Category Archives: Value of Meetings

9 Ideas to Innovate Meeting Design and Delivery

Originally posted on Meetings Today Blog

9 Ideas to Innovate Meeting Design and Delivery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 Meetings Industry Hopes & Predictions

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

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

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

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

2017, alas, is here.

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

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

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

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

I hope that we…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

6 Dots to Connect to the Industry’s Future

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Demographics

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

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

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

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

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

What we can do:

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Climate

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

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

What we can do:

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

3. Infrastructure

The United States is falling down and apart. Literally.

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

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

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

What we can do:

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

4. Biz Models

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

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

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

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

What we can do:

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

5. Laws, Policies and Politics

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

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

What we can do:

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

6. Technology

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

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

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

What we can do:

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

6. Terrorism

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

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

What we can do:

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

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

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

Planners vs. Suppliers: Why Can’t We All Learn Together?

Originally published Meetings Today

Unable to stay for PCMA’s Convening Leaders 2016 in Vancouver this week, I did speak at and attend the Event Service Professional Association’s (ESPA) Annual Conference and was thrilled to be with colleagues and friends to discuss the operational side of meetings.

CSMs, or as we now call them Event Service Professionals (ESPs), are the lifeblood of what happens once sales turns over the contract and planners begin to put together the content and logistics of meetings. They’ve saved many a planner’s tush when the meeting specifications (“specs”) were completed on the plane to the meeting and turned in—even for meetings of 15,000, I hear—when the planner lands, sometimes a day before a meeting is to begin.

Somehow, the ESPs, with the respect and coordination of a facility’s staff, pull it off.

So why aren’t we learning together and talking about the issues that impact us? Oh, ESPA had a planner panel that I was unable to attend because I moderated the Student U. at PCMA. PCMA used to partner with ESPA with ESPA (previously known as ACOM) participating on the PCMA Annual Meeting Program Committee, and there were shared sessions. Having moderated some of those shared sessions, held at PCMA’s  Convening Leaders, I know the value. And they were always full, so great was the interest in how we could work better together.

Now, there is no partnership. Because there was one, and because some of ESPA’s members stay on to attend PCMA, ESPA still holds their meeting prior to PCMA. But no more is there an offer to hold joint sessions, which, for me and our industry, is a lose-lose situation.

But wait … there’s more: locally (D.C.), and, I hear, elsewhere, meeting planners don’t want “supplier partners” at all the educational events held by industry association chapters. I’ve asked and heard it’s because our partners (maybe we need a new word?!) only come to sell to the planners. When I asked in a Facebook group of senior planners about having ESPs/CSMs as part of the group, there was the same strong opposition.

I’ve questioned that perhaps we need to help our partners learn to learn and to develop skills that go beyond “My name’s Julie and I work for X hotel. What meetings do you have to book?” I’ve been told that’s the role of the suppliers’ companies.

C’mon! Learning together in the same room, on topics that impact us all—which is what PCMA does at Convening Leaders because there is no tradeshow—helps us appreciate the needs of our partners and they of our concerns. Learning together helps us build relationships in what I hear is still a “relationship industry.” Teaching others how to learn and how to network beyond selling and buying is something we can do and have an obligation to do. If we can attend a session like those Michael Dominguez of MGM does on how hotels make money, why can’t our partners learn about what we planners go through with changes.

And I’m not talking about those (horribly named) sessions about planner or supplier gripes! I’m talking about the sessions, like one I conducted for our local PCMA chapter about risk management. Sheesh, if our partners don’t know why having AEDs, for example, in their hotels is a planner priority, then how do we keep everyone safe? And it’s not just PCMA. No one is partnering well on education. Hosted Buyer sessions are doing their best to kill partnerships and joint education.

Some of my best friends really are people who were and are suppliers (from sales and service.) Bill Reed, the new PCMA Chair, is a great example of someone who began on the service and then sales side and moved to the planner side. I don’t know that he’d be as stellar as he is had he not had the broad work and educational experiences. A corporate planner colleague only hired former CSMs to be planners in her department because of their knowledge of how hotels, conference centres and convention centers operated.

