Why Diversity and Inclusion Matter to and for Hospitality, Tourism and Meetings

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Why Diversity and Inclusion Matter to and for Hospitality, Tourism and Meetings

“Diversity fatigue is real,” said Greg DeShields, CEO of PHLDiversity.

And it’s true. People groan when they hear the words “diversity and inclusion.”

They’ve been through training at work, in their spiritual homes, in their communities. Yet, the fear of those “not like us” is great and the lessons learned are not sticking.

The following was posted to the Meetings Today Twitter account from a presentation on storytelling at the MPI Northern California Chapter’s Annual Conference & Exhibition:

“The story always came first. Without a great story, everything would unravel.” The quote is attributed to Matthew Luhn, who worked with Pixar on the Toy Story films and others.

Because the subject is not sexy—a bit like ethics or contingency planning, as I was once told by an industry association staff person—diversity and inclusion at meetings often gets overlooked or, perhaps even worse, we assume that it’s no longer an issue.

I began to write this blog post with the intention of identifying the many things you can do to ensure your meetings, conferences and events are more inclusive.

My initial advice included, but certainly is not limited to the following:

  • Destination and Site Selection: Don’t meet in destinations where laws are passed that discriminate against those who attend or want to attend your meetings. Don’t give business to places where people may be in danger because of who they are, what they look like or their abilities, such as states with “papers please” laws or anti-LGBT laws. Instead, seek out venues with facilities that don’t exclude people who are transgender and where accessibility goes beyond the minimal ADA standards.
  • Speakers: Enlist representative speakers versus the example making its way around the internet of the math-for-women poster showing a panel of four men. Present different points of view and make sure that those who speak are inclusive.
  • Room Sets, Lighting and Activities: Create environments and opportunities that are designed for different learning styles. Ensure you ask what people need to fully participate at your meeting or event and that you then provide for those needs. Some people may require Interpreters, including ASL Interpreters. Some people may need assistance in seeing or taking notes. Make sure to include seating that is appropriate for those using mobility devices. At networking events you should ensure that food is appropriate and labeled and that noise is low enough to allow conversation.

Possible additions to my list included the offering of printed handouts versus having everything web or cloud based because not everyone has a device capable of access.

We also know people learn better by writing than by “keyboarding.” And let’s not forget to ensure that images used in all levels and types of marketing are representative of different ethnicities, gender, attire, age and visible ability.

Then I thought: you know this. You get it.

You are a unique person who wants to be included versus excluded; you hate the pain you see in children and adults when they come to an event dressed differently than others because no one told them or showed them what was acceptable.

At some time in your life, you too were left out for being different. We all were.

I thought the examples shared by those I interviewed for the March 2018 edition of the Friday With Joan newsletter would help. And yet, only a few shared personal stories.

As noted earlier in this blog post, the “story comes first.”

Here are some of my own experiences that have instilled a desire to seek out and ensure inclusiveness and diversity in the world in which I live and work.

I am or was:

  • the child who was kept at school to be “babysat” by teachers when all the others who weren’t like me went off (public school) campus to Bible School.
  • the young person called a “Christ-killer” on the playground because of my religion.
  • pained when other children were bullied or left out because of their looks or income or weight or other circumstances that they most often could not control.
  • the child who saw her parents fight “redlining” and “blockbusting” [look them up; they continue today] and whose family hosted people from Kenya, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Greece, Norway and other countries and who realized, by the age of 16, how big the world really was and why it mattered and was grateful.
  • the younger-than-many representative on an industry board who was patted on the head and told “honey just wait until you’re older—you’ll know more.”
  • the industry professional who, in too many negotiations was told I was trying to “Jew down” the salesperson and “oh, don’t take offense—it’s just a saying.”
  • the industry professional who was tired of trying to explain why the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners existed and was needed in our industry.
  • the planner of LGBT events who had to explain to a Director of Catering why it was acceptable to have men dancing with men and women with women at a fundraiser.
  • the non-college degree holder who constantly hears that people without college degrees can’t make it anywhere and wouldn’t be hired even by my own clients who, still though, want my expertise, and who realize I have, by sheer will and lots of continuous learning, done pretty well.
  • the person dealing with a mobility disability and who, upon finally getting the white hair my great-grandmother had and that I had for years thought I wanted, is now experiencing age and ability discrimination and exclusion.
  • and the highly sensitive person who notices exclusion and wonders why it has to be hurtful—or why it even has to be in the first place.

You can check calendars for dates to avoid so that you don’t meet over holidays and you can delve into why some religious holidays are more important than others.

You can learn by talking with people who aren’t like you—that includes those who are your members or customers or who want to and could be if they were just asked. You can talk with your HR departments and those who conduct diversity training like Jessica Pettitt and learn more about the importance of diversity and inclusion for all.

You can read what people are posting about the “math for women” conference that showcased a panel of four men and realize your marketing isn’t showing who you want to attract—you too hotels and cities!

You can read the U.S. Department of Justice website to understand your obligations to help people with disabilities attend and participate in your meeting and you can stop asking why you have to provide sign language Interpreters because they’re expensive.

You can read what Tracy Stuckrath has written about food and beverage and shared elsewhere in our industry. Or why meeting the needs of those who “claim to be vegan” really means they need to eat what they need to eat so they feel valued.

It’s pretty easy to understand why people want to be included in all the activities at your conferences and in your facilities. And why it hurts so much when people are not.

We need to be hospitable and welcoming in all that we do.

It all matters because we live in a global society and we all need to support each other, no matter how much we or others might think or say otherwise. It all matters. It just does.

Related Reading From the March 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 03.02.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.​

Marriott Planner Clash: What’s Commission Got to Do With It?

Originally posted Meetings Today Blog

Marriott Planner Clash: What's Commission Got to Do With It?

In Houston and Puerto Rico people are still homeless and without power. Though I have no statistics, I imagine some of those people are in the hospitality industry.

Flu is spreading around the United States and killing people; many cities are without shots or medicine or IV bags, the latter made in Puerto Rico.

Among those getting the flu are workers who don’t get paid sick leave and some, no doubt, work in our industry or the wider hospitality industry.

There is talk of war with North Korea that few take seriously.

Housekeepers and others in hotels are demanding “panic buttons” in cities where they are not currently mandated because of the attacks that are real and were documented in Time magazine’s “Person of the Year 2017: The Silence Breakers” issue and also noted in the January 2018 edition of Friday With Joan.

Wildfires, drought, floods and other natural disasters; refugees crowded into camps; the United States proposing to deport hundreds of thousands of people among whom we are certain are people who work in hospitality jobs.

All of these people and issues occupy my thinking.

With all that as a backdrop, let’s examine the extensive industry energy and conversations that are focused on Marriott’s reduction of commission from 10 to 7 percent for those who work solely or partially for commission from hotels.

It’s a greater amount of energy than I’ve seen directed toward the other issues.

First, some background and a disclaimer: I founded my meeting planning/consulting business, Eisenstodt Associates, LLC, in 1981 after working for an art museum, then full-time part of the year for a not-for-profit in D.C.

During off-time from the not-for-profit employment, I did contract meeting planning work for organizations in and outside D.C., my home base.

In all but one instance since then (when a client had already negotiated a rate with a rebate that would off-set fees from a third party and then hired my company), I have been paid hourly or daily or project fees from clients.

How did I determine what the source of payment would be?

When I started Eisenstodt Associates, LLC, I talked with others—there weren’t many “third parties” or “independent planners” in 1981—and all, except one, with whom I spoke said they worked on a fee-for-service payment system.

It was a model that made sense to me and didn’t present a conflict of interest, which proved to be a smart move in light of recent (and previous) events.

This blog post is not intended as legal or business advice.

It is opinion based on 40+ years in our industry and additional research. It is also based on my experience testifying as an expert witness in industry disputes and in a dispute in which I was directly involved, a situation where, had I not been paid fees versus commissions, there might have been a very different outcome.

Here’s that story, illustrative of the commission versus fee dilemma:

In 1984 I was a defendant in a case that involved a canceled and relocated meeting, the site selection and contract negotiation for which were done by an in-house planner at the time the site was selected. The judge found that, though the suit was against the group, me individually and my company, I had nothing to gain because I was not receiving commission or higher commission as a result of the move of the meeting.

Thus the cases against me and against my company were thrown out.

Because of that and other experiences, I have, for years, on the issue of commission paid to third-party/independent planners or companies from hotels and other industry suppliers, which is certainly not a new concern for our industry, engaged in discussions.

Most recently, on the issue of the Marriott commission structure change, the discussions have been across social media, in interviews by numerous industry publications—including Meetings Today for which I write regular blog posts that are featured in a newsletter—and in conversations with people on different sides of this issue including various third-party models, attorneys, hoteliers and DMOs.

In fact, the discussion around the “agency” model of commission pay versus fees has been one on the list of futurists and others as a model that is not sustainable.

It even contributed to the demise of many travel companies.

AND I get it—the anger and frustration … why a cut in one’s projected income is a blow, in any situation. And while I understand the anger, I think that we are long overdue in discussing the model and even more overdue in showing how our segment of the hospitality industry has changed and why the commission model as we’ve known it may be outdated.

Our industry has no standards of how one is to be paid; it has been left to individuals and their clients to figure out. Right, we cannot discuss specific fee-setting amounts. But the equity or appropriateness of commissions for varied levels of services is verboten except in private conversations … in hushed tones especially when it is verified that someone will pay higher guest room rates or other costs because others received commission. Thus we each negotiate the scope of work, time and fees with clients directly.

While the voices are loud over a change in commission for some, I also know that no one has fought for those of us who work for fees—who conduct training (being told that instead of an appropriate honorarium we should “do it for the exposure”), select sites, design meetings, negotiate contracts and provide site management—to be paid what we’re worth by clients versus depending on room pickup to determine what we earn.

Though I know I’m not alone, it appears others that share my experiences and views on the problematic commission payment model for third-party planners are a minority.

Or at least, other than in a few examples I’ve seen, many are not speaking up.

My objections to the Marriott commission brouhaha and boycott center on these key points:

1. Not all third parties are equal: I’ve seen the work of many who do site selection only and in fact, do only “lead generation,” and who are not providing other services such as contract negotiation, meeting management, on-site management, etc.

I know that not all third parties have contracts with their clients and thus are not protected or even smart in how they work. I know because I’ve seen it—and been told by many—that people are in for a quick buck for even just recommending a property and expect to be paid and have found that being paid by hotels is a far easier way than doing more, such as contract negotiation.

(An incomparable example from years ago on an industry listserv: planners would post asking for recommendations of properties and third parties would copy the request, put it on letterhead and send to hotels as if it were their client and expect and receive commission for the lead generation).

Of course, it’s not all and yet, it seems to be a growing number. Without standards of operation or adherence to industry ethics policies (see point 5), there is no regulation on how people operate.

2. Legal and tax implications: As noted above, in the lawsuit in which I was involved as a defendant and in ones in which I’ve testified, commission can clarify or cloud the outcome. If it appears that one is making more as a result of a commission because a meeting cancels and moves or one hotel is selected over another because the commission is greater, it can if not in fact, in appearance, be a conflict of interest.

