Are There Stupid Meeting Questions? It Depends!

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

blog post and also share your “silly” or “stupid” questions in the comments below.

We won’t judge and the more examples we see from each other, the better!

*If you’d like to be among those asked for your input for future newsletters, please email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com with your name, your title, employer, years of experience, and any topics about which you know lots and/or have strong opinions about.

I would to help get your thoughts included, attributed or not.

Hearing experiences and opinions of a wide-variety of current and retired industry practitioners is a value to readers and to me.

**Participants at meeting or events are still called the “audience” or “attendees,” which means we really don’t want them to be involved.

***If you’d prefer your comments posted unattributed, please email them to me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and I’ll post without your name or identifiers.

Balancing Parenting and Caregiving While Working in Hospitality

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Two articles that I read recently—one on the “science of cuteness” from The New York Times and another about “parenthood-indecision therapists” from The Washington Post—took me back to my younger days of deciding whether or not to have children.

In my 20s, I learned, in TIME magazine, of a new organization called, then, the National Organization for Non-Parents (later, the National Association for Optional Parenthood) founded by Ellen Peck and Shirley Radl. I was intrigued.

Like many young people, especially women, our route to adulthood was to graduate from high school, then college, and then marry and have children, with maybe a job along the way. Look, I’m a child of the ‘50s and ‘60s! It was different then.

I’d always thought I would have 1.9 children and then adopt “thousands” and be a true “earth mother,” never giving a thought to how I’d care for or support those. We were the beginning of that part of the women’s movement who thought we could have it all.

Choosing Not to Have Children

When I chose to not have children, the route to ensuring it was arduous: at the time, a woman’s age times the number of children she had had to equal 120 in order for a woman to receive a tubal ligation, or permission from a spouse and at least two psychiatrists.

It wasn’t law but it was policy at hospitals.

I met one of those criteria and had to go through hoops to meet the other. I was certain that parenthood, after giving it much thought, was not something I wanted to do.

“What if you regret it?” I was asked that question in numerous appearances on national radio and TV shows what I would do if I one day regretted my decision.

My response was that it was better to regret not having children than to regret having them once they were there.

Balancing Parenting, Caregiving and Work

Those of you who are parents and work full or part time, from home or in a hotel or convention center or office—or those of you who are caregivers for someone—have multiple jobs. I do not know how you do it. And sadly, I don’t have a convenient list of tips for you.

On days when, at my home office, the two cats are particularly needy, I think about you and wonder how in the world you find time to breathe.

If you are single—that is, without a spouse or partner or someone sharing the responsibilities—the work you do is overwhelming.

And the hours required of us are often obscene.

Those of you in sales have talked to me about the evenings when you have to entertain. Planners often work late, take work home, or feel an obligation to go to events held by those with whom you are doing business.  Event Service Professionals (aka CSMs)?

OY! Simply OY. You are never not on call.

No Easy Answers: Analyzing the Research

There is academic research like this “Parenting Stress and Its Associated Factors Among Parents Working in Hospitality …” in which it says:

“The service industry is common for long working hours and shift works. The current study investigated parents working in six types of service industries, including hotel and food & beverages, wholesale and retail, gaming and entertainment, medical health and social welfare, education, and as housewife/man.

“The work nature is further classified as on-shift or non-shift, and whether the family is single-income, double-income or single parent.”

A Horrifying Path to America for Hotel Workers” shows the nightmare faced by immigrants, women in particular, who are being exploited to fill gaps in hospitality jobs:

“In today’s fragmented, contractor-heavy economy, many hotels, restaurants, and other facilities no longer directly employ their workers. This employment arrangement may seem strange, but ‘it is very common for hotels in the U.S. to contract with labor recruiters in the Philippines (and other countries like Jamaica) to recruit temporary seasonal workers on H-2B visas,’ said Laura Berger, formerly of the City Bar Justice Center, a New York–based pro bono legal organization that represented [one named person] in her immigration case.”

[Related Content: Why Women Are Ideal Hospitality Leaders]

Now the hotel industry is seeking parents to fill post-Brexit staffing gaps, assuming that all plays out as planned (will it or won’t it is still part of the question).

Had I held off on the topic of parenting and caregiving for a Friday With Joan newsletter, where I often interview industry colleagues or others, I know that interviewing parents and caregivers in our industry’s many segments—planners, hotel sales and service, heart-of-the-house hourly workers, and others—would have been one more thing to do to add to their list. I chose to do this separately and let you weigh in at your leisure. How do you balance the demands of parenting or caregiving while working in the hospitality industry?

Additional Reading for Your Consideration

Here’s some additional reading on parenting and hospitality that I discovered:

Weigh in With Your Advice and Stories Below

I hope that those reading this—parents and caregivers—will weigh in below in the comments. We need to know what the industry can do to make working in the industry and having children and/or marrying more sensible.

What can the industry do to support you and make life better?

If there are Global Meeting Industry Day (GMID) events in April 2019 addressing the issues of parenting and caregiving, please let us know. I’m pretty sure that combining marriage and/or children and/or caregiving and/or aging in hospitality is not on the radar of enough.

And if you would prefer to have me post a comment anonymously for you, write to me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and I’ll do so without any identifying information.

International Women’s Day: Moving the Industry Forward

Original post Meetings Today Blog

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” – Rebecca West (1892 – 1983), author and journalist.

Each time I’ve asked women in our industry if they consider themselves feminists they hesitate. Not all of them—but enough and in different age cohorts that I think there is a fear of being a strong woman, showing you are a strong woman, and identifying as a feminist.

All my life I’ve known women who worked in and outside the home.

Women who work outside the home are known to work far more than men if their spouses or partners are male.

Let me digress briefly. Many of us are aware of the plight of women in situations far more dire than fighting for standing and pay equity in the workplace:

  • Yemeni women and their children dying of starvation.
  • Women in Venezuela fleeing or trying to provide for families in a country without affordable medicine or food—if it’s even available.
  • Women in limbo in refugee camps throughout the world.
  • Women escaping poverty and terror and traveling, on foot, thousands of miles to reach what they hope is sanctuary.

I know I’m addressing more of what are called “first world problems.”

Yes, I’d like to be able to fix the world for all people and in particular for women. I can only tackle so much while raising the consciousness of many.

So for the purpose of the March 2019 Friday With Joan newsletter, published the week before International Women’s Day, I start “at home” with the hospitality industry.

Which for our purposes here, also includes the meetings and event industry.

In 2018, more women were elected to the U.S. Congress and to U.S. State Houses than ever before. On March 8, just weeks before GMID, International Women’s Day will be observed.

Its theme for International Women’s Day in 2019 is #BalanceforBetter.

“Balance” meaning striving for a more “gender-balanced” world.

As we look at issues impacting women—including those in our industry, from sales and meeting professionals to those in catering, management and housekeeping roles—we recognize that if we fail to communicate why our positions, titles and pay matter, we will fall behind. This is a reality that has held true for all women.

Yes, even event planners, who are predominantly female and are given the authority to negotiate multimillion-dollar contracts and provide updates to boards of directors on the financial impact of meetings, must explain their worth or suffer the consequences.

Where Are All the Women Leaders?

An MPI blog post titled “Reinforcing A Sense of Belonging,” declared that the organization I call my “mothership” will now provide a “pipeline of women to lead MPI.”

This statement made me stop and think. I served on my MPI Chapter Board, as Chapter President, and on the International Board, when women including Marta Hayden, Beverly Kinkade and Anna Chabot were leading MPI. That’s quite the pipeline of women!

I was asked for input prior to MPI launching their first women’s leadership initiative, and I saw its demise. Which, based on the above blog post, held no discernable lasting power.

