Category Archives: Life-long learning

Q&A With Gen Zers on Marketing and Hospitality

Nick Jain, Jüv Consulting, COO

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Ways to Improve Intergenerational Interaction

5 Ways to Improve Intergenerational Interaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For that, I’d look to Jüv for advice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving Thanks and Expressing Gratitude

Original published Meeting Focus Blog

Giving Thanks and Expressing Gratitude

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

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

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

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

My thanks go to many:

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

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

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

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

‘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.

 

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.

Back to School: Industry Degrees and Other Education

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Back to School: Industry Degrees and Other Education

It’s September and, for many, thoughts turn to “back to school” which made me wonder where and how readers of Friday With Joan learned to plan meetings and events.

Are you of a generation who went to school for a degree in meeting and event planning or hospitality management? Or were you like many—certainly those of us “of a certain age”—who learned by doing? Are you among those who got into this industry because you planned family events and someone told you how well you did it and that it was a career, so you jumped in and never took a class?

Perhaps you learned by doing and then took a meetings and events certificate course like the one I teach at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

I guess, because you are reading this, you have more education, formal or informal, than many; that the education you’ve received is a mish-mash and includes webinars, periodicals, blogs, discussion groups and industry involvement, and perhaps a degree in this field or in something unrelated.

My first experience organizing events was in the early ’50s when my friend, Alan, contracted polio and I organized street fairs to raise money for polio research. My first industry-sponsored education was not until after I moved to D.C. (1978), joined MPI (1980) and shortly thereafter, attended MPI’s Institutes.

It was, then, a five-day intensive program of classroom learning with the best in the industry (thank you, Howard Feiertag, Ken Fischer, Jed Mandel, Peg Mahoney and others) and experiential learning through project development (With others like Arlene Sheff and Carol Krugman, I later taught at “Institutes,” a program I wish MPI would revive. It and the old PCMA-Sheraton Showcases were among the best for industry-led education).

On the supplier side of the industry, Cornell, Michigan State, and UNLV have all had classes in hospitality/hotel management for years. Classes in meeting management are, considering the age of the profession, relatively new.

(You can learn more at ICHRIE about this side of the industry).

The Convention Industry Council (CIC) and its member organizations have gone to great lengths to add to the body of knowledge available including the development of the CMP program and the APEX initiative. Universities, colleges and community colleges have both degree and certificate programs in meeting and event management.

And there are masters and Ph.D. programs in various aspects of meeting management as well as in hotel operations.

Does it take a degree to learn and practice meeting management? Should a degree be required to be a professional in the meetings industry? To get a job? My friend, Chris Galvin, with United Way in northwest Ohio, plans lots of events and had known little about our industry until we met in the early 2000s.

Interestingly, as I was putting the finishing touches on this blog, she sent to me this article that questions the requirement of a degree for work in many fields. After all, President Lincoln “read for the law” versus going to law school and was a fine president!

Here’s what I believe:

  1. Lifelong learning is critical—whether that learning is required (for CEUs to maintain one’s CMP, for example) or not. Daily, there are changes in the world that impact what we do and what we must know to do it.
  2. Access to education is greater for those with internet access which gives those of us reading this an advantage over many in countries where hospitality and tourism could benefit individuals and the economy.
  3. The number of groups and discussions on Facebook and LinkedIn, among industry association peer groups, via industry and business periodicals, could fill days of learning and provide necessary tools.
  4. Those who are lifelong learners and who mentor and help others learn will succeed personally and move our industry’s progress along.

Read too what three industry professors have to say, and an industry colleague not long out of school, about their experiences and what we need for the future.

Weigh in on what you think should be required for someone to work in our industry and what a relatively recent graduate, Ashley Akright, discusses about her education and what we need in the future. Help others learn by sharing where and how you’ve gained the knowledge you have.

In what areas do you think we need to provide more or different education and in what ways the industry—whether through the established groups like PCMA, MPI, IAEE and all the CIC member organizations—or the newer groups like SPiN and the experiential like the recent [ctrl]+[alt]+[del] can do to further our education.

What are your recommendations for how our industry can help those now in the industry, and those to come, learn?

