Category Archives: Hospitality

Q&A: Sexual Harassment in the Meetings Industry

Originally posted Meetings Today and Friday’s with Joan

         

Jessica Pettitt, Speaker and Consultant                 Sherry Marts, CEO, S*Marts Consulting

“Sexual harassment” as a term was not coined until 1975, as documented by Lin Farley in this Op-Ed piece for The New York Times. It was years later that the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) added guidelines on sexual harassment.

For those of you who live in other parts of the world, I encourage you to comment on this article with more information (and links) about the protections against sexual harassment and other workplace bullying. Our goal is to ensure greater protection and knowledge for all that are in and related to our industry.

In selecting those to interview, I turned to Sherry Marts and Jessica Pettitt, both of whom have written extensively on issues of equality, inclusion and harassment. Their views are their own based on research and experience. They may not reflect all my views or those of the publisher of this blog and newsletter.

My gratitude for their time and sharing of experiences. If we’ve accidentally edited responses in a way that changes the meaning, forgive us and add please to the comments to correct our errors. In some cases, their words have been emphasized either in bold or italics or both by this author to call attention to certain concepts.

Q1. Those interviewed:

Sherry A. Marts (SM), Ph.D., CEO of S*Marts Consulting LLC, is a former association CEO with a wide-ranging background in biomedical research, regulatory affairs, nonprofit management, public education and research advocacy. She provides expert consulting and training services to nonprofits and academic institutions on diversity and inclusion, harassment and bullying, and interpersonal communication. She also offers executive and career coaching with an emphasis on career and leadership development for women.

Dr. Marts is a skilled workshop leader, facilitator, writer and speaker with a lively personality and a keen sense of humor. Her interest in the issue of harassment and bullying lies at the intersection of her professional life as a woman in science, and her previous experience as a women’s self-defense instructor.

Her most recent publications include:

Dr. Marts received her B.Sc. (Hons.) in Applied Biology from the University of Hertfordshire, and her Ph.D. in Physiology from Duke University.

You can connect with her at her website, www.smartsconsulting.com,

or via email at sherry@smartsconsulting.com.

Jessica Pettitt (JP), M.Ed., CSP™, pulls together her stand-up comedy years with 15-plus years of diversity trainings–about which she says on her website, “WARNING: Not your typical diversity trainer!”–in a wide range of organizations to serve groups to move from abstract fears to actionable habits that lead teams to want to work together. With a sense of belonging and understanding, colleagues take more risks with their ideation, converse precious resources through collaboration, and maintain real connections with clients over time.

You can read her full resume here, including the extensive list of publications, training and work she does. Jessica Pettitt can be contacted at jess@goodenoughnow.com, or text her about anything to 202.670.4262.

A personal note: I am grateful that Jess wrote Good Enough Now, about which you can read more about here and purchase copies of via the link provided on that page, if you so choose.

Q2. What is “sexual harassment?” What is non-sexual bullying or harassment? How are they alike and how do they differ? Why is it important to differentiate, especially since the current conversations are about sexual vs. general harassment?

SM: I hate the term “sexual harassment” and I don’t use it. I talk about gender-based harassment and bullying.

The term “sexual harassment” puts the focus on the content of the harassing behavior, rather than on the effects of that behavior. When you look at the effect of gender-based harassment on targets and bystanders you can clearly see that this is not about sex, sexuality or human intimacy–even when the harasser’s goal is some kind of sexual contact or activity. Harassment is all about power.

Whether we’re talking about gender-based harassment or harassment on the basis of any other personal characteristics (race, religion, age, ability, size, etc.), we’re talking about behavior that emerges from the difference in power between the harasser and the target. Harassment is all about who controls the space, and who is or is not safe in that space. Street harassment conveys the clear message that the target is not safe from unwelcome attention in public spaces simply because they are female, or transgender, or a person of color, or wearing a hijab, and so on. Workplace harassment conveys the message that the target is not safe and not welcome in that workplace, or in a particular role in that workplace.

Harassment is a form of bullying, one that focuses on a personal characteristic of the target. The bully’s message is “I can make your life hell and you can’t do anything about it.” The harasser’s message is “I can make your life hell and you can’t do anything about it. You don’t belong here, and I can get away with treating you this way because you are a ____.”

I have heard from many women whose initial harassment experiences fit the legal and HR definitions of sexual harassment, and whose harasser shifted tactics after the woman complained. The harasser then turned bully–belittling her in meetings, sending all-caps email rants that he cc’d to everyone in the department, excluding her from important meetings or conversations about her work, and so on. Her further complaints to HR were dismissed because this was no longer “sexual” harassment. That’s one of the problems with segregating harassment and bullying with sexual content from other forms of harassment and bullying.

JP: I didn’t know the words bullying or harassment until I had been on the speaking circuit for a decade or so and they were suddenly topic areas of speakers. Similarly, I didn’t know the word lesbian until graduate school. Interestingly, to me at least, I was personally impacted and/or targeted by bullies, harassers and homophobes, long before I had access to the language that described me and the experiences.

As a diversity and inclusion speaker, author and consultant, I have always gravitated to the incongruences of oppression and work daily to bring light to those silenced and marginalized, even if I don’t know the right words. Most recently, I have learned that airlines don’t have a policy to deal with unwanted and/or unsolicited touching while in flight. They claim no responsibility, have no response protocol, and no criminal action is taken to prevent the perpetrator from leaving the plane. I don’t know anything about this–and this is my newest area of mind-blowing WTF moments where I, too, don’t have the language.

I don’t know that I agree that it is important to separate out sexual vs. general harassment. This is about power and not a sexual fetish or conquest of sorts. The feeling of being entitled to someone else’s space, body or a specific response can be problematic, and that is if the other person feels this as a use of power over their sense of agency or in exchange for something that feels limiting. This is a subjective definition and why this area is tricky. Sometimes, the motivation can be solved through education and sometimes it can’t be.

I draw a parallel between “in group” and “out group” language to some degree. There are stories, words and actions that are permitted (rightly or wrongly) within sub groups or communities to which you belong that are not promised to be permitted in other settings. One must learn each setting and follow often unwritten rules about what is permitted, and over time, these rules may change. An individual can also write their own rules about what is and isn’t permitted, and these rules apply to their own behavior–not others necessarily. I should mention, I am not a lawyer, I was a ceramics major so take my legal advice with that in mind.

Lastly, it is never appropriate to say or do anything without someone’s consent and yet we do this all the time, and most of the time it even seems to work out okay. We are not entitled to feedback, education, training or a conversation with someone that we have offended or hurt. It is our responsibility to listen to those that do give us feedback and assume that we don’t know everything.

Imagine what would happen if we entered a conversation prepared to be wrong–this isn’t at all about overpowering the other, but actually listening and connecting with them if they want to.

Q3. Our readers are in hospitality–as meeting professionals (aka planners or designers of content and delivery), sales for AV companies, hotels, convention centers, cities, conference centers and related services, and others. A friend once said to me that at hospitality gatherings it “feels like Hollywood” with all the hugging and kissing. If that’s the culture,

  • How is it contributing to potential harassment and the ability to say no to even a general greeting from a business contact that could involve a hug or kiss?
  • How do we turn it around to change the culture of the industry? Do we need to and why? And are industry associations (MPI, PCMA, IAEE, ASAE, etc.) responsible to help do so?

SM: Whether or not this kind of social behavior contributes to harassment, it is behavior that needs to be reconsidered because it is troubling and can be exclusionary. There are myriad reasons why someone doesn’t want to be hugged or kissed. Maybe they have a cold and don’t want to spread it. Maybe they are on the autism spectrum and physical contact is excruciating for them. Maybe they have severe germ phobia. Maybe they come from a cultural background in which that kind of touch is restricted to family members and spouses.

Who knows how many members, attendees, employees, even business contacts have stayed away from events just to avoid the unpleasantness of putting up with, or trying to avoid, unwanted touch? [Author note: I’m reading the book The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People and learning so much about myself and others. What Sherry says plays into lessons in this book as well.]

[On-site meetings] staff can help by modeling behavior that discourages this kind of contact without permission or consent. They can be the ones who ask first: “May I give you a hug?” which doesn’t take long and is a perfectly polite and reasonable question.

“Please don’t hug me without asking” is a perfectly polite and reasonable response to being forced into a hug. If this truly has become part of the culture, then work that as the association has become aware that this is a barrier to all members feeling safe at the meeting, everyone should ask before hugging–something like a gentler version of the DC Metro [mass transit] campaign, “If it is unwanted, it’s harassment.”

I know lots of people who proclaim, “But I’m a hugger, I hug everyone!” I really doubt that all of these folks are incapable of resisting the urge to wrap their arms around someone in public. Always, always, always ask before your grab and then wait for a positive response before you move in. Don’t assume that because this is someone you’ve hugged before, they are okay with being hugged again.

Consent is active, not passive, and past consent does not imply current consent.

And yes, I am fully aware of cultural differences in how people greet each other. Japanese bowing etiquette is a great example. It is amazing how much information (respect, dominance, deference, fondness) can be exchanged in the process of simply bowing from the waist, and physical contact is not required.

The custom in some cultures of cheek-kissing is one that comes up in discussions about “to hug or not to hug,” and I have a couple of thoughts on that. The first is that if cheek kissing is NOT part of your culture, it is perfectly okay to decline to participate. You may have to let the cheek-kisser know that on first encounter, but there is no reason why you have to conform to their custom if that custom makes you uncomfortable.

The second is that, having experienced cheek-kissing rituals when doing business in Europe, I found them somewhat less invasive than some U.S. customs. They are certainly less invasive and less prone to “accidental” unwanted touching of body parts than hugs; they are even less invasive than the U.S. “handshake-elbow grab-pull in for a pat on the back” maneuver.

JP: I just spoke at a conference that was VERY huggy. When I say huggy, I mean deep long-lost friend hugs that genuinely seemed honest and loving with nothing but a “welcome to the community” intention. I am not a touchy, huggy person, and when at conferences, I know that the hugs will happen so I brace myself and enjoy being part of the community norm. I still get VERY uncomfortable when someone hugs me or approaches me from behind, and the depth, length and tightness of the hugs at the conference I just returned home from was a new level of discomfort. I simultaneously felt welcomed and emotionally drained until the last day of the conference, I was literally out of juice in a way I can’t really describe.

I don’t have direct answers or solutions. I also don’t want a world or meeting culture where people, specifically men, are terrified to emotionally connect, show respectful affection, etc. I don’t know that it is the meeting industry’s role to mediate what is an intention of a touch and the impact of that touch–I would like to think that our cultural norms can set these standards. I also would like to see people more confident that they have more to offer than a sexual object or are valued by society by how attractive or sexually active one is. This is a larger issue about respecting one another and ourselves differently and without connection to another person.