In talking with a third party that accepts commission and then rebates some or all to the client, I was curious about the tax (and ethical and legal) implications for both parties. The initial recipient of the (usually) larger amount is taxed on that amount. Those to whom a portion of that amount is rebated, are taxed on the lesser amount.

It’s not “free money” in any case.

In talking with Josh Grimes, Esq., an attorney on the group side for our industry, he said: “In terms of the boycott, I suppose that planners can do what they want.

“But if they are going to ignore Marriott [properties] in favor of other properties that pay higher commission, then planners may have an ethical and legal (i.e., remember Sarbanes-Oxley – SOX – accountability rules?) obligation to let their clients know that they aren’t going to evaluate properties solely on the basis of what’s best for the client, but that planner compensation will also be a factor.

“The client ought to consent to this different way of sourcing properties.

“I remember the days when I did SOX presentations, when planners rejected any notion that some might choose one property over another based upon the amount of commission paid. I was told repeatedly that professional meeting planners would never let commissions be a factor,” he added. “It appears that something has changed.

Lastly, I fear that with the deadline of March 31, 2018, for contract signing (when Marriott will pay less commission to some third parties than they had been), there will be rushed, bad contracts. Is there anyone still in the industry who doesn’t know what happens when contracts are rushed?

“Do-overs” are not easy when the terms are not well vetted.

3. Professionalism: Some have said that by paying some third parties less it means we are not well-regarded as professionals. C’mon! We have, sadly, never been.

And though platforms of various organizations have demanded we work harder at getting a “seat at the table”, by demanding commissions versus the seat, we are demeaning ourselves into commodities not professionals.

4. Boycotts: When a number of groups, including some of the clients with whom I work (and PCMA pre-emptively for Texas), said they would boycott cities or hotel companies or cancel meetings over the anti-transgender aka “bathroom bill” or other like civil and human rights policies and laws, there was much pooh-poohing that we were hurting cities, hotels and workers who were most impacted.

Somehow the “Say No to Marriott”—or #SayNotoMarriott if you’re on social media—boycott movement that is entirely about finances is acceptable.

In the case of the principle of cutting commissions to all but a few companies, it may in fact be principle. It is not being positioned as such.

5. Ethical implications: One of the organizations at the forefront of the protest about this change in commission amount does not have an ethics policy for its members though I, a past Chair of ASAE’s Ethics Committee, offered to help write one and the offer was refused (If I’m incorrect and one was created, my apologies. I couldn’t find it. Please provide the link in the comments).

Excerpts from major meeting and event industry organizations’ ethics policies could impact how the boycott of one brand is perceived:

The CMP Code of Conduct/Ethics is similar to others. In the CMP Code it says:

“As a recipient of the CMP designation by the Events Industry Council (‘Certificant’), a CMP must pledge to…

“Never use my position for undue personal gain* and promptly disclose to appropriate parties all potential and actual conflicts of interest.”

MPI’s Principles of Professionalism says this in the first section:

Avoid actions which are or could be perceived as a conflict of interest or for individual gain*

PCMA’s Principles of Professional and Ethical Conduct has among its principles:

  • Respect the policies and regulations* of those organizations with whom I deal.
  • Refuse inappropriate gifts, incentives and/or services in any business dealings that may be offered as a result of my position and could be perceived as personal gain.*
  • Avoid any and all conflicts of interest* and advise all parties, including my organization, of any situations where a conflict of interest exists.

Emphasis is the blog author’s.

There are also ethical and business implications for those cities and properties marketing higher-than-Marriott’s new commission and the “woo-hooing” of such offers on social media. How sustainable will this be?

Will these offers be applied across the board to all third parties? What about groups that have internal planners and want a discount that would reflect what a commissionable agent would receive? Or want a rebate to equal what others might receive?

Or an internal planner who doing the same work a third-party might do believing they are due perks for the work?

I think the waters are being muddied even more with these offers.

6. Do what you say: I’m mainly looking at the third parties who have always maintained that they do not book based on what they make in commission and instead book based on what is best for the client. If one rules out an entire company—or is it the ownership of hotels or the management companies as well as the brand?—because the person or company booking isn’t making enough, then can this be true?

7. When other hotel brands or owners follow suit: What then? Will there be a boycott of all brands? Will only brands—or owners of particular hotels who agree to pay the highest commission be considered?

Can a sustainable business model for brands and owners be groups who use a commissionable agent plus a housing company that receives a share of the room rate plus groups who want rebates to off-set their costs plus concessions that, in fact are not “free” but have a dollar value? When and where will it stop?

I understand economics and earning a living and the arguments in favor of the “trickle-down” effect as it relates here—those who don’t earn more can’t employ others or spend more to grow the economy. But where then, is the outcry for a higher minimum wage for those in our industry, especially for back-of-the-house workers and servers?

Some have cited the new U.S. tax laws and Marriott’s profitability as a reason they should pay third parties more or at least what they were paying. Why should commissionable agents receive more than those doing the, literal, heavy lifting in hotels? Or is it that some want everyone paid and the owners and brands to take the hit?

Could Marriott have handled this differently?

You betcha! IF instead of a letter sent without, it seems, warning, there had been conversations (which it appears there were not or at least not that anyone is disclosing) with large and small third parties to discuss this.

IF owners (where is AHLA’s voice?) were saying what we think they must be—that they are demanding greater ROI, would that matter to the protesting voices?

Or is this back to let them take the hit—they are getting tax breaks?

IF this had been applied across the board and not exempting four companies, who have allegedly been granted an exclusion from the commission cut until 2020, would it have been more palatable?

IF those 4 companies said “whoa—let’s do this across the board versus just for some” because “what’s good for all is best for the industry” would this have been more acceptable?

Is it that those who are contractors for some of these companies, especially among those exempted, and groused before about their smaller share of total commission and now will get even less, adding fuel to this fire?

Is a boycott for financial reasons for oneself now Kosher?

Really. I am trying to understand all the different viewpoints … and how the focus is so much on this issue and not on, say, Puerto Rico and the suffering of so many including many in our industry. I’m seeking answers and ethics versus rancor.

I know this is a tough topic and that you may want to contribute comments and prefer to do so anonymously. Comment below and if you prefer to comment anonymously, please send your comments to me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and I promise to add to the discussion here and to ensure your privacy by, as always, not disclosing your identify to anyone.

Finally, here are some additional resources for planners to consider when confronting issues of ethics, payment and more:

How to Network and Ethically Do Business in a Relationship Industry

‘Ethical Negotiation’ – An Oxymoron?

What’s Wrong With Hotel Contracts?

Seven Keys to Hotel Contract Success

Is the Meetings Industry Corrupt?

When Laws and Meetings Collide: Go, Stay or Boycott?

Contracts: Accommodations (Meetings Today Webinar)

Contracts: Critical Clauses (Meetings Today Webinar)

Q&A: Sexual Harassment in the Meetings Industry

Originally posted Meetings Today and Friday’s with Joan


Jessica Pettitt, Speaker and Consultant                 Sherry Marts, CEO, S*Marts Consulting

“Sexual harassment” as a term was not coined until 1975, as documented by Lin Farley in this Op-Ed piece for The New York Times. It was years later that the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) added guidelines on sexual harassment.

For those of you who live in other parts of the world, I encourage you to comment on this article with more information (and links) about the protections against sexual harassment and other workplace bullying. Our goal is to ensure greater protection and knowledge for all that are in and related to our industry.

In selecting those to interview, I turned to Sherry Marts and Jessica Pettitt, both of whom have written extensively on issues of equality, inclusion and harassment. Their views are their own based on research and experience. They may not reflect all my views or those of the publisher of this blog and newsletter.

My gratitude for their time and sharing of experiences. If we’ve accidentally edited responses in a way that changes the meaning, forgive us and add please to the comments to correct our errors. In some cases, their words have been emphasized either in bold or italics or both by this author to call attention to certain concepts.

Q1. Those interviewed:

Sherry A. Marts (SM), Ph.D., CEO of S*Marts Consulting LLC, is a former association CEO with a wide-ranging background in biomedical research, regulatory affairs, nonprofit management, public education and research advocacy. She provides expert consulting and training services to nonprofits and academic institutions on diversity and inclusion, harassment and bullying, and interpersonal communication. She also offers executive and career coaching with an emphasis on career and leadership development for women.

Dr. Marts is a skilled workshop leader, facilitator, writer and speaker with a lively personality and a keen sense of humor. Her interest in the issue of harassment and bullying lies at the intersection of her professional life as a woman in science, and her previous experience as a women’s self-defense instructor.

Her most recent publications include:

Dr. Marts received her B.Sc. (Hons.) in Applied Biology from the University of Hertfordshire, and her Ph.D. in Physiology from Duke University.

You can connect with her at her website, www.smartsconsulting.com,

or via email at sherry@smartsconsulting.com.

Jessica Pettitt (JP), M.Ed., CSP™, pulls together her stand-up comedy years with 15-plus years of diversity trainings–about which she says on her website, “WARNING: Not your typical diversity trainer!”–in a wide range of organizations to serve groups to move from abstract fears to actionable habits that lead teams to want to work together. With a sense of belonging and understanding, colleagues take more risks with their ideation, converse precious resources through collaboration, and maintain real connections with clients over time.

You can read her full resume here, including the extensive list of publications, training and work she does. Jessica Pettitt can be contacted at jess@goodenoughnow.com, or text her about anything to 202.670.4262.

A personal note: I am grateful that Jess wrote Good Enough Now, about which you can read more about here and purchase copies of via the link provided on that page, if you so choose.

Q2. What is “sexual harassment?” What is non-sexual bullying or harassment? How are they alike and how do they differ? Why is it important to differentiate, especially since the current conversations are about sexual vs. general harassment?

SM: I hate the term “sexual harassment” and I don’t use it. I talk about gender-based harassment and bullying.

The term “sexual harassment” puts the focus on the content of the harassing behavior, rather than on the effects of that behavior. When you look at the effect of gender-based harassment on targets and bystanders you can clearly see that this is not about sex, sexuality or human intimacy–even when the harasser’s goal is some kind of sexual contact or activity. Harassment is all about power.

Whether we’re talking about gender-based harassment or harassment on the basis of any other personal characteristics (race, religion, age, ability, size, etc.), we’re talking about behavior that emerges from the difference in power between the harasser and the target. Harassment is all about who controls the space, and who is or is not safe in that space. Street harassment conveys the clear message that the target is not safe from unwelcome attention in public spaces simply because they are female, or transgender, or a person of color, or wearing a hijab, and so on. Workplace harassment conveys the message that the target is not safe and not welcome in that workplace, or in a particular role in that workplace.

Harassment is a form of bullying, one that focuses on a personal characteristic of the target. The bully’s message is “I can make your life hell and you can’t do anything about it.” The harasser’s message is “I can make your life hell and you can’t do anything about it. You don’t belong here, and I can get away with treating you this way because you are a ____.”

