Category Archives: Meeting Planning 101

Planning for Contingencies: Site Selection to Contracting

 Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Planning for Contingencies: Site Selection to Contracting

Never in my life has writing about contingencies and contracts been so difficult! So many recent events—earthquakes in Mexico, more hurricanes, and just this week, the Las Vegas mass shooting—have occurred since I began drafting this that the situation is almost incomprehensible.

It would be, for me, immoral, not to note the horrors of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Mexico first. Because of the loss of life in a dramatic way, in an “ordinary” (certainly for our industry) setting in Las Vegas, we are currently more focused there. We understandably want to help the loved ones of those who died and those who were injured, of those, including hotel staff, who witnessed the carnage.

Like many of you, I woke the morning of October 2 to the stunning—amazing, isn’t it, that another major act of mass gun violence could be “stunning”?—news of the lone attacker who shot, from the 32nd floor of a major Las Vegas convention hotel, into a concert killing (at last count) 58 and physically injuring or causing the injury of many hundreds. Sadly, it is expected those numbers will increase.

The psychological injuries to many more who were there, who loved those killed or injured, emergency responders, local residents, hotel and concert workers are far greater. Immense thanks to MGM and Mandalay Bay for offering counseling to their employees. Just as I thought about the airport personnel who, on 9/11, let through those who terrorized the world, I can only imagine the pain of front desk, bell and housekeeping staffs who had contact with the shooter and how they might question themselves.

And then there’s those at the concert venue who perhaps never made emergency announcements, such as where to best exit the venue in case of disaster or violence*, because “what could possibly happen?”

Which brings us full circle, back to the original intent of this blog and sidebar: contingency planning—how it begins with destination and site selection, RFPs and the questions asked, negotiations, contracts, and written contingency and emergency plans. These last weeks would test even the best of planners.

My friend and colleague, Tyra Hilliard, Esq., Ph.D., CMP, and I have talked and continue to talk incessantly about these issues. My friend and colleague, Kelly Bagnall, Esq., and I will, on this upcoming Meetings Today webinar, talk critical contract clauses on October 25 at 1 p.m. Eastern time. In an index of Meetings Today blog posts related to risk management and contingency planning, there are many useful items, many of which also make reference to contracts. In July of this year, I wrote about the challenges laws being considered and passed posed for groups when selecting destinations.

No matter how much Kelly, Tyra Hilliard and Josh Grimes (quoted in the sidebar), and others talk about the importance of contracting and planning in other ways for contingencies, we still see how few do.

Rick Werth taught contingency planning at the MPI Institute programs years ago. He taught then, and I still teach, “people first.” Assets can be recovered; people cannot.

Thus, I wondered, first, about those who work in the hotels, restaurants and attractions—initially after Harvey struck and then after each subsequent hurricane and the two earthquakes—who had lost everything, including documentation, clothing, shelter and transportation. How could they go back to work, even if the hotels opened, when they were living temporarily not knowing what comes next?

What about the people of Puerto Rico still waiting for water and power? How can we expect them, in crisis, to serve guests living in comfort?

What support and counseling will hotels provide to their workers who want—no, need—to work but have on their minds all they have to do? I’ve been unable to learn how hotel companies in Houston and surrounding areas, in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and elsewhere, have handled the physical and psychological needs of employees. It’s a question to ask in your RFP because if disaster strikes and your meeting continues, you’ll want to know. If you’re with a hotel or hotel company and reading this, contact me at and tell me if you want it to be anonymous and I’ll post it.

If you want to discuss this issue openly, please respond in the comments below.

I know that we want, as Tyra notes in her comments in the sidebar of the newsletter, to book or hold meetings where disasters have struck so that the communities can get back on their feet, but what about the health and safety of those affected by disaster who staff, attend and exhibit at our meetings?

Ask questions internally, or if you are a consultant or other third party, of your clients, and ask more in your RFPs. Then if you practice what I say and do for clients, answers should be contracted to ensure the parties don’t wait until the last minute to deal with a crisis or potential crisis or even just to know what the policies and procedures are.

As Diane Ramos, CMP, and her association learned, once you are on-site getting ready for your event and a hurricane is approaching, knowing what steps you must take to keep people safe and the steps that are contractually—or legally—permitted, makes the next steps in contingency planning and action more in line with expectations.

What all should you consider in your contingency plan? What questions should you ask internally and in your RFPs? This is not an inclusive list, but it will hopefully give you some ideas on where to start.

1. Who attends your meetings? Who are your exhibitors? Your off-property service providers?

  • Of those, how many may be full or part time emergency responders? How many may be part of the National Guard or other national or international rescue team? Will they be called to respond to an emergency anywhere in the world and be unable to attend your meeting?
  • Do you work with journalists? Medical personnel? Utility workers? What will their role be in response to an emergency? If they were unable to attend your meeting, what would their inability to attend cost in attrition? Will you be able to negotiate forgiveness into your contract or forgiveness if your meeting continues? What about later on, if not in the contract? And what about forgiveness if you must fully stop your event for reasons of force majeure or because you do not think there is a reasonable way to cancel but attendance is lower due to emergency?

2. Is your company or association one directly or indirectly involved in response or infrastructure to a disaster or a crisis? If they are, what will the ability be for exhibitors and participants to attend?

3. Do participants come from areas where disaster may strike? If they decide to attend, what will you do to ensure they are able to return home quickly and safely, or shelter where the meeting is being held?