We all have work to do.

It is also true that someone can learn and behave differently than they did in the past. This can be both a positive progressive movement as well as a decline in rational choices and personal decisions. To make it even more complicated, though always about power, sexual harassment and bullying can be considered comedy, entertainment and harmless, and the next second it has gone too far.

At another conference I spoke at recently, a comedian introduced me following the [immediate past] Secretary of Education’s speech. [The person introducing me] talked about how young and attractive the Secretary of Education was while he was serving himself breakfast in the back of the room post-speech. He turned red and the audience laughed. The introducer continued and suddenly, it was too much. She kept going and as she walked off the stage she stated her phone number and said, “Most marriages don’t last–call me.”

This turned abhorrent. As I took the stage, and began my keynote, I named what had happened by saying, “With all that is going on in the world, that is an excellent example of sexual harassment and what not to do.” [During the] conference, [participants], men and women, thanked me for naming it as sexual harassment. It took almost nothing on my part to name it, and collectively, we in the industry could do this, too.

Q4. Much of what’s in the news is about sexual harassment by men toward women, except for the cover story in Time naming the #MeToo movement as “persons of the year” where men were included, and in the case of some celebrities and the spouse of a politician in Massachusetts. Is this what’s prevalent vs. same-gender harassment? Toward LGBTQ people? Toward transgender people?

SP: “Wait, what about me?!? I’m oppressed, too, you know!!” The age-old cry of those in power (i.e. white, straight, cis-gender men) whenever the rest of us object to being treated as less than human.

The vast majority of incidents in professional settings are men harassing women, and most often older men harassing younger women, or men higher in rank or power harassing women lower in rank or power. Yes, men do harass men, although it often takes the form of bullying rather than “sexual” harassment. And there is a lot of intersectional harassment and bullying–targets are selected and bullied because of their gender or gender identity AND their race, religion, appearance, age, etc.

Hair-splitting over who is more harassed than whom, and exactly what kind of harassment they experience, is a distraction from the real problem. The real problem is the steady and unrelenting abuse of the power dynamics in organization.

The goal of all this is pretty simple. Behave like an adult. Treat people like the human beings that they are. Don’t be an asshole.

JP: All harassment is about power. The harassment of trans folks, specifically transwomen of color, is significantly more likely to result in death or life long injury and disability. The indecipherable “femininity” of a person perceived to be a man, therefore assumed to be gay, and a person of color is a deadly combination of assumptions almost always resulting in acts of violence that are often supported by local, state and federal laws. LGBQ people, as long as they are white, upper class and conform to binary standards, they are less likely to be harassed or bullied, and yet are consistently starting in elementary school. Similarly, to show up as one’s full self, they (we) must come out to every person we come in contact with and every day of our lives. This alone can compound and feel like an act of violence, then add on bias or hate incidents where folks are targeted by others. Again, it is all about power. It is important to mention that a woman of color started the #MeToo campaign and was left off of the Time cover as well as the narrative of the hashtag that was eventually picked up by a straight white cis actress–then it got attention.

Q5. What do we all need to know and watch for? How do we, for ourselves and for our friends, colleagues, co-workers and families, help those who may be afraid to speak out for fear of retribution, including fear of job loss? What are the bullet points people can use to fend off unwanted touch, or more?

SM: Targets, and many witnesses, recognize bullying and harassment for what it is. If nothing else, that little gut clench when you hear a comment or see a behavior, so easily dismissed or overridden, is a sure sign that yes, that was unwelcome, unwanted, inappropriate and downright wrong.

It takes a lot of forethought and practice to speak up. The most effective responses follow a simple formula:

“You just did/said ____.

“I don’t like it.” Or “That violates our code of conduct.” Or “I don’t want to hear things like that.”

“Stop doing/saying _____.”

Say it with a straight face, neutral body language, no apology, no smiles, no being “nice” about it. Use volume and tone of voice to reflect the intensity of your upset over what they did or said.

If you want to intervene and you aren’t the target, don’t speak for the target; make it about you: “I find that extremely offensive.” “I don’t want to hear things like that at work.” “That violates our code of conduct.” “We don’t do that here.”

Self-defense classes usually include practicing this kind of response, which is generally effective and does not escalate the encounter. I recommend that anyone and everyone take a good empowerment self-defense class. (In the D.C. area, Defend Yourself http://defendyourself.org/ and Collective Action for Safe Spaces http://www.collectiveactiondc.org/ offer classes on harassment resistance and empowerment self-defense.)

[Author’s note: check if these organizations or in your location and, in the comments please, add names of other resources in other cities and countries of which you are aware].

JP: I suggest that trying to help and support others to do something may be frustrating as it varies person to person what is the right thing to do. The best thing to do is to take responsibility for yourself. Who and how we show up is our responsibility. When do you want to take power from someone else? If you answer “never” then you have work to do.

Stand up to those taking power away from others, especially if it really doesn’t cost you anything or feel like a risk. When you think something isn’t a big deal–this means there isn’t much of a risk for you. Say something. Notice who and how you are regarding power with and over others. Notice your own touch patterns as well as language you shift using with one person or group but not another and ask yourself why. If your own behaviors and language choices stand up to your own questioning process you can keep them or change them. Either way, if they survive your questioning processes, you can justify or explain them to others.

Q6. What have I not asked that you want to tell readers about sexual or other workplace and meeting harassment?

SM: Whether you’re the target or a bystander, effectively responding to harassment in the moment is a learned skill and takes practice. The more people learn and apply these skills, the faster we’ll see changes in behavior. That said, responding on an individual level does entail risks, from social sanctions (“Don’t talk to her, she’ll ream you out for harassment.”) to job loss and career derailment.

Harassment resistance and intervention by individuals is a start, but bigger changes are needed to eliminate this behavior in professional settings. Leaders in organizations, professions and workplaces have to make this a priority, and have to be willing to take rapid and effective action to eliminate harassers and bullies from every professional setting.

Until organizations and employers are willing to shoulder the risk of actually enforcing policies against harassment and bullying, cultures won’t change. As long as HR offices and Title IX offices are told their jobs are risk reduction and liability avoidance, complaints will continue to be investigated unto death and then dismissed as “unproven,” and this behavior will continue.

Until targets are listened to, believed, EFFECTIVELY protected from retaliation, and rewarded for their courage in coming forward, organizations will continue to lose talented, creative and productive people. As long as harassment and bullying are tolerated and even rewarded, harassers will harass and bullies will bully.

JP: Just know that harassment isn’t like the chicken pox. If you hear of someone’s experience(s), believe them and know that there are more experiences in their past and more to come in their future. This doesn’t happen just once and you are done. This is a lifelong experience. I think this has been the most shocking part for those new to this conversation.

I am a 43-year-old woman and I don’t know another woman that doesn’t experience sexualized violence, harassment and/or bullying throughout their lives. Let that sink in. It doesn’t have to be a problem for you to be a problem for others. Now, let’s do something about it.

Click here to view additional content in the 01.05.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.​

#MeToo in Meetings and Hospitality: What’s Next?

Originally posted Meetings Today Blog    Friday’s with Joan

#MeToo in Meetings and Hospitality: What's Next?

I remember receiving a call years ago from someone important in our industry threatening me and my business if I were to dare speak of something about which I knew nothing about until the call. This person was threatening me based on an incident about which it was believed I’d spoken.

I remember the appointment with a new doctor whose exam of me seemed “not right” and the looks on the nurses’ faces but I didn’t know what to expect, so I said nothing. And I remember so many other incidents as do you—as someone who experienced them or as someone who was the perpetrator.

The current wave of accusations of sexual and other harassment in the workplace and at meetings are not new. This research paper from 1998, titled Sexual Harassment Issues in the Hospitality Industry by David Gilbert, Yvonne Guerrier and Jonathan Guy, may very well verify what the informal poll numbers, and, separately Meetings Today—through the January 2018 Friday With Joan newsletter poll—will find.

Yet we begin the new year where we left the old: discussing harassment and bullying with the daily breaking stories including this one—Companies Hit by Sex Misconduct Target the Dreaded Holiday Party—published at the end of the last year, from Bloomberg, about the impact on holiday parties amid fear of allegations of harassment, stating that if alcohol were limited, it would cut down on harassment.

And then there’s some of you who may have even considered, while planning “holiday” gatherings, whether to play “Baby It’s Cold Outside” in light of the #MeToo era, as discussed in this recent Washington Post article.

While alcohol and song lyrics may contribute to thoughts of harassment, they do not cause it. Power is what spurs people to harass others. I asked, among those in hospitality social media groups, for their stories.

These are (edited for length and to eliminate identifiers) some of the stories I received.

From a meeting planner: WOW! As I read [other articles] it is so reminiscent of what our team went through. The entire staff complained to the Board about our supervisor’s verbal abuse.

We were sent to what might be called “team therapy.” At the end of the session, the facilitator announced who the person—in attendance!—who caused the harassment was and about whom the complaint was made. The verbal abuse grew much worse. Jobs at my level were hard to find so I kept working even when others left.

I was finally fired with no reason given.

From a meeting vendor: I had a boss sexually harass me in front of several people at a job retreat at which there had been lots of drinking all day and I was clad only in a swimsuit. I was asked to sign a paper saying I would not discuss the incident.

I don’t think it was really a sexual thing with him. Much like [many of the more famous people accused], it was a power play. Hookers can be hired for sexual desires, but power is real the driver. They can do what they want to their employees.

After he did what he did to me, a co-worker sitting next to me said. “Don’t be mad. It is like a dog humping your leg.” I will never forget that comment. Like he does this to everyone and he is the boss. Like what they said about Charlie Rose.

“That is Charlie being Charlie.”

The other owner of the company came to my office, and closed the door and [asked], “How much money do you want to make this go away?” I told him I didn’t want money.

This company [then went] through my emails to try to find something on me and fired me. I then got a lawyer who said it was a moot point (to try to argue [against] this).

From a (now) third-party contractor: My first experience [with harassment] happened when I was very young and starting out in the industry. I was physically attacked on an elevator at a major convention hotel in the city I represented. The attacker was a prominent person with an association that was considering our city for their meeting. What was so shocking is after it happened was that my boss at the time required me to continue working with this group. I was young and naïve; I did as I was told.

I eventually left that job and returned to the same organization years later. This was all before computer records. The paper files of the incident were gone.

No actions were taken against the attacker.

From a third party: A couple years ago I was sexually harassed and because I’m an independent contractor, I was told there was nothing I could do legally even though I told the company to whom I contracted about it. The client was a big one and important to the company [for the revenue it produced]. The complaint resulted in the client leaving the company and because there was no contract with the client, there was nothing that could be done to support me or to bring in the revenue from which I’d also benefit.