I have heard from many women whose initial harassment experiences fit the legal and HR definitions of sexual harassment, and whose harasser shifted tactics after the woman complained. The harasser then turned bully–belittling her in meetings, sending all-caps email rants that he cc’d to everyone in the department, excluding her from important meetings or conversations about her work, and so on. Her further complaints to HR were dismissed because this was no longer “sexual” harassment. That’s one of the problems with segregating harassment and bullying with sexual content from other forms of harassment and bullying.

JP: I didn’t know the words bullying or harassment until I had been on the speaking circuit for a decade or so and they were suddenly topic areas of speakers. Similarly, I didn’t know the word lesbian until graduate school. Interestingly, to me at least, I was personally impacted and/or targeted by bullies, harassers and homophobes, long before I had access to the language that described me and the experiences.

As a diversity and inclusion speaker, author and consultant, I have always gravitated to the incongruences of oppression and work daily to bring light to those silenced and marginalized, even if I don’t know the right words. Most recently, I have learned that airlines don’t have a policy to deal with unwanted and/or unsolicited touching while in flight. They claim no responsibility, have no response protocol, and no criminal action is taken to prevent the perpetrator from leaving the plane. I don’t know anything about this–and this is my newest area of mind-blowing WTF moments where I, too, don’t have the language.

I don’t know that I agree that it is important to separate out sexual vs. general harassment. This is about power and not a sexual fetish or conquest of sorts. The feeling of being entitled to someone else’s space, body or a specific response can be problematic, and that is if the other person feels this as a use of power over their sense of agency or in exchange for something that feels limiting. This is a subjective definition and why this area is tricky. Sometimes, the motivation can be solved through education and sometimes it can’t be.

I draw a parallel between “in group” and “out group” language to some degree. There are stories, words and actions that are permitted (rightly or wrongly) within sub groups or communities to which you belong that are not promised to be permitted in other settings. One must learn each setting and follow often unwritten rules about what is permitted, and over time, these rules may change. An individual can also write their own rules about what is and isn’t permitted, and these rules apply to their own behavior–not others necessarily. I should mention, I am not a lawyer, I was a ceramics major so take my legal advice with that in mind.

Lastly, it is never appropriate to say or do anything without someone’s consent and yet we do this all the time, and most of the time it even seems to work out okay. We are not entitled to feedback, education, training or a conversation with someone that we have offended or hurt. It is our responsibility to listen to those that do give us feedback and assume that we don’t know everything.

Imagine what would happen if we entered a conversation prepared to be wrong–this isn’t at all about overpowering the other, but actually listening and connecting with them if they want to.

Q3. Our readers are in hospitality–as meeting professionals (aka planners or designers of content and delivery), sales for AV companies, hotels, convention centers, cities, conference centers and related services, and others. A friend once said to me that at hospitality gatherings it “feels like Hollywood” with all the hugging and kissing. If that’s the culture,

  • How is it contributing to potential harassment and the ability to say no to even a general greeting from a business contact that could involve a hug or kiss?
  • How do we turn it around to change the culture of the industry? Do we need to and why? And are industry associations (MPI, PCMA, IAEE, ASAE, etc.) responsible to help do so?

SM: Whether or not this kind of social behavior contributes to harassment, it is behavior that needs to be reconsidered because it is troubling and can be exclusionary. There are myriad reasons why someone doesn’t want to be hugged or kissed. Maybe they have a cold and don’t want to spread it. Maybe they are on the autism spectrum and physical contact is excruciating for them. Maybe they have severe germ phobia. Maybe they come from a cultural background in which that kind of touch is restricted to family members and spouses.

Who knows how many members, attendees, employees, even business contacts have stayed away from events just to avoid the unpleasantness of putting up with, or trying to avoid, unwanted touch? [Author note: I’m reading the book The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People and learning so much about myself and others. What Sherry says plays into lessons in this book as well.]

[On-site meetings] staff can help by modeling behavior that discourages this kind of contact without permission or consent. They can be the ones who ask first: “May I give you a hug?” which doesn’t take long and is a perfectly polite and reasonable question.

“Please don’t hug me without asking” is a perfectly polite and reasonable response to being forced into a hug. If this truly has become part of the culture, then work that as the association has become aware that this is a barrier to all members feeling safe at the meeting, everyone should ask before hugging–something like a gentler version of the DC Metro [mass transit] campaign, “If it is unwanted, it’s harassment.”

I know lots of people who proclaim, “But I’m a hugger, I hug everyone!” I really doubt that all of these folks are incapable of resisting the urge to wrap their arms around someone in public. Always, always, always ask before your grab and then wait for a positive response before you move in. Don’t assume that because this is someone you’ve hugged before, they are okay with being hugged again.

Consent is active, not passive, and past consent does not imply current consent.

And yes, I am fully aware of cultural differences in how people greet each other. Japanese bowing etiquette is a great example. It is amazing how much information (respect, dominance, deference, fondness) can be exchanged in the process of simply bowing from the waist, and physical contact is not required.

The custom in some cultures of cheek-kissing is one that comes up in discussions about “to hug or not to hug,” and I have a couple of thoughts on that. The first is that if cheek kissing is NOT part of your culture, it is perfectly okay to decline to participate. You may have to let the cheek-kisser know that on first encounter, but there is no reason why you have to conform to their custom if that custom makes you uncomfortable.

The second is that, having experienced cheek-kissing rituals when doing business in Europe, I found them somewhat less invasive than some U.S. customs. They are certainly less invasive and less prone to “accidental” unwanted touching of body parts than hugs; they are even less invasive than the U.S. “handshake-elbow grab-pull in for a pat on the back” maneuver.

JP: I just spoke at a conference that was VERY huggy. When I say huggy, I mean deep long-lost friend hugs that genuinely seemed honest and loving with nothing but a “welcome to the community” intention. I am not a touchy, huggy person, and when at conferences, I know that the hugs will happen so I brace myself and enjoy being part of the community norm. I still get VERY uncomfortable when someone hugs me or approaches me from behind, and the depth, length and tightness of the hugs at the conference I just returned home from was a new level of discomfort. I simultaneously felt welcomed and emotionally drained until the last day of the conference, I was literally out of juice in a way I can’t really describe.

I don’t have direct answers or solutions. I also don’t want a world or meeting culture where people, specifically men, are terrified to emotionally connect, show respectful affection, etc. I don’t know that it is the meeting industry’s role to mediate what is an intention of a touch and the impact of that touch–I would like to think that our cultural norms can set these standards. I also would like to see people more confident that they have more to offer than a sexual object or are valued by society by how attractive or sexually active one is. This is a larger issue about respecting one another and ourselves differently and without connection to another person.

We all have work to do.

It is also true that someone can learn and behave differently than they did in the past. This can be both a positive progressive movement as well as a decline in rational choices and personal decisions. To make it even more complicated, though always about power, sexual harassment and bullying can be considered comedy, entertainment and harmless, and the next second it has gone too far.

At another conference I spoke at recently, a comedian introduced me following the [immediate past] Secretary of Education’s speech. [The person introducing me] talked about how young and attractive the Secretary of Education was while he was serving himself breakfast in the back of the room post-speech. He turned red and the audience laughed. The introducer continued and suddenly, it was too much. She kept going and as she walked off the stage she stated her phone number and said, “Most marriages don’t last–call me.”

This turned abhorrent. As I took the stage, and began my keynote, I named what had happened by saying, “With all that is going on in the world, that is an excellent example of sexual harassment and what not to do.” [During the] conference, [participants], men and women, thanked me for naming it as sexual harassment. It took almost nothing on my part to name it, and collectively, we in the industry could do this, too.

Q4. Much of what’s in the news is about sexual harassment by men toward women, except for the cover story in Time naming the #MeToo movement as “persons of the year” where men were included, and in the case of some celebrities and the spouse of a politician in Massachusetts. Is this what’s prevalent vs. same-gender harassment? Toward LGBTQ people? Toward transgender people?

SP: “Wait, what about me?!? I’m oppressed, too, you know!!” The age-old cry of those in power (i.e. white, straight, cis-gender men) whenever the rest of us object to being treated as less than human.

The vast majority of incidents in professional settings are men harassing women, and most often older men harassing younger women, or men higher in rank or power harassing women lower in rank or power. Yes, men do harass men, although it often takes the form of bullying rather than “sexual” harassment. And there is a lot of intersectional harassment and bullying–targets are selected and bullied because of their gender or gender identity AND their race, religion, appearance, age, etc.

Hair-splitting over who is more harassed than whom, and exactly what kind of harassment they experience, is a distraction from the real problem. The real problem is the steady and unrelenting abuse of the power dynamics in organization.

The goal of all this is pretty simple. Behave like an adult. Treat people like the human beings that they are. Don’t be an asshole.

JP: All harassment is about power. The harassment of trans folks, specifically transwomen of color, is significantly more likely to result in death or life long injury and disability. The indecipherable “femininity” of a person perceived to be a man, therefore assumed to be gay, and a person of color is a deadly combination of assumptions almost always resulting in acts of violence that are often supported by local, state and federal laws. LGBQ people, as long as they are white, upper class and conform to binary standards, they are less likely to be harassed or bullied, and yet are consistently starting in elementary school. Similarly, to show up as one’s full self, they (we) must come out to every person we come in contact with and every day of our lives. This alone can compound and feel like an act of violence, then add on bias or hate incidents where folks are targeted by others. Again, it is all about power. It is important to mention that a woman of color started the #MeToo campaign and was left off of the Time cover as well as the narrative of the hashtag that was eventually picked up by a straight white cis actress–then it got attention.

Q5. What do we all need to know and watch for? How do we, for ourselves and for our friends, colleagues, co-workers and families, help those who may be afraid to speak out for fear of retribution, including fear of job loss? What are the bullet points people can use to fend off unwanted touch, or more?

SM: Targets, and many witnesses, recognize bullying and harassment for what it is. If nothing else, that little gut clench when you hear a comment or see a behavior, so easily dismissed or overridden, is a sure sign that yes, that was unwelcome, unwanted, inappropriate and downright wrong.

It takes a lot of forethought and practice to speak up. The most effective responses follow a simple formula:

“You just did/said ____.

“I don’t like it.” Or “That violates our code of conduct.” Or “I don’t want to hear things like that.”

“Stop doing/saying _____.”

Say it with a straight face, neutral body language, no apology, no smiles, no being “nice” about it. Use volume and tone of voice to reflect the intensity of your upset over what they did or said.

If you want to intervene and you aren’t the target, don’t speak for the target; make it about you: “I find that extremely offensive.” “I don’t want to hear things like that at work.” “That violates our code of conduct.” “We don’t do that here.”

Self-defense classes usually include practicing this kind of response, which is generally effective and does not escalate the encounter. I recommend that anyone and everyone take a good empowerment self-defense class. (In the D.C. area, Defend Yourself http://defendyourself.org/ and Collective Action for Safe Spaces http://www.collectiveactiondc.org/ offer classes on harassment resistance and empowerment self-defense.)

[Author’s note: check if these organizations or in your location and, in the comments please, add names of other resources in other cities and countries of which you are aware].

JP: I suggest that trying to help and support others to do something may be frustrating as it varies person to person what is the right thing to do. The best thing to do is to take responsibility for yourself. Who and how we show up is our responsibility. When do you want to take power from someone else? If you answer “never” then you have work to do.