Lastly, it’s fitting that this, my 100th blog post for Meetings Today, is about education: learning is a subject about which I am passionate! Two of the first industry honors I received were for my contributions to education: one, with a photo of me holding a ruler, apple, and chalkboard, as one of “15 Who Made a Difference” in the industry from an industry publication, and not long after, from PCMA as “Teacher of the Year.”

Later, HSMAI honored me (along with Keith Sexton-Patrick, Jim Daggett, and the late Doris Sklar) for our contributions to industry education; IACC honored me as the only non-member to receive their Pyramid Award, and later, the Mel Hosansky Award—both for education, and the latter, the only non-member other than the late and dear Mel himself, to receive it.

Most recently, PCMA’s Foundation honored me as, so far, the only non-academic for lifetime achievement as an educator where I joined two remarkable industry educators, Patti Shock and Deborah Breiter who preceded me. For all these honors, I’m grateful. More, I’m grateful to be able to continue learning and teaching.

Meetings Industry Strengths and Talents Stats

Originally published Meetings Today

I was not a student of statistics. And ours aren’t scientific. Nonetheless, those who participated in the March FWJ content and survey on StrengthsFinders and took advantage of CoreClarity’s offer for learning more, gained even greater strength in how they view themselves and work.

It was fascinating to read the strengths of those who participated. To accompany the stats, in this post you will find an interview with CoreClarity about what they observed and then make sure to check out the additional interviews with Kellee O’Reilly and Sean Schuette, CMP, about their strengths and how they use them, which will help you gain further insight.

If you did submit your strengths to CoreClarity, they have a record of that and you are still eligible for individual coaching. If you did not participate by sending in your strengths previously, they are unable to provide the coaching, but you can still learn from the info below!

We are grateful to them for their generosity in providing the tools and the time in March, for the analyzing and coaching and again for this June edition of Friday With Joan. Even if you didn’t participate, make sure to check out the statistics from the CoreClarity survey.

1. Were there any patterns that emerged from this, albeit unscientific, sample of people in the meetings and exhibition industry?

CoreClarity (CC): When we look at the entire group, [more than] 50% of the individuals reported that their goal when planning a meeting or managing exhibits is about the experience gained. This speaks to the combination of the group’s top 5 talents, which we refer to as a CoreDrill. The group’s talents make up the Life Line CoreDrill which has characteristics that include servant leadership, motivating others by example, caregiving and caretaking, and more often than not, they are steady and reliable.

Meeting planning and exhibit management are both multi-faceted and require many elements to be assembled quickly and simultaneous, and often times there is an immediate need for problem solving. The Strategic talent was the No. 1 talent of the group and those naturally gifted with this talent are masterful at solving complex issues with elegant solutions.

What we can conclude from the survey results is there’s a clear support for what Gallup found to be true of successful people. There is not one specific talent that makes people successful. Rather, if you are working well in your talents and building your life upon them, you will be successful.

2. Were you in any way struck by what you learned?

CC: While we were not necessarily surprised by the talents of the group, we recognize the importance of understanding how each person’s talents show up in them.

We can have preconceived notions of what the talents are or what talents we want to see in a group. We may think we have an idea of what a certain talent is in our mind. However, even if people have the same talents, they can manifest differently.

Talents are the innate characteristics within us. We must add skills, knowledge and use to develop our talents into strengths. Because we all have different experiences, giving us varying insights and abilities, our talents will show up differently from others.

3. In the coaching, with those who elected to do so, what stood out?

CC: It was invigorating to talk with several of the individuals who completed the survey and submitted their talents. It was evident that they were in the right place for their talents. They were ready and willing to see more of who they already are. That readiness and willingness really influences the success of strengths.

Many people aren’t aware of how their talents interact and/or intensify each other. Those I interviewed were able to see that their talents don’t just stand alone. Rather, we can look at our talents as a whole in conjunction with our experiences.

Each person’s past pulls into how their talents show up in them. Drawing that into their understanding of their talents can help in putting their talents to the best use.

It was wonderful to communicate that their originality is what makes them valuable. Giving them the language to articulate that to those around them is so important.