After a few days of discussing what happened with my family and friends, a decision was made to inform [the harasser’s] supervisors. There was never a response from them; he continues to work there. I still enjoy working independently but having more support would be nice.

From a meeting planner: I unfortunately have a story to tell. Mine is slightly different: my boss harassed me in front of colleagues for being a nursing mother.

We were on site at our annual meeting and the boss made various comments regarding me nursing my child while at the meeting. Because of this, I no longer felt I could trust this person and was uncomfortable in other situations. I explained it to this person and nothing changed. I told HR and nothing happened. So I quit.

This issue of bullying touches on hot topics: breastfeeding, working mothers, mom-shaming. I’ve been trying to figure out how else I can share my story and help support other working mothers because our industry is unique with the amount of travel we have to do.

From a corporate planner: In a new job in a small company, one of the bosses, while we were alone in the office, asked me into his office. He asked me to sit on his knee. He said if I didn’t, he’d fire me. I didn’t [sit on his knee] and he did [fire me].

I was still new and needed the job and no, I didn’t take further action and wish I had.

From a planner: I was in a large North American city about to begin a two-day conference. The night before the start of the conference, as was the company’s practice, there was a private dinner for speakers. When the dinner concluded, I went to my room, did some work, and got ready for bed. The phone in my room rang. I answered to hear one of the speakers say he wanted to give me his presentation so that it was off his plate before the morning presentations. He asked me to come to his room. Not thinking this was deceitful, I groaned to myself because I had to get dressed respectfully. I slipped into my usual conference “uniform”—a business suit I’d worn for dinner—even putting on pantyhose. I knocked on the speaker’s door. I was greeted by this person holding an open bottle of wine covering his genitals and wearing nothing except a smile on his face.

He invited me in.

As I turned to quickly get back away, he shouted “if you don’t come in and ‘come across,’ I’m not speaking tomorrow.” Obviously I left, yelling back that I was going to tell my boss. I got to my room, quite shaken and eventually fell into a restless sleep.

The next day, I wasn’t as full of self-confidence as I hoped I looked. Once my boss got there, I explained the situation.  He was obviously (imagine if he wasn’t?) on my side. We put a panel in place in case this speaker didn’t show. The speaker did show up but never apologized to me. He never spoke for the organization again.

If this were to happen today, I’d immediate advise security [of the incident that occurred] and ask them to keep an eye on my room. I’d complete an incident report for the hotel and for my employer.

I’d call a meeting very quickly with my boss and ensure security was around the event.

This marks the final story presented here sharing real examples of sexual harassment.

What constitutes harassment was a question on my mind when I traveled, in December, to visit a hospitalized family member. After “one of those days” of awful travel (via O’Hare International Airport, instead of my canceled non-stop flight), I arrived at the hospital, exhausted, during a snow storm, and walked slowly toward the entrance. The valet parking attendant offered a wheelchair. I readily agreed.

He put his hand on my shoulder, squeezed it, and said “You’ll be OK.” I was comforted and appreciative and only later thought “should I be? Is this a type of not asking if it were OK to touch me?” Really! In that setting, when I was in need of the comfort of touch, which is considered healing, I questioned it.

All because of the endless allegations of sexual harassment.

Despite statements from industry associations such as this one from MPI, shared by Meetings Today, and this article, from PCMA Convene, our industry has been remarkably quiet about these issues, until recently.

Update: Here’s another related article published by PCMA Convene.

And then there’s also this, from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), a statement sent to me with permission to publish after I reached out to them on the issue: “The hotel and lodging industry has made the safety of both employees and guests a top priority. For this reason, our properties have in place safety standards, our employees receive comprehensive and ongoing trainings, and AHLA has partnered with nationally recognized non-profits and developed tailored trainings for the industry.

“As headlines over recent weeks have shown, no industry is immune to dealing with sexual harassment. Our industry has in place procedures and protocols for employees around reporting and prevention, and these are continuously reviewed and updated. As an industry, we will continue our work, day in and day out, with a focus on ensuring America’s hotels are secure places for all those who work and visit them.”

Sexual and other forms of harassment and bullying have been whispered about for as many years as I’ve been in this industry and from what I hear from those older than I, for much longer. More prevalent is sexual and other harassment in the broader hospitality industry of which meetings are a part.

It hadn’t escaped me when, in October, I interviewed Dr. Vivek H. Murthy—the immediate past U.S. Surgeon General—and wrote about the importance of creating welcoming environments at meetings to help curb the loneliness epidemic that clearly, those welcoming environments should be appropriate.

I think the stories I received from a variety of people are the tip of the iceberg. Like with politics, media, and entertainment, and with the publication of allegations against one DMO (aka CVB) CEO [for which we’ve not found updated information since this was published, outside of a refusal by participants of a closed door meeting to comment], one wonders if more allegations will come forth. Or will the fear of job loss, like what the women at Ford Motor Company experienced, keep people from speaking out?

What should happen next? Will your organization, if it hasn’t yet done so, create a code of enforceable conduct in the workplace and for meetings and conferences? Will you report or intervene when you see harassment happening to someone else?

If it happens to you, what will you do—especially if you know your job could be on the line and you can’t afford to lose it? Will there be a demand that such conduct will not be tolerated and if so, what would the consequences be? Will groups ask in their site and vendor selection RFPs about sexual harassment suits or allegations and their settlement and policies, and determine not to book meetings in potentially hostile environments? Will members, staff, or customers who act against policy be terminated?

I know that too few of us were aware of the lawsuit by employees of The Plaza in New York or the housekeeper at the resort in California, both of which were featured, with the women who spoke out, in Time magazine’s “Person of the Year 2017: The Silence Breakers” issue, even though we knew the actions of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and tut-tutted but there was no general outcry then as there is now for people who work in hotels or those of us who plan meeting or market and sell space and services.

Two colleagues, Ben Yalow and Sherry Marts, have offered examples of policies their organizations offer on handling bullying and harassment.

As I finished writing this blog, there are more important developments to note, in particular the @TIMESUPNOW movement because it says its aim is to help those who, like Ford’s line workers and hotel housekeepers, may not have the financial and other resources to support their reporting of abuses.

Read more on the Time’s Up movement in this article from NPR. This article from Harvard Business Review is about why harassment persists and how to stop it. This is about the impact on black women of harassment and reporting it.  And this from the Washington Post’s Michelle Singletary about the fear of job loss in reporting harassment is insightful.

Even U.S. Supreme Court Justice Roberts said courts will examine protections against sexual harassment. There is much to consider when one decides the next steps.

Allegations without actions will change nothing. Read what Sherry Marts and Jessica Pettitt have to say in the January 2018 Friday With Joan sidebar.

Share your story below or if you’d prefer, I promise confidentiality, and I will, if you write to me at FridaywithJoan@aol.com, change any identifiers and post here for others to learn. If your employer or clients have policies to combat harassment in the workplace and especially at meetings or events, please, if permitted, share the links.

We can change the culture if we speak up and act.

Editors’ Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Click here to view additional content in the 01.05.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.​

 

18 Questions to End One Year and Begin a New One

Original blog posted Meetings Today

18 Questions to End One Year and Begin a New OneWere you expecting predictions for the coming year?

2017 has been so tumultuous for the world and for our industry that it seems futile to try to predict what’s to come. Oh yes, futurists, economists and others are doing so.

A search for our industry’s future turned up lots of predictions, mainly for hotel owners and operators, restaurants, etc. To search, I used “predictions for hospitality industry for 2018” and suggest you do the same. I also hope you will continue to follow the Meetings Today newsletters, daily print and digital news, and @meetingstoday on Twitter to see what will happen in the year ahead and beyond—no one can say with 100% certainty.

I am left with questions again this year—some serious and some more mundane, in no particular order—about what we do, how we do it, and why, and what will be. I hope you’ll add your questions and perhaps your predictions, hopes, dreams for our industry and for you in the comments section at the end of this blog post.

Here’s what I’m wondering:

1. Why do hotels put signs in bathrooms stating “if one wants to reuse towels to hang the towels up” … and then have no bars on which to hang them?

2. In what ways can we convince hotels that an ADA room is not necessarily what a person who is deaf or hard of hearing or otherwise in need of accommodation wants?

3. How do we convince hotels, convention centers, and even some conference centers (IACC please also take note!) that using “Seating Matters”* by Paul Radde, Ph.D., so that rooms not set in straight rows (of chairs or tables) make more sense?

4. In what ways will meetings be more accommodating for people with mobility and other disabilities?

5. Similarly, when will airports and airlines and you, TSA and TSA PreCheck in particular, follow their own policies to ensure equal and appropriate treatment for people with disabilities?

6. Which groups and which professions will continue to include discussion throughout educational sessions at meetings versus having aisle mics with “Q&A at the end”?

7. Which hotel companies and cities will implement greater safety for their staff, housekeepers in particular [watch for upcoming January 2018 edition of Friday With Joan], to protect them against sexual and other predatory behavior from internal and external guests?

8. Will room service really end, even at hotels advertised as “high end” or “luxury,” and will it be replaced by dinner in disposable containers delivered in paper bags?

9. Who, in the broader hospitality industry, will model what Chef José Andrés and his foundation have done in Puerto Rico, Houston, Haiti and elsewhere to help others, and when?

10. What will be the maximum in added fees that airlines and hotels tack on before consumers and groups say “Enough! We’ll pay higher rates to not be nickel-and-dimed”?

11. In what ways will meetings and tradeshows change to make them as experiential as everyone says they should be and for all people including those with cognitive and other different abilities?

12. What policies will be enacted by the U.S. government and/or U.S. President Trump to further restrict who can work in our industry and attend and speak at our meetings?

13. In addition to Meetings Today and other industry-specific publications, what will you add to your reading and listening to be more informed about world events and their impact on who we are and what we do?

14. Will meeting professionals (you choose who’s in that category) gain greater respect, recognition and pay for what we do? What will cause it to happen?

15. In what ways will sustainability—beyond “no handouts” (still!regardless of researchand this article noting that many learn better writing notes on paper, whether that paper is from trees or other sources)—be implemented in hospitality and for meetings?

16. How will multiple generations at meetings and in the workplace learn to get along since those in the Boomers, Silent and GI generations aren’t retiring?

17. What are your top three (3) subjects to learn about or expand your knowledge of in the coming year?

18. Who will be the first well-known hospitality or meetings industry person to be charged with sexual harassment and what will happen as a result?

(Stay tuned for the next Friday With Joan on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, for more on this).

So there you have it, my partial list of questions to end one year and begin the next. Help expand the list. It’s known that the more and better questions we ask the greater and more informed what we know and do will be. And don’t forget about the great facilitation techniques of “tell me more” and “yes, and…” to help you on your journey.

