of whom (Joan Trumpauer Mulholland and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA)) I finally had an opportunity to meet, will forever have my thanks. You continue to give me and others courage to speak and act.

My list, in no particular order, is not inclusive. To quote a former presidential candidate, it takes a village, and in my life, my gratitude extends to an immense village. In the past few years, so many industry colleagues and others in my life and the lives of those I love have died. My Thanksgiving wish is that rather than waiting until someone dies to express how much they mean to you, the gratitude you have for their work and examples, please do it now. Start below in the comments—it will encourage others to say thank you and for our list to extend the feeling of Thanksgiving beyond the day.

*Never having lived in Canada or observing Canadian Thanksgiving, I was interested to read about the similarities and differences.

**Although I wrote the foreword for Paul Radde’s “Seating Matters”, I was not nor am I compensated.

When Laws and Meetings Collide: Go, Stay or Boycott?

Originally published Meetings Today

Years ago, working in-house as a planner and later in my own business, I worked with groups whose policies sometimes conflicted with laws or social justice issues, in locations under consideration or under contract for meetings. It was important to the groups to know the laws that might impact their meetings and whether or not they should even consider a destination.

I worked with an attorney to develop clauses (sadly, lost to the ages since they were on paper, not even on a floppy disk!) about how the group and hotel would handle these issues if laws were passed after a contract was signed. It was not an easy negotiation but usually, once explained, it was possible to negotiate and contract fair conditions for the parties.

I think about those days often as companies and associations continue to look at similar types of issues and decide where they will spend their money. Then, like now, it was all about where to hold the meeting and what food to serve. During the years of the boycotts brought on by the work of the late Cesar Chavez and United Farm Workers, a number of clients were specific in their contracts about the source of the food served. There are a number of groups now that, like then, determine where to go based on the status of organized labor in the destination and venues.

Most recently, so-called “religious freedom” laws like North Carolina’s HB2 and Tennessee’s counseling law (seen as anti-LGBT) caused meetings and concerts to cancel. Companies like PayPal decided to not open a new operation in North Carolina costing the state jobs and income. When Georgia was considering a bill similar to the one passed in North Carolina, even the NFL said they would relook at Atlanta as a site for future Super Bowls.

In the not distant past, a client, because of bylaws and mission, had to decide if they would hold a meeting in Arizona after that state passed SB1070 (also known as “Papers Please” law). Others have faced similar issues over reproductive laws. You might remember a certain hotel company that was boycotted because of apparent racial profiling (one that I thought was out of business but is still around and running into similar issues again), the states avoided because they flew a Confederate flag, and groups that won’t book a specific hotel company because they don’t allow AEDs in their owned, managed or franchised hotels.

Each group—corporate or association, not-for or for- profit—has to determine what issues impact their decisions about what hotel company or hotel owner with whom they will do business, what local or state laws will be in sync with or in opposition to their mission, bylaws and polices, and what will impact the organization’s image.

In an article in the April issue of Meetings Today and a subsequent webinar about site selection, a number of concerns were discussed, this among them. It certainly seems that the “religious freedom” laws have caused the most angst lately for groups (See this month’s Friday With Joan interviews and links of “must read” articles in the newsletter for more on those).

In many discussions about boycotts, issues explored include those of the legal termination of a contract, the moral (are we hurting more people by terminating a meeting or boycotting a city/state/company than we are by going?), and the tactical (is there time and ability to move a meeting?). Do boycotts change things? Sometimes. Certainly Rosa Parks’ actions did. And in other cases, they hurt as they are at Malaprop’s Bookstore & Café in Asheville, N.C.

I don’t have answers about what is right, wrong, moral, ethical or legal. When you read the interviews, use them to start or continue a conversation in your organization about where your meetings are held. I recently made a personal decision to teach for UNCC and provide education for a client in North Carolina. I can use these laws as discussion points to help others learn what we must consider when we book or terminate meetings.