MPI, like most of the EIC member organizations, has not had a woman CEO in its history—though I know of women who applied.

Why is that the case in an industry where anecdotally there are a majority of women? What I’ve noted about MPI is not a knock on MPI—they are trying again.

It’s a question posed to an industry that we believe is populated mainly by women.

Why do we still hold so little visible power?

In compiling the results of its “A Sense of Belonging” study, MPI asked “In what ways are women treated differently than men at work?” The responses from women were as follows:

  • 64% I have limited or capped career opportunities.
  • 54% I am treated as less capable or intelligent.
  • 54% I am paid less.
  • 46% I am not taken seriously.
  • 11% I am subjected to unwanted sexual attention.
  • 4% I am given less flexibility with time-off requests.
  • 4% I am bullied or mocked.

14% of respondents chose “Other.”

As one who grew up in a world where women fought for pay equity, I am painfully aware of and pay attention to what may hold us back. Is it the way we speak, the image we present and the images of us that are presented? We often apologize for saying something.

We’ll say “I just wanted to say” and negate whatever it is with “just.”

We use upspeak or uptalk, even when declaring what we know.

Should we applaud MPI and others for again focusing on women or be dismayed that again there is a focus on women in leadership when we didn’t make it stick before?

A Day I Will Never Forget

Doug Heath, MPI’s second executive director, heard me when I asked why MPI’s three representatives to the (then) CLC Board of Directors included no women though around me at MPI meetings I saw a majority of women in the audience. It wasn’t unusual—most of the delegates from the industry organization members were men.

Doug appointed me to be one of MPI’s three delegates knowing I would speak up strongly for MPI and what the industry needed.

And here’s what happened at my first meeting, an event that, though long ago, is in my head as if it were yesterday: I prepared for my first CLC Board meeting. I read my CLC board book and discussed the relevant issues with Doug and others in MPI’s leadership

Then I spoke up at the meeting.

At the first break, a man, not much older though considerably taller than I, patted me on the head and said “just wait until you’re older and more experienced. You’ll understand why…”

He was conveying this message: “don’t speak up ‘little lady’—know your place.”

This explains how women hesitate versus speaking their minds.

I did not equivocate in anything I said.

You too know how men often take credit for what women say or “translate” women’s words to their own. You’ve certainly witnessed it in interactions at meetings and events.

Case in point: I was co-presenting with a male colleague at an industry meeting and after each thing I said, he said “What Joan means is…” and then repeated what I’d said in his words. He swears he meant nothing by it and yet this happens to women all the time.

Then too, women are interrupted by men when speaking and we let it happen.

Here’s some advice from the above article to take to heart: “Women, if you are interrupted for any reason other than someone asking for clarification, say to the interrupter:

“’There are a few more essential points I need to make. Can you delay a moment while I do that?’” or ‘I know I will appreciate your feedback, but can you hold off until I’m done?’”

This may also come in handy when you’re negotiating for a pay raise.

Or while you’re in a negotiation with a buyer or seller.

My Advice to Women, Men and Our Industry

Here’s what I hope, individually, you who identify as female, will do:

  • Know, use and shout your strengths.
  • Use a voice that has authority. If you are unsure if you can, emulate others or take voice/speaking lessons (For my voice—literal and figurative—I thank my mother (z”l) and James Payne, my high school speech teacher).
  • Use your body with authority when speaking. If you are able to stand, do so.
  • Be assertive and support other women.
  • Mentor up and down. (See part 2 of the newsletter for thoughts on mentors and mentoring from a variety of people all of whom I met through professional affiliations).
  • Call yourself a feminist. Refer to yourself and others as “women” not girls or guys or ladies. What we call ourselves matters.

Those who identify as male, please:

  • Check yourself and ask those with whom you work to check how you support women in the workplace, at home, in communities.
  • Call yourself a feminist by supporting ideals that are about respect and equity.
  • Promote women in the workplace.
  • Stop interrupting women and “interpreting” what they say! Praise their ideas; give back credit for ideas you may have presented as your own.

For our industry: 

  • Work toward greater Inclusion. That means inclusion in gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, age, ability and economic status.
  • Don’t continue to start and stop initiatives until or unless they become part of the fabric of the industry. Once you set a goal to better the industry, keep working to reach it.
  • Check print and digital images and ensure equal and appropriate representation.
  • Set the standard for programs by partnering with GenderAvenger and like publications and programs and show others how easy it is.
  • Invite Rachael Van Horn to speak. She’s part of our industry and an example of a strong woman succeeding in a traditionally male profession.

Tell us more … about your experiences by completing the poll and commenting on the blog and within the comments on the second part of this newsletter.

What do you think can be done for women to gain equal footing at the least in an industry where we predominate but don’t get the pay and recognition we deserve?

And consider this: “Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. You either believe in full equality of men and women or you do not.”

– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author, recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (“Genius Award”) and author of “Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.”

Related Reading From the March 2019 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 03.01.19 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Meeting Trends: We’ve Only Come This Far?!

Original post Meetings Today

Meeting Trends: We’ve Only Come This Far?!

I’m frustrated with the meetings industry.

If I had written the final version of this blog in December 2018*, before my cousin Gayle** sent me the book Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott, my written frustration and anger toward OUR industry—that can’t seem to change—might have “burned your eye.”

As I thought about the state of the meetings industry and read Ms. Lamott’s book, I calmed a bit. “Stop the anger,” I thought. “Be nice” and write calmly. And as a colleague said to me years ago and others have said more recently, “be patient—it takes time to change.”

This was all before the 2019 Meetings Today Trends Survey results were released.

I read the numbers in print and digitally and was even more livid, especially at the question asking if planners had a written security and disaster plan in place for their event(s).

28% of respondents said they were “working on it,” which really is a “no.” And those planners who actually responded with a “no” totaled 44%.

That’s 72% of planners who said “no”!

Then I read the summation of some comments Tyler Davidson, Meetings Today’s chief content director, compiled. My cranky anger rose again.

Should I write a cranky blog or a “nice” blog?

I chose to focus on trends where the numbers and some comments were to me most troubling. I then reached out to industry and industry-related or former industry colleagues to respond to a few questions to check my own levels of exasperation and get their input.

[Side note: I’m a Myers-Briggs “P” if that helps you better understand my position].

These colleagues read the numbers and the comments on specific topic areas and responded. Their comments are the sidebar (or “Part 2”) of this Friday With Joan blog post.

If in editing their remarks, we’ve changed their intentions, we apologize and hope they’ll add to the comments here or there. I insist you go and read through those responses.

[Editor’s Note: Scroll down to the section of this blog post labeled “Join the Discussion and Move Meetings Forward” for links to all of the responses].

A Startling Lack of Risk and Contingency Preparation at Meetings and Events

My greatest frustration was around risk and contingency preparation. The numbers tell me that about 70% of those responding have no plans because “working on it” is still a “no.”

In preparation to deliver a short awareness of risk and contingency planning program for an industry association recently, I heard what I always hear from clients and colleagues:

a) we don’t have time or money to develop a plan; b) the hotel (or convention center or other venue) will take care of any risks; c) our security team has it well in hand; and my all time favorite, d) nothing bad has ever happened at our meetings so why bother?

These and other excuses for not planning to protect people, property and reputation astound me. Not an expert in security, I am a long-time practitioner of developing plans and enacting those plans for risks that include threats to people, property and finances.

If even the following issues—not going back as far as 9/11 or 2005’s Hurricane Katrina—are not in the collective front-of-mind thinking, what sort of tragedy or disaster will actually inspire others to stop, process what is going on and make change?