Stand up to those taking power away from others, especially if it really doesn’t cost you anything or feel like a risk. When you think something isn’t a big deal–this means there isn’t much of a risk for you. Say something. Notice who and how you are regarding power with and over others. Notice your own touch patterns as well as language you shift using with one person or group but not another and ask yourself why. If your own behaviors and language choices stand up to your own questioning process you can keep them or change them. Either way, if they survive your questioning processes, you can justify or explain them to others.

Q6. What have I not asked that you want to tell readers about sexual or other workplace and meeting harassment?

SM: Whether you’re the target or a bystander, effectively responding to harassment in the moment is a learned skill and takes practice. The more people learn and apply these skills, the faster we’ll see changes in behavior. That said, responding on an individual level does entail risks, from social sanctions (“Don’t talk to her, she’ll ream you out for harassment.”) to job loss and career derailment.

Harassment resistance and intervention by individuals is a start, but bigger changes are needed to eliminate this behavior in professional settings. Leaders in organizations, professions and workplaces have to make this a priority, and have to be willing to take rapid and effective action to eliminate harassers and bullies from every professional setting.

Until organizations and employers are willing to shoulder the risk of actually enforcing policies against harassment and bullying, cultures won’t change. As long as HR offices and Title IX offices are told their jobs are risk reduction and liability avoidance, complaints will continue to be investigated unto death and then dismissed as “unproven,” and this behavior will continue.

Until targets are listened to, believed, EFFECTIVELY protected from retaliation, and rewarded for their courage in coming forward, organizations will continue to lose talented, creative and productive people. As long as harassment and bullying are tolerated and even rewarded, harassers will harass and bullies will bully.

JP: Just know that harassment isn’t like the chicken pox. If you hear of someone’s experience(s), believe them and know that there are more experiences in their past and more to come in their future. This doesn’t happen just once and you are done. This is a lifelong experience. I think this has been the most shocking part for those new to this conversation.

I am a 43-year-old woman and I don’t know another woman that doesn’t experience sexualized violence, harassment and/or bullying throughout their lives. Let that sink in. It doesn’t have to be a problem for you to be a problem for others. Now, let’s do something about it.

Click here to view additional content in the 01.05.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.​

#MeToo in Meetings and Hospitality: What’s Next?

Originally posted Meetings Today Blog    Friday’s with Joan

#MeToo in Meetings and Hospitality: What's Next?

I remember receiving a call years ago from someone important in our industry threatening me and my business if I were to dare speak of something about which I knew nothing about until the call. This person was threatening me based on an incident about which it was believed I’d spoken.

I remember the appointment with a new doctor whose exam of me seemed “not right” and the looks on the nurses’ faces but I didn’t know what to expect, so I said nothing. And I remember so many other incidents as do you—as someone who experienced them or as someone who was the perpetrator.

The current wave of accusations of sexual and other harassment in the workplace and at meetings are not new. This research paper from 1998, titled Sexual Harassment Issues in the Hospitality Industry by David Gilbert, Yvonne Guerrier and Jonathan Guy, may very well verify what the informal poll numbers, and, separately Meetings Today—through the January 2018 Friday With Joan newsletter poll—will find.

Yet we begin the new year where we left the old: discussing harassment and bullying with the daily breaking stories including this one—Companies Hit by Sex Misconduct Target the Dreaded Holiday Party—published at the end of the last year, from Bloomberg, about the impact on holiday parties amid fear of allegations of harassment, stating that if alcohol were limited, it would cut down on harassment.

And then there’s some of you who may have even considered, while planning “holiday” gatherings, whether to play “Baby It’s Cold Outside” in light of the #MeToo era, as discussed in this recent Washington Post article.

While alcohol and song lyrics may contribute to thoughts of harassment, they do not cause it. Power is what spurs people to harass others. I asked, among those in hospitality social media groups, for their stories.

These are (edited for length and to eliminate identifiers) some of the stories I received.

From a meeting planner: WOW! As I read [other articles] it is so reminiscent of what our team went through. The entire staff complained to the Board about our supervisor’s verbal abuse.

We were sent to what might be called “team therapy.” At the end of the session, the facilitator announced who the person—in attendance!—who caused the harassment was and about whom the complaint was made. The verbal abuse grew much worse. Jobs at my level were hard to find so I kept working even when others left.

I was finally fired with no reason given.

From a meeting vendor: I had a boss sexually harass me in front of several people at a job retreat at which there had been lots of drinking all day and I was clad only in a swimsuit. I was asked to sign a paper saying I would not discuss the incident.

I don’t think it was really a sexual thing with him. Much like [many of the more famous people accused], it was a power play. Hookers can be hired for sexual desires, but power is real the driver. They can do what they want to their employees.

After he did what he did to me, a co-worker sitting next to me said. “Don’t be mad. It is like a dog humping your leg.” I will never forget that comment. Like he does this to everyone and he is the boss. Like what they said about Charlie Rose.

“That is Charlie being Charlie.”

The other owner of the company came to my office, and closed the door and [asked], “How much money do you want to make this go away?” I told him I didn’t want money.

This company [then went] through my emails to try to find something on me and fired me. I then got a lawyer who said it was a moot point (to try to argue [against] this).

From a (now) third-party contractor: My first experience [with harassment] happened when I was very young and starting out in the industry. I was physically attacked on an elevator at a major convention hotel in the city I represented. The attacker was a prominent person with an association that was considering our city for their meeting. What was so shocking is after it happened was that my boss at the time required me to continue working with this group. I was young and naïve; I did as I was told.

I eventually left that job and returned to the same organization years later. This was all before computer records. The paper files of the incident were gone.

No actions were taken against the attacker.

From a third party: A couple years ago I was sexually harassed and because I’m an independent contractor, I was told there was nothing I could do legally even though I told the company to whom I contracted about it. The client was a big one and important to the company [for the revenue it produced]. The complaint resulted in the client leaving the company and because there was no contract with the client, there was nothing that could be done to support me or to bring in the revenue from which I’d also benefit.

After a few days of discussing what happened with my family and friends, a decision was made to inform [the harasser’s] supervisors. There was never a response from them; he continues to work there. I still enjoy working independently but having more support would be nice.

From a meeting planner: I unfortunately have a story to tell. Mine is slightly different: my boss harassed me in front of colleagues for being a nursing mother.

We were on site at our annual meeting and the boss made various comments regarding me nursing my child while at the meeting. Because of this, I no longer felt I could trust this person and was uncomfortable in other situations. I explained it to this person and nothing changed. I told HR and nothing happened. So I quit.

This issue of bullying touches on hot topics: breastfeeding, working mothers, mom-shaming. I’ve been trying to figure out how else I can share my story and help support other working mothers because our industry is unique with the amount of travel we have to do.

From a corporate planner: In a new job in a small company, one of the bosses, while we were alone in the office, asked me into his office. He asked me to sit on his knee. He said if I didn’t, he’d fire me. I didn’t [sit on his knee] and he did [fire me].

I was still new and needed the job and no, I didn’t take further action and wish I had.

From a planner: I was in a large North American city about to begin a two-day conference. The night before the start of the conference, as was the company’s practice, there was a private dinner for speakers. When the dinner concluded, I went to my room, did some work, and got ready for bed. The phone in my room rang. I answered to hear one of the speakers say he wanted to give me his presentation so that it was off his plate before the morning presentations. He asked me to come to his room. Not thinking this was deceitful, I groaned to myself because I had to get dressed respectfully. I slipped into my usual conference “uniform”—a business suit I’d worn for dinner—even putting on pantyhose. I knocked on the speaker’s door. I was greeted by this person holding an open bottle of wine covering his genitals and wearing nothing except a smile on his face.

He invited me in.

As I turned to quickly get back away, he shouted “if you don’t come in and ‘come across,’ I’m not speaking tomorrow.” Obviously I left, yelling back that I was going to tell my boss. I got to my room, quite shaken and eventually fell into a restless sleep.

The next day, I wasn’t as full of self-confidence as I hoped I looked. Once my boss got there, I explained the situation.  He was obviously (imagine if he wasn’t?) on my side. We put a panel in place in case this speaker didn’t show. The speaker did show up but never apologized to me. He never spoke for the organization again.

If this were to happen today, I’d immediate advise security [of the incident that occurred] and ask them to keep an eye on my room. I’d complete an incident report for the hotel and for my employer.

I’d call a meeting very quickly with my boss and ensure security was around the event.

This marks the final story presented here sharing real examples of sexual harassment.

What constitutes harassment was a question on my mind when I traveled, in December, to visit a hospitalized family member. After “one of those days” of awful travel (via O’Hare International Airport, instead of my canceled non-stop flight), I arrived at the hospital, exhausted, during a snow storm, and walked slowly toward the entrance. The valet parking attendant offered a wheelchair. I readily agreed.

He put his hand on my shoulder, squeezed it, and said “You’ll be OK.” I was comforted and appreciative and only later thought “should I be? Is this a type of not asking if it were OK to touch me?” Really! In that setting, when I was in need of the comfort of touch, which is considered healing, I questioned it.

All because of the endless allegations of sexual harassment.

Despite statements from industry associations such as this one from MPI, shared by Meetings Today, and this article, from PCMA Convene, our industry has been remarkably quiet about these issues, until recently.

Update: Here’s another related article published by PCMA Convene.

And then there’s also this, from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), a statement sent to me with permission to publish after I reached out to them on the issue: “The hotel and lodging industry has made the safety of both employees and guests a top priority. For this reason, our properties have in place safety standards, our employees receive comprehensive and ongoing trainings, and AHLA has partnered with nationally recognized non-profits and developed tailored trainings for the industry.

“As headlines over recent weeks have shown, no industry is immune to dealing with sexual harassment. Our industry has in place procedures and protocols for employees around reporting and prevention, and these are continuously reviewed and updated. As an industry, we will continue our work, day in and day out, with a focus on ensuring America’s hotels are secure places for all those who work and visit them.”

Sexual and other forms of harassment and bullying have been whispered about for as many years as I’ve been in this industry and from what I hear from those older than I, for much longer. More prevalent is sexual and other harassment in the broader hospitality industry of which meetings are a part.

It hadn’t escaped me when, in October, I interviewed Dr. Vivek H. Murthy—the immediate past U.S. Surgeon General—and wrote about the importance of creating welcoming environments at meetings to help curb the loneliness epidemic that clearly, those welcoming environments should be appropriate.

I think the stories I received from a variety of people are the tip of the iceberg. Like with politics, media, and entertainment, and with the publication of allegations against one DMO (aka CVB) CEO [for which we’ve not found updated information since this was published, outside of a refusal by participants of a closed door meeting to comment], one wonders if more allegations will come forth. Or will the fear of job loss, like what the women at Ford Motor Company experienced, keep people from speaking out?

What should happen next? Will your organization, if it hasn’t yet done so, create a code of enforceable conduct in the workplace and for meetings and conferences? Will you report or intervene when you see harassment happening to someone else?