What I know we have to do:

  1. Be aware of the news, pending laws (on issues, on taxes), and other conditions (infrastructure) that impact where and how we hold our meetings.
  2. Know your organization’s mission, bylaws, policies, ethics and other principles to know what would cause a conflict in where you book.
  3. Include contingency planning on what to do if laws are passed after contracts are signed.
  4. Follow @MeetingsToday‘s tweets and other news sources and know what matters to your employer or clients so you can be the source for information.

As always the views expressed are my own and may not reflect those of the publisher, Stamats, and the publication, Meetings Today. For comments, email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com or respond in the comments section below. Also check out my related Q&A with legal experts.

Click here to view (and share) the full July 2016 Friday With Joan newsletter.

6 Ways to Change Meetings

Originally published at Meetings Today.

I know I’m cranky about the meetings and hospitality industry. I’ve worked, sometimes labored, for 40+ years (yes, of course, I started when I was 5 years old with the first event I did: a fundraiser for polio) to make it better and I still experience, hear and see the same old stuff.

People have said to me, “Just be patient.” What does that even mean?!

I write and teach lots about risk and about ethics. Those are increasingly important and I’ll continue to discuss those. Right now, I’m frustrated by meetings that are little different than they were years ago and by people talking about some of the things they’ve just discovered that I and others instituted a long time ago … and as if they were brand new. It’s just that adaptation hasn’t happened, so it appears they might be new.

My friend, Paul Radde, Ph.D., author of Seating Matters: State of the Art Seating Arrangements, and I have had many long talks about why meeting room sets remain the same. Others, like Lisa Heft, involved in the Open Space movement, have worked to use this concept. Sheesh “Open Space,” still unknown to many, was a concept since Harrison Owen coined the term in 1985. TED and TEDX are now models for many—just as “talk-show style” was (and is) popular.

Jeff Hurt writes about all this on his blog and has been instrumental with PCMA and others in making some changes at meetings. And Jeffrey Cufaude writes more about participatory meetings in his blogs, which are certainly worth a read and discussion.

I’ve been fortunate to have clients willing to experiment, who have met great success with said experimentation—albeit with some trepidation prior to the execution of the changes … even simply with room and delivery designs, or helping speakers learn different ways of incorporating experiential learning on the tradeshow floor and in session rooms; adding creative and relaxing places outside the sessions where meeting participants can share ideas and determine solutions to their dilemmas in comfortable, convenient space.

Why are we not seeing more changes? Some of it is because hotels, convention and conference centers have not been brought into the conversations (Uh huh, I’ve written about the division of how we treat industry vendors and have said that with Hosted Buyer and other design elements, kept suppliers from learning with us versus primarily providing funding and spaces). How can they know about all the cool possibilities if we keep them out of learning? They have not been involved in learning how and why their spaces and policies interfere with productive meeting learning or how, themselves, to learn in different ways.

Recently in an online discussion about “mindful meetings,” I was frustrated with the lack of understanding of incorporating people with different abilities. Isn’t the ADA now 25 years old and shouldn’t we all know that not everyone can stand or walk or wave their arms?

With thanks to Lisa Heft and others, one of the norms of operating Open Space was changed from “The law of two feet”—meaning if the session is not working for you, you may leave—to the “Law of Motion and Responsibility” since not everyone has or can use two feet. Or a lack of sensitivity about those from other cultures for whom some of the interactivity may go against cultural (or religious) norms.Bad Meeting Setup

It’s astounding to me that meeting spaces, primarily rooms, are created in brand-new or renovated facilities that have lights, without controls to turn just those off over where a screen would be placed. Why do AV companies still insist on turning lights down for presentations? Turning lights down means people can’t see to take notes, can’t see each other to connect by noting when someone reacts to a point made so that you can connect later, and less lighting is unsafe (speaking of unwise meeting setups, check up the image I snapped at recent event on the right—yikes!).