This is when I want to use the three letters that ask why we aren’t partnering and what the fear is. Instead, I’ll ask, what is keeping us apart and why? What are we afraid will be disclosed that is so secretive that we can’t sit and discuss it?

Why are we really not partners?

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.

Creating Options for Learning Meetings

This article was originally published on Meeting Focus Blog.

In the first of three blog posts about industry education, I wrote about the ‘us-them’ conundrum regarding who pays for and attends educational events sponsored by industry associations or private companies and the harm I believe is being done to overall knowledge, professionalism and service for our industry.

In this, part two, I’ve written about content and delivery, as well as scheduling and timing. This is, by the way, all adaptable for your own meetings: the status quo the industry meetings exhibit is the same for many other types of meetings.

Status Quo 1: Schedules limit time for the pursuit of learning.

I’ve maintained for years that someone once decided meetings should look and be scheduled like the worst grammar or high school any of us attended, at least as witnessed by those of us not in the Millennial generation! (I hear things are changing in some schools. However, in the U.S. we are dealing with “teaching to the test” which involves little learning to think and avoids creating a desire for lifelong learning, to be addressed in part three.)

School began with arrival and home room (“general session”), then short breaks where we were maybe allowed to use restrooms. Then on to other classes (“workshops”/”breakouts”) and then lunch period, and repeat the same schedule in reverse in the afternoon.

We were over-programmed with little time for peer interaction (“networking” in today’s parlance) and even told not to talk with each other if it appeared to interfere with a teacher’s lesson plans, not unlike some speakers who disdain interaction even to ask questions.

There is little deviation from this meeting schedule. If there are breaks (check some meeting schedules: one session time ends and the next begins with nary a minute in between), in that 15 to maybe 30 minutes, we have to exit one room, use a restroom, maybe grab a beverage and get to another session.

Time to mingle? Talk with colleagues? Only if we decide to walk in late or skip other sessions.

Different Thinking:

  1. Start sessions on time regardless of how many people are in the room. Use the mantra I have borrowed from Open Space Technology: whoever shows up are the right people.
  2. Provide breaks of 30 to 45 minutes. It may mean scheduling fewer breakout sessions  to accommodate more time between sessions. By doing so, you will provide time for people to connect, converse and share ideas.
  3. Provide places for people to sit and talk outside session rooms. Be sure the seating is accessible and convenient: not too high or too low, easily grouped, placed to not interfere with sessions in progress, and designed to encourage people to congregate to talk.
  4. 45 to 60 minute sessions are the new norm. Is that amount of time adequate for all learners and trainers (aka speakers)? As both a trainer and a learner, sure, I can deliver and absorb something in that time, but my learning styles (Aural and Kinesthetic) need more.
  5. If the sessions, because of “new thinking,” must be shorter (than they were) provide opportunities for those who attend them for deeper dives in other places and times, including right after a short(er) session.

Status Quo 2: Big(ger) is better.

Why is it thought that the bigger the meeting, the better it is? Sure, there may be more people to walk through exhibits and perhaps a greater number of opinions offered. But bigger also means that those great peer-to-peer encounters happen less because people—housed in many hotels and spread out over a large convention center or even throughout a large convention hotel—rarely encounter each other.

Further, sessions have to be huge to accommodate all those in attendance. And imagine the introvert surrounded by thousands when a few or maybe “tens” are the comfort level.

Different Thinking:

Instead of budgeting only on numbers (attendance, income, number of exhibits), budget on effectiveness, the ever-discussed, seldom practiced ROI for meetings.

Conduct Q-storming™ exercises around the meeting “whys”: Why is the meeting is being held? Why do people attend? In what will they find value? What do we know about the needs of the individual audience members? Do the trainers/speakers and meeting goers prefer interactive sessions with fewer people?

How have we measured and what have we found out about the anticipated outcomes and the actual effectiveness of the entire meeting, including size? These questions and others will help to develop different thinking. Maybe we can meet with fewer people in smaller venues where learning can occur more comfortably.

Status Quo 3: Content and speakers and room sets, oh my!

Industry programs, including those of chapters, look pretty much alike. For the national and international meetings, main-stage speakers tend to be mainly male (and too often white) in a demographic that is heavily female and still trying to attract people of diverse backgrounds.