If it happens to you, what will you do—especially if you know your job could be on the line and you can’t afford to lose it? Will there be a demand that such conduct will not be tolerated and if so, what would the consequences be? Will groups ask in their site and vendor selection RFPs about sexual harassment suits or allegations and their settlement and policies, and determine not to book meetings in potentially hostile environments? Will members, staff, or customers who act against policy be terminated?

I know that too few of us were aware of the lawsuit by employees of The Plaza in New York or the housekeeper at the resort in California, both of which were featured, with the women who spoke out, in Time magazine’s “Person of the Year 2017: The Silence Breakers” issue, even though we knew the actions of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and tut-tutted but there was no general outcry then as there is now for people who work in hotels or those of us who plan meeting or market and sell space and services.

Two colleagues, Ben Yalow and Sherry Marts, have offered examples of policies their organizations offer on handling bullying and harassment.

As I finished writing this blog, there are more important developments to note, in particular the @TIMESUPNOW movement because it says its aim is to help those who, like Ford’s line workers and hotel housekeepers, may not have the financial and other resources to support their reporting of abuses.

Read more on the Time’s Up movement in this article from NPR. This article from Harvard Business Review is about why harassment persists and how to stop it. This is about the impact on black women of harassment and reporting it.  And this from the Washington Post’s Michelle Singletary about the fear of job loss in reporting harassment is insightful.

Even U.S. Supreme Court Justice Roberts said courts will examine protections against sexual harassment. There is much to consider when one decides the next steps.

Allegations without actions will change nothing. Read what Sherry Marts and Jessica Pettitt have to say in the January 2018 Friday With Joan sidebar.

Share your story below or if you’d prefer, I promise confidentiality, and I will, if you write to me at FridaywithJoan@aol.com, change any identifiers and post here for others to learn. If your employer or clients have policies to combat harassment in the workplace and especially at meetings or events, please, if permitted, share the links.

We can change the culture if we speak up and act.

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

Click here to view additional content in the 01.05.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.​


18 Questions to End One Year and Begin a New One

Original blog posted Meetings Today

18 Questions to End One Year and Begin a New OneWere you expecting predictions for the coming year?

2017 has been so tumultuous for the world and for our industry that it seems futile to try to predict what’s to come. Oh yes, futurists, economists and others are doing so.

A search for our industry’s future turned up lots of predictions, mainly for hotel owners and operators, restaurants, etc. To search, I used “predictions for hospitality industry for 2018” and suggest you do the same. I also hope you will continue to follow the Meetings Today newsletters, daily print and digital news, and @meetingstoday on Twitter to see what will happen in the year ahead and beyond—no one can say with 100% certainty.

I am left with questions again this year—some serious and some more mundane, in no particular order—about what we do, how we do it, and why, and what will be. I hope you’ll add your questions and perhaps your predictions, hopes, dreams for our industry and for you in the comments section at the end of this blog post.

Here’s what I’m wondering:

1. Why do hotels put signs in bathrooms stating “if one wants to reuse towels to hang the towels up” … and then have no bars on which to hang them?

2. In what ways can we convince hotels that an ADA room is not necessarily what a person who is deaf or hard of hearing or otherwise in need of accommodation wants?

3. How do we convince hotels, convention centers, and even some conference centers (IACC please also take note!) that using “Seating Matters”* by Paul Radde, Ph.D., so that rooms not set in straight rows (of chairs or tables) make more sense?

4. In what ways will meetings be more accommodating for people with mobility and other disabilities?

5. Similarly, when will airports and airlines and you, TSA and TSA PreCheck in particular, follow their own policies to ensure equal and appropriate treatment for people with disabilities?

6. Which groups and which professions will continue to include discussion throughout educational sessions at meetings versus having aisle mics with “Q&A at the end”?

7. Which hotel companies and cities will implement greater safety for their staff, housekeepers in particular [watch for upcoming January 2018 edition of Friday With Joan], to protect them against sexual and other predatory behavior from internal and external guests?

8. Will room service really end, even at hotels advertised as “high end” or “luxury,” and will it be replaced by dinner in disposable containers delivered in paper bags?

9. Who, in the broader hospitality industry, will model what Chef José Andrés and his foundation have done in Puerto Rico, Houston, Haiti and elsewhere to help others, and when?

10. What will be the maximum in added fees that airlines and hotels tack on before consumers and groups say “Enough! We’ll pay higher rates to not be nickel-and-dimed”?

11. In what ways will meetings and tradeshows change to make them as experiential as everyone says they should be and for all people including those with cognitive and other different abilities?

12. What policies will be enacted by the U.S. government and/or U.S. President Trump to further restrict who can work in our industry and attend and speak at our meetings?

13. In addition to Meetings Today and other industry-specific publications, what will you add to your reading and listening to be more informed about world events and their impact on who we are and what we do?

14. Will meeting professionals (you choose who’s in that category) gain greater respect, recognition and pay for what we do? What will cause it to happen?

15. In what ways will sustainability—beyond “no handouts” (still!regardless of researchand this article noting that many learn better writing notes on paper, whether that paper is from trees or other sources)—be implemented in hospitality and for meetings?

16. How will multiple generations at meetings and in the workplace learn to get along since those in the Boomers, Silent and GI generations aren’t retiring?

17. What are your top three (3) subjects to learn about or expand your knowledge of in the coming year?

18. Who will be the first well-known hospitality or meetings industry person to be charged with sexual harassment and what will happen as a result?

(Stay tuned for the next Friday With Joan on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, for more on this).

So there you have it, my partial list of questions to end one year and begin the next. Help expand the list. It’s known that the more and better questions we ask the greater and more informed what we know and do will be. And don’t forget about the great facilitation techniques of “tell me more” and “yes, and…” to help you on your journey.

Thank you for reading this, for communicating with me, for being part of a dynamic industry that can change the world. Thank you to the editors at Meetings Today and in particular to Eric Andersen (who better not edit this out!) and Scott Easton (ditto) for the great editing and design work to ensure a readable newsletter each month and to Tyler Davidson for his example of asking good questions.

Editor’s Note: I didn’t edit out your thanks, Joan! Also: Added thanks to Kristi Kidd, in addition to Scott, for her design work on Friday With Joan and her patience and positive attitude.

My wish for each of us and for our world is that we all may show and/or share and have access to kindness, compassion, good health, affordable housing and childcare, food on all tables, tables on which to put food and a roof over every head (this is especially for you, Puerto Rico!), and inclusion of all whether it’s at meetings or elsewhere.

*Disclaimer: I wrote the foreword for Paul Radde’s book, “Seating Matters” and received no compensation for that nor do I receive compensation for promoting Paul.

4 Ways to Strengthen Your Negotiating Skills

Originally posted Meetings Today

“Unless you wake up in the morning with a script next to your bed and on that script is everything you’ll say and do and everything those with whom you will interact will say and do, you’re doing improv(isation).” – Izzy Gesell*

Hold that thought.

Because right now, December, it’s that most awful time of the year (sorry Mr. Pola and Mr. Wyle—you did it better), when groups and hotels, in particular, are champing at the bit to get year-end contracts signed.

Sadly, when negotiations are rushed—whether month or quarter-end or in particular, year-end—they are negatively impacted and we end up with a product (contract) that may or may not reflect the intentions and understanding of the parties to the contract(s). Ideal negotiations involve patient listening and responding that moves the discussion forward in a productive fashion.

Added to the complications of rushed negotiations are the phrases “It’s our policy” (or “It’s not our policy”), “No one’s ever asked us/wanted that,” “I have to have that or we can’t sign,” “You’ll have to talk with legal or procurement or revenue management [you know, the Great and Powerful Oz!] and we don’t have time” and “If you don’t sign by (date), you’ll lose the whole deal.”

It’s as if everyone is scripted to say what they are told to say—the “Stepford Negotiations” perhaps we can call them!—and we do in fact revert to script versus listening and responding to what is being said. And as I learned from Izzy Gesell, none of us wake up with a script for who will say what and when.

*Gesell’s quote is paraphrased at the start of this blog.

I had one of those awful negotiations this past spring—one of the most miserable experiences ever … and in a 40+ year career, that’s saying something!

Sadly, because of the antagonistic attitude of the vendor parties (not my client but those with whom I was negotiating on their behalf), all my improvisation training and knowledge went out the door! Stress, because of critical issues and deadlines, can get the better of even the most experienced of planners.

This is the first December in years, kinehora, when I’m not faced with contract deadlines (Thank you, dear clients!). There are of course, other deadlines and the usual year-end workload when everyone else seems to be mentally or physically away (out of the office messages abound!), but no contracts … so far!

For many of you, the deadlines loom and it’s not really Dec. 31, is it? It’s more likely Dec. 20 before everyone leaves on vacation. Take a deep breath and read on. This blog can help you now and for future negotiations.

In numerous discussions on social media and elsewhere with colleagues, and in training I’ve conducted for classes in the industry and for a risk and contracts class for the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, the issues of how best and what to negotiate are always part of the conversation. How much can we get? What do we ask for? What are the hidden charges? (For this one, if you haven’t, tune in to the free webinar that Kelly Franklin Bagnall, Esq., and I presented for Meetings Today in October 2017).

What’s covered in force majeure protection? If concessions are first on our list of needs, are we getting enough? And on and on.

[If you are interested in receiving a checklist of items I think are critical to consider during negotiations or to include in a contract, email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and put “Negotiations and Contract Checklist” in the subject line. I’ll send you the checklist I use to develop contracts and for teaching others.]

What is usually taught in our industry about negotiations is to prioritize what is needed including the meeting content and delivery needs for the group and to present the group’s needs in an RFP, and for the vendor or facility to provide a proposal (often called a contract and, in my opinion, too often signed as is with no negotiation or counter-offer).

The how of doing so—negotiating—is written about in many books and online articles. For me, the best training I ever received was when I took my first improvisation class after, a few years prior, a dear friend (Librettist James Racheff) tried to teach me improv saying it was a tool that the business world needed. I confess to being too self-conscious to let go and really learn. But the improv bug had bitten. When another opportunity arose, I grabbed it and signed up for two improv classes at the International Association of Facilitators conference. I told everyone I’d signed up so that I wouldn’t back out!

I was still convinced that improvisation was “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” or Second City—as many still do—and I sure didn’t want to be on a stage no matter what my great high school speech teacher, Jim Payne, thought!

Facilitation and improv classes have taught me numerous lessons.

The two most important are to say:

  • “Tell me more,” a classic facilitation phrase that moves a conversation forward while getting the information needed.
  • “Yes, and…” versus “Yes, but…” Izzy Gesell and Bob Korin detail more about these in the Friday With Joan sidebar. “Yes, and…” carries the conversation forward and, in negotiations, acknowledges one’s own needs and wants while learning of and acknowledging the needs and wants of the person with whom you are negotiating.

When I think about successful negotiations, I realize how much the parties to the negotiations use improv to make them successful. And I know that the least successful of negotiations are the foot-stomping, my-way-or-the-highway ones where there is no give and take, all “Yes, but…” versus “Yes, and…”

Here then are four specific ways—and a bonus precursor—to better, more successful quality negotiations and ultimately, contracts:

  1. Determine what you need, want and must have and detail those in writing in an RFP.
  2. Ask those with whom you are negotiating for their needs, wants and must-haves.
  3. Acknowledge each other’s needs, wants and must-haves, whether it’s wording (not just because “legal said so” or “we’ve always done it that way”; more because it makes sense in the context of the business), terms and conditions (specific numbers and dates versus percentages and days out), and all the other specifics that the parties discuss and agree to.
  4. Move it all forward with “Yes, and…” and acknowledge at the start of the negotiations that those with whom you are working will help to keep the language in use.