[In Las Vegas, some hotels are extending complimentary rooms for families of victims to retrieve their belongings; others are providing rooms at low cost for loved ones of those hospitalized. Several airlines, at least at first, had only waived change fees until a few days after the massacre. I hope that changed].

4. What are the conditions under which the health and safety of participants could be impacted, by say, a chemical spill? By mold from flooding? Will, like after 9/11, loved ones and companies not be willing to put others in harm’s way by attending the meeting? (Read in Diane Ramos’s comments here what they had to consider as Hurricane Irma made its way toward Florida and cancellations they began receiving).

5. What backup power is available at any venue you are using during the course of your event? How has it been tested? For how long can it last? What about water supplies? Food delivery and preparation?

6. Will the venue (especially a convention center as we have seen over and over beginning with Katrina) be a shelter for those displaced locally and for tourists and meeting-goers unable to stay in their hotels?

  • If the venue is an emergency shelter, how soon will it be available to your meeting if your meeting follows a disaster by two or three weeks—or longer—following a disaster?
  • If the venue must still be an emergency shelter following a major disaster, how will it accommodate your meeting and the needs of people who need shelter? Can it do so?

7. What infrastructure issues exist now in the destination? (Recommended: follow the reports from the American Society of Civil Engineers on U.S. infrastructure—which, right now, gets a grade of “D+”).

8. What will be the ability of the destination to respond to emergency infrastructure repair?

[Read more about the current situation in Puerto Rico, as reported by The Atlantic and The Hill, for one of the more tragic examples of the impact a disaster can have on infrastructure not unlike what New Orleans experienced after Hurricane Katrina with the loss of medical and emergency care facilities].

9. In what year was the facility you’re considering built? Is it up to, or beyond, code for any disaster?

10. Assuming there is one available, for what portion of a facility—and for how many days—is a generator serviceable? If the power is out for two, three or more days, what do you plan?

  • How has the generator been serviced? How has it been used in the past and the results?

The list is already getting long, so let’s wind things down with a final burst of questions for venues.

11. What is your backup water supply? For how many days and for how many people are you prepared?

12. If your venue is needed for a shelter, what happens to guests already in house?

13. What are the backup plans to provide food to anyone in the facility?

14. How do you support and protect your employees?

15. If you’ve been through a flood in the last year, what was the cleanup process to ensure mold was eliminated? How can you guarantee that it actually was?

16. If the venue is placed on lockdown or those inside must shelter in place for any reason, what will the procedures be for notification? Has the venue ever dealt with this sort of situation in the past?

17. Where are the closest medical facilities? What are their contingency plans in the event of disaster?

18. Will gasoline be available and in what quantities? Does your facility have its own supply?

19. What are the multiple methods for getting people to and from airports and medical facilities? What about the methods for your staff to get to and from work and home? What if there is no gasoline available or it is rationed? What backup plans are in place for employees in that instance?

  • When will airlines pull flights and personnel? How soon after a disaster will they realistically be able to fly emergency supplies in or people out of the area?

20. What will the change policies be at hotels, resorts, venues, airlines, etc., for people who must/need/want to depart early because a storm is predicted?**

**An exercise—a mini case study or tabletop exercise—I use to teach risk management begins “Two days from the main arrival for your meeting, storms are predicted.” It asks a few simple questions, beginning with “what are your assumptions?” For years, in each group, the assumptions have been that the storms are snow; are not in the area of the meeting; that there will be no problems moving forward. The reality in today’s world of mergers and acquisitions is that airlines are far more cautious with their equipment and crews, and will pull them before disaster strikes in order to avoid catastrophe.

The questions planners should be asking and that hotels and other venues should be prepared to answer are far greater in depth than most ask or consider when it comes to selecting destinations. And here’s the catch-22: in recent days, I’ve received numerous emails to book meetings in Puerto Rico just as I did for Houston because what can help an area recover better than business returning, they ask.

I concur—we need to help those in need get on their feet while we plan (in writing) for the worst. Once a hurricane is predicted, it may be too late to change plans or to move people out of harm’s way or to determine when force majeure kicks in for stopping a meeting or when force majeure can be applied to a meeting that continues but with fewer people because of a prediction of or an actual event.

Help the industry and our colleagues by adding your own questions and thoughts in the comments below. Tell us of your experiences—personal and professional—as you dealt with a crisis.

Only by sharing can we become stronger at contingency planning.

RIGHT NOW! Just as we always say “it couldn’t happen here”, it has—in multiple places in the U.S., Mexico and nearby islands, some U.S. territories, for natural disasters, and in a major convention city, a person-made crisis. If you have contracts in place, go back and ask questions and if appropriate, negotiate and write an addendum to your contracts that cover how contingencies and disasters will be handled. Write the contingency plan you’ve sworn you’d get around to but haven’t. And whether your meeting is in a “disaster prone” area, consider deeply that a disaster can strike anywhere.

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.

Additionally, the information provided within the Meetings Today Blog is done so with the understanding that the writers are not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services or advice through the distribution of the content. If expert assistance is required, the services of a professional should be sought and contracted.

*My “forever” gratitude to Debbie Williams who, at the time we met and when I learned from her, worked for Microsoft. She, by example, showed me how to get on a stage in front of thousands and do her “flight attendant routine” of announcing emergency procedures and exits. Christie Hicks, once with Starwood and a past chair of the PCMA Foundation, your words to me as you exited and I entered the stage on the night I was honored by the PCMA Foundation for lifetime achievement as an educator, still stay with me and I swear, I’ll always do emergency announcements even if I’m being honored.