Recently, at ExhibitorLive, I heard some heartening news from participants in a session I facilitated (“Beyond Logistics: Principles, Practices and Play” which is designed to help people see and experience different sets and methods of delivery and interaction). A corporation with a new CEO was redesigning the “state of the company” session to be interactive because the CEO said he wasn’t a “talk at you” person.

Others who attended said they would take away from the session ways to increase interaction and interest just by changing the view when people walked in (We used multiple styles of seating in the room including crescents, high-boys and cocktail tables). Look, not everyone can make wholesale changes in their meetings. Just changing a few things can make a difference in how people perceive what will happen, changing their brains from the start.

This list is by far not inclusive. It’s a start. Add your ideas to the comments please, and share this with your vendor (hotel, convention center, conference center, AV providers) partners.

1. Design with the audience in mind. One hour or shorter sessions are now in vogue. With those are breaks of 15 or fewer minutes. Not all participants are the same in their ability to learn and most of us want, after a session, to talk with the event facilitator (aka presenter) and others who participated and then use a restroom, get a bite to eat, maybe check email, and get to another session. In 15 minutes, it’s almost impossible to do so.

With no time to process what’s been learned, we’re likely to not retain it. With no time for peer-to-peer learning (aka “networking”), we are not given opportunities to exchange ideas to increase our retention and use of information.

2. Change room sets for better sightlines, interactivity and comfort. Paul Radde’s book* has lots of great examples that are acceptable to hotels because they are “known sets” (theatre, schoolroom, crescents) done differently. Think about how people behave in meetings—sitting at the back (because they’re afraid they’ll be “called on,” or know they need to leave or are afraid they will want to leave—“law of motion and responsibility”—and don’t want to disturb others.

Lots of aisles, lots of space for those who need interpreters or who use a mobility device, all contribute to inclusion and learning.

Even changing from straight theatre or schoolroom to herringbone, with more aisles, will change the perspective of those who enter the room. We can create environments that delight and encourage our brains and bodies to think differently from the minute we walk in.

3. Provide to hotels, conference and convention centers (you do know there’s a difference, right?!) or other meeting venues the rationale—the why—for different use of space. Yes, you may have to pay for more space and yes, you may be able to negotiate the charges differently. And it will be worth it if the outcomes can be better measured for how people participate.

4. Call presenters or speakers “facilitators” for some sessions and help them learn to incorporate interaction. “Q&A at the end” is still prevalent and doesn’t allow people to think, or aural learners (like me) to talk out loud about what the issues they are trying to solve are at the time a point is made. It can be done without disrupting the flow of a session with the right training for those presenting or facilitating.

In addition to training, there are costs involved to provide wireless handheld mics and “runners” to ensure that what is said by participants is heard by the session facilitator and others. There is new technology that allows mics to be thrown about or for us to use our mobile devices. Once you commit to having interactivity for some but not all sessions you can then negotiate the support.

5. Set norms for meeting behavior. In many cases, if one is to earn CEUs, a meeting participant must stay in the room for the session length. And still, one has biological and other needs! Giving people explicit permission to behave as they need to—as long as it’s not disruptive to others—makes a huge difference in perception and participation. My norms, in addition to providing, at the start, the location of emergency exits and restrooms, are:

  • Question assumptions.
  • Put yourself in someone else’s place.
  • Set mobile devices that sing/ring/etc. on silent please. Social media use is encouraged.
  • Don’t forget about “Motion and Responsibility.”
  • Please: No audio or video recording or photos of slides and session.

6. Include creativity. Years ago, Disney Institute provided, at industry meetings, spaces for specific sessions or between sessions where participants could go and relax, blow bubbles and play while processing what we heard or prepare our minds for what we were about to hear. Stumbling into their space was a refreshing change of pace after a long day of pretty traditional (straight rows, speakers talking at us) sessions.

I was part of a session where, at the start, we were asked to take off our shoes (optional of course), put our heads down on our arms on the tables, and listen to a story.

