Category Archives: Meetings Mean Business

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until I couldn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Check guest rooms for accommodations.

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

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

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

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

5. Know what the Amendment to the ADA included.

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

6. Make no assumptions!

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

7. Prepare for everyone.

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

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

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

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

Originally posted Meetings Today Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what you can do:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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.”

When the Political Becomes the Practical, Part II

Originally published Meetings Today

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

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

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

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

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

 

Professional Involvement: What’s In It For You?

Originally published Meetings Today

I moved to D.C. in 1978 and in early 1979, discovered the newly formed chapter (Potomac) of Meeting Planners (now Professionals) International.

At my first meeting, while wall-hugging—such an Introvert, I was observing the scene!—(the late) Bill Myles introduced himself and immediately got me involved in a committee. From that initial involvement, I became active: serving on and chairing committees, then to the Chapter Board where I served as President twice, and then to serve our chapter as one of two representatives on the MPI International Board before being elected by petition to the re-tooled, smaller Board.

I had experiences, especially on what was then called the “Program Committee” planning education that, in my work to that point, I’d not done. I honed my leadership and speaking skills. And I made friends for life.

Since then, I’ve maintained memberships in, and served in many capacities for, MPI and its Foundation, PCMA, HSMAI, DMAI, GMIC, and ASAE. I’ve also been a contributor by writing for and presenting at the meetings of ESPA*, IACC and SGMP. I’ve paid personally for my memberships and involvement, never, in 37 years, calculating the outlay of time or money. It was the smart thing to do.

The reasons I joined and why I continue to be a member of a number of these organizations include wanting to:

  • Learn with and from peers through face to face, and now, social media, interaction.
  • Support the industry in which I work and the organizations that have honored me**.
  • Contribute to the industry and the growth of others.

There’s not been a year when I’ve not been involved; I’m not a good ‘check-book member’!

(If you’re attending ESPA, come to the session I’m moderating on Saturday. PCMA student? I’ll moderate a program for you the Sunday of PCMA).

From my memberships and, more from active engagement, I’ve gained experience and knowledge, friends, a support network, and clients, paid and pro-bono.

Today, opportunities for professional involvement abound:

  • Joining a CIC-affiliated membership organization like those noted above. Here, you can find a listing of and links to all the CIC member organizations (At those sites, you can explore history, membership qualifications, ethics standards and more).
  • Lurking or actively participating in what appear to be hundreds of industry social  media groups affiliated with the membership organizations and informal.
  • Joining one of the newer organizations like SPiN and AWE, neither of which is (yet?) a CIC member, and both of which are restricted to different categories of members. [Note: SPiN, in a bold and good move, has waived membership fees and charges to attend their educational offerings for 2016.]
  • Remaining “independent” and learn via opportunities like Meetings Today blogs and webinars, as well as reading in print and electronically.

Like a number of veteran—older? more years of experience?—colleagues, I’ve begun to question the financial commitment because of disappointment when industry associations, with winks and nods, work against their own codes or standards of ethics, when there are fewer opportunities for involvement; because of the dependence on supplier/vendor dollars; and when, as I’ve seen too often, long-time, active (and honored) members drop their membership and never receive any follow up.

In addition to many informal conversations, I asked three respected colleagues—all of whom I met because of our industry involvement at different stages of their careers—what they see as reasons to be members of industry associations and what they expect from that involvement and the associations themselves. Interviews with Sekeno Aldred, CMP, Charles Chan Massey, CMP, and Jean Riley, are part of this month’s Friday with Joan newsletter.

I want to know about you—planner, supplier, student or faculty: please respond to the poll and tell us more in the comments about why are you a member—or are not—of any of the CIC-member organizations. If you were a member—and I know many of you!—and are not now, what caused you to drop your membership? What would you advise for those new to the industry? Those at mid-career? To those “veteran industry” planners and suppliers (or as my friend, Charles Chan Massey refers to himself, “Supplanner”), about being part of an industry association?

Note that once you vote, you can view the poll results here.

*If you know an event service professional, also known as a CSM, encourage them to join ESPA. More, tell their GMs and corporate offices why we meeting planners want CSMs who are active and involved.