I hope others plan for and begin to do so at every event!

Click here to view additional content in the 10.06.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.

8 Destination and Site Selection Tips Updated for Our Times

8 Destination and Site Selection Tips Updated for Our Times

It used to be much easier to select destinations and sites/venues for meetings and events: rates, dates and space were the common denominators.

Today, regardless of which side of the political or cultural divide you sit (or stand or march) on, you are, I hope, aware of the many issues and laws just in the United States that impact booking and holding meetings. I’ve written about it before in previous blog posts for Meetings Today titled “What Do You and Our Industry Stand For?,” “2017 Meetings Industry Hopes & Predictions” and “When Laws and Meetings Collide: Go, Stay or Boycott?

Why have I repeatedly written about and returned to this topic?

Because those in positions of authority in our industry first touted U.S. President Donald Trump as “one of us”—he owned hotels and golf courses and certainly would  help to make tourism and travel more robust. Because as time has gone on, the executive orders and proposed U.S. budget have caused an awakening of the damage that can be done to hospitality with the stroke of a pen. And because I have experienced the impact of changing times and laws on meetings and booking meetings for clients and from colleagues. It appears, with the latest news about the travel ban, that there are still questions about who may or may not come into the United States.

And the laptop ban? We’re still uncertain about the impact it will have, especially if it is expanded. [Editor’s Note: it appears laptops are safe for now.]

In case you weren’t following closely, here’s a timeline of our industry’s reaction to the election of our current president and the subsequent actions impacting meetings, tourism and travel.

On Nov. 9, 2016, the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) congratulated Donald Trump on his election as the 45th U.S. President and said they thought he would be good for our industry because he was a part of it.

On Jan. 23, 2017, the industry again expressed its eagerness to work with the Trump Administration.

Then came what is now known as the original “travel ban” executive order, and on March 1, 2017, the impact of the “Muslim travel ban” and its cost to the U.S. was expressed in this article from The Independent, one of many articles from in and outside of the U.S.

On March 9, 2017, there was more discussion about the “travel ban”—now with more questions because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling—again confusing us all.

On May 17, 2017, The Hill published an article describing alarm over the potential of an expanded laptop ban within the travel industry.

On May 23, 2017, the Los Angeles Times published an article on the travel industry’s outrage following the announcement of President Trump’s proposed budget, which included a funding cut for the Brand USA marketing program.

On June 16, 2017, after airline, hotel, tour and travel companies—and many associations—had already begun the process of working with Cuba, President Trump announced an updated policy making it harder to do business in or travel to the Caribbean island nation.

In addition to the laptop concerns, which made it complicated for those traveling from other countries—especially for speakers and presenters who rely on their laptops or tablets to do work while on the road and to use for their presentations, foreign visitors now face even more visa application restrictions that require some applicants to submit their social media handles, thus giving up a great degree of privacy.

And here’s more information about the TSA and Homeland Security’s stricter security measures for travel that may discourage international visitors in the U.S.

Of course there are issues in the majority of U.S. states impacting our industry. If you’ve not kept up with what happened in North Carolina because of their so-called “bathroom law,” search it. There’s so much written about the business impact of the bathroom bill that the links would consume this entire blog.

North Carolina wasn’t the only state to pass or consider a “bathroom bill.” As noted in the July 2016 Friday With Joan newsletter, the American Counseling Association pulled out of Tennessee because, even after trying to work with the governor and state legislature, a law in direct opposition to their work, was enacted.

And then there’s this:

AILA leaves TX for 2018 over sanctuary city law. I was also told at least one other association canceled their Texas meeting because of the anti-sanctuary city law. A full account of this was unable to be obtained after contacting multiple Texas DMOs (aka CVBs). You can follow ongoing industry issues at Texas Competes.

From the Houston Chronicle, concern was expressed about boycotts of Texas over a variety of laws, including the sanctuary cities ban.

PCMA pulled out of Houston while in “pre-contract phase” in anticipation of the special session called by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in which he and others hope the state will enact an anti-transgender law (aka “bathroom bill”) similar to North Carolina’s. Follow along at Equality Texas for updates. Texas did pass this law that limits adoption by LGBTQ persons, which is causing groups to reconsider Texas as a destination for meetings.)

Another group has stated they may leave Houston if a “bathroom bill” is passed in Texas.

Beyond social and other like issues that impact who can travel and from where and how, many states and political subdivisions are attempting to enact laws to raise taxes to fund convention center expansions or built stadiums or fund other needed infrastructure or housing in their communities. In addition to reading tweets at @meetingstoday where we post links to tax laws, subscribe to the local or regional business journals or, if they exist, digital newspapers or alerts on “hotel” or “tourism” taxes to keep up to date. An increase of even 1% in room or sales taxes can have an impact on your budget.

So what is this all building up to? I wanted to provide Meetings Today and Friday With Joan readers with a list of eight actions planners—and our supplier partners in asking for and providing information—can take to help them navigate the destination and site selection process in modern times.

1. Know the mission, bylaws, policies and stands on social and economic issues of your company, organization and clients. If you don’t already know, make sure you research this information. It will help in your planning!

2. Know your audience. And that’s not just who will attend your meeting. Also know their families and traveling companions who want to feel safe and included.