Thank you for reading this, for communicating with me, for being part of a dynamic industry that can change the world. Thank you to the editors at Meetings Today and in particular to Eric Andersen (who better not edit this out!) and Scott Easton (ditto) for the great editing and design work to ensure a readable newsletter each month and to Tyler Davidson for his example of asking good questions.

Editor’s Note: I didn’t edit out your thanks, Joan! Also: Added thanks to Kristi Kidd, in addition to Scott, for her design work on Friday With Joan and her patience and positive attitude.

My wish for each of us and for our world is that we all may show and/or share and have access to kindness, compassion, good health, affordable housing and childcare, food on all tables, tables on which to put food and a roof over every head (this is especially for you, Puerto Rico!), and inclusion of all whether it’s at meetings or elsewhere.

*Disclaimer: I wrote the foreword for Paul Radde’s book, “Seating Matters” and received no compensation for that nor do I receive compensation for promoting Paul.

Can Meetings Help Alleviate a Major Healthcare Epidemic?

Originally posted Meetings Today Blog

Can Meetings Help Alleviate a Major Healthcare Epidemic?

Vivek Murthy, MD, who served as the 19th U.S. Surgeon General, and someone whose life and work have made a great impression on me, wrote, in this Harvard Business Review article, about his family’s experience after Hurricane Andrew: “Looking today at so many other places around the world ravaged by disasters of all kinds, I think about how often tragedy brings us together—and how fleeting that connection often is. …

“There is good reason to be concerned about social connection in our current world. Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that the real number may well be higher. Additionally, the number of people who report having a close confidante in their lives has been declining over the past few decades. In the workplace, many employees—and half of CEOs—report feeling lonely in their roles.

“During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness. The elderly man who came to our hospital every few weeks seeking relief from chronic pain was also looking for human connection: He was lonely. The middle-aged woman battling advanced HIV who had no one to call to inform that she was sick: She was lonely too. I found that loneliness was often in the background of clinical illness, contributing to disease and making it harder for patients to cope and heal.”

As I read Murthy’s article on “the loneliness epidemic,” my thoughts turned to meetings—conferences, seminars, conventions—some with a few people where it’s easier to feel lonely if one is new or has less in common with others, or is an “other” than the majority attending—an “outsider.” And then there are those large-scale meetings of hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands where you’ve come with colleagues you may or may not know well or with whom you may not feel comfortable around in a different setting. Or you may have only had a virtual connection to them—as many of us in the hospitality and meetings industry do when we attend a meeting—and you may still feel lonely.

I thought about the desire for connection during the first months of the MIMList (the first meetings industry virtual discussion group founded by Rod Marymor as part of the MIM – Meetings Industry Mall) that I moderated and how many wrote asking “Is anyone attending [fill in the blank name of an industry meeting] so we can all meet face to face?” All because no one likes being alone or lonely at a meeting or event.

Yes, there are many of us Introverts who “want to be alone” because that’s how we recharge, but we don’t want to feel lonely. Meetings are designed specifically for connections: years ago, MPI’s Foundation conducted ground-breaking studies about why people attend corporate and association meetings. The studies indicated that one of the main reasons people attended meetings was “networking” or as I came to call it, “peer to peer interaction and learning” (Sadly, the studies are out of print; I do have PDFs that we will get to you if requested—email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com).

As I read Dr. Murthy’s comments and as I thought about my own experiences with organizations and at meetings, as a first-timer and as a “veteran,” I remembered:

  • My first MPI Chapter (PMPI) meeting in D.C. when Bill Myles (now of blessed memory) came up to me as I hugged a wall, introduced himself, and invited me to serve on the Membership Committee!
  • Then my first national MPI meeting in 1984 when, though I was president of PMPI, I didn’t know others. Weldon Webb and Beverly Kinkade, both from the St. Louis Chapter (SLAMPI), took me under their wings. Oh how much easier it was to participate and meet others and to commit to greater involvement!
  • At my first International Association of Facilitators (IAF) when I walked into breakfast of 1,200 and thought I’d find a table in a corner until, when walking by three people deep in conversation, they invited me into their conversation and to a seat at their table. Included, I felt less lonely and became involved.
  • Patti Shock and Ed Polivka (he now too of blessed memory) who, at my first PCMAmeeting, welcomed me with smiles and conversation ensuring I was included.
  • And at my first meeting as an MPI delegate (thank you Doug Heath for appointment me) to the (then) Convention Liaison Council (now the EIC) Board meeting when Bill Gehron representing HSMAI, Keith Sexton-Patrick representing ACOM (now ESPA), and Sandi Lynn representing SGMP, all included me in conversations and my loneliness disappeared and my involvement grew. The two often seem to be related!

What is the obligation for those in the hospitality industry (see definition adefinition b) to help people feel less lonely? How can meetings help alleviate the loneliness epidemic and contribute to better health, just as we’ve added healthier foods, yoga, fun runs, policies to combat sexual harassment and to ensure diversity and inclusion?

How do we do it? Here are some ideas.

1. Understand the roots of loneliness. Dr. Murthy in Harvard Business Review (HBR)wrote: “Loneliness is the subjective feeling of having inadequate social connections.”

He went on to say “Happy hours, coffee breaks, and team-building exercises are designed to build connections between colleagues, but do they really help people develop deep relationships? On average, we spend more waking hours with our coworkers than we do with our families. But do they know what we really care about? Do they understand our values? Do they share in our triumphs and pains? This isn’t just bad for our health; it’s also bad for business. Researchers for Gallup found that having strong social connections at work makes employees more likely to be engaged with their jobs and produce higher-quality work…”

“Connection can also help indirectly by enhancing self-esteem and self-efficacy while also shifting our experience toward positive emotions—all of which can buffer an individual during stressful situations and have positive effects on health. Indeed, studies have found that companies whose workers feel they have high-stress jobs have markedly higher health care expenditures than their counterparts with low-stress employees. … My experience has been that people bring the most to their work when they feel connected to the mission and the people around them.”

No kidding! Because of all those who invited me into conversation and allowed us to get to know each other as individuals as well as colleagues, I immersed myself in our hospitality industry. Where would I (or you) be today if someone hadn’t taken time to include you? And I’m sure we can all think of times where we weren’t included.

2. Create opportunities for deeper connections.

Dr. Murthy, as Surgeon General wrote about his work with staff, new to him and he to them: “To bring us closer, we developed “Inside Scoop,” an exercise in which team members were asked to share something about themselves through pictures for five minutes during weekly staff meetings. Presenting was an opportunity for each of us to share more of who we were; listening was an opportunity to recognize our colleagues in the way they wished to be seen. I share what my office did not as the antidote to loneliness but as proof that small steps can make a difference [emphasis by Joan]. And because small actions like this one are vital to improving our health and the health of our economy.”

I asked in a number of social media groups about how people felt as first-timers or if they felt lonely at meetings, especially if they were at a meeting at which they knew few, if any, others. The responses reflected the sense of isolation many felt, some believing that “first-timer” designations made them stand out and they were only approached by those who were told (often board members or executive staff) to do so.

This response, slightly edited, is from colleague and friend, Elizabeth Engel. In this narrative, she is describing who makes what efforts at meetings and events:

“My first time at a [association related to hospitality and meetings] event in 2000. I’d only been in the profession for a few years, and I didn’t know anyone outside the confines of my own association employer and the staff members of our three ‘sister’ associations.

“The conference was in the city in which I live and work, and being my first conference with this organization, I didn’t realize that I should clear my evening schedule for the receptions and parties that would take place in conjunction with the event.

“So I went to sessions, sat in the back of the room all by myself, didn’t really talk to anyone, and scurried off at the end of the educational program each day to keep my evening commitments. In short, I was the attendee with no friends.

“I did learn a lot, but I kind of missed the point of an in-person event: I didn’t expand my network at all.

“I didn’t attend another large association conference for another two years. [When I did return to this conference] I still didn’t really know anyone outside my (still the same) employer and (still the same) ‘sister’ associations.

“But in the interim, I’d learned two key things: keep my evenings free, and make the first move. I knew it was on me to create a better outcome, and I did. This time, I pushed myself outside my comfort zone to look for the other person in each room who didn’t seem to have any friends, go over to her, and ask her a question about herself, which is the easiest way for introverts [and others!] to get conversations with strangers going.

“That was the start of building the professional network that has sustained me for the past twenty years, through multiple job changes and launching my own business five years ago.”

3. “Make strengthening social connections a strategic priority in your organization” said Dr. Murthy, and to which I add, and in and at your meetings.

To what Elizabeth learned and did and what Dr. Murthy suggests and the MPI Foundation studies indicate, and what we know from our own experiences and observations, when our noses are in our electronic devices at meetings, peer to peer interaction and learning can’t easily happen. If we set participation examples and explain why we are doing so, we may be able to turn around the current usual behavior and help people create better connections that can lead to more involved members.

More involved members become informed and active participants in our professions, which leads to more commitment to buying and selling from those we know.

4. Change tradeshow interactions.

It’s not just the brief hello on the tradeshow floor for buyers to obtain tchotchkes or a chance to be entered into a drawing [oh … ethics, a discussion for yet another time!] or for sales and marketing professionals to get a name to add to the database. Deeper connections can be made with real conversations like one I had with colleague Marlys Arnold at ExhibitorLive with an exhibitor in a wheelchair about shows and the ADA.

As Dr. Murthy wrote we need to “Encourage coworkers [and in our world, meeting participants and tradeshow exhibitors] to reach out and help others—and accept help when it is offered.” Read on to the sidebar to the interview with Dr. Vivek Murthy to see more of what he has to say about how meetings can help people feel less lonely.

5. Encourage interactive education.

Many of us connect best when we are talking about meaningful ways to solve problems or sharing anecdotes about our latest success or problem.

We need to help “speakers” become, and treat them more like, trainers or facilitators to encourage interaction in sessions. We also need to encourage the use of appropriate seating outside session rooms where, during breaks or at times desired, people can share what they learned and make different connections over a shared raised eyebrow in a session. In both instances we have enabled learning and encouraged less loneliness.

What are your experiences and what have you observed at your meetings—or in your hotels and convention or conference centers—that have encouraged connections and less loneliness for travelers and meeting participants?

  • When you were a first-timer at a meeting especially when you knew no one or few people, what made you feel welcome?
  • What’s your reaction—or that of those who attend your meetings—to “first-timer” designations—stickers or ribbons on badges?
  • In what ways do you encourage interaction in sessions and at social events? In what ways does it succeed and how is it measured?
  • If you’ve measured the return to future meetings (or joining or renewing membership) of first-timers or their buying habits based on meaningful versus brief interactions at tradeshows, what did you learn?
  • And what makes you feel “lonely” at a meeting and in what ways could our industry and especially our industry associations help alleviate what could lead to a greater health epidemic?

