Tag Archives: Paul Radde

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.

9 Universal Truths About Our Industry

Originally posted on Meetings Today Blog.  Sidebar refers to that publication

Universal Truth 1: “Der mentsh trakht un got lakht.”

This Yiddish saying is widely translated as “Man plans and God laughs,” or further considered to mean, “Humans plan and the universe laughs.” Sounds like a universal truth about what we do for a living as meeting and event planners, doesn’t it?!

Most of us in the meetings industry consider ourselves to be so detail-oriented and precise. How could anything ever go wrong after countless hours of preparation, right?

I’ve always wondered about the influence of the universe on meetings and events. I mean, really—what about the storms that pop up when you’ve planned the perfect outdoor event? Or the client who, after you’ve done so much work on selecting a site for their meeting, changes the whole program? And I wonder if there are “universal truths” for what we do in an industry* we all refer to differently.

First, I had to gain a better understanding of what a “universal truth” is.

Truth is considered to be universal if it is valid in all times and places. In this case, it is seen as eternal or as absolute. The relativist conception denies the existence of some or all universal truths, particularly ethical ones (through moral relativism).”

— Quoted from the “Universality (philosophy)” Wikipedia entry.

My reading about “universal truths” was extensive and you, I hope, will search more and consider what the term means for and to you and in your life. Through this blog, I’ll share my personal and professional universal truths; in this month’s Friday With Joan sidebar, you’ll read how many more “universal truths”—from here, often abbreviated “UT”—there may be for our industry, including what our industry is called*!

For most Friday With Joan newsletters, interviewing others is pure delight. Especially for this one, interviewing many of whom I’ve known and learned from and with for many years, gaining their perspectives of our UTs from a broad industry* was even more eye-opening, and allows us all to see possibilities that might not have occurred to us before.

This interview provides background and thoughts that you might not have known about me and may be of interest whether you’ve been in the industry for years, are new to the industry or are just starting to consider it.

Q1Why write this now?

Joan’s (JE’s) response: If you’re reading this on May 5, 2017, publication day, I’m just days away from a “major” (to me) birthday … which means either a “0”, a “5” or a “9”. With this blog post and a Friday With Joan newsletter coinciding with the occasion, and knowing I’ve lived certainly more than half my life and that of that life, more than 45 years have been spent in the meetings industry*, the editors and I thought a bit of Q&A, with sources unidentified, would make for a fun sidebar—if you can put names to each of the categories and send to me, I’ll award a prize for whomever gets them all right or at least the highest percentage overall!—and here with me might show the diversity of paths as a guideline to others.

More, I see our broad industry changing in many ways, such as with the growing belief that technology will solve all of our problems. Tech advancements impact everything from how we communicate and meet to the ways we deliver information, allowing connections we never imagined, except for in our “Buck Rogers-admiration days.”

Instead of paying travel costs for our speakers or to better accommodate conflicts in schedule, we might choose to bring them in via hologram. And it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to think that robots might one day staff the front desks at most, if not all, major hotels, resulting in the loss of an important entry-level role in hospitality. See the sidebar for more on the importance of the front desk to many careers.

Despite all of these “advancements” in hospitality and meetings, there are still a number of UTs that I believe will continue to hold true in our industry, regardless of technology.

Q2: In considering what a UT might be, it occurred the reasons given to the question “Why do you want to be a meeting planner?” might contain an answer. What is said and has been for years among those asked: “I love people. I’m great at details. I love to travel.” Are those then the universal truths of our industry?

JE2: I didn’t want to be a meeting planner and I tend to be uncomfortable in large groups of people. I’m good at word details but not all meeting details (I can do it but don’t love it), and travel? Feh! Born in Dayton, Ohio, to working-class and working outside-the-home-parents (now both of blessed memory) and into a neighborhood first economically and religiously diverse, and later, partly through my parents’ efforts, racially diverse, I am the proud product of public schools. A curious child who loved to read, an empathetic child and teen who wanted to fix the world, the options that I thought were open to me professionally were teacher, nurse, secretary, wife and mom.

Pictured below: One of my favorite pictures of myself back in the early days.

Q3: What do you think set you on the path—or destiny—to meetings and events?

JE3: I first organized events in the ’50s, creating street fairs to raise money for polio research when a neighbor, one of us who were in the test group for polio vaccines, contracted the disease. In high school, my activities included YWCA Y-Teens and statewide conferences of other young women, and the Dayton Junior Human Resource Council.