I bring “creative stuff” (ModelMagic, WikkiStix, Magic Springs, crayons or colored pencils, Smart (peppermint scented) Smencils, and more) and place the items on the tables or in a location from which they can be accessed by all. “When one’s hands are engaged, one’s brain is more engaged.” Don’t force people to sit and just listen unless that’s how they learn. Give people options in session rooms and in other areas.

We can implement what are, for many, small changes. We don’t have to accept what has always been done as the only way to conduct meetings. We have to commit to creating different ways of learning and participating that looks different to wake up brains that are expecting the same things that have always been delivered and thus tune out before a session even begins.

Will you commit? And how?

*I wrote the foreword for Paul’s book, Seating Matters, for which I was not paid nor am I compensated for promoting (as is the case with all of Paul’s work and training). I wish more meeting venues would invite him in to train sales, convention services, and set-up staff in how to make our meetings work better.

As always the views expressed are my own and may not reflect those of Meetings Today or Stamats. You can respond to this below in the comments section or by emailing me at FridaywithJoan@aol.com, especially if you want your comments to be posted anonymously.

And if you have not provided your Strengths for our study of the strengths of meeting professionals, please do so here

6 Dots to Connect to the Industry’s Future

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

That was the title, minus the number, of a session I delivered for an industry meeting in January.

I agonized about what to include up to, during and after the session. What I wanted to say at the start was, “The industry’s future is bleak except for some hotel company owners, and maybe a few others. For the meetings and sales and marketing professions, for the service segment of the hospitality industry, we have exceptional challenges.”

I believe that statement because I see jobs lost to automation, interest in big issues like safety and security wax and wane depending on the events of the day, and a general sense that we are still an industry focused on logistics not content, delivery of content, and people.

So why didn’t I? <shrug> Because. I simply didn’t. It had been suggested that people want upbeat thoughts and easy-to-use information and avoiding politics would be best.

So now, here, I add to the “dots” and hope we all can take this information and move forward to energizing an industry that is stuck in so many ways, that believes that “hosted buyer” programs solve the buyer-seller relationship issues, that cool apps will ensure we connect with others—even though our eyes are looking down most of the time at apps, missing the world and people and ideas and inspiration around us, and that hotels will listen to all customers not just Millennials.

(Who, it turns out, want desks in rooms after all!)

1. Demographics

People are on the move. The population of almost every country is blended because of the ease of travel and the desire for new experiences or a hoped-for better life. The crises in Syria and so many other countries have forced people out of their homes.

The United States is much more a “melting pot” or “tossed salad’ or “stew” than ever before.

There are five generations alive, and in some cases, working and attending meetings; they are certainly traveling and staying in hotels. In the workplace, Boomers, many of whom are at “retirement age” want to continue working because there are more contributions to be made and in some cases, they can’t afford to retire. But they are being forced out of jobs or not hired for new ones because they are thought to be “too old” or too expensive and Millennials, hungry for work, are willing to take jobs at lesser pay.

Boomers and Xers are being managed by Millennials and are not always pleased.

We talk a good game of “diversity and inclusiveness” and yet, exclude many from jobs. People with disabilities are frustrated with the lack of accommodation and inclusiveness in travel and at meetings. The meetings and hospitality industry could (and should) be on the front line of adapting to demographic changes.

What we can do:

  • Get back to meeting (and marketing) basics: “know your audience” or your potential audience or customer.
  • Once known, determine what can be done to attract and include the diverse audience you have or want. Do speakers reflect a diversity or are they all alike in appearance, opinion, experience?

    Will the images and colors used to market your venue, service or meeting be those that will not offend? Are there dates over which holding a meeting or marketing your facility, because it’s wide-open, will be inappropriate? (Think religious, national or local holidays or festivals).

    Will what a guest at a hotel or participant at a meeting see or experience be reflective of a broader population?

  • Be inclusive in language and attitude. The term “politically correct” has been thrown about frequently during this U.S. presidential election season. C’mon—being caring and empathetic, including others in our language, is a smart way to market and work.