4. What do you want people and organizations to consider about the relevance of StrengthsFinder and the work you do to help make people and places stronger?

CC: The Strengths language allows us to articulate our gifts and what makes us unique. This gives freedom to be who we are, celebrate our differences, and learn from one another.There’s power in knowing what talents each individual brings to a group.

This awareness is something companies can leverage to streamline team processes by efficiently transforming individuals into a collaborative community.

5. What did I not ask that you want to have conveyed?

CC: There are many opportunities to create stronger relationships using this material. Whether between spouses, significant others, co-workers, or other family members, this is a valuable tool that illuminates relational intricacies. For example, we become more aware of how talents can collide with one another. Working through those talent interactions can provide a language and plan for how to avoid or soften the potential collisions.

We’re always looking to grow our CoreClarity family. If this piqued your interest and you’d like more information on adding this tool to your tool kit, please visit us here.

Final note from Joan: In working with clients who use StrengthsFinders consistently, I’ve seen remarkable results. It’s a matter of being consistent in the application of one’s talents. As you’ll see in the interviews with Kellee and Sean, and in what I wrote previously, knowing and using one’s talents can make a difference in how one works and feels. It’s worth it!

As always the views expressed are my own—and in this case CoreClarity.

10 areas of site selection to question and learn

Originally published Meetings Today

Each meeting, and the circumstances under which it is created, is different. There is no one-size-fits-all site selection checklist.

The checklist I use for clients, excluding demographic and day-by-day meeting details, is easily 15 pages long. The responses to the questions asked in the RFPs (requests for proposal) are used to develop site inspection checklists and to determine what will be included in the contract.

Site selection (of a hotel, convention center, conference center or other venue) and the information gleaned form the basis for our recommendations and contract contents.

1. Safety and security of people and property: No matter how great the meeting content is or how stunning the venue, if people and property are not safe, nothing else will matter. Start with these questions and expand to include guest room and other safety concerns related to the specifics of your particular group.

  • How many AEDs are on property and in what location?
  • How many staff members per shift are trained in CPR?
  • Are there landlines in guest and meeting rooms to notify security of emergencies? How quickly can they respond?
  • What are evacuation procedures from each area of the hotel?
  • When was the hotel last fully inspected for building safety? What were the results? What new efforts has the hotel put in place?

2. Owners, brand and management company: It is possible your organization or company cannot meet in a hotel with non-U.S. owners, or in one with owners who are competitors of your company. It is the one area I consistently see unchecked by planners. Even if there isn’t a dispute that results in legal action, the name of the owner, the management company and the brand (flag) are critical to learn. (Follow the news so you know who may merge with whom, as this can greatly affect hotel procedure.)

  • Who owns the hotel and where are the owners incorporated?
  • What is the management company name?
  • Under what flag (brand) does the hotel fly?
  • What is known about an anticipated change of ownership, management company or brand?

3. Competition for space and attention: Other groups or events in the hotel, or the city, can interfere with your group’s ability to operate smoothly, to secure additional space or the availability of off-site venues or services—think a city-wide event while your 100-person meeting seeks ground transportation—or to have the full attention of the CSM. It’s easier to adjust your planning needs if you calculate this information ahead of time before selecting the site.

  • What groups are already contracted over the dates desired or proposed for your meeting in the venue and destination?
  • What other events are going on in the city or the venue immediately before, during or immediately after your dates?
  • When will a convention services manager (CSM) be assigned? How many other groups will that person manage at the same time?

4. Staff and staffing: Long ago, we could be sure that those who worked in a hotel (or other venue) were employees of that entity. No more. Many positions are outsourced and the reporting structure, though you will be told it’s seamless (and it may be), may not be appropriate for your group.

Understanding that the hotel hires people reflective of your group’s participants will help you meet potential diversity guidelines of the meeting sponsor.

  • Are all staff employed by the owner, brand or management company, or are some services outsourced, and if so, which ones?
  • For how long have line and management staff worked in this property?
  • What percentage of the staff—and in what roles—are members of minority groups? Does the company provide fair wages?
  • How are staff (“internal guests”) treated?