**Among the honors I’ve received are MPI International Planner of the Year; PCMA Teacher of the Year, PCMA Foundation honor for lifetime achievement as an educator; HSMAI Pacesetter Award and two from IACC (Mel Hosansky Award and Pyramid Award) all three for contributions to education. CIC inducted me into the CIC Hall of Leaders in 2004.

Funniest thing ever: When MPI honored me in 1990 or 1991, another industry professional came to me and said “Well, now you don’t have to volunteer any more since you’ve been honored.” Stunned, now as then, I said “I’ve never done it for the honors.”

Stand Up For OUR Industry!

I come from a history of grassroots activism: my parents were active in our neighborhood in the ’50s organizing against redlining and blockbusting. I listened closely to news and read newspapers and got involved, campaigning for presidential candidates on my playground!

Later, I was active in Y-Teens (through the YWCA), the Junior Human Rights Council, and Community Chest (now United Way) and other community organizing and grassroots efforts for wide-ranging causes, in my home town of Dayton, Ohio, on my college campus (Drake University) and then when I moved to D.C. in ’78, inspired by the late great Josephine Butler, an early proponent of D.C. statehood, active for our rights.

I was active in the civil rights movement and saw how individuals, alone and together, could make a huge difference if they’d just step up.

I’ve seen and always believed that one person—one vote—does make difference.

In our industry, I think we could do so much more to explain and influence those who hold office and make policies that impact our industry, directly and indirectly.

Sure, there are lobbyists constantly “on the Hill” (in D.C.) and in state capitols working for the hospitality industry. If you search, using “hospitality industry lobbyists” you’ll see the who and how many, almost all of whom are big companies that supply goods and services for our industry.

If there is so much influence and money expended on hospitality lobbying, why is it meetings are still questioned? And why do so many of my colleagues, especially on the meeting creation side, take a back seat? It’s not that we’ve never done anything! There was action years ago when New York City raised the hotel taxes to over 20% and we wanted it lower!

When ASCAP and BMI learned there were meetings and started fining those organizations that didn’t pay licensing fees (for people to listen to music at meetings and tradeshows), the industry associations banded together to negotiate flat fees (Thanks, Corbin Ball, for a great timeline).

I’m guessing there are newer planners who don’t know, and more senior planners who don’t remember, the brouhaha over music licensing.

I served on the CLC’s (now CIC’s) Board for MPI when this was a hot issue and remember sitting, on the return flight, next to one of the lawyers who’d spoken at our board meeting. I learned much more, though planners continued to fight the idea of paying for music to be heard.

Recent history gave us Muffingate (2011) and the uproar that erupted in local and national media criticizing what was spent on continental breakfasts. After that, the GSA-Vegas meetings “scandal” (2012) where I thought meeting professionals would be so outraged at what was done—apparent unethical behavior on the part of the meeting organizers and the hotel partners that colluded to meet the demands—and written that they’d use that angry passion to write to their local and national representatives and the media. Clearly too little was done to correct the images of meetings and our industry! Look what was written in April of this year, still criticizing meetings.

On July 10, 2013, Meetings Focus (now Meetings Today) published this blog—“Who speaks for our industry?”—that I thought might move people to action.

Meetings Mean Business was formed to provide a framework and tools for organizations and individuals to take action. MMB has been promoted at various at industry events and, I’ve been told, promoted the many toolkits (scroll down on its site) offered for advocacy by organizations and individuals.

The events held on 2014’s North American Meetings Industry Day (NAMID) are pictured here and there is information about what you can do in 2016 as the event expands to be Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID).

Good work and yet, here’s what we’re missing:

  • Images matter. What I see and what I remember pictured in photos from the various industry organizations’ NAMID events—people socializing and drinking—are exactly what has been criticized about meetings! I’m all for fun and yet, we have to show and be shown in situations in which work is being done not just drinking, being entertained and partying.
  • One day a year is not enough. We should mobilize those in our industry and those impacted by our industry the same way political and social justice movements do: one person at a time, engaging them in what’s needed and helping them make a difference for more.
  • Passion! Enthusing individuals in our industry the same way other movements (see my book review of “Frank” for other links) begin, thrive, and enthuse people to carry on individually.