Our industry has an opportunity to help people feel less lonely and isolated. Maybe it was “bold” to suggest we can “cure” a health crisis but I think we can go a long way to alleviating it in one of aspect of society that touches many.

And so … On October 29, many of us observed the yahrzeit—anniversary death—of Rosie Ledesma-Bernaducci, a colleague and friend. Those of you who knew her and the circumstances of her death may believe as I do that loneliness contributed to her suicide. It’s that deep loneliness that though one has a smile on their face, and is well-connected and respected, masks a deeper sense of not being connected, truly connected, to others. To her, I dedicate this blog and newsletter in hopes that we can create better connections to solve the issue of loneliness in some way through meetings.

For those who would like to respond privately with a comment to be posted anonymously, please email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and I’ll post it for you.

Click here to view additional content in the 11.03.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.​

9 Ideas to Innovate Meeting Design and Delivery

Originally posted on Meetings Today Blog

9 Ideas to Innovate Meeting Design and Delivery

With thanks to Anu Garg of A Word A Day for this:

“Most creativity is a transition from one context into another where things are more surprising. There’s an element of surprise, and especially in science, there is often laughter that goes along with the ‘Aha.’ Art also has this element. Our job is to remind us that there are more contexts than the one that we’re in—the one that we think is reality.”
— Alan Kay, computer scientist (born May 17, 1940)

Surprise and joy. These are the emotions I have felt when an educational experience, in particular one in a school or meeting setting, was creative and transitioned from the usual straight rows of chairs to a more audience-centric setting and from a lecture to an engaging, interactive experience.

These same emotions were felt in Stanley Blum’s civics class in my Ohio high school where the (awful!) tablet chairs were set in a circle versus the straight rows in most other classes. Surprise and joy are also what I felt when (the late) Lenore Clippinger allowed us to bring pillows on which to sit on the floor of her English Literature class in the same school. And when Mr. Blum invited us to his home for current events discussions and we sat on comfortable furniture and were served cocoa and cookies.

Come to think of it, it’s similar to what Bill Host, and I created at a PCMA discussion “session” about Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind”: some cocktail tables, beanbag chairs, lots of windows, small vases of flowers on the tables, and cocoa, tea, coffee and cookies. [For that, thanks to Kim Peterson at Seattle Sheraton who helped create the setting].

Yes, I’ve written about some of these experiences before (here and here). Additionally, in the sidebar of the June 2017 Friday With Joan newsletter (which also includes this blog post), I interviewed the Blums’ daughter, Sarah Routman, about her work. Clearly she too was influenced by her dad’s examples of good education and learning.

Jeff Hurt, a colleague and friend since his long-ago days working at MPI, and now Executive Vice President, Education & Engagement at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting—who describes himself as “a lifelong learner trying to embrace learning, unlearning and relearning”—reads and writes extensively about learning and the brain.

Janet Sperstad, Ph.D., Program Director of the meeting and event management degree at Madison College in Wisconsin, wrote her dissertation, “Purposeful Meetings: Driving deeper meaning, insights and innovation,” on the topic of better meeting design.

Janet was also recently interviewed in this great article from PCMA about the paper she and Amanda Cecil, Ph.D, CMP, associate professor and chair of Indiana University’s School of Physical Education and Tourism Management, are writing entitled “Purposeful Meetings: How to Plan with Deeper Meaning, Innovation and Insight in Mind.”

(You can learn more here about Janet and Amanda’s work).

For years, in teaching “meeting planning 101” classes for MPI, PCMA, ASAE and others, I’ve conducted an exercise by first saying “Adults learn and participate best in pleasant surroundings” followed by the question “What makes it pleasant for you to learn?”

This is often paired with an exercise of drawing a three-panel cartoon of one’s best learning experience. (Thank you David Johnson from whom I learned, at an International Association of Facilitators (IAF) meeting, this activity that can be adapted to many situations and makes me think of the exercises in the aforementioned Dan Pink book).

>> ACTION: Try this. Identify what makes it pleasant for you to learn, and if you’re willing, add what that is, in the comments section below. <<

Were you able to quickly identify the elements of “pleasant”? Or were you, like most, in need of parameters to identify where the “pleasant experience” and the “best learning experience” occurred (at a conference? in a school setting? in the office? at home?)? Or was it difficult to remember your best learning experiences?

It may be like the (in)famous quote from the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, about pornography: “you know it when you see it”. We know a good meeting or learning experience when we we see it or don’t.

Mine? I’ve cited some from high school. I know I don’t like straight rows of chairs or tables—even crescent rounds in straight rows. The sight lines are always awful and the rigidity of the settings sets a “bad school” atmosphere for me. I love natural light from windows, food and drink available at all times, interaction—natural not forced—with others with whom I’m learning [one day, on a plane or train, I know, after reading a great article, I’ll engage those around me in discussion!], and the ability to do what I need—sit, stand, put my feet up, or leave if it’s not working for me.

If you read the May 2017 Friday With Joan newsletter you learned I was in college full time for only a year where most classes were in auditoriums with seats with tablets. Even without the formal education of the colleagues cited and interviewed I am an avid reader and observer of people interacting and learning in different settings.

I am curious about those, who like I, abhor straight rows and lectures, find TED and all the spin-offs effective since they are, in essence, well-rehearsed lectures. I watch many “TED talks” and especially like this one of Sunni Brown on doodling. She’s engaging as are many TED-talkers and programs. They are really lectures but they are lectures with personality, right? And they are lectures with opportunities to engage with others.

When I think about what makes it pleasant for me to learn and the experiences I’ve had that were conducive to learning in meetings, I think of these:

1. ODNetwork: in working as the planning consultant with them, they set a standard meeting room as theatre-in-the-round which created a different mindset just by walking into the room. And it was low key and worked—just a short stage in the center of the room and chairs set around the stage, circled, with multiple aisles.

2. ODN and IAF both had areas for creativity where, at any time, one could color, build and use different materials to relax and use one’s right brain. Disney created similar experiences for PCMA and ASAE in rooms that I remember going to often because the spaces themselves were differently set with lots of creative materials. In one, at an ASAE meeting years ago, in a session held in the room, the first instructions were to take our shoes off and put our heads down on our arms on the table and to listen to a (children’s) story. (Yes, this can be adapted for those who are differently abled).

3. ASAE, at a meeting in Boston years ago, set all general sessions in the round. The stage was round with a rotating center on which a lectern stood and behind which a few people delivered their messages. Screens were flown from above and all around the stage, easily visible for each section of seats. More speakers—(it must have been the early ‘90s because James Carville and Mary Matalin were among them)—walked around the stage. Because, if I remember correctly, no one was more than 10 rows back from the stage, seated with lots of aisles down which there was entertainment each morning before the general session started, I looked forward to going to each general session which is not my norm! More it meant that those who like to sit on the aisle could more easily do so and not disrupt those who wanted to leave since the rows were short.

4. ASAE again created a novel setting also in Boston (hmm…was it Boston?) years later where there were different seating configurations in the ballroom foyer and lots of screens on which you could watch the general sessions without being in the large dark room set in rows. I’d started in the ballroom and was driven out by the size, dark, and “usual” set to the foyer.

What didn’t work: the foyer set was conducive to, and I believe intended for, conversation, perfect for Aural learners. (One could even get a shoeshine and still watch the programming in the general session in another area of the convention center).

A colleague and I sat in the foyer and talked about what we were hearing and seeing, and were “shushed” by others. When doing something different, explain the how and why and how to use it to the best advantage. Different for the sake of different doesn’t work unless we educate those in attendance.

5. PCMA, at one meeting, set general sessions and breakouts in theatre-in-the-round. A lawyer colleague and I presented our session in one of those breakout rooms. Outcomes?

  1. People entered without having been told why the rooms were set differently.
  2. Most everyone stayed in what would usually be the “back”—that is by the doors—rather than going to the sides or other side of the center of the room’s slightly raised platform.
  3. PCMA, I was told, didn’t use that set again because a) speakers didn’t know how to use it [see the sidebar interview and in particular what Paul Radde has to say] and b) it wasn’t explained to the meeting participants. They expected a lecture at which they could stare. (Yes, there were screens around the room so any visuals could be seen easily no matter where one sat).

6. When PCMA first experimented with “Learning Lounges”, and other interactive areas for those of us who prefer learning with each other (like the hallway conversations many love and the “peer learning” that MPI’s Foundation discovered years ago was really what most of us call “networking”), it was far more intimate than it has become.

Remembering the first year, a colleague and I sat in the area behind the stage where we could watch and still talk with each other. I tweeted with someone who was in front of the stage wishing she weren’t “stuck” and not permitted to talk during the session and for whom leaving felt awkward and rude to the speaker.

Maybe what we need are more “norms” or ground rules that allow people to move as needed without feeling they can’t leave like what, in Open Space Technology used to be called “The Rule of Two Feet” (“If it’s not working for you, you may leave”) and which has been renamed “The Law of Motion and Responsibility” to be more inclusive of those who may not have or use two feet.

7. MPI has experimented with different designs including using Open Space Technology where the audience, with some subject matter parameters, sets the agenda. Having used Open Space (for which I am eternally grateful to Harrison Owen, initially, and later to Lisa Heft) for a variety of clients, it’s one way to accommodate different types of learners and peer learning. It’s not for every person or meeting. With World Café  it’s one more option in one’s toolbox of design.

8. Loretta LaRoche, the capnote (closing) speaker at an IACC meeting years ago, did just what Sarah Routman suggests in the sidebar: her very being and work created laughter, great big tear-rolling, doubled-over laughter. She allowed us to leave feeling good about our work, ourselves, and the conference with her style and words. I can’t remember leaving a conference ever feeling so good. (This, a Loretta LaRoche YouTube clip about “wearing your party pants,” should make you feel the same now).

9. Recently at ExhibitorLive, I presented back to back sessions about creating different meeting settings and delivery methods. I asked for and through the understanding of Dee Silfies, responsible for education, and of CORT Furniture for the different furniture—not all of which was too low for those who may not be able to get down to or up easily—we created an example of what can be done. At the break (30 minutes versus 15 or even the back-to-back-to-back with no time between sessions at too many meetings), some participants who’s not signed up for the second session, did so.

They liked my style of teaching, the creative tools used, the “norms” and permissions given, and the set that was more relaxed and comfortable and included some crescent rounds for those who wanted more traditional seating.

Here’s the thing: it is messy and more difficult to design conferences and meetings to accommodate different learning preferences and comfort levels, and adding genuine laughter, for and from those who are participating and delivering.