    I mean, referring to Boomers as “little old people” seems so yesterday! (One of my favorite columnists wrote this about the difference in politically correct and inclusive language).

  • Design meetings differently. My colleagues, Jeff Hurt and Jeffrey Cufaude, both write frequently about how to do so. Follow them, read and incorporate what they suggest.
  • Hire and retain a diverse workforce ensuring they reflect a diverse population. Know that those who are of different generations, ethnic and other backgrounds, gender identity—and all that makes us unique—have good ideas to add to the conversation.

2. Climate

Regardless of your belief in what scientists are saying, the climate has changed and has impacted travel, tourism and health. 2015 was the warmest year on record. El Nino has caused flooding rains, massive snow fall, tornadoes “out of season” and other weather events.

The Zika virus that is spreading and considered by the World Health Organization an emergency—and is now believed to spread through sexual contact—may also be a result of climate.

What we can do:

  • Consider climate’s impact on your meetings and travel to and from them. You can’t avoid weather and you shouldn’t avoid all places where climate could have, or has had, an impact! You can plan for contingencies.
  • Advise meeting participants on what they need to do to plan for weather contingencies. Not everyone is a frequent traveler and knows to pack an extra jacket or sweater (also useful for over-chilled rooms) or umbrella, or of their rights or what to do if flights or trains are canceled at the last minute because of a “climate event.”
  • Understand the impact of climate on the cost of food and beverage and other aspects of your meeting operations. Plan accordingly. When you budget, don’t use last year’s plus or minus 10 or other percentage. Consider where you are going and what you are serving and what the impact of climate may be on those costs.
  • Read the CIC’s APEX report on sustainable events and change how meetings and meeting venues operate to stop waste of energy, food, people and resources.
  • Read all that Nancy Zavada, friend, colleague, and “Queen of Sustainability,” writes for Meetings Today (Here’s her latest on what the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly did).

3. Infrastructure

The United States is falling down and apart. Literally.

While the crumbling infrastructure has political and tax implications, and you can try to influence the votes of your senators and representatives, the concern for meetings is great. Roads and bridges that are inaccessible can impact how people arrive, depart and traverse the destination you select.

The toxic water situation in Flint, Mich., is also part of the aging infrastructure made worse by the source of their water. Don’t count on other U.S. cities avoiding similar issues or even having access to water. When a water main breaks—which they are with frequency in the U.S.—we’re out of luck.

The American Society of Civil Engineers issues a report card every four years on US infrastructure. You may not have read it. You should.

What we can do:

  • Ask tough questions of DMOs and do your own research about cities you are considering for your meetings. If you work for a DMO or a hotel, be honest with groups who want to book. Show creative ways your destination is managing the infrastructure challenges.
  • Create alerts for the cities (I use www.bizjournals.com and am city specific) and even for “infrastructure” or a specific city’s infrastructure so you are steps ahead in information.
  • Connect this dot to “climate” and see how destinations’ infrastructure is impacted by budgets used to combat a weather emergency.
  • Create emergency and crisis plans for all contingencies.
  • Find out what back-up (generators, bottled water, transportation, communications, safety, etc.) plans the venues you are considering have for any emergencies.
  • Take nothing for granted.

4. Biz Models

The sharing economy, co-working spaces and hotels, job sharing, contract or temporary workers—there is nothing the same as it was when some of us started in the industry even if you started just a few years ago! We will continue to experience changes in how work is performed, by whom and where. Technology of course has contributed to these changes.

Look at the impact of infrastructure and transportation and climate on just this one “dot” and you’ll see how the future of how we do business has changed. Why fight traffic when you can work at home or from anywhere because you are connected? (Of course this assumes good and free connectivity which can be impacted by infrastructure!).

The opportunities new business models open for different demographics—people with disabilities, parents, people who want or must work multiple jobs—is great. And it also means a change in how people are paid which could have a negative effect on the economy as it will on individuals.

It’s just not going to be the same any more. And those who work in a sharing economy may not have the financial or time resources to attend meetings. Another dot connected.