So who speaks for our industry? We all do. We cannot depend on the CIC or each of the CIC member organizations to talk about meetings and the process of planning them, the value of holding them. We each have an obligation to understand our work’s complexity and to speak out.

Actions You Can Take:

  • Register to vote. If you missed it, this past week in the U.S. there were elections where issues that will impact our industry—related to taxes, anti-discrimination and others—were on ballots around the U.S. Yet voter turnout is consistently low outside of major elections.
  • Become informed about issues in your community and in the communities in which you’ll hold meetings. Subscribe to alerts about infrastructure, convention centers, hotels and all subjects impacting your meetings and the industry as a whole.
  • Be(come) Passionate! And keep informed about what you and I do. If you’re looking for an issue, here’s one on safety.
  • ACT by voting and writing about meetings, whether local, national or international, with words of common sense about both the dollar impact on communities (the main focus of MMB) and more so the impact on lives and productivity of those who attend, and do so before we have to react to another “scandal” about our industry. Proactive is better than reactive.
  • Remember that images matter: if you are part of an industry organization, check the images on the web pages and in print to ensure that what is seen is more than people drinking and partying and being entertained. Show learning and engagement … that can be sexy too!
  • Take the poll linked in today’s Friday With Joan (Question 1, Question 2) so we know more about what you care about. You can view the results for Question 1 and Question 2.
  • Read my interview with Roger Dow and Roger Rickard for more information about industry advocacy through MMB and other resources.

I know that my examples are U.S.-centric. This is where I live and where I do the majority of my work. I’ve tried to find examples from Europe, especially now during the refugee crisis, and was unable to find those of the industry working together to solve a serious problem that impacts many lives. I hope you’ll post examples of what’s been and is being done in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere around the globe.

If you’re reading this in another area of social media, please also post responses at the Meetings Today blog site so we can consolidate for greater impact and action.

Here are some recent blogs to help you think through issues impacting meetings and the hospitality industry:

And here’s some related Friday With Joan e-newsletter content to go with this post:

You can also view the 11.06.15 Friday With Joan newsletter in its original format.

Got comments? Add below or email me at FridaywithJoan@aol.com. If you’d like your comments posted anonymously, I’m glad to do so.

Industry Education: 1 of 3 Steps to Improvement

This article was originally published on Meeting Focus Blog.

In January, at PCMA’s Convening Leaders conference, and since, including, most recently, at ExhibitorLive, I’ve had too many conversations about what’s lacking in industry knowledge, professionalism and education to continue to ignore writing.

The conversations—with industry academics; with Boomer, Gen Xer and Millennial planners and suppliers; with “veterans” (often referred to as “senior planners”) and those newer to the industry or those with little formal training—all confirmed what I’ve seen and believed for a long time: our industry is not smart. Why? Because we keep doing the same things and … well, not getting results that will convince the general public that “meetings mean business.”

Oh sure, there are some minor changes in how education is contemplated and delivered. For those of us who are industry veterans, who have worked hard and continue to work at making changes, we see too few. We wonder if we’ll die having never really seen meetings change!

We can do better. Here, in the first of a three part blog, based on experience and recent experiences and conversations, and yes, using generalization, is what are seen as the problems and what we can do to improve.

Problem: Education Exclusion

We’re back to “us” and “them” education and membership practices.

1. To be a member of some industry associations is more expensive for suppliers.

2. Industry associations and the chapters rely on supplier dollars to underwrite education, education that often excludes suppliers [aka “business partners”].

3. Planners believe (surveys show and anecdotal conversations are said to reveal) that suppliers only attend education to “hit” on planners, to bring back leads for their companies.

4. Too few suppliers have been taught how to learn broadly and that learning together is a way to more business.

5. Planners, many of whom are responsible for education design at the chapter level, believe that suppliers are getting the “necessary education” from their employers. Even suppliers who achieve their CMP, in particular, don’t do deep dive learning on their own, or they aren’t exhibiting it.

6. Supplier education, provided by their employers, focuses on transactional skills and not deeper, life-long learning skills.

7. Suppliers are used to funding versus participating in education, and individual supplier companies are not often willing to pay extra for training outside their companies for their employees if they can’t see immediate results in sales figures.