As we continue to learn more about learning and interactive—”audience-centric,” experiential, community-focused—gatherings, we will need to change what we do. And to do so means involving our partners (aka “suppliers”) and those responsible for the fire laws and other safety and security issues, and policies governing spaces. Having suggested that many years ago after being told “no rounds” in a convention center unless we were serving food, I’ve not yet seen that the industry is meeting with all the right participants to make massive changes.

There are enough researching and talking about changing learning models at meetings that the revolution to create better conventions and conferences is upon us. ASAE just completed XPD about which the reviews are still coming in. I’m hopeful you’ll join in and tell others the creative ways you’ve designed and delivered events and meetings and more, suggest ways we can better truly partner with venues and vendors rather than just looking to them for underwriting. I’m convinced they are the key to making it work by understanding education and how their spaces and work can contribute. Share this with each other and your partners. Let’s move meetings forward. Really!

This blog post and the June 2017 Friday With Joan newsletter are dedicated to the people and organizations noted below because they want people in sales to learn more about how to help market, sell and service more creative, comfortable, conducive-to-outcomes, experiences. It seems our industry has relegated “suppliers” to a category of “sponsors” and “underwriters” versus full partners in learning and creating (or co-creating if we’re still using that buzzphrase) and suggesting different uses of their spaces.

Thus, this blog post is dedicated to Michael McQuade, Director of Sales, Washington State Convention Center, and founder of Emerging Sales Professionals, an organization committed to helping those in hospitality sales learn more to aid them in making meetings and eventsand those who sell space and servicesmore rounded in their knowledge beyond “rates, dates and space”, and to Convention Sales Professionals InternationalI had the privilege this Spring of presenting sessions to both organizations on how to be consultative sales professionals by understanding the elements of good education at meetings.

Additional thanks goes out to Brent Grant, CMP, for patience to create the right audience-centric room set. Also to Jane Kantor of Visit Bellevue and the Meydenbauer Center and Julie Deweese of the Oregon Convention Center, for their creativity in programming.

Click here to view additional content in the 06.02.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.

2017 Meetings Industry Hopes & Predictions

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Predictions and resolutions are the stuff new years are made of. In the last days of 2016, on Facebook and other social media sites, after the deaths of beloved celebrities, many said they wanted 2016 over; that “enough was enough.”

Keith Knight, known mainly for his cartooning but to me known as a brilliant speaker on police brutality and race relations, got it right in his Jan. 1, 2017 cartoon.

Others of us, in reaction to the election results in the U.S. and elsewhere, to the horrors against humanity in so many countries, including the United States—the killing and homelessness and poverty of so many—wondered if we could just hold on to 2016 to get it right before we started again.

2017, alas, is here.

At the end of 2015, I wrote a predictions blog that I never posted. I reviewed it at the end of 2016 and found, much to my dismay, too much was still true.

Instead of revising that, I started over, seeking, before I wrote, input from colleagues in a variety of positions in our industry. My thanks to those who were able to respond; to those whose lives made it impractical, I hope, when you read this, you’ll add what you might have said if you had been able.

The questions I asked of colleagues and my responses follow. Add what you hope and predict for our industry—or more broadly, for our world—in the comments below. And please answer the poll questions too so we have a sense of what you, our readers, think.

The world is in a great deal of flux. What is your hope for meetings and our broader hospitality industry for 2017?

I hope that we…

  1. Remember that hospitality and meetings are about people, bringing them together to solve problems, learn and take the results of those interactions back to their work places, communities, homes and to renew body, spirit and knowledge.
  2. Look at technology as a tool not as a solution at and for meetings and at and for facilities—that replacing people’s jobs (concierge, room service, front desk, restaurant servers and perhaps meeting professionals since anyone, right, can take forms and complete them to arrange a meeting, etc.) with robots or other technology may not be the best thing for our economies and for what may soon not be a relationship industry.
  3. Help build on the diversity and recognition of those over-represented but not recognized or in positions of authority (women and people of color) and people of more diverse backgrounds through more conversations like the one used here. Also that hotels stop giving excuses for not being really accessible while pretending to be in compliance with the ADA (Watch for an upcoming newsletter on accessibility, personal experiences and what you can do).
  4. Take our responsibilities as industry professionals seriously and learn more about how meetings can be different than they have been. (You know my stand on awful room sets. If just one hotel or conference center could please have an ad or website with a room set that is audience-centric…).
  5. Act against laws in states like Texas where they are likely to enact a law similar to that North Carolina passed and that caused meetings and business to cancel. If you can’t see it as a human rights issue, see it, as diversity is always positioned in our industry, from the business case (If you read this before or during PCMA in Austin, head on over to the State House for the opening of the Legislature on 1/10).

If you choose to do so, what are your hopes for the world for 2017?

My hopes are not much different for the world as for our industry and mirror many of those expressed by my colleagues in what I call “Part 2” of the Jan. 6 newsletter.

As a child and still as an adult, I’ve always believed if we could just talk with each other and see life from each other’s points of view or experiences, we might make peace. So the optimistic idealist (or pessimistic optimist) in me wants to believe that in spite of the dictators and torture, in spite of the pretense of getting along when we don’t, we might find common ground (See the link above and here again for an example).

What is your prediction for one area of meetings or hospitality for 2017?

If the new U.S. President and his Administration make it more difficult for people who are Muslim or who reside in Muslim-majority countries to come to the United States, meetings—scientific and medical meetings in particular—will suffer the lack of broad input leading to a loss of research and solutions to serious problems. Just as the cutback in the ability of U.S. scientists and others to attend conferences when the scandals about meetings hit, a ban on those who can attend conferences will hurt us all.

Of course, the cutback on U.S. government meetings is likely to remain in the wake of budget considerations and the President-elect (or President, depending on when you are reading this) calling for agencies to shut down and people to be laid off. I can only imagine more U.S. government meetings being hit. Not good for any of us! But then perhaps it won’t happen if we speak up about the impact it has on people and business.

Most of all, I will try to write about things that stimulate conversation and thought and hope you will provide input so I know what you need/want to make our industry better.

On a personal note: at the end of this year, two people important to me died: one, an association stalwart, Ed Able, once CEO of the American Association of Museums, and the other, the young husband and father of a meeting planning friend and colleague, Shira Kundinger. Other friends suffered cancer and other illnesses and were hospitalized. And we observe at the first of the year the yahrzeits (death anniversaries) of dear friends and colleagues, Laurie Meyer and Stan Aaronson.

I thus wish each of you a healthy and safe new year.

May you find purpose to act on what’s important to you, may you find a way to be inclusive in your actions and thoughts, and may you help make the world a better place.

 

Is Alcohol Needed at Meetings & Events?

Originally published Meetings Today Blog
The stories from Russia about the lives lost to alcohol poisoning (from both vodka and less traditional “beverages”) are devastating but no more so than this article about the how heavy drinking for women has been “normalized” or even romanticized.

I’ve written before about this topic and will continue to talk and write about it because it is a health and a safety issue—for those who consume alcohol, those who are in their paths when they drive and all those who surround them.

It’s an issue of host responsibility and liability when one has a holiday* (office, friends and/or family) party or a meeting or event or invites others to events as suppliers in our industry do. It astounds me that we still consider an event not “festive” enough if alcohol is not served. Given the make up of our industry (believed to be mainly women) you’d think we’d be more careful about wanting to not poison people.

I drink now and then. In my immediate family, alcohol just wasn’t consumed so I never developed a “taste” for it and I’m fortunate to not be an alcoholic, active or in recovery, as so many friends and colleagues are. I’ve always said I’m not “anti” alcohol consumption but after reading the above noted story about women and consumption, I may change my mind.

These guides from MADD and FindLaw cover dram shop laws; another from the Global Gaming Business Magazine provides more information. It’s always best to talk with your organization’s or client’s attorney and those involved in risk management to learn more about you and your organization’s responsibilities for alcohol service.

Laws vary by country. If you’re conducting a meeting or business outside the United States, learn more about customs and laws to ensure safety and protection and appropriate behavior.

Whether it’s New Year’s Eve or an industry event, a family gathering or a meeting you’ve planned, plan responsibly for alcohol consumption and consider if you really need it at all.

*If you’re already looking ahead to next “holiday season,” please try to be inclusive of all: not everyone is permitted to attend parties; not everyone celebrates the same winter holidays; and if you’re decorating in red and green, considered traditional Christmas colors [Hanukkah’s are silver or white and blue; Kwanzaa’s are red, black and green], call it a “Christmas party” since the decor won’t fool anyone!

I wish a safe and healthy new year to each of you. Watch for the Jan. 6 Friday With Joan newsletter for hopes and predictions from me and others in our industry.

‘Ethical Negotiation’ – An Oxymoron?

Original published Meeting Today Blog 

'Ethical Negotiation' - An Oxymoron?

Psst… did you hear the one about the hotel salesperson and the customer who didn’t disclose their policies and history? OK, maybe that’s not a common setup for a punchline.

But everyone says it: there must be “hidden charges” that involve a financial risk to meetings that hotels never disclose, seemingly in order to protect themselves from major catastrophe. This causes meeting organizers to believe they’ve been “caught” by someone unscrupulous because if they were really our partners, wouldn’t all the information be disclosed at the start of the relationship?

Conversely, hoteliers and other vendors, working with a wide range of customers say they are frustrated that RFPs (Requests for Proposals)—whether written, electronically completed or phoned in—don’t describe an entire meeting, its needs or its history.

Those with many years of planning, sometimes for the same organization, where year-to-year meetings are pretty much the same; those with little experience; or the well-meaning person who, based on a social media group’s interest, wants to convene face-to-face gatherings, all sometimes take short cuts.

Without all the facts, hotels and other vendors may take for granted that what they get is enough and the person from whom it is received knows enough to ask the right questions. Neither party wants to lose money. In fact, the expectation for each side is that a profit be made, or for the group, at least a break-even financial outcome. Each party wants to believe the other is not withholding information.

I’ve written and taught about contracts*, ethics, and negotiations for years, most recently in the August 2016 edition of Friday With Joan and again in the article “7 Keys to Hotel Contract Success” and spoke on a webinar about contracts for Meetings Today, and for UNCC in a class (for which you can enroll for the spring semester). I’ve spoken at chapter programs for MPI, PCMA, SGMP and others. Yet, emails and calls tell me that disclosure and transparency are still not how we operate as an industry.