Could it be:

  • Shootings in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, Mother Emanuel Church and Pulse Nightclub?
  • Mass murder at a Las Vegas concert for which the FBI has found no known motive and about which there’s been no answer about how a room service cart could have been left long enough in a hotel hallway to install a camera to see who was approaching.
  • #MeToo acts of sexual assault or harassment about which I’ve written and spoken, repeatedly quoting and linking to the website of Sherry Marts for procedures.
  • Alcohol served liberally at meetings—at industry meetings—seeing no harm in the contribution it makes to potential illness, violence and death.

Brad Goldberg, Tyra Hilliard and Ken Wheatley concluded that developing common language, using those trained in security, and rethinking and planning are the best ways to be prepared.

While I agree with those strategies, they are far beyond what most in our industry consider.

And That’s Not at All Where My Frustration With OUR Industry Ends

The other issues and responses I found puzzling in the survey were those about:

  • What worries industry colleagues: yes, we still get no respect and we are doing little as an industry to change that by hosting Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID) events that include and thus visually represent the same issues criticized by the non-industry media and governments: people drinking and having a good time versus conducting education and teaching industry colleagues how to lobby government segments;
  • Whether there will be a CSR component to your meeting when individuals and organizations, including many DMOs, have encouraged and supported us to make these parts of every gathering to support awareness and to give back;
  • Events and activities that you’ll conduct, which clearly didn’t include a CSR component and, really … golf is still a big part? (See what John Chen has to say).
  • Sustainable meetings where there is still a belief that digital versus printed materials are the most they can do even when that takes away from education (people learn better when they write versus type) and doesn’t take into account the energy used to charge devices and the electronic waste from those who continue to upgrade their devices. When sustainability is far greater when it comes to people and the environment.

In the week before I wrote the final version of this blog, I met with a retired hotel colleague and his husband, who asked me if I still loved what I did. I hesitated.

As we talked, it was clear that I felt—feel—great passion for the work I do. That includes this industry and the changes I believe that meetings can make in the world and the changes that can be made and made-to-stick in this industry. My frustration increases with the lack of overall change in how we operate and deliver content.

And as it is said, “nevertheless, she persisted.”

To people who tell me to have patience…

I wonder how many years it takes of actively working in an industry where others, including those who provided responses for this month’s newsletter, continue to work hard, speak and teach to impact change—for change to stick.

You Can Get Angry and Maintain a Strong Voice

I wrote this blog post in a way that was a combination of “nice” and cranky because of inspiration from Cindi Leive.

Her “Brief But Spectacular Take” on PBS Newshour on 1.28.19, crystalized it: I’m angry and I’m tired of “making nice,” equivocating about how angry I am.

So, to you, Cindi Leive, I add another dedication for the ability to express the anger I have expressed in the past only to be chastised because “angry women” just aren’t OK in our world. I have learned I can express my anger and still maintain a strong voice.

Join the Discussion and Move Meetings Forward

These are the colleagues who responded to my questions:

I invite you to join us here, in the blog comments, in a discussion about what you think we can do to make change stick. That way in 2019 or 2020 the responses to the Meetings Today Trends Survey questions will reflect that we’ve actually made a difference.

And please don’t still be “working on” your written disaster plan when that time comes!

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

*At lunch in December with colleagues who asked me how I was, I used a “not-for-a-family-publication” word to say I was THAT ANGRY at how the industry just doesn’t change or keeps reinventing the wheel around diversity, inclusion, women’s empowerment, meeting design, risk and contingency planning, negotiations and contracts, ethics and on and on.

I was cranky, angry and frustrated to think so many of us had spent so much time working hard to move things along and they did and then BOOM, full stop until the issues are raised again and VOILA! It’s all fresh again and history is not considered or built upon.

And then … we are stuck.

**This blog post is dedicated to my cousin Gayle. And Cindi Leive mentioned later in the post. And, my editor, Eric Andersen, who is truly remarkable and “gets” me!

Add Elements of Theatre to Make Meetings That Inspire

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Add Elements of Theatre to Make Meetings That Inspire

For years, I’ve tried to understand why going to live theatre and experiencing a performance, usually not an interactive one, is more invigorating than going to a meeting or session at a conference.

Meetings and live theatre have so much in common:

  • Seating
  • Delivery
  • Duration

Seating: Oddly, what I rail against for many meetings is the seating styles. For meetings, straight theatre seating (rows and rows of chairs facing forward) makes me cringe.

When deciding what session to attend at a conference, even if the topic sounds worthwhile, if I peer into a meeting room set with straight rows of chairs—or, worse, one set schoolroom-style (straight rows of tables facing forward with little room to maneuver—and a stage with a lectern), I don’t want to walk in.

Experience tells me the lights will be lowered and someone will speak from the stage with no opportunities to discuss the content throughout. Rather there will be, especially if I see aisle mics [shudder], “Q&A at the end” of the session.

Yet, when I go to live theatre, seating is … theatre-style, albeit in usually more comfortable-than-banquet-chair seating (thank you, Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. for finally getting better seating), and I don’t question it.

One exception of seating is when we attend theatre-in-the-round such as at Arena Stage’s Fichandler Stage (take a virtual tour). I love the Kogod Cradle for its intimacy.

In what is fondly known as “The Fich,” part of my enjoyment, in addition to the production (most recently Anything Goes) is watching audience reactions.

It is a bonding experience just like in a meeting making eye contact with someone and sharing a smile or a nod of recognition of shared enjoyment or agreement, or yes, even the agony of a miserable presentation!

It brings an emotion and a community experience to the enjoyment.

Delivery: While researching for this newsletter and blog, I came across this marvelous article that explains why acting and theatre are so vital. Speakers often tell their stories and too often in the same words and manner that they’ve told the same so many times, simply inserting the profession or group’s name to whom they are speaking.

(Confession: I was, years ago, honored by the National Speakers Association (NSA) as a “planner partner,” an honor of which I am proud. Still, I find many “motivational speakers” to be ho-hum, delivering stories of hardship suffered and overcome that make me feel guilty on days I just don’t want to get out of bed.

It’s not all speakers—some do an outstanding job of telling their stories to suit the particular audience to which they’ve delivered—it’s just too many who could deliver a story as if they were part of a stage production and don’t).

Even TED Talks, which I learned are rehearsed and rehearsed, sometimes feel so stiff that, though I’ve only experienced them virtually, seem almost as if delivered by robots.

TED Talks, like the old model of “talk shows,” once very popular in changing how content was delivered at meetings, have become the “go to” model in our industry and others for supposed different delivery. The mechanical performances feel less improvisational than if someone in a theatre production forgot their lines and filled in with spontaneity that made the audience feel delight … and relief.

Then there’s this decry: if you have ever watched The Rachel Maddow Show [take her political POV out of the equation if it is not yours; look only at delivery], you know that Rachel talks, right at the camera often reading from words that are shown on the screen.

The graphics used are often documents out of which words are highlighted. She’s doing what most decry: in essence, reading her slides!

What is it then that draws so many to TED Talks? To Rachel Maddow whose show has been judged to be more popular today than ever in this acknowledgement from Forbes?

It must be the manner in which stories are delivered—with passion, in many cases with Maddow; with comfort when the TED Talks are not so rehearsed that there is nothing spontaneous in the delivery.

Duration: Theatre productions are of many lengths, some performed without intermission. Indecent, which was performed this past fall 2018 at D.C.’s Arena Stage, was a shorter, no-intermission play. It was riveting in words, story, set, music and acting.

In one of two accompanying articles within the Friday With Joan newsletter, you’ll see a comment from LeAnne Grillo about getting out of the head and into the heart.