8. Suppliers at shows with tradeshows are not encouraged to attend educational sessions or interact with planners in anything other than a social setting.

Solution Suggestions: Education Inclusion

In order to make changes, individually and collectively, we have to insist on changes:

1. Make professional membership equal. When MPI created a higher fee membership category, the brouhaha was loud.

2. Encourage activity by making it more affordable to join and attend programs. Years ago, I believed and said that if it were that important to a person to be a professional, he or she would find a way to finance membership and education. It took me a long time to see differently: if keeping a roof over one’s head and food on the table is weighed against membership or attendance at a meeting, something’s gotta give.

3. Chapters can hold more facilitated meetings where peer knowledge is used to educate. Train chapter members in facilitation techniques to be effective moderators. Establish “norms” or “ground rules” to ensure that no selling or marketing is allowed. Create inclusive settings and atmospheres.

4. Create more self-sustaining meetings. Sheesh, most of us who plan meetings have to build a budget that doesn’t rely heavily, or at all, on sponsorships!

5. Put a halt to hosted buyer programs that are more like pyramid schemes than anything I’ve seen the industry do! Think about it: if a CEO or manager sees that a planner can attend a meeting for free, without being a member of an industry association, why would she or he pay for a planner’s membership and attendance at an industry meeting? For suppliers (who are really just that and not the euphemistically named, in one industry association, “business partners”) hosted buyer programs are a huge cash outlay to provide freebies to planners and no education for themselves, and thus the long-term ROI is often minimal.

6. Teach industry professionals how and why to learn and to become/be active learners. Encourage ongoing learning and peer learning at and between face to face opportunities.

Next Up in Part 2: Content Development and Delivery.

7 Predictions and 6 Resolutions for 2015

This article was originally published on Meeting Focus Blog.

When I began drafting this blog, I ran the idea by a colleague who has been a hotel CSM and sales manager—with a third party—and is now a director of meetings at a major medical association.

He laughed with me as I said, “Whatever I predict could have an opposite and equal prediction!”

And so it is.

Predictions

1. Hotel rates will go up in some markets and down in others.

2. Non-U.S. individuals and entities will continue to buy and own hotels which may cause more brouhaha (like it did when the Sultan of Brunei purchased the Plaza in New York) among some groups opposed to various entities or individuals owning hotels.

3. Hotel owners will demand even greater profit; some will continue to oppose an increase in the minimum U.S. wage.

4. The US Airways/American Airlines merger will be fully implemented in 2015; we’ll lose more lift for secondary and tertiary markets. That won’t be good for tourism, or for state or regional meetings.

5. Gas prices will stay down for a bit; airlines won’t lower ticket prices.

6. Most every meeting will still be set in straight rows—theatre or classroom—with some considering crescent rounds innovative. Few will be experiential even when the opportunity presents itself. The fear of change will continue.

7. Our industry, collectively, will think it’s smarter because of the use of technology; alas, it will remain the same unquestioning business it has been for too long.

My Professional Resolutions

1. I will continue reading and disseminating information via Twitter as @joaneisenstodt and for @meetingsfocus.

2. Even when a hotel puts forth a badly worded contract, I’ll maintain my calm and cool and realize it’s another training opportunity as we negotiate.

3. I’ll continue to promote Paul Radde’s book, Seating Matters to as many hoteliers and planners as I can, in an effort to help others realize the options in setting rooms for meetings. Insist hotel sales people and CSMs read it and practice different room setting.*

4. At any industry or other program in a hotel or public space, I’ll test the ADA capabilities and capacities and challenge the entities that are not in compliance or not accessible (Join me at ExhibitorLive in March to learn more about “Inclusive Hospitality”).

5. When I attend a program that is just not working for me, I’ll practice what I teach: the rule of “motion and responsibility” apply and I’ll leave.

6. I’ll promote—to legislators, family, friends, strangers—that what we do is critical to bring people together to explore, create, think, and act. Every “it’s not brain surgery or rocket science” comment will be challenged immediately with the facts. I’ll show ’em that meetings do mean business.

Your Professional Resolutions

Write a few. Think about why they are important to you and what you can do—what we all can do—to support change in each other and our industry. Grow in what you do by reading more and experimenting more with meetings. 2015: let’s make it a revolutionary year!