Bonus Advice: take improvisation classes and practice the tools you learn. They work in all relationships and business dealings. And they allow you to laugh at yourself when you say something unintended so perhaps that’s a double bonus.

Can Meetings Help Alleviate a Major Healthcare Epidemic?

Originally posted Meetings Today Blog

Can Meetings Help Alleviate a Major Healthcare Epidemic?

Vivek Murthy, MD, who served as the 19th U.S. Surgeon General, and someone whose life and work have made a great impression on me, wrote, in this Harvard Business Review article, about his family’s experience after Hurricane Andrew: “Looking today at so many other places around the world ravaged by disasters of all kinds, I think about how often tragedy brings us together—and how fleeting that connection often is. …

“There is good reason to be concerned about social connection in our current world. Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that the real number may well be higher. Additionally, the number of people who report having a close confidante in their lives has been declining over the past few decades. In the workplace, many employees—and half of CEOs—report feeling lonely in their roles.

“During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness. The elderly man who came to our hospital every few weeks seeking relief from chronic pain was also looking for human connection: He was lonely. The middle-aged woman battling advanced HIV who had no one to call to inform that she was sick: She was lonely too. I found that loneliness was often in the background of clinical illness, contributing to disease and making it harder for patients to cope and heal.”

As I read Murthy’s article on “the loneliness epidemic,” my thoughts turned to meetings—conferences, seminars, conventions—some with a few people where it’s easier to feel lonely if one is new or has less in common with others, or is an “other” than the majority attending—an “outsider.” And then there are those large-scale meetings of hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands where you’ve come with colleagues you may or may not know well or with whom you may not feel comfortable around in a different setting. Or you may have only had a virtual connection to them—as many of us in the hospitality and meetings industry do when we attend a meeting—and you may still feel lonely.

I thought about the desire for connection during the first months of the MIMList (the first meetings industry virtual discussion group founded by Rod Marymor as part of the MIM – Meetings Industry Mall) that I moderated and how many wrote asking “Is anyone attending [fill in the blank name of an industry meeting] so we can all meet face to face?” All because no one likes being alone or lonely at a meeting or event.

Yes, there are many of us Introverts who “want to be alone” because that’s how we recharge, but we don’t want to feel lonely. Meetings are designed specifically for connections: years ago, MPI’s Foundation conducted ground-breaking studies about why people attend corporate and association meetings. The studies indicated that one of the main reasons people attended meetings was “networking” or as I came to call it, “peer to peer interaction and learning” (Sadly, the studies are out of print; I do have PDFs that we will get to you if requested—email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com).

As I read Dr. Murthy’s comments and as I thought about my own experiences with organizations and at meetings, as a first-timer and as a “veteran,” I remembered:

  • My first MPI Chapter (PMPI) meeting in D.C. when Bill Myles (now of blessed memory) came up to me as I hugged a wall, introduced himself, and invited me to serve on the Membership Committee!
  • Then my first national MPI meeting in 1984 when, though I was president of PMPI, I didn’t know others. Weldon Webb and Beverly Kinkade, both from the St. Louis Chapter (SLAMPI), took me under their wings. Oh how much easier it was to participate and meet others and to commit to greater involvement!
  • At my first International Association of Facilitators (IAF) when I walked into breakfast of 1,200 and thought I’d find a table in a corner until, when walking by three people deep in conversation, they invited me into their conversation and to a seat at their table. Included, I felt less lonely and became involved.
  • Patti Shock and Ed Polivka (he now too of blessed memory) who, at my first PCMAmeeting, welcomed me with smiles and conversation ensuring I was included.
  • And at my first meeting as an MPI delegate (thank you Doug Heath for appointment me) to the (then) Convention Liaison Council (now the EIC) Board meeting when Bill Gehron representing HSMAI, Keith Sexton-Patrick representing ACOM (now ESPA), and Sandi Lynn representing SGMP, all included me in conversations and my loneliness disappeared and my involvement grew. The two often seem to be related!

What is the obligation for those in the hospitality industry (see definition adefinition b) to help people feel less lonely? How can meetings help alleviate the loneliness epidemic and contribute to better health, just as we’ve added healthier foods, yoga, fun runs, policies to combat sexual harassment and to ensure diversity and inclusion?

How do we do it? Here are some ideas.

1. Understand the roots of loneliness. Dr. Murthy in Harvard Business Review (HBR)wrote: “Loneliness is the subjective feeling of having inadequate social connections.”

He went on to say “Happy hours, coffee breaks, and team-building exercises are designed to build connections between colleagues, but do they really help people develop deep relationships? On average, we spend more waking hours with our coworkers than we do with our families. But do they know what we really care about? Do they understand our values? Do they share in our triumphs and pains? This isn’t just bad for our health; it’s also bad for business. Researchers for Gallup found that having strong social connections at work makes employees more likely to be engaged with their jobs and produce higher-quality work…”

“Connection can also help indirectly by enhancing self-esteem and self-efficacy while also shifting our experience toward positive emotions—all of which can buffer an individual during stressful situations and have positive effects on health. Indeed, studies have found that companies whose workers feel they have high-stress jobs have markedly higher health care expenditures than their counterparts with low-stress employees. … My experience has been that people bring the most to their work when they feel connected to the mission and the people around them.”

No kidding! Because of all those who invited me into conversation and allowed us to get to know each other as individuals as well as colleagues, I immersed myself in our hospitality industry. Where would I (or you) be today if someone hadn’t taken time to include you? And I’m sure we can all think of times where we weren’t included.

2. Create opportunities for deeper connections.

Dr. Murthy, as Surgeon General wrote about his work with staff, new to him and he to them: “To bring us closer, we developed “Inside Scoop,” an exercise in which team members were asked to share something about themselves through pictures for five minutes during weekly staff meetings. Presenting was an opportunity for each of us to share more of who we were; listening was an opportunity to recognize our colleagues in the way they wished to be seen. I share what my office did not as the antidote to loneliness but as proof that small steps can make a difference [emphasis by Joan]. And because small actions like this one are vital to improving our health and the health of our economy.”

I asked in a number of social media groups about how people felt as first-timers or if they felt lonely at meetings, especially if they were at a meeting at which they knew few, if any, others. The responses reflected the sense of isolation many felt, some believing that “first-timer” designations made them stand out and they were only approached by those who were told (often board members or executive staff) to do so.

This response, slightly edited, is from colleague and friend, Elizabeth Engel. In this narrative, she is describing who makes what efforts at meetings and events:

“My first time at a [association related to hospitality and meetings] event in 2000. I’d only been in the profession for a few years, and I didn’t know anyone outside the confines of my own association employer and the staff members of our three ‘sister’ associations.

“The conference was in the city in which I live and work, and being my first conference with this organization, I didn’t realize that I should clear my evening schedule for the receptions and parties that would take place in conjunction with the event.

“So I went to sessions, sat in the back of the room all by myself, didn’t really talk to anyone, and scurried off at the end of the educational program each day to keep my evening commitments. In short, I was the attendee with no friends.

“I did learn a lot, but I kind of missed the point of an in-person event: I didn’t expand my network at all.

“I didn’t attend another large association conference for another two years. [When I did return to this conference] I still didn’t really know anyone outside my (still the same) employer and (still the same) ‘sister’ associations.

“But in the interim, I’d learned two key things: keep my evenings free, and make the first move. I knew it was on me to create a better outcome, and I did. This time, I pushed myself outside my comfort zone to look for the other person in each room who didn’t seem to have any friends, go over to her, and ask her a question about herself, which is the easiest way for introverts [and others!] to get conversations with strangers going.

“That was the start of building the professional network that has sustained me for the past twenty years, through multiple job changes and launching my own business five years ago.”

3. “Make strengthening social connections a strategic priority in your organization” said Dr. Murthy, and to which I add, and in and at your meetings.

To what Elizabeth learned and did and what Dr. Murthy suggests and the MPI Foundation studies indicate, and what we know from our own experiences and observations, when our noses are in our electronic devices at meetings, peer to peer interaction and learning can’t easily happen. If we set participation examples and explain why we are doing so, we may be able to turn around the current usual behavior and help people create better connections that can lead to more involved members.

More involved members become informed and active participants in our professions, which leads to more commitment to buying and selling from those we know.

4. Change tradeshow interactions.

It’s not just the brief hello on the tradeshow floor for buyers to obtain tchotchkes or a chance to be entered into a drawing [oh … ethics, a discussion for yet another time!] or for sales and marketing professionals to get a name to add to the database. Deeper connections can be made with real conversations like one I had with colleague Marlys Arnold at ExhibitorLive with an exhibitor in a wheelchair about shows and the ADA.

As Dr. Murthy wrote we need to “Encourage coworkers [and in our world, meeting participants and tradeshow exhibitors] to reach out and help others—and accept help when it is offered.” Read on to the sidebar to the interview with Dr. Vivek Murthy to see more of what he has to say about how meetings can help people feel less lonely.

5. Encourage interactive education.

Many of us connect best when we are talking about meaningful ways to solve problems or sharing anecdotes about our latest success or problem.

We need to help “speakers” become, and treat them more like, trainers or facilitators to encourage interaction in sessions. We also need to encourage the use of appropriate seating outside session rooms where, during breaks or at times desired, people can share what they learned and make different connections over a shared raised eyebrow in a session. In both instances we have enabled learning and encouraged less loneliness.

What are your experiences and what have you observed at your meetings—or in your hotels and convention or conference centers—that have encouraged connections and less loneliness for travelers and meeting participants?

  • When you were a first-timer at a meeting especially when you knew no one or few people, what made you feel welcome?
  • What’s your reaction—or that of those who attend your meetings—to “first-timer” designations—stickers or ribbons on badges?
  • In what ways do you encourage interaction in sessions and at social events? In what ways does it succeed and how is it measured?
  • If you’ve measured the return to future meetings (or joining or renewing membership) of first-timers or their buying habits based on meaningful versus brief interactions at tradeshows, what did you learn?
  • And what makes you feel “lonely” at a meeting and in what ways could our industry and especially our industry associations help alleviate what could lead to a greater health epidemic?

Our industry has an opportunity to help people feel less lonely and isolated. Maybe it was “bold” to suggest we can “cure” a health crisis but I think we can go a long way to alleviating it in one of aspect of society that touches many.

And so … On October 29, many of us observed the yahrzeit—anniversary death—of Rosie Ledesma-Bernaducci, a colleague and friend. Those of you who knew her and the circumstances of her death may believe as I do that loneliness contributed to her suicide. It’s that deep loneliness that though one has a smile on their face, and is well-connected and respected, masks a deeper sense of not being connected, truly connected, to others. To her, I dedicate this blog and newsletter in hopes that we can create better connections to solve the issue of loneliness in some way through meetings.