Indecent was in both my heart and head. I longed, as I do after some conference sessions, to carry on the conversation and not rush off to something else.

At meetings, we often don’t allow time for reflection after sessions—either quiet personal reflection as one would do with Open Space, if you were the only person interested in the topic or in conversation with others after sessions.

So rushed are we to move to a bio- or food break or another session (woe unto those who attend conferences with back-to-back-to-back activities and nary a minute between activities) that reflection or conversations about what we’ve experienced or learned are either hurried or non-existent, limiting the staying power of the learning.

Some plays and musicals are 2 to 3 hours in length, sometimes with an intermission of 15 minutes. And for some that’s too long to sit; for me, when I’m engaged, it is perfect and with an intermission and an opportunity to chat with others, even better.

Why then are meetings cutting session length, even to 15 or fewer minutes?

I know it’s difficult to vary the length of sessions although I think if we provided guidance for participants about how to reflect and consider what they’ve learned versus running off to yet another activity, perhaps we could do better with the duration and delivery of sessions and the use of what was learned and its retention.

I asked Daniel Mayer, currently the executive director of The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, North Carolina who has worked at a number of arts organizations and theaters including Book-It Repertory Theatre and The Empty Space Theatre, both in Seattle, what he saw as the elements of theatre that are not now being incorporated into meetings and why.

(Mayer is also someone who has attended many meetings in his professional life).

Dan responded: “I think that theater is very conscious of something called ‘the fourth wall,’ the space between the stage and the audience and there is an engagement in a performance that is missing in meetings. There is never a moment that you ‘get lost’ in a meeting … unless you fall asleep and dream of something more interesting than the meeting.

Both meetings and theater can engage but theater creates a world and invites you to enter that world; meetings are more static than that.

I understand that there are meetings that are exceptions to the rule (and there is plenty of theater that is boring) but the definition of success for a meeting and for theater can be very different. And, the answer is not for facilitators to be theatrical…”

Experiential or Experience? Making Meetings ‘Sing’

You’ve heard talk of experiential learning or experiences for people to have at meetings and in general. Even hotels are being designed to be “experiential.

I asked colleague, Jeffrey Cufaude of Idea Architects, to help me understand the difference between experiential learning and experiences.

“If you asked this question to 10 meeting planners, I am fairly confident you would receive a wide range of answers given the lack of clarity with which the term is applied,” Cufaude said. “A common thread among their responses would likely be [something similar to the differences between being] ‘hands-on or interactive.’

“That’s fine, but achieving better results requires a more precise use of the term, one that specifies a deeper intention that can shape the meeting or session design,” he added.

Here are three desirable possibilities to better engage participants:

1. First, think about David Kolb’s experiential learning framework.

In it learners:

  1. have a concrete experience;
  2. observe and reflect on their (and others’) involvement;
  3. form some generalizations and hypotheses based on the experience;
  4. and then experiment and test them in new settings.

Meeting designers and session presenters can include interactive elements that move participants through this cycle.

2. Using deeply experiential formats that involve little formal presentation such as simulations, team exercises such as a ropes course, mock trials or debates, or case studies with role plays.

In such highly experiential formats, the learning comes from the doing, and it is surfaced and cemented in reflection, debriefing and discussion after the experience:

  • What just happened?
  • What might it mean?
  • How, when and where might you apply these insights?

3. Attending more to the overall experience design as explored by B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore in their book The Experience Economy: Work is Theater and Every Business a Stage.

After identifying core values or attributes they want associated with their conference, meeting designers would do a deep dive into identifying how to infuse them into every choice made for every element of the meeting experience. I often frame this as “clarifying the macro intention that should inform micro attention and choices.”

[See Ken Fischer’s example in one of two accompanying Friday With Joan newsletter articles that provides guidelines for creating a theatrical experience].

I also asked Jeffrey what makes a session “interactive” and/or “engaging”?

He responded: “Simply put, an interactive session intentionally shifts participants from passive consumers of the content and community to active participants in their co-creation.

“Speakers move from talking at participants and presenting information to facilitating learning through use of session elements that effectively blend their ideas and insights with participants’ knowledge and experiences,” Cufaude said.

“A common mistake is to equate interaction or engagement with verbal participation,” he added. “Smart presenters diversify their teaching techniques and learning formats to engage both introverted and extroverted learners, helping deepen and enrich participants’ interactions with themselves, the content and the session community.

“I wrote about these considerations in a three-part blog series starting with You Need to Make Your Presentation Interactive,” Cufaude said.

“Many variables influence what interaction and engagement elements to incorporate, including: content suitability; general participant preferences; session length, scheduling, and room set; number of participants; and presenter competence and confidence.

“Conference designers should help presenters become better facilitators of learning overall, as well as provide coaches who can help them adapt their specific session content and formats,” he concluded.

Experiential or Experience Part II: It’s All About Feeling

At this point after emails and conversations and reading, I felt in need of a psychotherapist and a couch to sort this all out!

Instead I turned to Cricket Park (aka The Rev. C.B. Park, Rector of The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Bethesda, Maryland, a former association executive and meeting professional best known for her expertise on the ADA).

Her background in meetings, associations, creating engaging religious services, tap dance, and a love of theatre, I knew would help in my journey to differentiate experiential and experience.

The common element, she said, was that the experiences that made a difference were the ones that were felt.

In this article from Psychology Today titled “Live Theater: Do We Need It?” it says “Live theater is thus a way of being together that nourishes in each individual the resilience, the hope, the joy, the courage, the focus, and the determination that we each need in order to keep creating the worlds in which we want to live—on stage and off.”

Isn’t that what we want from a meeting?

Isn’t this what we want as a result of attending meetings and conferences?

How will we achieve it? How will we bring our partners, including hotels, convention centers, even conference centers; AV providers; speakers; everyone who touches a meeting—including those who attend—along on this journey to better meetings?

6 Suggested Actions to Help Add Elements of Theatre to Your Meeting:

1. Pay attention to what you see, experience, and feel when you attend a live theatre event or concert. If you don’t usually attend theatre, find a local production and go. Think of it as being a “first-timer” at a meeting. Make notes of the experience.

2. From that experience, consider what elements could enhance your meetings and how you can use them.

3. Talk with those who plan the content and delivery for your meetings—trainers, executives, planning committees—and those who service and support your meetings.

Ask them what they gain from a live non-meeting event. Then discover together what you can incorporate into your meetings to heighten the experiences.

4. Observe audiences at theatres (movies too) and concerts and at your meetings. See where you can, as noted in the Psychology Today article referenced above, nourish each individual at your meetings.

5. Once you decide to make changes—perhaps using theatre-in-the-round seating or involving the participants in smaller group problem solving—explain to those attending why and how to take advantage of the changes.

With guidance, we can ensure that audiences will accept how we move changes along.

6. Reread this blog from 2016 with some additional ideas to change up your next meeting. Subscribe to Jeffrey Cufaude’s Idea Architects blog to gain even more insights.

To close out this blog post: My thanks to the following people, in no particular order, who provided input for this blog post and newsletter.

Even if I didn’t use your words, you informed me with your thinking about what you felt and learned from theatre, concerts, and from meetings:

Jeffrey Cufaude, Charlotte St. Martin, Harold Marcus, Laura Daigle Porter, Gail Mutnik, LeAnne Grillo, Quiana Tyson, Tim Barrett, Allison Dossett, Deborah Breiter Terry, Steven Marchese, Niesa Silzer, Staci Blue, Shannon Henson, Jon Trask, Annette Suriani.

If I forgot to add your name, it was my error. I read every single response with respect and interest and am grateful for your input.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Related Reading From the January 2019 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 01.04.19 Friday With Joan newsletter.