3. Question management about the impact the passage of laws (federal, municipal or state) would have on your meetings, its participants and vendors, including potential boycotts or travel restrictions impacting attendance and image in the public square.

4. Revise your RFP to include the issues that are most important to your group, the ones that influence where and why you book and don’t.

5. After revising your RFP, also update it to include questions about the following:

  • Pending laws on raising taxes or ones that may impact individuals coming to the state or city, or from or to other countries.
  • Contractual provisions for “impossibility” in stopping the meeting if a law is passed that is in direct opposition to your organization’s mission and on attrition if the meeting moves forward and is boycotted by a percentage of persons impacting attendance, room pick up and other provisions (See the sidebar for more on this language and how and why it was developed by one major EIC (formerly CIC) member, the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)). This may also impact some professions such as medical, journalism, or legal who may be called into service in case of critical situations.

6. Work with an industry attorney on crafting language to negotiate and explain provisions in your RFP upfront to any destination and venue you are considering and to vendors with whom you may contract (See the Academy of Hospitality Industry Attorneys (AHIA) for a list of its members).

7. Stay on top of the news and bring issues to management and/or your board of directors—before they bring them to you—that may impact your in-place contracts, the meeting or event attendance, image and sales or membership.

8. Develop a strategic plan for communications within your organization to ensure the future planning of meetings is well-informed.

Look, I’ve been there and in fact just spent two months working through issues for a client in trying to manage a cancellation and rebooking because of some of these issues. As early as the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I was managing meetings and negotiating provisions that impacted groups because of specific laws.

Then it seemed clients thought they would be OK … until they weren’t.

ASAE’s direction and PCMA’s stand are just two industry specific examples. I hear from many who are working with their attorneys and vendors to refine for them and negotiate into contracts or addenda what is now referred to as the “ASAE Clause” (see sidebar).

We have an obligation to be smart about and up to date on the issues that affect us. We also have an obligation to work with our business partners upfront on all the issues that may impact our meetings, no matter how difficult it may seem. To not do so can be costly in dollars and reputation.

Disclaimers: for this and all editions of Friday With Joan and other periodic blogs written by the author, the information is not intended as legal advice. Should you need the services of a lawyer (or other professional) you should contract for the services. And, as always, the views expressed by contributing bloggers and respondents 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 07.07.17 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.

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.

Insurance: How Covered Are You and Your Meetings?

Original published Meeting Today Blog 

Insurance: How Covered Are You and Your Meetings?

One of the best lessons I ever learned was from Jeff King, Esq., who, for years, was the attorney for the Convention Liaison (now Industry) Council. In a lawsuit over a client’s cancellation of a meeting—where the client and I, individually, and my company were all sued—we hired Jeff to defend our case. He said, “It doesn’t matter if you are right or wrong, you can still be sued.” –

Because of that, because of others’ research and work in this field, and because of what I observe, I have and will continue write and teach more about meeting and event risk and how to best manage it. No matter how much Tyra Hilliard, others and I teach and write and speak about it, it doesn’t seem that individuals and the industry understand that what we do is risky business*.

Given that there is still not sufficient planning around meeting and event risk, it astounds me when I hear people and groups question whether or not to insure aspects of their meetings and events. There is a belief that if contracts contain the necessary clauses (do yours?) there is no need to have insurance or that certainly whatever the venue has must cover you and your meeting. Here are three resources (the August 2016 edition of Friday With Joan, a free contracts webinar I recently led for Meetings Today, and another free contracts webinar hosted by Tyra Hilliard) that provide plenty of information to consider.

Also consider these “what ifs”:

  • An “Act of God” (force majeure) occurs just before your meeting commences causing any number of participants from arriving and the meeting goes on because you’re there, and key players and others have already arrived. You’ve given your F&B guarantees. You believe that force majeure will no doubt be in effect. It is my understanding that force majeure or “impossibility” clauses cover what happens if the entire meeting is stopped or if the occurrence—say a storm—is in the destination and not en route. What costs might you incur that might be covered if you had insurance?
  • Your main stage speaker is a no-show or (worse or better?!) does not deliver what people expect from what is said and your meeting registration information contains a clause where if people aren’t satisfied, they may ask for a refund of their registration fee. Now what?
  • Someone over-drinks before attending an event that’s part of your meeting and then drinks again—with the drink tickets you thought protected you because you only gave each person two—and injures themselves or others. Who and what is covered for any damages to people and property? In the event of a lawsuit?
  • You or a speaker, exhibitor or entertainer play music for which you didn’t secure music licensing agreements and you’re sued. How will you—either as an in-house planner or third party who made the arrangements—be covered for legal costs?
  • You’re a third party who helped a client select a site that they later cancel. If you work on commission, what now? If as a result of the cancellation, the client is sued as are you for what is believed your role—whether it was booking a site that was, for the meeting, under construction, or didn’t have AEDs and in your RFP you didn’t ask and someone is harmed, or … well, I’m guessing you can fill in the blanks.

Can you, in contracts or with insurance, cover and be protected from all contingencies? I doubt it. Things happen—like laws that are passed in states like North Carolina causing groups to cancel or move their meetings, or the hotel, at the last minute (which could be two weeks for some or the day before for others) changes your meeting space or there’s a strike at an airport causing extreme delays and people turn around and go home versus coming to the meeting or … you fill in the blank.

Yes, there are laws that cover some contingencies. And still, there are costs involved that without insurance may not be able to be restored.