Later, stints as a volunteer for public television, where I was responsible for coordinating solicitation of items for on-air auctions, and at an art museum where we held museum-wide visual and performance art events, clearly put me on this still-unknown-to-me path.

Q4: What about formal education after high school?

JE4: It was expected I would go to college. I applied to only two schools. Accepted at both, I chose Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, because (beloved to this day!) James Payne, my high school speech teacher recommended it. He wanted me to go into theatre and Drake had a great drama department. Financially it was impossible: I typed papers and did others’ laundry to earn money to pay tuition. More, educationally, at Colonel White High School in Dayton, I’d been spoiled by Mr. Payne in speech who pushed me to be a better teacher and trainer; by Lenore Clippinger (now of blessed memory) who allowed me and others to sit on the floor of her English Literature class—my first exposure to learning in a different setting; to the still amazing and beloved Civics teacher, Stanley Blum, who put our chairs in a circle in class and invited us to his home to talk about current events; and to the artist, Bing Davis who allowed me to sit in his art room instead of the boring-row-on-row study halls. I thought college learning would be interactive and involving, experiential … not memorizing facts to spit back for tests.

It was not a good fit. I quickly learned that I was a life-long learner—that my curiosity and love of reading would ensure I was educated more if it were not in a school setting.

I learned later, of course, that meetings were one more form of “classroom” setting and decided I’d work to change those settings. For his work in this area, I’m grateful forever to Paul Radde, PhD, for his research and the book “Seating Matters”.

Universal Truth 2: The influences of your day-to-day life will give you clues about your passions and how you can use them.

Q5: Then what?

JE5: I moved back to Dayton to work at the local newspaper in advertising, at my old elementary school as a teacher’s aide, and volunteering for a nationwide organization as a spokesperson for optional parenthood on radio and TV and in organizing conferences with the likes of Hugh Downs, Isaac Asimov, Stewart Mott, Ellen Peck and others as guests. Exposed to a bigger world, I decided to leave Dayton and move to D.C. after just one visit to our nation’s capital. I’d interviewed for and didn’t get a job as a volunteer coordinator prior to moving. I moved to D.C. July 1, 1978, with no job and no apartment but a place to stay for a short period of time.

While interviewing for jobs (hearing “you have too much experience” for this entry level position; “you have too little experience” for this senior level position) I volunteered at the association at which I wasn’t hired. I spent time in the newly designed by I.M. Pei [who just celebrated his 100th birthday] East Wing of the National Gallery to cool off and to, just as I did in Bing Davis’ class, gain inspiration from art.

One day, the executive director at the association where I’d not been hired as a volunteer coordinator, called me in and suggested I was a “meeting planner,” a term I’d never heard, and offered me an opportunity to help them design and execute their 10th anniversary with an expanded annual meeting. I said yes.

Universal Truth 3: Read and learn. Resting on one’s educational laurels is not enough especially in a world and an industry* that changes and is changed minute by minute by internal and external factors.

Universal Truth 4: Listen to what others see in you. They are often right and will provide opportunities.

I eagerly embraced this opportunity and discovered, through a colleague from earlier volunteer experiences, the existence of MPI—then “Meeting Planners International,” oddly headquartered in Ohio just miles from where I’d left for D.C.

At my second Chapter [PMPI] meeting, me, a strong MBTI Introvert (an INFP), hugged the walls until the late and dear, Bill Myles, chair of the membership committee greeted me with “Hi! You’re new here. Want to join my committee?”

Universal Truth 5: Say yes to opportunities to volunteer to expand your network of people, ideas and learning. Take advantage of all that there is in the industry and your community to do to meet and expand skills in a safe environment.

During the next years, I joined other committees, was elected to the Chapter Board, to the Chapter Presidency, to the International Board and became involved in PCMA and GWSAE (once our local affiliate of ASAE).

Yes, it was hard work. Remember: this was still when we used typewriters, telephones and answering machines! (Isn’t it fun to make oneself sound ancient?!).

Oh, and I started my own consulting company in 1981, in the corner of my studio apartment, with an IBM Self-Correcting Selectric Typewriter, a filing cabinet, desk, phone and answering machine.

Universal Truth 6: If you come from an entrepreneurial family, which I did, or seek out entrepreneurs, learn from them and their experiences.