‘Tis the Season: Ethics of Gifting & Entertaining

Originally published Meeting Today Blog

'Tis the Season: Ethics of Gifting & Entertaining

Prologue: Picture this … it’s the season of gift giving and of year-end hotel contract deadlines. I’m working feverishly to finish a number of complex hotel contracts for clients before everyone takes time off for the Christmas holidays. My spouse brings a box from our mail room to my home office.

I ask, as I continue to write contract provisions, from whom the box was sent, thinking it must be from a family member or friend. When the sender is mentioned—a salesperson with whom we are in difficult (politely said!) negotiations—I loudly say “DROP IT!”*

In one of my favorite films, Defending Your Life, we see that after death, one’s ‘first stop” is a place that looks remarkably like Epcot Center. There, we are tasked with watching videos of our lives and “defending” our every action. It has a wonderfully funny tie-in to our industry with scenes about who gets the “better” hotels with the “better” turn-down amenities as a result of what appears from our lives. Chuckling as I write this—thinking not unlike who gets the upgrades in real life, huh?

The film is amusing, down-right funny (think whether you want to be seen by important people as you slurp your linguini in a restaurant) thoughtful and insightful.

Differently staged and with similar intent, is The Good Life, a TV production that so fascinated me, I now have a desire to recommend viewing episodes in preparation for ethics discussions in classes I teach and programs I facilitate. Is there a “good” place or a “bad” place after we die? Is it like Epcot Center? I don’t know. I do know that my actions after receiving the box would have to be defended.

The point? Many of you will give or receive gifts or entertain or be entertained by those with whom you are doing business, have done business, referred business or one day may do business. What goes into your thinking as you chose to whom to give or entertain, and for the recipients, to accept a gift or invitation or not?

How much would the potential of “defending” your actions—now, to an ethics committee or an HR or other officials in your company or professional organization—play in your choice of what and how much you gift to, or accept from, someone?

Research: In preparation to write the initial blog post in the October 2018 newsletter and for this post you’re reading, I did extensive new research: conversations with current and former hotel executives, industry attorneys, and EIC and EIC-member organizations’ representatives; reading articles about our industry’s and others’ ethics practices; reading hotel companies’ ethics policies [highly recommend and easily found with a search**]; and asking, via social media for those interested in responding to questions about industry ethics to contact me. A compilation of those responses can be found here.

I also asked questions of three industry recruiters—MeetingJobs, Searchwide, and Vetted Solutions. The responses from their CEOs are in this section of the December 2018 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Preview: I was … well, read it and you might figure out my response after reading on.

And once read, please answer the Friday With Joan poll questions.

Analysis: EIC, our industry’s umbrella organization, was unable to tell me which of its members has an enforceable code of ethics and/or conduct. In my research I learned that of those who do, two are NSA and NACE. I know that MPI, PCMA, and ASAE do not have enforceable codes, although MPI did at one time. ASAE has a separate, enforceable code for those who have achieved their CAE—Certified Association Executive—designation; the code for all other members is aspirational.

Those who have achieved their CMP—Certified Meeting Professional—are bound by this code, which is worded much like the codes of many of the EIC organizations that have codes of conduct or ethics.

(Use this link to EIC members; go to their sites to read the codes. Even if you are not a member of one of these organizations, it is likely you will do business with someone who is).

I verified with colleagues with whom I served on the then-CLC Board some years ago that our umbrella organization formerly required an enforceable code of ethics to be an EIC member. Now, it is asked that a code be submitted with the membership application, but it is not required for membership.

I confirmed that HSMAI, for example, does not have a code of conduct or ethics.

I imagine others do not as well.

Of those with enforceable codes, I was told the main charge of an ethics violation is the use of a certification when it has not been earned or renewed.

This was believed, by those with whom I spoke, to be a belief that few are violating the codes.

And now, ‘tis the season of gifts and entertainment. Many feel valued if they receive a gift or an invitation. Those on the receiving end believe it is perhaps their due for the hard work they have performed. Perhaps the invitation to an event is viewed as an opportunity to network even if they have no business to offer; the receipt of a gift, seen as one of friendship beyond the business relationship.

How do we decide when it’s appropriate to offer and accept gifts or invitations? And more, when is it appropriate to flaunt these gifts and entertainment on social media for all to see and perhaps question if a code of ethics—that of an employer or industry association—has been violated?

During this season of giving, it is also the season of year-end business and for some independent meeting planners and others who work for commissions, a season of meeting a deadline before commissions are lowered by some hotel companies. To that, many are posting that they are going around the “system” and finding ways to receive what they believe is their “due”—a commission amount that is greater than that announced by hotel companies. More details here and here.

In my research again, I was told by many current and former hoteliers and others that this practice will face consequences. This was stated to me, and I’ve agreed to, as I do with many, keep the confidence of the person who provided this input:

“By encouraging hotels to breach the requirement that they adhere to brand standards, or to hide the payment in some fashion to deceive, planners need to evaluate whether they could potentially be liable for interfering with the contract or if they are perpetrating some kind of fraud. Even more disturbing however is that this takes the profession back not just a step, but a mile.

“It seems a lot like the concepts that planners finally overcame when some were asking for blind commissions. If the planners are handling the commission in this fashion, they need to be mindful that are acting on behalf of the group [for whom they are doing business].

“They need to be concerned about this being a potential violation of the group’s code of ethics.”

And as noted above, it may also be a violation of the brand’s code of ethics.

From everything I see and hear, from the justifications in classes and other conversations and those in social media, and from the many reports in the news and the investigation of us by the U.S. Congress, I think we are moving into even more dangerous territory in and outside of our industry. Many find ways to justify their actions in the request for and acceptance of gifts, perks, and entertainment: we’re underpaid, under-appreciated, work long hours, need to network to find a new job, etc.

Suggested Actions to Help Avoid Unethical Gifting Situations:

  1. Read your employer’s or client’s or business partners’ code of ethics.
  2. Share your code with those with whom you are doing business.
  3. Agree at the start of a business relationship, even one that has a long-friendship behind it or becomes a friendship, by what ethics you will together abide.
  4. Determine how your codes guide you for tradeshow drawings, invitations to events, giving and receiving gifts and attending hosted-buyer events. If the codes are not that specific, discuss how they can be.
  5. Provide examples in the comments or to me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com for posting without attribution examples of how we, as an industry, are ethical or how we can be more so. Share the ways we can improve together.

May the light of this season and the hope of the new year bring our industry and us individually to new thinking about how we do business and how we want to be seen.

*You wanted to know what happened, right? I called the client immediately and was told that they too had received a box.

Neither of us had opened it. I asked what we should do.

It was agreed I’d call the salesperson and say that we could not accept the gifts.

I was told that these were not practical to return. The client agreed that they would use them in an office gifting event and that I could dispose of the gift by donating it. 

**You will find, in your search, codes for how hotel companies deal with their own vendors, customers and staff. The codes are enlightening.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Related Reading From the December 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 12.07.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Safety and Inclusion Tips for Meetings in Troubling Times

The last few weeks have been especially difficult.

It’s not just client deadlines, illnesses of those I love, and the normal stress of a year coming to an end. It’s the horrific acts of hate in the United States and around the world.

You, before reading on, want to know what this has to do with our industry and your work?

Stay with me, please. I’ll show you.

It’s difficult to know where to begin with what has caused so many of us to grieve and to, as one colleague said, know how to direct sadness and rage.

I am so grateful to so many people who have reached out to me because I am Jewish in the belief that the terrorism at The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh had caused me the most pain.