I’m not an insurance expert or a lawyer. All I can do is advise clients and readers and students to learn more about how they, individually, are covered, and by whom in booking and/or executing a meeting or event, and that they investigate with their risk management and legal advisors what they need to cover.

My gratitude to Lou Novick of the Novick Group in Rockville, Md., an insurance broker who knows meetings, for adding his knowledge to the sidebar of this blog. Lastly, this bulletin from Narcotics Anonymous is a good primer on why having liability insurance, including for events, is a good idea.

P.S. Here’s a couple bonus resources that also may be worth your time:

*If you’re in the San Diego area, I’ll be leading a session on identifying risk and developing a contingency plan on Dec. 15 for the Calfornia Society of Association Executive’s (CALSAE’s) f2f meeting. I’ll be leading the discussion via livestream and you must be physically present at the event to participate. Learn more here.

Planning Events: Back to Basics

Originally published on Meetings Focus Blog

We’re the worst aren’t we? Planners who attend events in which we were or weren’t involved in the planning and execution. Yet, it may be because we know the best practices that we are more critical of what should be done or what is written in industry manuals as best practices.

We expect the best! After some recent experiences, and seeing some photos online of a large industry event, reminders of the basics seem in order.

Know your audience. That includes age, gender, gender identity, abilities, disabilities, allergies (food and environmental) and once known, plan to meet those needs. A venue that allows smoking in an area where it pours into the event or is prevalent in restaurants surrounding a smoking area like a casino is not healthy for those with lots of different health issues; a scented venue causes problems for those with chemical sensitives (covered under the ADA).

A venue with lots of steps makes it difficult for some (many in some cases) and certainly makes it more difficult for those who use mobility devices. Consider whether the entertainment and programmatic choices are appropriate for the kind of event you’re planning. If it’s a networking event, consider if people can hear and talk above the sound.

Develop and employ objectives for the overall event and for individual components. If one of the objectives is to showcase best practices in meetings then … do so! Set the rooms in something different than straight schoolroom or theatre rows. Use screens that are appropriate sizes so that all people can see any visuals used.

If peer-to-peer learning and social networking are objectives (and they should be, studies show, for all events, social, fraternal and educational) determine what space and conditions will most contribute to those objectives. Ensure appropriate seating for the demographics, space allocation.

Provide information about how to find others in the group, adequate and appropriate (including “handicap spaces”) parking, are other examples of meeting objectives.

Communicate—from RFP to post-con—with the venue and vendors ensuring they know what you want, can meet those needs, and that any surprises aren’t because of thorough communications. That is, take nothing for granted! Just because you used “one of their properties” (or a vendor) in a different destination or even of the same brand or the same property at a different time, doesn’t mean it will be the same again.

Put in writing, even before the contract, all the expectations you have and they have and provide your objectives so partnering can start from the beginning.

Plan food and beverage to match times, demographics, abilities, and needs. There’s nothing worse than an event that begins at 7 p.m. which is dinner time for many and to learn there will only be “dry snacks.”* If that’s the case, let people know ahead of time and provide a list of restaurants near the meeting venue for those who may not be familiar with the area.

Survey the needs of participants to know their food allergies or other dietary needs: vegan, vegetarian, lactose-intolerant, gluten-sensitive, etc. (I’m a fan of Patti Shock and her writing including “A Meeting Planner’s Guide to Catered Events”).

Practice sustainability! At a recent industry function, a colleague and I were surprised (OK, stunned!) to see water bottles v. water stations. Handouts are not the nemesis of green! As long as they are printed on post-consumer products using sustainable ink and fonts.

Giving gifts? If gift wrap is needed, use post-consumer wrapping paper and avoid over-packaging with lots of tissue. Food waste is a major issue in the U.S. If you want to overset, it’s OK as long as you know that the venue is going to reuse or donate what food they can. Or serve plated meals, asking participants ahead of time to indicate their preferences.

Two great resources for sustainability are MeetGreen and GMIC.

Program for maximum involvement and attention. Small screens for large audiences, long programs that go on and on, bad visuals, untested sound, ill-timed programs or those that are not timed as promised, unexpected guests at the mic/lectern (aka “podium” for those who insist!), lack of audience involvement, inactivity/sedentary audience for long periods, and more that you can list all lead to “fanny fatigue” which leads to brain fatigue and napping.

Not all programs have to be interactive; they do need to engage. If you’ve followed me here or in social media, you know I tout Jeff Hurt’s blog, and Paul Radde’s book, “Seating Matters”, and Adrian Segar’s work which, like mine, involves deliberate meetings and events.

Be safe! I wrote extensively here about AEDs and was surprised, at a recent industry meeting, to learn that the venue had AEDs, but not in the meeting space. One was required to go to the heart/back of the house to a house phone—no house phones in the meeting rooms—to contact security to bring the AEDs.

Select destinations and sites with safety first in mind: nearest hospital or emergency facility, AEDs on property, CPR-trained personnel on staff 24/7, and procedures to handle food allergies and other emergencies. Announce, at the start of every event, the location of the emergency exits and the procedures. Yes, you can do this at social events too: doing one’s “flight attendant routine” always gets a laugh and attention so people know what to do if they have to evacuate.

And about *dry snacks: they encourage beverage, often alcohol, consumption. Over-drinking can lead to many disasters: drunk driving, alcohol poisoning, and other dangerous behavior. Talk with the bartenders, even if it’s a cash bar or ticketed, to find out their practices and policies about stopping over-consumption of alcohol.