Understand how you work best—with others or alone? Collaboratively sometimes and at other times, quietly alone? Being a consultant—the term “independent planner” is still used by some; “third party planner” by others but not a term I favor—and working on one’s own is not for everyone. And it’s not necessarily the answer to what to do between jobs.

It should be a commitment to you and your clients.

I have always worked hard at learning more and becoming stronger in specific areas. As an example—in 1984, a client, my company, and I, individually, were sued because the client canceled a meeting. During this experience, I learned more (thank you, Jeff King, Esq., at the time the attorney for the CLC now EIC) about legal issues. That led to opportunities to testify in the industry as an expert witness which I continue to do.

Universal Truth 7: Our industry and the contractual issues with which we deal are complex. It is best to learn more and have an attorney on call to assist. This truth is not going away.

Q6: We know you as a trainer/teacher/writer/mentor as well as consultant. How did that happen?

JE6: Opportunities presented themselves to write, teach, facilitate process, and work in ways that I never considered when I first fell into—or was predestined to be in—this industry*. With each opportunity came a fast-beating heart and uncertainty that I could really do what was asked. I’m not sure what drove me though as I look at my Strengths, I think they show clearly who I am and why I do what I do. Were it not for Bob Dolibois, Tony Rutiggliano, and Dave McCann, Tyler Davidson, Mary Parish, and Eric Andersen, I’m not sure I’d have moved so deeply into the areas that clearly fit me. Thank you all.

Q7: You’ve been recognized by many with awards and other honors. Did that propel you to keep doing more?

JE7: I’m smiling—one of my first national honors was from MPI as “Planner of the Year.” On the night I received that, an industry veteran came over to me and said “Well, I guess you won’t volunteer more now that you’ve gotten the honor” implying I did what I did for recognition. Nope, that was in 1990 and 27 years later, I’ve not stopped!

The honors have been appreciated—CIC (now EIC) inducted me into the Hall of Leaders; PCMA as Teacher of the Year and, much later, PCMA’s Foundation recognized me for lifetime achievement recognition as an educator, to date the only non- full-time academic to be so honored. The International Association of Conference Centers (IACC) honored me twice—first with the Pyramid Award for contributions to education and then with the Mel Hosansky Award, an honor I treasure because Mel was such a mensch and great industry writer and publisher. And HSMAI included me in the first class—with Jim Daggett, Keith Sexton-Patrick, and the late and wonderful, Doris Sklar of Pacesetters. There have been others and yet, I don’t work for honors. I work because I believe in ability to bring people together to solve problems, learn and enhance their lives.

Universal Truth 8: If you volunteer only for resume credit or a potential honor, think again. Consider what you can contribute back to strengthen our industry and how we are seen and what meetings do to strengthen the world.

Q8: So now what? You’re at an age when many—in other fields—retire. In fact, a friend of yours, a CPA, was required by what was once one of the “Big 8” accounting firms to retire at 62. Why haven’t you and will you soon?

JE8: Oh there are days on which I’d like to “retire”—to read and discuss what others are reading; to stay in bed a bit later and not have deadlines for contracts and presentations; to not travel with all the ensuing hassles now that I have some health issues that make it all a bit harder. But why retire when there is still so much to do in this industry and the world? Why retire until we stop setting chairs in straight rows and while there are still all male panels at industry events? Why retire when there are laws (like in North Carolina, Texas, and elsewhere) that impact the rights of those who come to meetings and work in our industry and communities? When climate change must be fought because some of our favorite cities for meetings are sinking?

As I looked at those who I randomly chose to interview for the sidebar, I was surprised at the ages and the lack of full retirement of only a few, even the oldest who is nearly 90! We need history to not repeat and we need future thinking to move us ahead. Perhaps, then…

Universal Truth 9: Together we can change the world through gatherings of people and to do so we must have those who are committed to coordinating the content, technology, venues, and all aspects of those gatherings be they meetings, marches, rallies, special events, tradeshows, or just a meeting of two over coffee.

*You’ll see that some call this the “hospitality industry,” others “the meetings industry,” and depending on the segment in which they work, tradeshows or exhibitions.  My preference is “meetings and hospitality” because that’s where I am and what’s understood. I wonder if we need a new term that encompasses some universal truths!

What’s your Universal Truth about your work and our industry?

Click here to view additional content in the 05.05.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.