It was one of the many “final straws” in the last few weeks. It piled on to the items that follow and the many that preceded that, in my lifetime and long before, known because history taught us.

In these last weeks, we’ve experienced or heard more about:

The starvation in Yemen, reported as potentially the worst incidence of starvation in history.

The death of Jamal Khashoggi and the demand for knowledge of what happened echoed from many corners of the world, its implications weighing greatly on relationships among countries and on the need for a free press.

Pipe bombs targeting people because of their views. Though a suspect was in custody, one more pipe bomb was found. One can hope there are no more from him and that “copycat” acts will not follow. I fear they will.

Murdered—two African American grandparents, out shopping with their grandson in Kentucky because someone who had expressed hate on social media couldn’t get into a church to murder more. It might have been more like the 2015 massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., the victims for whom I still mourn.

The caravan of people—a caravan for safety in numbers, reminiscent of the scenes from “Fiddler on the Roof” of those escaping pogroms in Russia, escaping hate and violence in Central America leaving all they know and family and friends continued on to the United States where they hoped we might understand their needs and ours and accept their pleas for asylum.

The U.S. Government spoke of “erasing” people who are transgender, throwing many, including some of our friends and families, into panic and many of us into action because we must support those we love.

Matthew Shepard’s ashes were interred at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., a place that is far from his parents’ Wyoming home but safe from haters who, like those who killed him because of his sexual orientation, might cause harm to any memorial there to honor his life.

Then, on Saturday, October 27, 2018, the murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, during Shabbat services, committed in the name of hatred of Jewish people and of HIAS, an organization that, since the 1800s, has helped refugees of all kinds settle in the United States where they hoped to be safe.

Quoted in The New York Times and other news sources, “The suspect in Pittsburgh posted a message on social media about the [Central American] caravan shortly before the massacre, accusing Jews of bringing in ‘invaders’ that were killing his people.”

Interestingly, the congregation at Tree of Life were preparing to read from the Torah that morning how Abraham and Sarah opened their tent and welcomed strangers, just as the Jewish community has done for millennia since and for which George Soros, a target of a pipe bomb, himself a Holocaust Survivor, has been criticized for funding (he hasn’t) the caravan. [Check snopes.com for more].

There’s much more and there is much that isn’t new news—African Americans and Latinos are being targeted for being. Literally. This story from Detroit about a man and his garden is indicative of hate and distrust of others.

Muslims and Sikhs have been targeted for years and ever-more after 9/11 and after the 2016 election when a “Muslim ban” has kept people from traveling to be with their families.

This Guardian article, from 2012, is as true today as it was then.

Maybe among your colleagues, friends and family none of these instances had any impact.

Not so for me or my family and friends. My Facebook pages were filled with memorials, notices of how to sit shiva to mourn and honor the Tree of Life victims.

What does this all have to do with the hospitality industry?

Safety and Inclusion Tips for Meetings and Events

I’ve written and spoken often that as a child I believed that—because my maternal grandfather (z”l), a Russian immigrant, resembled Nikita Khrushchev—I was sure if I, at 12, could only talk with Mr. Khrushchev, we could make world peace.

I was called a “Christ-killer” on the playground of the Ohio public school I attended. In my adult years, I heard “Jew you down,” a bigoted slur as horrific as using the “N” word, in too-many-to-name negotiations with hotel salespeople.

I’ve heard asked by others “why do ‘they’ (African Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ and others) need their own organizations” in our industry with no understanding of what it’s like to not be accepted and included by the majority of the “mainstream” industry organizations.

I’ve repeatedly called out industry organizations and supplier partners who hold events over some of the holiest days in Judaism and other non-Christian religions believing it’s perfectly appropriate though they would never hold events on Easter or Christmas.

In the codes of ethics of many EIC member organizations for those that have them or sometimes in their mission statements if an ethics code does not exist, is language similar to that in MPI’s Principles of Professionalism: “Embrace and foster an inclusive business climate of respect for all peoples regardless of national origin, race, religion, sex, marital status, age, sexual orientation, physical or mental impairment.” [I’d prefer that the word “impairment” be changed; it is inappropriate].

Read more on the use of impairment, disability and handicap here.

Diversity and inclusion are again topics of interest in the hospitality industry and should be in the companies and organizations for whom you work and are your clients.

1. Consider the demographics of those who will participate in or exhibit at your meetings and what days may be important to them and those in their lives, and over what dates having a meeting may pose a religious or other similar conflict. (Read more here in a previous Friday With Joan article).

2. Advise clients, after consulting calendars, of holidays—religious, federal, local—that fall over those great dates with great rates you are offering. Ensure there is knowledge of the times being booked.

3. Be aware of laws that are being considered and the impact they may have on groups considering your destination. We’ve written about that here and here.

4. If you must have meetings over holidays that impact travel, meals, or entertainment, consider the impact on those who will attend and the accommodations you can make.

Or consider how to expose others to the practices of others. In our November 2018 Friday With Joan sidebar, Jordan Rudner provides a great idea for meetings often held in the Spring.

5. Choose images carefully to market meetings. Show the diversity you have and want to attract.

Inclusion Tips When Convening and Educating

I still believe “if we all could just talk or learn about each other—we could perhaps figure this out” is not necessarily realistic. A colleague with a different point of view of a candidate went to a rally to engage with those who didn’t believe as she did. She is not sure anyone’s mind was changed.

She at least attempted to understand the different points of view. I do believe education and exposure to people unlike us can help with well-facilitated conversations.

Here are some questions to consider when planning or hosting your next meeting or event.

  1. In what ways will you build your diverse audiences to ensure appropriate engagement?
  2. In selecting speakers and entertainers, in what ways will you influence a diverse representation of people and ideas to expose those who participate to people who may be unlike them in some ways and have information from which they can learn?
  3. In selecting cities or states for your meetings, how will you try to ensure that those attending your meeting feel and are safe from attacks by authorities?
  4. What are your organization’s values or the values they wish to convey and how are they expressed in what people see?
  5. Will you, when you hear a “joke” or comment made that objectifies women, slurs others, and is harmful or hurtful or hateful, speak up and express that it is inappropriate?

I promised a second part of our discussion on ethics and it will be posted either later this month, or the first of December 2018—the season of giving and receiving gifts—just in time for you to consider what you will give and accept from those with whom you do business.

This blog post you are reading right now does tie into ethics. The quote I use on one of my email signatures is indicative of ethics and inclusion: “The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.” – Albert Schweitzer.

Thus, we’ll call this part 1A of my ongoing ethics posts with part 2 to come. For now, be kind, be safe, VOTE [heeding these words from before the 2016 U.S. election from industry leaders] and pay attention to what you can do to create a more accepting, peaceful world.

I add this NPR article Six Words ‘You’ve Got to Be Taught’ Intolerance about a song from “South Pacific” that expresses what we can do. If you’re not familiar with it, please read the article and then the lyrics.

In the additional article included with the November 2018 Friday With Joan newsletter you will read words from Jordan Rudner who works in Anchorage at Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis, helping victims of domestic violence and abuse, and from Sherrif Karamat, CEO of PCMA. Of the many wonderful posts of hope, these two, because of who wrote them and what they said, made the most impact on me to send.

There are so many more. If you’ve not seen them and want to, ask and I’ll post. If you have seen good words, please post in the comments. And be sure to take the poll and write to me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com with thoughts you might want posted anonymously.

I’m glad to post in the comments for you without your name and to hold your comments in complete confidence.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Related Reading From the November 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 11.02.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Our Industry’s Reputation and Yours Are at Stake: Help Is Needed!

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Our Industry’s Reputation and Yours Are at Stake: Help Is Needed!

