Original blog posted Meetings Today
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.
Q1: Why 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?