5. Meeting space and meeting sets: We select sites based on what we know will work for our meetings. After providing our program and design needs, we expect the venue, in return, to explain to us how they will meet those needs and what, if any, charges there will be for doing so.

Moreover, we want a hotel that knows how to be as creative and smart in the use of space as we are!

  • What meeting rooms will be confirmed in the contract for our use?
  • If any, what are the charges for furniture use and/or regular and unconventional set ups of rooms and other spaces?
  • If additional furniture is needed, is it secured by the hotel at no charge to the group?
  • Do you use Dr. Paul Radde’s book Seating Matters to maximize room sets and content delivery?

6. Labor: Everyone has an opinion about union labor. Even if workers are not organized for collective bargaining, they will work under agreements. To plan based on possible contingencies, know history and deadlines up front.

  • Which staff are organized for collective bargaining? When are their contract renewal deadlines?
  • What is the history of labor (organized or other) contract negotiations? Are any contracts up for renewal or adjustment?
  • In the destination, what workers have contract deadlines within six months on either side of your meeting dates?

7. Policies: The word “policy” is often mentioned in contracts without the policies themselves included. Planning and execution can be severely disrupted if a group violates, because they didn’t ask up front about, policies. Ask now or suffer the consequences!

  • Ask the hotel to provide, during the selection process, a full list of all policies that impact meeting operations and charges.
  • Request policies for use of outside vendors, BEO language, food donations, charges for meeting rooms and public space, use of electricity and contract language.

8. Food and beverage: See above and remember: BEOs (banquet event orders) are a separate contract, the language of which is not often in the body of the meeting contract.

  • How far out will food and beverage prices be guaranteed?
  • What additional charges—and at what percentage—are added to menu or negotiated prices: tax and service charge (“++”) or tax, service charge and administrative fees (“+++”)?
  • If there is a food and beverage minimum, what can be included or what is excluded from what is considered in the minimum?
  • How are banquet and kitchen staff trained in cross-contamination and other safety procedures?

9. Stoppage of meeting and dispute resolution: We hope nothing will interfere with a meeting going forward. It can, and disputes that we can’t resolve by conversations among the parties happen. Factor in the conditions during the selection process.

  • Under what conditions and could the meeting not be held?
  • What is the hotel’s force majeure and/or “impossibility” language?
  • Does the hotel automatically include a dual cancellation clause, and what is the language used? If it does not, under what conditions might the hotel cancel the meeting and what will they do for the group?
  • What is the hotel’s preferred method of dispute resolution?

10. Renovation: You want a hotel that looks and is as nice for your meeting as it was during the selection process. New owners, new brand or new management company; fire or flood; simple wear-and-tear: anything can happen between selection and execution.

  • What is the hotel’s history of renovation of hard and soft goods?
  • Are there any anticipated or planned renovations? What is the extent and timing of those renovations?
  • In what way will the group be notified of any renovations and what examples can be provided of conditions of those renovations?

11. Lagniappe: A little something more, as they say in New Orleans.

  • What have I not asked you that you think I should know so I have all the information I need to make or help guide the making of a fully informed site selection decision?

6 Ways to Change Meetings

Originally published at Meetings Today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will you commit? And how?

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

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

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

5 Meeting Functions Enhanced by Knowing What’s in the News

Stack of newspapers

We’re all busy. The news is often painful to read, watch and/or listen to, but our work is so impacted by what’s in the news and the potential consequences that if we are not paying attention, we are negligent in our duties. It’s all part of life-long learning*, which many, after they secure degrees or any letters after their names, forget.

Here are five areas of conducting meetings that are impacted by what’s in the news and why you should pay attention. In the comments, add yours and your sources—newspapers (print or digital), periodicals and other media go-tos (including social).

1. Destination Selection and Use: The greatest buzz (groan … I know!) is about the Zika virus, its origin, where and how it’s spreading, and what is being done to stop the spread of the virus. Airlines are issuing waivers to passengers and changing some employees’ schedules of those who are afraid of traveling to areas where Zika-carrying mosquitoes are prevalent. PCMA’s Convene had this to say about it.