When the meetings industry first introduced the CMP—referred to as “Certified Meeting Planner”—it was to help ensure that those who planned meetings be considered professionals.

As the program evolved, it became possible for suppliers in our industry to be tested and to receive the designation, which as a result was changed to “Certified Meeting Professional.”

For most of the years I’ve been in this industry, I’ve questioned the business practices that are considered “standard” or “normal” and sought evidence of those practices being ethical and professional.

I’ve looked to other professions—accounting, medicine, law, journalism, association management, counseling, among them—and saw that there were standards of conduct that must be adhered to in order to maintain one’s license to practice in that profession.

No such thing exists for planning, sales, or convention services in our industry.

In preparing to write this blog post—one of two (or more) that will look at practices and perceptions of those of us who plan and supply services and venues for meetings—this part of the definition of “professional” struck me:

characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession.”

In fact, in the 9th Edition of the EIC Manual,  subtitled “A working guide for effective events, meetings and conventions”, there is no separate chapter on “ethics.”

Instead, it is included in “Domain J: Professionalism” where “Sub Skill 30.01” is “Demonstrate Ethical Behaviour.”

Relaxing Standards in the Meetings Industry

APEX, The Accepted Practices Exchange Initiative, and the CMP give us the technical “standards” of the profession. To be a member of the Events Industry Council (EIC)(founded in 1949 as the “Convention Liaison Council,” then renamed “Convention Industry Council”), it was, for years, a requirement to have a code of conduct or ethics.

Now, it is required to submit a code but it is no longer a requirement for membership. No one could tell me when and why the requirements for membership changed.

In talking with staff of a number of EIC member organizations, I learned that some don’t have codes of conduct or codes of ethics at all.

And if they do, many, like that of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)are, for all but Certified Association Executives (CAE), aspirational. Only for CAEs is there an enforceable code of conduct referred to as “CAE Standing Rules and Policies.”

If one has attained and maintained the CMP designation, one agrees to abide by the CMP Code of EthicsBut (and I do mean “but” not “and” as improvisation teaches) it is rarely used to strip someone of their CMP for unethical behavior.

I was told by EIC that the ethics complaints are almost always about a person using the designation who has not been attained or maintained and not for behaviors that violate the code as I believe those in the stories below do.

Who’s Enforcing Our Industry’s Ethics Policies?

In e-mail exchanges and voice conversations with staff members of EIC member organizations, there seems to be little done now if there are ethics violations.

MPI, which used to have an enforceable and lengthy code of conduct, changed it years ago to the Principles of Professionalism for which there is no reporting body.

It seems, an already existing program—MPICares—was created to advance service projects and report and examine issues of sexual harassment and ethics violations.

(Interestingly, featured in the news recently and also reported on this week by Meetings Today was the MPI Foundation Executive Director who has been accused of a crime, who has since resigned from her position but claims innocence).

There is a fine ethical/legal line that I am sure will be sorted out as this proceeds.

Why write now—again—about these issues?

Why I Choose to Write About Ethics

There are multiple reasons:

1. I’ve been asked repeatedly what I want my legacy to be. I hope that a) it’s that we learn to create interactive, well-conceived and executed meetings with no more theatre or schoolroom sets, and really, b) we all agree to operate in a manner that reflects well on us individually and on our profession which, I believe, means working ethically.

2. Colleagues and strangers have for years and continue to contact me to sort out ethical issues. Most recently, some have discussed the quid pro quo of booking meetings: suppliers want their numbers to gain their bonuses or keep their jobs. Planners or others who sign meeting contracts are often willing to sign multi-year or exaggerated room-block contracts or make up fake and contract meetings to “help a seller friend” achieve their goals to earn more money or bonuses, knowing full well that what they both are doing is not ethical and may, in fact, be illegal.

Strangely, the example most often cited as unethical behavior in our industry is of sellers who offer and planners who accept familiarization (“fam”) trips (or hosted buyer invitations) for destinations and/or properties the parties know are not in the pipeline for use, justifying that “someday” they may work elsewhere or that “someday” they may convince someone to book the city or site because they were once there.

Forget that the wining and dining and gifts that come with many of these trips may have dollar values above what one’s employer’s code of ethics note is permissible.

Real-Life Examples of Questionable Behavior

Over the many years I’ve worked in the industry, I’ve seen the results of unethical behavior and the cost to organizations as a result.

Here are but a few specific examples, never reported to the CMP Board, in which planners and suppliers who were CMPs (or in one case a CAE) were involved.

Story 1: Full-time planners at an organization created their own side company to receive commission on meetings they booked for their employer. The commission agreements were inserted after the contracts were signed. Adding to the behavior, the planners often used the CEO’s electronic signature to sign these bogus contracts.

The hotels? They got the numbers they wanted as did the sales people who received their bonuses. The planners? Perks for getting the business signed and an expectation of commission.

Though these planners were eventually fired when an audit uncovered the fraudulent meetings, I know the planners were hired by others because, by law, a past employer cannot ask about such behaviors. Because nothing was reported to the CMP Board, even the CMP designation wasn’t stripped.

Story 2: An organization’s CEO, a CAE, and planner, a CMP, booked a future meeting with a vastly inflated room block. The contracted block was not remotely achievable given the group’s pattern and expectations. The hotel salesperson, if history had been submitted by the group or checked by the hotel, would have questioned the numbers.

What did the CEO and planner receive for contracting this meeting? Super Bowl tickets and other perks.* What happened to the organization? They paid more than $100,000 in attrition and almost went bankrupt. The salesperson? Bonus and promotion based on the nights booked even though they were never actualized.

[Yes, this is a discussion for another time—how our industry sets up conditions for incentives for salespeople. It was a conversation, in research for this blog that surfaced with many hotel personnel.]

*Both were eventually fired though no charges were brought. The planner went on to tout expertise in the job and was praised by suppliers for good work.

Story 3: A planner wanted to help a supplier partner who was having trouble booking enough business to meet their year-end goals. The planner made up multiple meetings that were not on anyone else’s radar—basically fake business.

The planner, a CMP, received trips and other perks for themselves and for their family. The supplier? Made their numbers and received a bonus. The organization? Hefty legal fees, some cancellation fees, and a new meeting created to mitigate what would have been additional millions of dollars in cancellation fees.

Uncovered in an audit and review of emails, the planner was fired.

When the action was reported to the hotel company, despite their ethics’ code, the salesperson remained on the job.

Story 4: A planner needed promotional products (aka “tchotchkes”) for a meeting.

When ordering it was not specified that the items could not come from China—just that the price had to be “the lowest.” The lowest priced items were made in China and were ordered by the promotional products company.

When received, the planner told (not asked!) the supplier to remove all labels on boxes and other packaging indicating that the items were from China. It was the supplier who came to me with the story of the issue and the dilemma: does one report this action to an employer or to the CMP ethics review board and risk losing a good client or comply?

[I know the outcome—I’ll let you suss this one out and consider what you’d do].

There are many more situations I’ve seen and about which others have told me. Included in the current issues are those about third parties who receive commissions and about which I wrote previously for a Friday With Joan newsletter and blog post.

I was told directly by someone doing this that they and others are going to the franchise properties’ owners and demanding the higher commission and in some cases getting it.

In talking with an industry attorney, I was told that in an audit, when discovered, the franchisee could be in jeopardy.

Among stories known to many are those surrounding what U.S. government planners faced over one particular Las Vegas meeting that was reported in national news and by our industry’s press. As a result, all of our industry and all meetings were made to look like boondoggles.

Advancing Integrity in Our Industry

Where do we go from here?

If we are to be thought of as professionals, regardless of our job titles or in which industry segment we work, is it appropriate to look more closely at behaviors?