Yes, there’s much more to planning an event than most people consider. And there’s much more to selecting destinations (that have airports that are accessible for people with disabilities), sites, caterers, AV and production companies, and planning programs, and contracting.

This is a snippet that occurred to me after a few events that puzzled me.

Defining the Meeting Professional (Who We Are, Where We Came From)

Originally posted on Meeting Focus blog

What was your reaction the first time you said you were a “meeting professional” and the response was “Oh, you’re a party planner?” Not that there’s anything wrong with being a party planner; social events are often a component of what we do. It is however a fraction of the whole of who we are and what we do. And as many of us have said in interviews and to each other, even our families and friends don’t fully understand what we do!

Does meeting planner or event planner, conference coordinator or meeting architect, or meeting or exhibit manager or designer sound better? More, is it understood?

Even in our own (Meetings? Convention? Hospitality?) industry there is no agreement on the term(s) to use to refer to what we are or do.

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ” ~~ Michael Crichton (thanks to Goodreads quotes for this).

From what tree do we come? In this and future blogs, we’ll explore more about our “tree” to help us consider the steps we can take and education we need to become more professional and to gain the recognition for the complexity of what we do—that I hope will take us beyond negative media coverage and congressional hearings.

I remember when former U.S. Representative to the United Nations and former Atlanta Mayor, Andrew Young, spoke at a Meeting Professionals International (MPI) meeting in Atlanta years ago. He said a meeting professional had to have been around to plan the Last Supper! There’s no documentation, but of course he had to have been right.

To prepare to write this blog I relied on history of the Convention Industry Council (CIC), our industry’s umbrella organization. Thanks to Karen Kotowski, CAE, CMP, CIC’s Chief Executive Officer who sent two documents showing some of the history.

I talked and emailed with industry veterans and MPI founders, Howard Feiertag and Rod Abraham (link to interview), and with another MPI Founder and MPI’s second executive director, Doug Heath; industry attorney Jonathan Howe, Esq.; and DeWayne Woodring, long time Executive Director of the Religious Conference Management Association (RCMA).

In the first of what Karen sent—written in 1953 and the second, an updated version in 1956—both titled “Group Business Unlimited! … from 20 rooms to 2,000” it is written:

After many years of exploratory study and informed meetings between those concerned with group business problems, the Convention Liaison Committee was formally organized in 1948, as a coordinating group made up of three or more representatives of each of the following organizations:

With the general goal of coordinating the best interests of the organizations represented, the Committee has set for itself the following objectives:

  1. To bring about a sympathetic understanding and acceptance among these organizations of the responsibilities of each to the other.
  2. To create a sound and consistent basis for handling convention procedures and practices through a program of study and education.¹
  3. To conduct educational and other activities of mutual interest to the participate organizations.”²

This appears to be the first “Manual” preceding the one titled “Convention Liaison Manual” first published in 1961. I have a copy of the third and fourth editions of the latter manual.

From the initial “Group Business” Manual to the 1961 manual, the industry realized that in addition to those who supplied the industry there were customers. In “Group Business,” the skills needed focused on sales and marketing skills and building relationships among the venues and CVBs.

In the edition of the CLC Manual I have, the skills began to incorporate more about areas (site selection, housing, air transportation, function room setups, and all of four pages on contracts (Compare that to the APEX Contracts Panel report!) of expertise needed for those planning meetings and conventions.

In “Group Business,” “he” and “him” predominate; in the early CLC Manuals, it was “he/she.” In the former, illustrations are only of men; in the 1956 version, a few illustrations include women, and the cover of the early Manual shows what may be one woman in the lower right hand corner.

In conversations with many of those who served as early or earlier than I—I served on the CLC Board of Directors in the early ’90s, thanks to Doug Heath, who, after my noodging about so few women representing an industry that even then, on the meetings side, appeared to have a majority of women, appointed me to be one of MPI’s 3 representatives—was told that in the early days, the meetings were really more about entertaining the industry associations’ delegates and providing gifts to them. Though there was some of that in the first years of service, we did delve into bigger issues with speakers about music licensing and the ADA.

It’s a brief start to the history, to which I will further detail in coming blogs. More, in addition to what Howard Feiertag and Rod Abraham have to say about their histories and skills needed then and now, we’ll look at skills needed today and into the future for those who call themselves “meeting professionals.”

Add to the history in the comments. Ask questions about where we came from and spread the word of the history of our industry (At the recent CMP Conclave, I asked in what year CIC was founded and the answers didn’t go back far enough!).

¹ The CMP—first known as the Certified Meeting Planner—designation was not instituted until 1985. This Committee had, other than ATAE and, in 1956, the addition of the National Association of Exhibit Managers (the forerunner to IAEE), no organizations representing customers so it made sense that the focus was on hotel operations.

² In 1956, a fourth objective was added: “To acquaint the public with the fact that conventions are essential to industry and to the economy of the community and the nation.”

Safety is Not a Meetings Industry Priority

Originally published on Meetings Focus Blog

Very recently, I learned that a major hotel company’s Loss Prevention Department does not allow Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) to be purchased for their hotels because, they say, it exposes them to more liability. I learned this when I spoke—on risk anticipation and contingency planning—for an industry event at a hotel owned and managed by this company, and then asked a GM with another in this brand’s portfolio who confirmed it.