What we can do:

  • Decide how you’ll work within the changing structures.
  • If you are a “temp worker” or hire temporary workers, know the rights and responsibilities.
  • If you hire or outsource to individuals or companies that use new models, determine what liability you or they may have for any errors and omissions.
  • Read this article and understand this still new peer-to-peer economy.

5. Laws, Policies and Politics

Whether it’s taxes or civil rights or marijuana legalization, politics, policies and laws impact all we do including the meetings we present.

What the 2016 presidential candidates have to say about our industry and policies that may be enacted with new municipal, state or Federal lawmakers are likely to have great impact on the meetings, travel and tourism—the collective hospitality—industry.

What we can do:

  • Be informed about the laws of the destinations to which you plan to take meetings.
  • Know your company’s or organization’s bylaws and mission and if there are any hot-button issues that could cause a meeting to cancel if a law or policy were enacted, or, like a corporate planner friend, where your off-site events could and couldn’t be: hers can’t be near strip joints or marijuana dispensaries for appearances.
  • Be informed about impending laws.
  • Register to vote and then vote.
  • Participate in actions to be held on April 14, 2016, for Global Meeting Industry Day. If you’re involved in planning these events, request that it be more than a celebration and rather a day of action about issues that matter to and impact our industry. Engage others in conversations about these issues.

6. Technology

Technology is usually considered the greatest thing to happen to our industry ever! While I think it has an impact, it’s one that can have both positive and negative impact.

It does impact outsourcing of jobs (see “Biz Models”); automation of front desk procedures that may eliminate jobs; automation of site selection and meeting planning processes, again a potential job eliminator; virtual and hybrid meetings some of which may cause people to not attend face to face. Technology can help us do our jobs more efficiently, connect with others to learn, create communities before, during and after meetings.

Technology also keeps our noses in devices when we could be interacting with others when we are f2f at meetings! And technology is (one of) the greatest threats to privacy and security. We can’t live without it and sometimes we fear living with it.

What we can do:

  • Determine how to effectively use technology to enhance the meeting and show experiences. Don’t use it as a crutch!
  • Consider technology just one more tool in your creative kits.
  • Have contingency plans for data breaches, and outages. If it hasn’t happened to you, it will!

6. Terrorism

This is the one, at the January program, I called “The Elephant in the Room”—something we all think about and rarely address directly until there is an attack somewhere. When, recently the CEO of a major international hotel company, said that the acts of terrorism in Paris, Egypt and elsewhere hadn’t really impacted tourism and hospitality, I wondered in what universe he lived!

Statistics do show that people, though they didn’t stop traveling entirely, did think more about where they’d travel. After the Paris attacks, school groups said that they would not come in—even from the distant suburbs—to the District of Columbia, the U.S. Capital, for their usual school trips, so uncomfortable were they with the possibility of terrorism.

What we can do:

  • Don’t assume that your meeting, regardless of where it is held, is safe.
  • Be aware and know what you will do if there is an act of domestic or international terrorism.
  • Create a plan to protect people and property, to shelter in place, to move people to different locations.

Are there other dots and connections of which we should be aware? Yes. Do I think the meetings industry will continue? Yes. Do I think that we need to be more aware and do more to connect dots to other dots to move the industry ahead? A resounding YES!

And we can if we make a concerted effort to connect these and other dots … together.

6 Considerations to Better Destination Selection

Originally published Meetings Today

Groups tend to focus their site selection efforts on finding the specific venue/facility in which their meetings will be held. Selecting the destination, the city/state and country—is at least as important. And I’ve got plenty of other considerations, including sustainability (human and environment)! Here are six major details to reflect on during the site selection process.

1. Taxes and Additional Charges: Too many people think the rates and prices they are quoted are “the final price” and that nothing more will be charged. On top of a room rate, there may be a state or local sales tax, a tourism tax or fee, and other charges. Some are flat fees and some percentages. For food and beverage prices, the tax (usually sales), always added to the price of the meal, can also be added to a service charge (different than a gratuity). Often the venue will charge an administrative fee, which can also end up being taxed.