Consider, as you chew on the stories noted above and your own experiences, these questions:

  • What do you do when a client or employer asks you to do something that violates a specific written code or your own moral compass?
  • What guides you ethically in life and in business?
  • When you heard Jiminy Cricket say “Let your conscience be your guide,” did you consider what that meant and what to do if your conscience and “standard practice” were in conflict?

Will you help me and help our profession? Either in the comments section below or in the comments area in the sidebar interview with Paul A. Greenberg who is a professor of journalism and was in our industry, or to me personally at FridayWithJoan@aol.com, write and tell me what guides you ethically. Answer the poll questions.

Read the codes of ethics for the industry segment to which you belong. And watch for the continuing discussion based on input from a variety of industry professionals in the next weeks about hiring and interviewing with ethics in mind, specific language and reaction to that in the CMP Code, and more.

If we can’t get this right, what then is the point of pretending to be professionals?

And Just One More Very Important Thing!

November 6, 2018, is the U.S. midterm election.

I, and those affiliated with Meetings Today, encourage you to vote. There are issues on ballots throughout the U.S. that will impact meetings including taxes and initiatives important to how and where we do business.

There are elections of individuals who you may want to question at town hall meetings about their stands that impact your particular employer or clients and their meetings.

Having written about what happens when laws are passed that cause groups to reconsider where their meetings are held, it’s a time to be more informed. For those who are not U.S. citizens, we encourage you to vote in elections of your own countries.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Related Reading From the October 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 10.05.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be … Planners!

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be ... Planners!

Did you know early in life that you wanted to work in the hospitality industry? Maybe you did—depending on your age and family or other influences in your life.

As the school year begins, and for some of us, a new year with Rosh Hashanah, it is a time of reflection or even, for some, declaring a major. It is a time of renewal as the leaves turn. And many are considering what now or what’s next in their careers.

And I, having discovered yet another parent-child duo both in hospitality, began thinking about that song: “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To be Cowboys.”*

Although I’d never heard the song in its entirety, the title always made me smile. Then I read the lyrics and thought how apropos for our industry! (Do note that clearly some part of me wanted to be a cowgirl … and perhaps a detective—thus the garb in the main photo for this blog post from my early years!).

Liz Erikson Marnul, an industry icon and someone I’ve known for more than 35 years said “You should really tell people how you got into this industry.”

I was surprised somehow that she didn’t know.

Other than the very early years of wearing clothing that seemed to reflect two possible professions, I thought I wanted to teach—I loved “playing school”—and then I considered social work. If I had had “school smarts” rather than being a life-long learner who learns by reading, observing, discussing and practicing a craft, I might have been a social anthropologist or, because I love words and how they fit together, a lawyer.

As a meeting professional, and in the areas in which I’m involved now in our profession, I think that I have been able to incorporate some of my passion for those areas.

As a child in the ‘50s, I put on street fairs to raise money for polio research when the boy next door was diagnosed with polio. In grade and high school, I helped organize events. Later, I helped plan and run city-wide ones and national events for a museum and then for an organization.

After dropping out of full-time college after a year—even working while in school didn’t provide the financial resources, and the learning by sitting and absorbing lectures and spitting back information was not my learning style—I worked a variety of jobs: ad sales at a newspaper, bookstore sales, in the family poultry business, and as a teacher’s aide. Until I moved to Washington, D.C. in 1978, I didn’t know there was a profession for what I was doing.

What influenced me? Did I truly fall into this profession—this industry? Was it pre-destined? Was I, in a past life (if you’ve followed me for any time, you know one of my favorite films is “Defending Your Life” on which John Chen and I based a discussion) was I one of “those” meeting participants who, at a bad meeting, said “Sheesh, I can do this better”?

My parents, of blessed memory, worked in various professions including sales; some cousins were lawyers; others teachers. One branch of the family founded a successful chain of restaurants and though I visited that part of the family, I don’t remember that they influenced my choice of profession. Unlike those interviewed there was no one to guide me into a hospitality career.

In conversations with many who choose to go into our industry, I hear the influencers are still the love of people, travel and details.

Those already in the industry are seeking more fulfillment, whether it’s moving away from logistics only or putting a spin on logistics or finding a way to better serve customers.

If love of people, travel and details were the main reasons to be a planner, I’d not be in this industry. An introvert, I like people in small doses; a mobility disability has made travel a greater challenge, and details? If it’s contracts and words, yes. If it’s meeting logistics, not so much anymore.

When I read the articles linked in the additional reading, none of them applied.

There are studies to show why being an entrepreneur may run in families. The number of self-employed people in various professions—lawyers, doctors, small business owners—prevalent in my family is evidence. And there are lots of teachers among my first cousins and a niece. There was also a rabbi—a profession I once considered and as Rod Abraham, an MPI Founder, said about me when he introduced me when I received an award, I was a “rabbi”—a teacher.

I’m grateful to have learned how those interviewed—parents and children, sisters, and a granddaughter—were influenced to go into and stay in the hospitality industry. There are others not interviewed (Steve and Adam Ferran, Patti Shock, Vanessa Vlay and Michele Koch Hansen among them) who I hope will share their stories in the comments section below this blog post.

I hope, as you consider what now and what next, you will think about your Strengths[yes, capital “S” because it refers to a specific tool], and read Barbara Sher’s marvelous books (in particular, “Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want” and “I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was”) to learn more about yourself.

I think this industry has opportunities (careers in eldercare for example) galore that we are only beginning to discover and certainly one where there aren’t enough people (hospitality law); and areas of privacy and technology for use in learning and serving customers. The sky isn’t even the limit, is it? Some will need to be the pioneers to plan the hotels and meetings in space!

Keep this story in mind too: an actor who has had great roles also needed income to keep going. He took a job bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s. The story is inspiring. If you want to start in a position or as a volunteer that others think are “below” you, do it anyway.

Experience is what gets us where we need to be. And the more broad our experience is, the more we show our desire to work, the better our chances are, regardless of lineage, to find the job or next job that is best for you.

As you read these stories of careers intentional and unintentional that brought people to our industry, I hope you’ll reflect on the influences and influencers and then share yours.

This is an industry that can make a difference in how people learn, work and serve others.

What’s next in your future?

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Related Reading From the September 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 09.07.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Taking Steps to Keep Events Safe (podcast)

Direct link to article & podcast

Taking Steps to Keep Events Safe

Joan Eisenstodt

If you pay attention to the news, you can’t miss what should be warning signs: hurricanes, wildfires, mass shootings such as the one in Las Vegas, and other tragedies like the recent Branson Duck Boat incident.

But when was the last time you paid attention to the news to discern what lessons you can learn and apply at your events?

Today’s guest expert is Joan Eisenstodt, who guides us through the “what-if’s” of risk planning. Scroll down to listen as she provides tools to reframe this thought process by:

  • Determining what is truly a crisis vs a “paper cut”
  • Looking at the history of your event’s location (especially as it relates to natural disasters)
  • Storyboarding the various aspects of your event with strategies and procedures
  • Developing a communications plan, should the worst happen

Disclaimer: Neither Joan or I are attorneys, nor are we providing you with legal advice. We are simply making you aware of things to consider as you work with your legal advisors to create your own risk management plans.

Joan has also provided several additional resources for meeting planners, show organizers, exhibitors, and event venues:

Joan Eisenstodt has been in the meetings industry for more than 40 years, and has had her own business since 1981. An honored teacher at the university level and at industry conferences including EXHIBITORLive, she is passionate about safety, among other aspects of meetings and events. She also writes a monthly newsletter and blog for Meetings Today.