Even though the hotel at which I spoke has done extensive renovations and is spending another $1 million on meetings upgrades, they aren’t using the money to make people safer.

I was curious to find stats on how many hotels had AEDs and/or policies for or against having them. I turned to a researcher at another industry organization who found the last articles written on AEDs for and in hotels were in 2005 and 2006, and this Wall Street Journal article in 2009.

I’m also gathering stats on how many convention centers, conference centres, and other related facilities have AEDs (I know that D.C.’s Ford’s Theatre does! I’m pleased to see each time we attend a performance). I also found this 2013 article from Forbes about the “life saving device that is largely ignored.” And since 2004, U.S. jets must have an AED on board. But not hotels?!

In the previously mentioned Wall Street Journal article, you’ll read that the American Heart Association said it would not hold meetings at hotels where there were no AEDs (As this goes live, I was unable to verify if this policy stands today).

The importance of AEDs was made clear to me in my reading and in a post years ago on an industry listserv by industry attorney, Jim Goldberg, whose friend died while playing tennis at a club at which the AED was too far from the court to be useful.

In the last few years, I got to know colleague, Julie B. Walker, CMP, of ChoiceMeetings, whose college age daughter, Peyton Walker, died as a result of not having an available AED in her dorm.

Julie provided some basic background on Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA):

  • SCA kills more than 300,000 people each year in the US alone—most are in the prime of their life and have little or no warning prior to their SCA event.
  • For those who are lucky enough to receive CPR right away, their chance of survival is 2%.
  • For those who have paramedic/emergency room advanced care—survival rate increases to 5-15%.
  • For those who are fortunate enough to receive CPR & AED caresurvival rates increase to 50-75% (emphasis mine).

According to the Initial Life Support Federation, “The solution to the growing dilemma of premature cardiac death is the availability and rapid application of an easy to use AED—a simple and inexpensive device that can help to protect and extend thousands of lives.”

CPR alone will not save someone in cardiac arrest. The American Heart Association says we could “save 50,000 lives per year with broad deployment of AEDs.”

So tell me, hotel owners, management companies, and personnel, why do you think the liability is greater to not spend the money to have multiple AEDs on property versus spending it to make the guest rooms prettier? And planners, tell me why we are not demanding AEDs, or like my friend and meeting professional, Terry Blumenstein, CMM, who has for years taken AEDs (yes, they’re portable) with him to programs (even if hotels have them), taking them with us?

If you have AEDs, though they are pretty foolproof to operate, knowing where they are and how to access them must be SOP for all hotel and other venue employees.

You know, it doesn’t matter how cool the venue is or how great the meeting: If people are not safe, nothing else matters. What part of this area of contingency planning does our industry not understand? And why do we not put people and their lives first before anything else?

Some resources to consult as well as your own organization’s legal counsel and risk management professionals:

I’ll expand on this and other topics in upcoming blogs and editions of Friday With Joan, to which you can subscribe. I’d love your input below, or if you prefer to be quoted anonymously, email with comments for posting or just for me.


Why Aren’t Meeting Breaks More Fun?

Originally published Meetings Focus Blog

(Photo Credit: Reiko Renee Tate)

Here’s how this blog came to be, and came to be the inaugural blog for Friday With Joan*: I saw this Washington Post article about the global dominance of Oreos and was fascinated. It caused me to make a puzzled face and wonder why I’d never (ever—in 40 some years!) seen Oreos on break tables at meetings or conferences, even at IACC conference centers!

That lead to some thinking and research about Oreos (do a search; the supply of links is endless!) and breaks at meetings; an interview with Patti Shock, hospitality F&B guru, an Oreo tasting for neighbors; and more thinking about why breaks are neither real breaks nor do they provide anything fun that could, in fact, be a great icebreaker!

Really? Can you eat or watch someone eating an Oreo and not wonder why they are eating it “that” way, which is clearly either different than what you do or the same?

Years ago, I wrote in another industry publication about why we scheduled at most 15-minute versus 30- or 45-minute breaks. Oh, I knew the answer then and do now; we want to cram the agenda with content, forgetting that one of the main reasons people attend meetings is to learn from peers, which we sometimes call “networking,” but we don’t give people adequate and appropriate time to do so.

I still and will forever question how a speaker/facilitator of learning, audience member or entire audience can stop what they are doing, gather their stuff, leave a room (because it’s needed for the next session), find and use a restroom, refresh with a nosh, talk with colleagues about what was learned, find the next session, and sit down again … in 15 minutes! Worse, today, no one looks up much—their noses, at breaks and at other times, are bent into their electronic devices rather than having a conversation.

And that nosh? I remember when Danish were cut in half to save money! In a lengthy discussion in ASAE’s Collaborate (for ASAE members and in this case, those in the meetings industry), it seems association planners are balking about paying hotels for coffee for breaks and are instead purchasing Starbucks—and they were specific—cards to give to participants to use at outlets versus providing any beverages or food at breaks. Talk about more time needed for people to get to the outlet and back to the meeting. Penny wise and pound foolish? The results aren’t in.

Jeff Hurt, Adrian Segar and I have written lots about meeting design. Andrea Sullivan—who will probably gasp at the idea of Oreos versus a nice healthy break snack—talks in this Meetings Focus article about the need for real breaks. And I am pretty sure we’d never have had Harrison Owen coin the term “Open Space” had we had short breaks and electronic devices in 1985!