For those who would like to respond privately with a comment to be posted anonymously, please email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and I’ll post it for you.

Click here to view additional content in the 11.03.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.​

Planning for Contingencies: Site Selection to Contracting

 Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Planning for Contingencies: Site Selection to Contracting

Never in my life has writing about contingencies and contracts been so difficult! So many recent events—earthquakes in Mexico, more hurricanes, and just this week, the Las Vegas mass shooting—have occurred since I began drafting this that the situation is almost incomprehensible.

It would be, for me, immoral, not to note the horrors of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Mexico first. Because of the loss of life in a dramatic way, in an “ordinary” (certainly for our industry) setting in Las Vegas, we are currently more focused there. We understandably want to help the loved ones of those who died and those who were injured, of those, including hotel staff, who witnessed the carnage.

Like many of you, I woke the morning of October 2 to the stunning—amazing, isn’t it, that another major act of mass gun violence could be “stunning”?—news of the lone attacker who shot, from the 32nd floor of a major Las Vegas convention hotel, into a concert killing (at last count) 58 and physically injuring or causing the injury of many hundreds. Sadly, it is expected those numbers will increase.

The psychological injuries to many more who were there, who loved those killed or injured, emergency responders, local residents, hotel and concert workers are far greater. Immense thanks to MGM and Mandalay Bay for offering counseling to their employees. Just as I thought about the airport personnel who, on 9/11, let through those who terrorized the world, I can only imagine the pain of front desk, bell and housekeeping staffs who had contact with the shooter and how they might question themselves.

And then there’s those at the concert venue who perhaps never made emergency announcements, such as where to best exit the venue in case of disaster or violence*, because “what could possibly happen?”

Which brings us full circle, back to the original intent of this blog and sidebar: contingency planning—how it begins with destination and site selection, RFPs and the questions asked, negotiations, contracts, and written contingency and emergency plans. These last weeks would test even the best of planners.

My friend and colleague, Tyra Hilliard, Esq., Ph.D., CMP, and I have talked and continue to talk incessantly about these issues. My friend and colleague, Kelly Bagnall, Esq., and I will, on this upcoming Meetings Today webinar, talk critical contract clauses on October 25 at 1 p.m. Eastern time. In an index of Meetings Today blog posts related to risk management and contingency planning, there are many useful items, many of which also make reference to contracts. In July of this year, I wrote about the challenges laws being considered and passed posed for groups when selecting destinations.

No matter how much Kelly, Tyra Hilliard and Josh Grimes (quoted in the sidebar), and others talk about the importance of contracting and planning in other ways for contingencies, we still see how few do.

Rick Werth taught contingency planning at the MPI Institute programs years ago. He taught then, and I still teach, “people first.” Assets can be recovered; people cannot.

Thus, I wondered, first, about those who work in the hotels, restaurants and attractions—initially after Harvey struck and then after each subsequent hurricane and the two earthquakes—who had lost everything, including documentation, clothing, shelter and transportation. How could they go back to work, even if the hotels opened, when they were living temporarily not knowing what comes next?

What about the people of Puerto Rico still waiting for water and power? How can we expect them, in crisis, to serve guests living in comfort?

What support and counseling will hotels provide to their workers who want—no, need—to work but have on their minds all they have to do? I’ve been unable to learn how hotel companies in Houston and surrounding areas, in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and elsewhere, have handled the physical and psychological needs of employees. It’s a question to ask in your RFP because if disaster strikes and your meeting continues, you’ll want to know. If you’re with a hotel or hotel company and reading this, contact me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and tell me if you want it to be anonymous and I’ll post it.

If you want to discuss this issue openly, please respond in the comments below.

I know that we want, as Tyra notes in her comments in the sidebar of the newsletter, to book or hold meetings where disasters have struck so that the communities can get back on their feet, but what about the health and safety of those affected by disaster who staff, attend and exhibit at our meetings?

Ask questions internally, or if you are a consultant or other third party, of your clients, and ask more in your RFPs. Then if you practice what I say and do for clients, answers should be contracted to ensure the parties don’t wait until the last minute to deal with a crisis or potential crisis or even just to know what the policies and procedures are.

As Diane Ramos, CMP, and her association learned, once you are on-site getting ready for your event and a hurricane is approaching, knowing what steps you must take to keep people safe and the steps that are contractually—or legally—permitted, makes the next steps in contingency planning and action more in line with expectations.

What all should you consider in your contingency plan? What questions should you ask internally and in your RFPs? This is not an inclusive list, but it will hopefully give you some ideas on where to start.

1. Who attends your meetings? Who are your exhibitors? Your off-property service providers?

  • Of those, how many may be full or part time emergency responders? How many may be part of the National Guard or other national or international rescue team? Will they be called to respond to an emergency anywhere in the world and be unable to attend your meeting?
  • Do you work with journalists? Medical personnel? Utility workers? What will their role be in response to an emergency? If they were unable to attend your meeting, what would their inability to attend cost in attrition? Will you be able to negotiate forgiveness into your contract or forgiveness if your meeting continues? What about later on, if not in the contract? And what about forgiveness if you must fully stop your event for reasons of force majeure or because you do not think there is a reasonable way to cancel but attendance is lower due to emergency?

2. Is your company or association one directly or indirectly involved in response or infrastructure to a disaster or a crisis? If they are, what will the ability be for exhibitors and participants to attend?

3. Do participants come from areas where disaster may strike? If they decide to attend, what will you do to ensure they are able to return home quickly and safely, or shelter where the meeting is being held?

[In Las Vegas, some hotels are extending complimentary rooms for families of victims to retrieve their belongings; others are providing rooms at low cost for loved ones of those hospitalized. Several airlines, at least at first, had only waived change fees until a few days after the massacre. I hope that changed].

4. What are the conditions under which the health and safety of participants could be impacted, by say, a chemical spill? By mold from flooding? Will, like after 9/11, loved ones and companies not be willing to put others in harm’s way by attending the meeting? (Read in Diane Ramos’s comments here what they had to consider as Hurricane Irma made its way toward Florida and cancellations they began receiving).

5. What backup power is available at any venue you are using during the course of your event? How has it been tested? For how long can it last? What about water supplies? Food delivery and preparation?

6. Will the venue (especially a convention center as we have seen over and over beginning with Katrina) be a shelter for those displaced locally and for tourists and meeting-goers unable to stay in their hotels?

  • If the venue is an emergency shelter, how soon will it be available to your meeting if your meeting follows a disaster by two or three weeks—or longer—following a disaster?
  • If the venue must still be an emergency shelter following a major disaster, how will it accommodate your meeting and the needs of people who need shelter? Can it do so?

7. What infrastructure issues exist now in the destination? (Recommended: follow the reports from the American Society of Civil Engineers on U.S. infrastructure—which, right now, gets a grade of “D+”).

8. What will be the ability of the destination to respond to emergency infrastructure repair?

[Read more about the current situation in Puerto Rico, as reported by The Atlantic and The Hill, for one of the more tragic examples of the impact a disaster can have on infrastructure not unlike what New Orleans experienced after Hurricane Katrina with the loss of medical and emergency care facilities].

9. In what year was the facility you’re considering built? Is it up to, or beyond, code for any disaster?

10. Assuming there is one available, for what portion of a facility—and for how many days—is a generator serviceable? If the power is out for two, three or more days, what do you plan?

  • How has the generator been serviced? How has it been used in the past and the results?

The list is already getting long, so let’s wind things down with a final burst of questions for venues.

11. What is your backup water supply? For how many days and for how many people are you prepared?

12. If your venue is needed for a shelter, what happens to guests already in house?

13. What are the backup plans to provide food to anyone in the facility?

14. How do you support and protect your employees?

15. If you’ve been through a flood in the last year, what was the cleanup process to ensure mold was eliminated? How can you guarantee that it actually was?

16. If the venue is placed on lockdown or those inside must shelter in place for any reason, what will the procedures be for notification? Has the venue ever dealt with this sort of situation in the past?

17. Where are the closest medical facilities? What are their contingency plans in the event of disaster?

18. Will gasoline be available and in what quantities? Does your facility have its own supply?

19. What are the multiple methods for getting people to and from airports and medical facilities? What about the methods for your staff to get to and from work and home? What if there is no gasoline available or it is rationed? What backup plans are in place for employees in that instance?

  • When will airlines pull flights and personnel? How soon after a disaster will they realistically be able to fly emergency supplies in or people out of the area?

20. What will the change policies be at hotels, resorts, venues, airlines, etc., for people who must/need/want to depart early because a storm is predicted?**

**An exercise—a mini case study or tabletop exercise—I use to teach risk management begins “Two days from the main arrival for your meeting, storms are predicted.” It asks a few simple questions, beginning with “what are your assumptions?” For years, in each group, the assumptions have been that the storms are snow; are not in the area of the meeting; that there will be no problems moving forward. The reality in today’s world of mergers and acquisitions is that airlines are far more cautious with their equipment and crews, and will pull them before disaster strikes in order to avoid catastrophe.

The questions planners should be asking and that hotels and other venues should be prepared to answer are far greater in depth than most ask or consider when it comes to selecting destinations. And here’s the catch-22: in recent days, I’ve received numerous emails to book meetings in Puerto Rico just as I did for Houston because what can help an area recover better than business returning, they ask.

I concur—we need to help those in need get on their feet while we plan (in writing) for the worst. Once a hurricane is predicted, it may be too late to change plans or to move people out of harm’s way or to determine when force majeure kicks in for stopping a meeting or when force majeure can be applied to a meeting that continues but with fewer people because of a prediction of or an actual event.

Help the industry and our colleagues by adding your own questions and thoughts in the comments below. Tell us of your experiences—personal and professional—as you dealt with a crisis.

Only by sharing can we become stronger at contingency planning.

RIGHT NOW! Just as we always say “it couldn’t happen here”, it has—in multiple places in the U.S., Mexico and nearby islands, some U.S. territories, for natural disasters, and in a major convention city, a person-made crisis. If you have contracts in place, go back and ask questions and if appropriate, negotiate and write an addendum to your contracts that cover how contingencies and disasters will be handled. Write the contingency plan you’ve sworn you’d get around to but haven’t. And whether your meeting is in a “disaster prone” area, consider deeply that a disaster can strike anywhere.

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

Additionally, the information provided within the Meetings Today Blog is done so with the understanding that the writers are not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services or advice through the distribution of the content. If expert assistance is required, the services of a professional should be sought and contracted.

*My “forever” gratitude to Debbie Williams who, at the time we met and when I learned from her, worked for Microsoft. She, by example, showed me how to get on a stage in front of thousands and do her “flight attendant routine” of announcing emergency procedures and exits. Christie Hicks, once with Starwood and a past chair of the PCMA Foundation, your words to me as you exited and I entered the stage on the night I was honored by the PCMA Foundation for lifetime achievement as an educator, still stay with me and I swear, I’ll always do emergency announcements even if I’m being honored.

I hope others plan for and begin to do so at every event!

Click here to view additional content in the 10.06.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Why Can’t We All Just Meet AND Get Along?