2. Laws. In your RFP—in addition to asking the current tax rate—ask what laws are being considered to raise taxes. Research the “best and worst” U.S. cities for hotel taxes; and it can be extremely helpful to keep an eye on and subscribe to business journals.

Following the business journal and news outlets for the destinations you are considering will allow you to know what’s on upcoming ballots or what’s been passed or defeated that may impact your meeting and those who attend it. For example, we recently saw the defeat of Proposition 1 in Houston, a proposed law supported by the Houston CVB, Marriott, United Airlines, and others that would have prevented discrimination against any number of groups of people.

We have to be sure the laws of cities to which we take our meetings are in line with the bylaws, missions, and policies of our organizations to ensure there are not conflicts.

3. Climate and Weather. Sure we all think we know about “hurricane season” but outbreaks of storms have been erratic around the U.S. and the world. Severe droughts in California and Brazil, in particular, have caused shortages of water. If you plan a winter meeting, snow or the lack thereof could be a positive or a problem! El Nino is expected to wreak more weather havoc.

4. Infrastructure. It’s remarkably on few minds when a destination is considered. Although the U.S. Congress passed a new highway bill, the roads, bridges and water infrastructure of the U.S. are aging horribly. Even here in D.C., where I live and work, the water main breaks are legendary, shutting down roads and causing many to be without sources of water.

This 2013 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers is a good place to start.

5. Accessibility. This is a broad and complex area—everything from airline access to access for people with disabilities has to be considered. Recent experiences at an airport taught me that not all airports (even in first tier markets) have sufficient services for people with disabilities.

And airline mergers means lift has been cut to many markets. If people can’t get there or it takes two or more changes of plane, they may reconsider. The U.S. Department of Justice is doing random checks of hotels; many cities, like Boston, have offices on disability awareness and can give you stats about, for example, how many taxis are accessible.

Check with them for help with accessibility issues.

6. Safety. How could I write a blog on site selection without acknowledging the horrors in Paris, the threat to the U.S. and a recent threat in Germany that caused a soccer match to be canceled? And there are ordinary safety concerns about which we all should care: access for police and other emergency services to the facilities in which you’ll hold an event; lighting in areas people will frequent (Check out the following blog post for more about safety in a facility).

The U.S. Department of State is, for planners taking meetings outbound or in, a good resource for country safety, including weather and human factors. And use DMOs (aka CVBs) for additional info. This is not to say don’t go if there are obstacles or concerns. Certainly we won’t stop travel to Paris or D.C. or other cities in the world. Rather, factor in these and other issues when selecting destinations. Know what you will do to manage and counter the issues that could have caught you by surprise if you hadn’t looked closely in the selection phase.

Be smart and aware when selecting destinations!

When the Political Becomes the Practical, Part II

Originally published Meetings Today

It’s tough to separate the political from the professional whether in last week’s Friday With Joan blog post on professional development, the linked Q&A with Sekeno Aldred, Charles Massey and Jean Riley, or in this previous blog post “When the Political Becomes The Practical.”

While many are many speaking out—including these legal opinions—I look to our industry for a voice against what Donald Trump has said about restricting Muslims from entering the United States for any reason including as tourists. Can you imagine being a Muslim who works for a Trump property?

Or can you imagine being invited to attend a meeting at a Trump property … especially if you are a Muslim or someone thinks you are? Will activities or discussions of those attending your meetings have to be reported if this new law goes through?

Will we or will we not be as inclusive as the policies of all our industry associations say? Even The Washington Business Journal is asking the question about boycotting Trump properties, services and products with, to me, surprising results.

Where are the voices in our industry speaking out against hate? Even if it means using the “business case” as has been done to promote multiculturalism and diversity and inclusiveness.