But I deviate slightly from the topic of Oreos. When I asked a director of catering for a major convention hotel in D.C. why they didn’t serve Oreos, he said … he wasn’t really sure! He did comment that the new DC Trump Hotel would likely not serve them.

(Will that cause those who might have wanted to meet at a Trump hotel to boycott because there are no Oreos?! See my previous blog for reference.)

Here’s what I think we need to do at meetings, conventions and conferences:

  1. Put more white space in the agenda and hold that space as if it were sacred. Don’t agree to adding “just one more session” if it takes time away from breaks.
  2. Use that white space for breaks for refreshments, quiet time, thinking, discussing what we learned with others, and of course, biological and business functions.
  3. Serve foods that are healthy and that are fun. Oreos can be one of the choices because they are fun, create conversation and, in small packages, are portable for later.

Even if you’re not on board with the idea of serving Oreos during your next meeting break, there’s lots more that can be done to make the overall experience more interactive and enjoyable. Tell us your ideas and practices to create better breaks in the comments below, or even share your meeting break wish list!

Oh, and in case you missed them above, here are links to my related content and research:

*Friday With Joan will be accessible and sent the first Friday of each month.

It is an opportunity for us to engage in discussions about serious issues and some that are lighter, like this inaugural topic. And while this is lighter—than say contracts or ethics or risk—it is relevant. I promise to try to make all the blogs relevant to those in our industry and the work we do and the outcomes of what we do.

Why start the newsletter series with a lighter topic? Two reasons: First, it’s the start of the “school year” and that should always be fun; Secondly, from years (23) of engagement in online communities, more than 15 years moderating virtual groups, and as a facilitator of group process, I know that people engage more with comfortable, familiar topics and ones especially in which they know (or hope) they won’t be judged for their experience or opinion.

This will do it! As always you can weigh in or email me at with comments you want posted as an anonylister (c) Eli Gorin. I promise to keep those notes confidential. Also if you haven’t already done so, click here to subscribe to Friday With Joan.

Lifelong Learning: Everyone’s Responsibility!

Originally published Meetings Focus Blog

This is the last of three blogs addressing meetings industry education.

The first, “Industry Education: 1 of 3 steps to Improvement” addressed how we can improve education delivered at industry meetings; the second “Will Industry Associations Survive?” resulted in a lively discussion about alternatives to traditional industry associations.

In this, I hope to spur our industry to provide resources and methods to create and nourish lifelong learners because I’ve always described myself as a lifelong learner.

What that meant to me was:

  • Searching out or stumbling across and reading a variety of topics including those that may not be applicable to my work or life.
  • Observing the world around me and making connections to what I do or might do.
  • Listening to opinions and insights of many and taking that information in to use now or one day or maybe never—just learning.
  • Reading books and articles about disparate subjects.
  • Teaching others and learning from them.
  • Questioning everything.
  • And saying “tell me more” to delve deeper.

I wondered how lifelong learning was defined by others. It was cool to discover who coined the term and when (thanks, Wikipedia!). And then two other sources, the Lifelong Learning Counciland The University of Utah, gave me more insights into what lifelong learning is.

What’s puzzled me for years is why, when people achieve credentials (diplomas, degrees, certificates, certification, etc.), they often believe they are done learning. More, in this electronic age when access to information is literally at the fingertips of many—certainly of those reading this—why more people don’t want to learn all the time!

Look, I know time is a factor. I can get lost in links to more and more information, taking me away from “real work.” And I want to talk about what I’ve learned so I post on social media what I’ve read and hope others will join in a discussion which leads to more learning.

On long flights, I want, after reading, to stand up and lead a discussion (I fear it’s against the FAA rules!).

Our industry’s meetings, conferences and webinars—whether sponsored by CIC member associations or new organizations or for-profit companies providing education—could do so much more to foster lifelong learning. Though we know it’s a best practice, we don’t provide time and space for learners, after face-to-face sessions, to engage in discussing their questions about what they learned and how to apply that knowledge. Through various social media outlets we sometimes try to engage those who attended sessions in post-meeting discussions but these aren’t as successful as they could be with more nurturing of discussions.

We seem to think—and we definitely act—as if learning stops when one leaves a session or conference just as many think that once the degree is achieved, they are done with learning!

PCMA is doing one of the better jobs of encouraging learning by providing aggregated news in their daily News Junkie. Through Carolyn Clark’s crack of dawn efforts, links to news stories are offered in hopes we learn from those stories and dig deeper and take what we read to the discussion boards.

Here’s what some of us do and what the industry could require:

  1. Pre-reading lists in the description of each session: books, links to articles, journals online discussions.
  2. Provide at least three suggested additional resources of books, articles, etc. furnished by all speakers—main stage and workshops, webinars or other delivery methods.
  3. Make available space and time and encourage people to gather formally or informally to talk about what they just learned.
  4. Create an electronic, paper or physical board where people can post their suggested resources for more learning on a topic.
  5. In every journal, a list of on and off topic reading and listening and watching one can do to expand one’s horizons.

As individuals, we can start with these “Fifteen Steps to Cultivate Lifelong Learning.”

This Mark Twain quote in “Fifteen Steps”—“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education”—has been one of my mottos and a quote I use often in training.

No matter how much or how little formal learning we have, being a lifelong learner opens new avenues. Start now!

P.S. Don’t miss my related book review covering Daniel Pink’s “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.” An essential read for planners!