The content is ho-hum, or perhaps it’s the way it’s delivered in ordinary ways that don’t involve participants except for the (dreaded, by me and others) Q&A at the end … long after the questions occur and right before the too-short break in which everyone must dash leaving no time for conversation with speakers or other participants.

We are told the rooms must be set in theatre or schoolroom (or maybe “crescent rounds,” though why aren’t facilities using the crescent tables they use for F&B for meetings to take up less space?) When one industry organization tried theatre-in-the-round for breakouts, they heard speakers didn’t know how to use it … so they stopped!

Aren’t there some new and creative things we can do?

Different Thinking:

C’mon, industry! Read the blogs and the social media discussions to learn what is really on the minds of planners and suppliers in our industry.

Look at the demographics and see how many are new to the industry and how many are those of us who have been around a long time and would like some new topics and new delivery. Always include issues that impact all of us all the time: ethics, legalities (and not just hotel contracts!), sustainability (including labor issues), creating new learning environments and deliver those in ways that are more experiential.

I recently moderated and spoke at the Hospitality Design Exposition & Conference (HD Expo) with two meeting planner colleagues. We envisioned having a session next year where we set a room to be the perfect meeting room and create things in there.

Why not try this concept at one of our own industry meetings?

For years, I’ve recommended Dr. Paul Radde’s book, Seating Matters: State of the Art Seating Arrangements to groups and even more, to hotels and convention and conference centers to learn how to create more audience-centric seating. Paul’s designs are superb for all kinds of audiences—when there are deaf or hard of hearing audience members too—and allows audience members to see each other (increasing eye contact that leads to sparked conversation) and for better visual lines to speakers.

Oh, and you can fit more people in the room, in better ways. Go buy it (Disclaimer: I wrote the foreword for which I wasn’t paid nor am I paid when Paul sells his books).

Status Quo 4: Networking only. 

What’s with the trend in industry organization chapters for only hosting food-and-booze-style networking events? No one seems to mix things up!

Studies, including one done years ago by MPI’s Foundation about why people attend meetings, indicate a key reason to attend is to interact with peers, what we commonly refer to as networking. People don’t know how to network at least not any more.

Go to any meeting and at breaks, see everyone, heads down, involved only with their electronic devices! (Imagine if it had been that way in 1985 when Harrison Owen coined the term and practice of Open Space. It wouldn’t have happened.)

Even if we teach people how to network, our industry meetings set a very bad standard for what they continue to call networking events: alcohol, food, and way-too-loud music, and they also don’t show how networking can be better done in sessions.

Different Thinking: 

  1. There’s big business around the how to network. Colleague, Susan RoAne, aka “The Mingling Maven,” has written and spoken about how to do so for years. Susan Cain, of Quiet fame, addresses networking for introverts in her book and TED Talk.
  2. Teach how networking—valuable connections!—can happen in education sessions, in hallways and at breaks (see Open Space Technology), and anywhere two people find themselves … if they would just look up.
  3. Teach improvisation (Izzy Gesell is highly recommended) so people can learn how to converse. One can’t really network if conversation is problematic!
  4. Music is great and helps people feel at ease especially at the start of an event where there are fewer people and conversation may be awkward. Ear-splitting music is never appropriate for an event where we want people to talk. Turn it down!
  5. Booze may be expected and it may also contribute to people acting “looser” than they might ordinarily. Is it a requirement? I don’t know. It’s sure a risk factor. Rethink why and how to use food and drink to bring people together.
  6. Food can be a great way to meet others if the food is accessible and there is seating for those who can’t stand, and if we create conversation places during food-focused events.
  7. Add the phrase “peer-to-peer learning” to the industry lexicon. Create engagement opportunities (interactive problem solving for example) in sessions and teach people how to have conversations. We have lost the art of conversation now that we tweet and text. Maybe this will help.

We can create better industry gatherings and education that can serve as models for others’ meetings. What will you do to increase the options our industry offers?

Upcoming in part three of the education series, I will write about “lifelong learning“—its pursuit and attainment—and how the industry associations can advance and support this pursuit.

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.