Knowing what airlines are doing and the impact that may have on the accessibility of all destinations, especially second and third tier ones, matters to our selection and use of those destinations. Cleveland, that was for years a Continental hub and then a United hub, has cut back more nonstop flights to numerous destinations. One wonders what the impact will be on the Republican National Convention to be held in Cleveland this summer. Perhaps, if gas prices continue to be low(er), more will drive.

(I’m not saying don’t go; I’m saying be aware, informed, and plan for contingencies … whether they are health related or otherwise).

2. Site Selection: Will our choices narrow because of the mergers noted in No. 3 below? Will you have the information you need about labor contracts? What about the impact of fire safety if you hadn’t read about the fire and investigation of a hotel in Las Vegas? Or if you had not read my blog about safety, you might not have asked about the presence of AEDs or other safety features. You might not know that many hotels are considering eliminating in-room phones (you’ve noticed how there are fewer in rooms now, right?), which may be a safety hazard or are considering using robots versus people to serve.

3. Hotel ContractsIHG (InterContinental Hotels) merged with Kimpton; Fairmont and Raffles merged. From what these hotel CEOs say … there will be more. What is the impact on contracts in place of these mergers and those upcoming? Or future contracts? Are you aware of who owns the hotels (the buildings) and who manages them as well as the brand on the door?

What are you following to keep up with all that may change and the impact on your contracts and contract negotiations? (On April 27 and August 31, I’ll do webinars for Meetings Today—the first on site selection; the latter on contracts for accommodations. You can also find past webinars at that link). Clearly the industry press is covering these mergers just as they are with the airlines. (After UA and Continental, American and US Airways, who will be next?) Follow the business press too. I subscribe to the print editions of Bloomberg Businessweek and Fortune, local business journals for cities to which clients are considering or taking meetings, hotel-related reading, Crain’s for various cities, and more. You can read online or in print. Just read!

And then there was this that should be a concern for all planners, Starwood employees, and individual hotel owners about what Starwood’s new CEO says about the safety of most Starwood brands under a Marriott merger.

4. Meeting “Stoppage” and Individual Cancellation Plans and Policies: If, because of a pending snow storm or other weather issue, the airlines start to cancel flights days in advance (follow Joe Brancatelli, @joesentme, on Twitter) … or if because of the Zika virus people decide it is not safe to attend a meeting you’ve planned or one you plan to attend … or if, like in Cleveland, an airline pulls flights and it’s no longer easy to get to and from the destination without multiple plane changes, a person says “enough” and wants to cancel attendance, what are your policies? What’s in your contracts with venues and vendors about stopping the meeting?

Is it force majeure if a storm hasn’t hit and you cancel a meeting? What about Zika which reports say is spreading, but like SARS, may not actually impact the meeting? All the things that could impact a meeting being stopped—by the venue or by weather or by an individual who just doesn’t want to schlep more than she’d planned—are impacted by what’s in the news. To not pay attention means to be caught off-guard or to make assumptions and we know what that does!

5. Liabilities and Meeting Risk: What if you had been, as part of your job, responsible to send people on an incentive cruise and they’d been on this ship? What if you book a group into a Zika-infested area and someone needs, for reasons unrelated to Zika, a blood transfusion? What must you consider when updating your risk and emergency plan for each meeting? What in that destination or facility might cause harm for which you must plan?

I know that there are those who think I overthink it but here’s what I know: to under-thinking and under-planning puts people, the meeting sponsor, and you at risk. And if you’d like the table of contents to a risk plan, go to the “Resources” section of my website or email me at FridaywithJoan@aol.com for a copy.

Another thing you might also like: if you don’t read, you wouldn’t know about the wearable chair, which seems a perfect thing for exhibitors at tradeshows, or that two songs in popular use finally settled a copyright case (Hint: one is sung at least once a year to or by most of us).

And an asterisk to the title: learning from lots of different sources enhances your life. You are able to start and continue conversations with almost anyone, enabling lots of opportunities; you gain insights about your life and you continue your education.

*In the February 8-14 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, quoting Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel-winning economist at Columbia. “He says societies need to emphasize life-long learning not just school.”