I speculated that it’s perhaps because:

  • Hospitality is still a “relationship industry” and with that is implied there is a belief in the honesty and integrity of those with who we partner on meetings and events.
  • It is also implied there is sufficient experience to be able to know the lingocontract terms and when to say “I don’t know” and then find out versus bluffing one’s way through a negotiation to a contract that may not make sense to you or that you may not even be able to defend if need be.
  • We want to believe in the honesty of the party with whom we are working and we don’t want to “play our hand”—that is, show what we may not know so, we believe, we can avoid being taken advantage of.
  • We don’t know what we don’t know.
  • We’re busy and don’t want to take time to ask questions or questions are discouraged, or when asked, a standard “it’s out corporate contract” (or addendum) is the response, without digging deeper.
  • Sellers put pressure on buyers to “sign now” or lose the deal, partly because many sellers and some third-parties are incented on the number of room nights booked by quarter or year-end and have quotas they must reach.

Just as I hear from colleagues, friends and strangers about ethics issues, I receive questions about contracts, often when there is a potential crisis. A recent incident led me to write this blog and to invite comments** from others in the industry.

One request for help was from a non-industry social media group moderator who, with the encouragement of the group, agreed to organize a multi-day, face-to-face meeting. Based on the expression of interest—not a much different experience than that of a corporate planner whose CEO says “Let’s put on a show,” or an association planner whose Board says, “There’s a great need for a new program on this great new idea”—the person or “meeting convener”—found and booked a hotel.

The meeting convener (not a planner, professionally) signed a hotel contract that, if you read or listened to any of the above linked information or that of others like Tyra Hilliard, was not favorable at all to the individual or group.

The convener, even though it appears the hotel may be sold out by transient and other rooms over the dates booked, may still be on the hook for upwards of $40,000. Even for an association or corporation, $40k is a huge hit!

For an individual, it could be devastating.

Here’s what I think could have been done to prevent or mitigate the outcomes and what can be done going forward by us all. Add your suggestions in the comments section of other ideas for those whose knowledge of the industry is less than yours, or for those who may have never planned an event. (If you prefer to have a comment posted anonymously, email me and I promise to keep what you say confidential and post the comment anonymously. Just please identify yourself to me).

By the hotel

  • Ask more questions about why the convener thought the number of room nights contracted was accurate.
  • Check history … though for this group there was none but still, what happened to the practice of checking, which I’ve found has gone out the window for expediency? … but I digress slightly…
  • Explain how hotels operate, how they make money, and what the financial risks were to the convener of the number of guest rooms and other provisions.
  • Provide a sliding scale of guest rooms, and based on reservations and registrations, increase as needed at a negotiated group rate.
  • Be transparent in all you say and do.
  • Negotiate an audit clause so that those who made reservations outside the group block, perhaps at a greater discounted rate, would be counted toward group pick up.

By the convener

  • Research to learn more about how meetings are held and how hotels operate, what contract provisions will be fair to both parties and what risks may be involved.
  • Charge a non-refundable pre-registration fee.
  • Explain to the group—once research has been conducted and the hotel had explained to the convener—the risks for the individual so that the burden would be shared.
  • Ask more questions to understand the clauses, financial obligations and the risk.
  • Be transparent in the information you provide and the negotiations you conduct.

I want to believe our industry is ethical and honorable. I’ve always said there are no hidden fees, just fees that we planners forget to ask about and cover contractually.

I also want to believe these points from the CMP Standards of Ethical Conduct Statement and Policy—“Maintain exemplary standards of professional conduct at all times,” and “Actively model and encourage the integration of ethics into all aspects of the performance of my duties.”—guide even those who are not CMPs, and that we all want to conduct business transparently.

Although I cannot provide exact language, I recommend negotiating something like “all terms and conditions that impact the financial and operational aspects of the event have been disclosed in the Agreement or they will not be in effect” into your contracts.

But don’t take my word—talk with an industry attorney, preferably a member of AHIA – the Academy of Hospitality Industry Attorneys.

I really do believe that ethical negotiation is not an oxymoron. Tell me I’m not delusional!

*As always, my disclaimer in reference to any contract issues: Although I am an expert witness in industry disputes, these materials are provided with the understanding that the author is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or professional services through the distribution of the materials. If expert assistance is required, the services of a professional should be contracted.

**I’m grateful to those who were willing to respond—although I was surprised by some of the responses—and help further the conversation. I hope you’ll join in with your comments below.

 

What’s on Your Ballot?* VOTE Nov. 8 – Our Industry Matters!

Originally posted Meetings Today Blog

What's on Your Ballot?* VOTE Nov. 8 – Our Industry Matters!

What’s on Your Ballot?* VOTE Nov. 8 – Our Industry Matters!

“Within the last decade, the travel industry has experienced tremendous change and has been dealt various struggles and challenges. Many of these have played out in the political realm. As another election approaches, we all need to be informed as to where the candidates stand on issues important to our industry and how referendums on the ballot may affect us—whether positive or negative. This is also an important time to engage in the civic conversations. Members of our industry need to engage candidates before the election and inform them of the powerful economic impact and job creation our industry provides to thousands of communities throughout the U.S., and equally as important, the effects of various policy proposals. They need to know the travel industry constituency is one they cannot ignore.

Waiting until someone wins an election is often too late. Their priorities may already be set, their views already formed. I would encourage everyone to participate to the level they can starting with voting. Nothing is more important!”  ~~ Don Welsh, president and CEO, Destination Marketing Association, Intl. (DMAI).

My first vote was on my birthday during the 1968 Ohio Primary (It’s OK to do the math!). Before that, as a child, accompanying my parents when they voted, the magic of the voting booth—then a booth with a curtain and levers, something I miss—was a remarkable experience. In a family where, if you read my Sept. 26, 2016 blog you know news and reading were a daily part of our lives, politics and elections were always discussed.

Voting, my parents instilled in me, was the most sacred right we had which was especially stressed by my Dad (of blessed memory), who’d fought in WWII, and both parents fought block-busting and worked for civil rights. Knowing the issues and candidates was a subject of dinner and other conversations. Political conventions—when they were more than “made-for-TV” events—were looked forward to and watched well into many summer nights.

This year, the U.S. faces a contentious presidential election, the outcomes of which will impact our lives and our industry for years. I read and hear many people say they won’t vote at all because they don’t like either of the two major U.S. Parties’ candidates or the two third party candidates. More, I hear Millennials are not as concerned about voting. My friend and colleague, Charles Chan Massey said:

I’ve been registered to vote since I turned 18 and have never missed an election yet. This year more than ever it’s important to vote AND to elect progressive leadership at the national, state and local level. Politicians in conservative states (or in some cases, in states that are not necessarily conservative, but have been made so by voter suppression laws and gerrymandering of voting districts) have begun enacting laws that are beginning to directly impact the meetings and events industry. If we allow the pattern to continue who knows what will happen not only to our industry but to our very way of life? I for one don’t want to find out and encourage everyone to vote AND to vote for progressive candidates and issues.” ~~ Charles Chan Massey, founder and CEO, SYNAXIS Meetings & Events, Inc.

Not voting? To me it’s not an option. This letter, written in 1962 to President John F. Kennedy about voting rights, is indicative of why we should cherish and exercise our right to vote. For African Americans and women in this country, the right to vote was hard fought and though we thought it was won, there are still many states where voting rights are far from secure (Suggested: Google or other alerts for “voting rights” to become more aware of voting issues around the United States).

“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’ Elections matter! I get frustrated and disappointed when I hear people say that they are not going to vote because they ‘don’t like either candidate.’ Throughout their young lives I’ve discussed with my five children the electoral process and reinforced that voting is not only a privilege, it is an obligation that we have as citizens of a free democratic state—a right that our forefathers gave us and many Americans have sacrificed to protect. And as important as the selection of our next president is, a general election has implications on so many other offices and propositions at the federal, state and local level that we need to educate ourselves on those issues and vote on them. I encourage you to exercise your right to vote and help shape the future of our great country.” ~~ Paul M. Van Deventer, president and CEO, Meeting Professionals International (MPI).

I’m with Paul on this; I hope you, readers, are too.

To prepare for writing this blog and newsletter, I began collecting “down ballot” (non-Presidential) issues that impact our industry. It’s not been an easy task! When I asked a number of industry associations if they collected ballot issues for the U.S., I got unequivocal “nos”—they did not have lists. That became (more) surprising when I learned that one CIC member, in particular, is working to influence an initiative in Seattle (I-124) about which you can read at the links in the second part of this October 2016 Friday With Joan newsletter.

I also solicited from a number of Convention Industry Council (CIC) member CEOs, and others who influence our industry, statements about why people should vote. My deep appreciation to those who provided the statements you can read interspersed throughout and at the end of this blog as well as that from Don Welsh, CEO of DMAI, with which this blog leads.

Consider that without exercising the right (and privilege) to vote—if you’ve not registered and missed 9/27/16 Voter Registration Daycheck here to see if your state or territory, or if you are an American living abroad, allows registration when you read this or same day as voting registration—you are missing an opportunity to influence the laws that impact you and our industry.

Our industry has been hit hard because of misperceptions about meetings (remember the “AIG effect”? “Muffingate”? The stress on government planners during the Congressional hearings? HB-2 in North Carolina and other like bills?). We can do more!

Throughout the years, the meetings industry has been vocal in its complaints about laws which make communities inhospitable. As members of the hospitality community, we have a duty to vote, to prevent the adoption of such laws and to ensure those who advocate them are not elected to positions of power. As an example, the State of North Carolina is now suffering the devastating economic consequences of its adoption of laws which would further discriminate against the LGBT community. In all of the many states in which similar legislation is being considered, and in the many states in which discrimination against members of the LGBT community – in employment, housing and access to service in restaurants and stores – remains legal, we must vote to make our voices heard. Little is changed by complaining. Everything can be changed by voting.”  ~~ Steve Rudner, managing partner of Rudner Law Offices, exclusively representing hotels and resorts.

Voting in national and local elections is one of the greatest responsibilities we have as citizens. SGMP’s hope for any election results is that there will be continued support and understanding of the importance of education and conferences in the government sector. We encourage members to be aware of legislative or ballot issues that may affect their meetings.” ~~ Michelle Milligan, CGMP, Society of Government Meeting Professionals (SGMP) national president.

If you think that every vote doesn’t count, it does. Thanks to Mental Floss for this great information.

This year, each and every vote is essential. I think people acknowledge this on some level, but it’s hard to say whether that will make people actually get out and be part of the turnout we so desperately need to see. The way I see it, it’s not just about who will be the next president (although that is a really BIG deal!)  Our choice in November also has the power to impact many state and local decisions to follow. Among the ones that concern me is legislation that adversely impacts how people are treated in our own back yards. I am deeply and personally opposed to the creation of laws that permit or even give the appearance of tolerating discrimination. With my association “hat” on, these types of laws could also cause serious harm to our meetings and conventions business by creating an unwelcome environment for convention sponsors and attendees. I hope that people who support and are passionate about diversity and inclusion will use their votes this November in ways that not only move our country forward, but also encourage fair practices and discourage discrimination in any form.”  ~~ Susan Robertson, CAE, EVP, American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and president, ASAE Foundation, and CIC chair-elect**.