 

4 Ways to Express Thanks and Thanks-giving

Originally published Meetings Today

This week, I offer a professional and personal blog written for a variety of reasons, one of which is the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday (or this); another is because this week my family buried my uncle, my father’s (of blessed memory) only sibling.

The time with family allowed me to learn more about where we came from, when and why pogroms and the Holocaust, cast us out of many lands bringing us to the United States.

Another reason is because the Thanksgiving holiday as celebrated is—or can be—an act of hospitality in a time when the world is inhospitable to so many in so many places. Stay with me please and allow me some personal reflections on hospitality, Thanksgiving and thanks-giving.

What are children today taught about the U.S. Thanksgiving? What is discussed at home and in school or in home schooling, about the meaning of giving thanks as well as the holiday? (In grade school, I remember drawing photos of turkeys using a hand to outline a turkey. Do they still do that? Now, with greater awareness, what do they do to help children who don’t have all their fingers or two hands or the use of their hands?).

I wonder too, more this year than others of recent memory, if the meaning of being refugees—and acceptance and rejection by those who are native to a land in which a refugee finds her or himself—is discussed. Do families and groups of friends, gathered around a table, discuss the situation of refugees from wars and violence and thank each other for the gift of family and friendship? Are strangers welcomed to the neighborhood? To the table?

Or is this just another holiday on which retailers get ready to sell-sell-sell after a day of eating and football for many? And do we give to the many who have no table at which to eat or no food on which to put on a table?

(A friend posted this on Facebook. With humor, it is a perfect discussion-starter at your table … with humor. Also recommended, for the creative humor of the beginning of the United States, “Stan Freberg  Presents the United States of America,” portions of which you can listen to here.)

To this industry, into which I was destined to work and yet into which I fell because of Karen Mulhauser, who hired me into my first professional job in DC, I am grateful.

To Meetings Today and Stamats Communications [whose views may not always be reflected in what I write and speak and still allow me to do so.] To an industry to which I’ve devoted more than 45 years of my life, and in which I’ve been afforded and accepted opportunities to lead, teach, grow and help others grow, I am thankful.

Yet, I puzzle, especially on this holiday of hospitality and thanks-giving, at how those in charge of this industry—the staffs and Boards of Directors of the CIC member organizations—withhold hospitality by their lack of action, despite statements of diversity and inclusion, on issues such as inclusive housing, jobs, and other accommodations for people who are older, immigrants, LGBTQ, and/or have different abilities.

[See here the coalition http://houstonunites.org/about/, including the Houston DMO, United Airlines and a few other hospitality companies but no industry associations, who supported Houston’s badly defeated-by-misinformation-generated-fear Prop 1. The “crickets” from MPI (“Embrace and foster an inclusive climate of respect…”), PCMA (see number IX), ASAE (delve a bit deeper here), and others who say they are proponents of inclusion make me wonder to whom are we hospitable if we do not speak out and act on hospitality and inclusion.]

As you finish reading you may wonder why I’m posting something that some will perceive as political. Because it’s not. It’s about human rights and welcoming and accommodating, being hospitable, something about which I was taught the holiday of Thanksgiving—and our industry—was about. It is about how each of us determines to represent ourselves, our work, and our industry to others in what we do.

So to help you give thanks and show hospitality, you can:

  1. Say thank you. To the server or bus person who brings or takes away plates; to the setup staff who works an overnight shift to ensure your morning meeting is ready to go; to the person who holds the door open for you; to the many people who do small acts to ensure your safety and security. We can’t all be like young Zachary Becerra but we can emulate him.
  2. Express acceptance. Don’t repeat hate or rumor or support those who do. Become aware of another’s history and accept them for who they are. Help promote them in the workplace, your neighborhood, all places of your life.
  3. Reflect on times you were excluded from any group or neighborhood or club. Once you reflect, remember how it felt and then vow to include others. Which leads to…
  4. Take (inclusive) action. Don’t just say you support “diversity and inclusiveness,” live it and ask others to join you in doing so.

To each of you, my thanks, for reading and learning and taking action.