As a fourth-generation Washingtonian [the DC Washington], and one whose family had incredible debates about all political issues (any opinion was allowed), the importance of being informed and involved was always stressed in my family. In fact, my uncle ran for Congress a few years ago. 

My parents instilled a strong sense of citizenship and always stressed that we are responsible for our leaders and their results (or lack thereof). I received a degree in government and politics from the University of Maryland and interned for a political organization, then worked on Capitol Hill. I began my work in government relations and soon learned the value of organizations and the expertise they lend to our political process. We know that by being engaged, we can affect great outcomes and help design the future of our country. I am able to help my NACE members because of my government experience and am excited to see the work we accomplish within the Convention Industry Council as well.”  ~~  Bonnie Fedchock, CAE, executive director, National Association for Catering and Events – One Industry. One Association (NACE), and chair, Convention Industry Council**.

Here’s what you can do:

1. Register to vote if you’ve not done so, and ensure your co-workers, family and neighbors do too. Take our poll so we can see the power of the hospitality community.

2. Learn the issues and positions of local, state, and federal candidates. Share those issues in the comments section. If you are a voter from another country, in the comments to the blog add to the issues I’ve provided and tell us with what you are contending politically that could impact our industry (I hope everyone is keeping up with Brexit and the implications).

With thanks to colleague, friend, and former client, Karen Galdamez at COST, for this great resource to track tax and other ballot issues. Remember: where you hold meetings may not be where you vote and knowing—especially if you didn’t contract for a hotel or convention or conference center to tell you about increased taxes after a ballot or city council or state initiative—what you’ll pay is critical to your responsibility as a meeting professional (This does not let hoteliers and other suppliers off the hook! Let your clients know if there is an increase in taxes or service charges or other laws that could impact meetings).

Subscribe to the Business Journals for the cities in which you have contracted or are considering meetings. And get alerts for topics that include “hotel taxes,” “tourism taxes” and “infrastructure,” all of which impact our meetings.

3. Contact your member of Congress or a city council member or state legislator who might not know the value—financial and to the health and education of people—of meetings and our industry. On Meetings Mean Business’s Global Meetings Industry Day and at other times, do more than celebrate meetings. Reach out to the U.S. House of Representatives and US Sentate on important issues that affect the industry.

4. Share this newsletter and talk about the issues with co-workers, colleagues, family, neighbors and friends.

5. Vote on November 8. If you know someone who doesn’t have a way to get to the polls, offer to take them and then do so, or help them get an absentee ballot. If you have a meeting on November 8 or it’s a travel day, remind expected participants and exhibitors and sponsors to vote prior to leaving for your meeting. Consider having a viewing room on Election Night for those who want to be with others to watch.

6. Read these closing comments from our industry leaders and take them to heart. They’re voting. You should too.

The election cycle is essentially a series of face-to-face meetings and events that come down to one final in-person experience – casting your ballot. These national, state and local elections will influence regulation and/or legislation that could positively or negatively impact face-to face-meetings and our industry. As a representative of the Meetings Mean Business Coalition, we urge everyone to exercise their right to vote and be heard on November 8th. Because the most important moments and decisions are worth meeting about.” ~~ Michael Dominguez, CHSE, co-chair, Meetings Mean Business Coalition; SVP and chief sales officer, MGM RESORTS INTERNATIONAL.

As a member of the travel industry, you should vote to make your voice heard at the local and national level. The $2.1 trillion travel and tourism industry is truly bipartisan and positively affects every Congressional district in the United States. No matter who wins the White House this fall, one thing is certain: travel works for America. It’s why we will continue our work with policymakers at all levels to ensure that travel is secure, accessible and efficient.” – Roger Dow, president and CEO, U.S. Travel Association.

I encourage everyone to make sure their voice is heard when it comes to any type of election of ballot. I, too, believe that active participation in any democracy is an important right and responsibility that we all have. Thanks to you for continuing to ‘being a vocal conscious and advocate’ of the meetings and events industry.” ~~ Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHBA, president & CEO, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI).

As the final countdown to Election Day is upon us, now is the time to take a stand and support candidates at all levels of government—city, state and federal—who will advocate on behalf of hoteliers. The stakes are higher than ever for the hotel and lodging industry as new legislative and regulatory opportunities and challenges continue to emerge. With one unified and powerful voice, we can define our industry and your involvement is critical to these efforts. We encourage all of you to get out the vote and support candidates who will make our industry stronger.” ~~ Vanessa Sinders, senior vice president, government affairs, American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA).

Our constitution gives us the right to participate in our destiny. Yet, bad officials are elected by those with best intentions, but don’t vote. If you want your voice to be heard, use your vote; it is one of your most powerful possessions.” ~~ Deborah Sexton, president & CEO, Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA).

*With apologies to Samuel L. Jackson and the company for whom he does commercials for the title of the blog.

**Susan Robertson and Bonnie Fedechok are not speaking on behalf of the Convention Industry Council. Their CIC positions are there for informational purposes only.

Your ROLE As a Hospitality Professional: 4 Keys to Greater Success

Originally published Meetings Today blog

Your ROLE As a Hospitality Professional: 4 Keys to Greater Success

Reading

Observation

Listening

Exploring

I didn’t mean to create an acronym; it happened as I thought about what has helped me become a smarter professional. In fact, this blog began as one only about reading until more crept in. I didn’t mean for the the subject to sound like a self-help article because I’ve read that self-help articles are not great for any of us. It just happened.

This was inspired because of a number of Facebook conversations through which I learned how many people in my circle of colleagues didn’t know what (or where) Aleppo was. They ‘fessed up after Libertarian Presidential Candidate, Gary Johnson, had a “moment” in an interview.

Here’s what I do know and practice and hope you will too.

Reading

This industry has been my home since I was a little girl. Right—no title when I helped create street fairs to raise money for polio research and when I worked for an art museum coordinating events and for public TV coordinating on-air auctions. In fact, not until I moved to D.C. in 1978 and got my first professional job did I know it was a profession.

And from childhood, I’ve loved reading. The trips to the local library, bringing home armfuls of books, were pure joy. I was fortunate to live in a home where my parents read: newspapers and periodicals and books. We didn’t have a television for the earliest part of my life though my dad, of blessed memory, a ham radio operator, was an early adopter of television. Our first TV was purchased in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the Army-McCarthy Hearings, both of which I was mandated to watch (That could also be in the other ROLE categories).

My reading is eclectic:

  • At least one daily newspaper (in print) and many digitally, and on Sundays, my treat is the Washington Post and The New York Times.
  • Periodicals, in print and digitally, that include Meetings Today (of course!) and other industry trade pubs, and The AtlanticThe NationThe New YorkerNew York MagazineTimeThe WeekMoment and SojournersScientific American and Architectural Digest, among many.
  • Books—in print. Only in print. A dear friend and colleague gave me a Kindle once and I tried. It just didn’t feel, literally (pun intended), right. I read an article about how people learn better from reading on paper. I love the feel of paper and especially of books.
  • Blogs, social media posts, interviews—if it has words, I’m there!

I can take most of what I read and relate it back to what we do. This article, about a class called “Designing Your Life” and the related book, from the Sunday, September 18, New York Times is an example (Of course I’ll read the book and wish I could take the class).

As I started reading that article, I was skeptical. The more I read and learned of the professors (and authors) diverse backgrounds, age, experiences, and took in the quote from a retiring professor about what he would do next and the request to take the class, I was hooked.

The format (take note, Kristi Casey Sanders!) of the class—even the use of the much maligned PowerPoint, grabbed me. Like Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind” (published in 2006), I envisioned sessions created around some of the concepts.

“5 Ways Total Strangers Can Make Your Trip Better” helped me rethink how we put people together at meetings and how we can make the experience richer for them and use that to further their appreciation for being in the same space.

Chris Elliott wrote about Zika and airlines and refunds. With a client with upcoming meetings in Puerto Rico and Florida, it hit close to home. All hospitality professionals are grappling with Zika and its impact.

Observe

  • How and where people congregate, how strangers or people who work together interact. I love watching people at airports especially when there’s a shared experience of, say, a delayed flight, and how they band together; or at a food court as the workers arrive and their interactions. One can learn so much that can be used in developing meeting environments by observing others.
  • Who the industry sponsors who sponsor outside the industry are. While watching “Guy’s Grocery Games,” a commercial for Burgers-Brew and Que  showed that Michigan Tourism was the sponsor. “Brilliant!” I said out loud. I wonder how many DMOs (aka CVBs) or state tourism boards do the same.
  • Food and what you can replicate or how it is presented that you’d do differently. That’s an easy one given the number of photos of food on social media! Go beyond the photo and ask questions about placement, or as my colleague, Tracy Stuckrath did when I posted photos from the Charter Member Day at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. with catering by Windows Catering, if they labeled the food for ingredients [I responded that they didn’t and in other circumstances, I’d have noted that to them but I was so delighted to be there and so surprised that they had food available, I let it go. Sometimes even this professional becomes a regular person!]. [Note: if you are planning a D.C. trip and want to go to D.C.’s newest museum, check about tickets. They’re free and because of the interest, best procured ahead for specific times].

Listen

I confess: I eavesdrop and learn so much. If we listen to what others are saying in conversations we’re in or those near us, if we listen to the news or what people are saying at meetings in the “open space” (casual) spaces like at breaks, in restroom lines (yeah, usually for women only), in elevators. If we take time to hear silences as well as noise, we generally learn more.

One of the reasons I love learning and practicing improvisation (“improv”) is because it teaches one to listen without jumping ahead. I’ve had the privilege of being in sessions with Izzy Gesell who is a great improv teacher and who, with a hotel sales person (Bob Korin), is teaching improv as a tool for sales managers as Izzy has at PCMA and ASAE and to many others.

Scientific American, one of my favorite publications, has a great take on listening. After you’ve read this, spend some time practicing.

Explore

You don’t have to go to one of the Poles to be an explorer! You can explore in your own office, city, town, country. You can explore by reading  something you’ve never read (see Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind” for ideas); by going to a meeting that isn’t something you usually attend; by taking classes or listening to webinars even if you think you know the subject. Brainpickings (one of my favorite blogs) has better ideas—and illustrations!—than I can give.

What are you reading? What’ve you observed that has made an impression, created an “ah-ha” moment that inspired you and/or your work? Did you eavesdrop recently and listen to another person or people who might have given you ideas? In what ways have you explored and where and what did you learn?

Share! We learn best from each other.