Originally published Meetings Today

Why Can't We All Just Meet AND Get Along?

***“The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.”
– Albert Schweitzer
, theologian, organist, writer, humanitarian, philosopher and physician.

Before we get to the subject of this blog and the Sept. 2017 edition of Friday With Joan, there are some pressing issues to address: Hurricane Harvey and the flooding and other damage to Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast, and now Louisiana.

Articles like this one from The Atlantic explain what many of us intuited: that often those most impacted by disaster are those who were already in need.

Many organizations and individuals are helping. I was particularly interested in who among the hospitality industry was helping those who work in restaurants, hotels and other venues, especially the help for hourly workers who depend on tips and who may have lost everything—home, clothing, documents, transportation—and need help.

Thanks to friend and colleague, Paul Arrigo, CDME, President & CEO of Visit Baton Rouge, for the information that the Louisiana Restaurant Association (2700 N. Arnoult Road, Metairie, LA 70802) is coordinating with the Texas Restaurant Association to collect cash/checks, generic gift cards—for places like Home Depot, Lowes, Wal-Mart, etc.—for those in the restaurant industry that were impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

I also appreciated this information from Destinations International (formerly DMAI and, before that, IACVB). I hope you will consider making a donation via one of the links.

Many thanks to FEMA for this guide on how to volunteer and donate responsibly.

Meetings Today also put together this article with a list of charitable links.

And please, email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com or message in the comments of others who are specifically helping our industry’s colleagues.***

Now on to the Friday With Joan topic for September!

Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers, Xers and Nexters in Your Workplace, co-authored by Ron Zemke, was first published in 1999. I must have read about it and more from Ron (who, sadly, died in 2004) in one of many publications. I had the privilege of co-presenting with Ron at the meeting formerly known as “Springtime in the Park” in a session entitled “It’s Not Your Grandfather’s Meeting”*!

It was after that, at a Nevada Governor’s Conference on Tourism, where we both presented on different topics, that I first met Ann Fishman and heard her talk about generational issues.

As a boomer—the “why can’t we all just get along” generation, part of the center of the universe for so long—learning about the issues that impact us from the generations into which we are born fascinated me. In Friday With Joan, I’ve written previously about generations and about meeting design. The number of articles and blogs about learning, generations and the focus just in our industry about millennials and hotels’ focus on them as customers could consume our reading for months on end.

In recent years, I’ve facilitated sessions at ExhibitorLive entitled “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along” about generational issues. I chose that topic because I was so tired of what I believe are the mistaken beliefs about other generations and, in particular, about millennials (“they don’t have a work ethic,” “they’re job switchers”—as if that’s a bad thing!—“they’re self-centered” which is what we boomers heard about us, and more). I wanted to facilitate conversations among generations since we’re in this together.

Here we are, as many as five or six generations in the workplace (according to Bruce Tulgan of Rainmaker Thinking) and as guests at hotels, and participants in meetings. Here we are with the many influencers (watch live or later on-demand the Meetings Today Webinar “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? Working and Meeting Multigenerationally” on Sept. 20 to see more of those influencers) and opinions and beliefs and needs on how we work, who we are, and how we meet and what we expect out of meetings. And our role is to create experiences for everyone that satisfies their expectations and needs.

“Impossible?” Maybe. Challenging in designing meetings? Certainly!

The factors we need to consider are great and greater than just generational issues: learning styles and preferences, applying what we’ve learned from research about brains and how people learn and behave, professional rank (senior managers, CEOs, administrative assistants, etc.), abilities, and the desire to cram into a few days far too much information to process while allowing time for people to experience what we hope will help them learn and interact.

There’s no denying that for each meeting on which I’ve been involved in the design, content, delivery and logistics, and for those I’ve attended and will attend in the future, change is needed—it’s about more than one’s generational cohort.

I don’t have simple answers for how to make meetings work for all generations. I am informed by what I read, observe and watch. Recently, two particular segments on PBS NewsHour were indications of what we need now and will need for future events. Both were indicative of experiential learning that many first learned about from The Experience Economy, by B. Joseph Pine II and James Gilmore, first out in 1998, and since updated.

The earlier story was about preschool children and their outdoor learning and then there was this one about the billion oyster project in New York City.

Of course I thought about how so much meeting space and so many meetings are indoors, underground and in rooms without windows. Will that do for a future generation? If this is how students are learning today, will meetings and facilities designed and used now be useful for the future?

Then there was this, also from PBS NewsHour, about making “brick-and-mortar” shopping relevant, which hit me as just what meetings need right now! (Because some of you won’t watch or read, I’ve captured a few of the comments from the segment that struck me as relevant to meetings for multi-generations as they are to shopping). When I saw what the Hudson’s Bay Company was doing; what STORY—Rachel Shechtman I thought you were brilliant in describing merchandising as content and community—did, and the idea of “experience per square foot” I wondered why, on our tradeshow floors, isn’t there more of an experience versus just people handing out brochures?

RACHEL SHECHTMAN, Founder, STORY: If a magazine tells stories by writing articles, and taking pictures, we tell stories through merchandise and events**. And then, magazines have advertisers, and we have sponsors.

[In the broadcast, Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, said, 20 years ago, that the strip mall was most endangered “because that’s no fun.” Sound like meetings you attend? And “fun” is of course a matter of degree and can be simply experiential learning].

GERALD STORCH, CEO, Hudson’s Bay Company [Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue]: How do we give the customer that extra reason, beyond simply consummating a transaction to buy some merchandise to come to a store. … Think of [it] as an amusement park for an adult, a reason to come to experience something new and different.**

PAUL SOLMAN, PBS reporter: Hudson’s Bay CEO Storch met us at The Wellery. You can buy stuff here, or get a manicure, practice your golf swing, work out, sample dry salt therapy to improve lung function.

As I listened, I envisioned a tradeshow and a meeting with a multitude of different experiences and creative designs. For a tradeshow, fewer row after row of the same kinds of booth, or of meeting rooms all set the same and delivery the same way it’s always been. As I looked at the customers in the PBS story about reinvigorating retail shopping, I observed: different generations experiencing what they want in new ways, creating a desire to return!

To see what others thought, I asked five industry colleagues to respond to questionsbased on their generation, the meetings or teaching they do, and their personal preferences for meetings. What patterns in what they’ve said and in the stories from PBS NewsHour do you see on which you can build a meeting? In the similarities and differences that are generation-specific, what strikes you? Of those you serve—as customers in your hotels or conference center or city, at your meetings, in your membership or who buy products from your company—what can you apply?

Please add your thoughts in the comments section. I’ve asked those who responded to the sidebar questions to also, when they can, respond to what the others said since this is the first time they’ll have read all the responses.
And this: it is impossible not to acknowledge Charlottesville, the death of Heather Heyer, and the aftermath. If those at your meetings are not having these conversations, perhaps we should ensure they do, facilitated, so that instead of rancor we find common ground.

There’s been much written about the millennial generation as “the one” that will help the world get along because it was thought that they, more than other generations in the U.S. especially, lived in a multicultural, multi-racial, ethnic, gender- and gender identity diverse world. It was thought that they were the key to our future.

It appears not to be so from what we’ve read and seen.

But just as I, at 12, believed that if I could only sit down with Nikita Khrushchev (who so looked like my dear Russian maternal grandfather, now of blessed memory), in a meeting, that we could make peace, that I believe that meetings, well-facilitated, welcoming, designed for inclusion, can be a conduit to more cohesive communities.

When I saw what my niece, a teacher in North Charleston, S.C., wrote about these two men and later heard them, side by side, talk about coming together, I thought perhaps there was hope and that the meetings industry will help facilitate it all—generational and other conversations to create better communities.

Idealistic? You betcha.

*That’s if memory serves me … it may have had a slightly different title but was close to this. The presentation was on a floppy disc, long gone. **Emphasis is the blog author’s.

Click here to view additional content in the 09.01.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.

How to Network and Ethically Do Business in a Relationship Industry

Originally published Meetings Today blog

How to Network and Ethically Do Business in a Relationship Industry

My number one “strength” is “connectedness.” And though I dislike networking in the traditional sense (the kind that is done at big events with too much noise and no time for deeper conversation—check out this video podcast for more), connecting with others, and learning more about their ideas and opinions and experiences, matters greatly.

After all, I learned great networking skills from Susan RoAne, the “Mingling Maven,” years ago at an industry meeting and I still follow her work and the principles learned because she understands the value of it, and knows how to network, beyond the superficial.

Years ago, serving on the board and then as president of the MPI Potomac Chapter, I remember using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and other tools in a facilitated exercise to build a better board through our relationships. I confirmed that for me to work well with someone, I had to be connected in more than one way.

That is, I wanted to know who I was working with—and their specific interests—in order to be able to connect more than casually.

That has served me well in many years in the industry and business … until this summer. I recently was “taken in” during a critical negotiation when I thought someone really wanted to know me and have me know them. It turns out they didn’t. My involvement was merely a means to an end, and soon the honesty went straight out the window.

Some of what a client and I went through will form a backdrop for this upcoming Meetings Today webinar on Oct. 25 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time, which Kelly Bagnall, Esq., a meetings industry attorney on the hotel side, and I will co-present. You’ll want to tune in for specific examples.

What happened this summer caused me to reflect back on more positive outcomes resulting from strong industry relationships. I thought about a dinner during a PCMA meeting, who was there and why, and what was said. At this dinner and at others, outside the bustle of the larger meeting and official (and invited) events, friends could catch up with each other, make connections and talk in a more intimate setting, my preferred way of networking and building relationships.

At one dinner of 30, it was suggested that introductions include “how I’m connected to Joan.” It was fascinating to hear: the planners said they’d learned from me in a class or from my writing; the suppliers said they’d experienced a tough but fair negotiation.

In another instance where connectedness paid off, I was working for a client at whose organization there had been some “irregular activity” [I can’t call it criminal because it was never prosecuted]: planners, including those at the most senior level, set up a side company (to their existing employment), and in the name of that company, inserted a commissionable page into contracts after the contracts were signed by their employer.

The planners then went further and booked bogus meetings using the insertion and the electronic signature of the CEO. All this was uncovered in an audit, they were fired, and I was brought in to fix the damage. A connection with an industry attorney—lawyers and hotel lawyers are not our enemies!—who represented the hotel owners knew enough about me and my integrity to know that I wanted to make the situation right for the client and for the hotel owner and management companies. Without the existing relationship and a reputation for ethical behavior, openness in dealing with the situation, and the connection made, the results for the association might have been very costly.

We don’t have to be “best” or even good friends. It simply helps for us to know about the other to understand what makes us tick and how we operate. Pretending you want to get to know each other when you are, instead, manipulating a situation, is not sincere and in the end, doesn’t enrich the trust that should be built in a complex negotiation.

In the sidebar you’ll see that more than one person mentions the ethics of how to work in this industry. There are varying guidelines at each of the industry association’s sites and none are exactly alike. For those who are CMPs, the Events Industry Council offers its own set of guidelines. Honor your employer’s or client’s code of conduct and others.

It all seems simple and yet, due to the bottom line- and date-focused nature of the industry, we tend to not play fairly. Below are some suggestions about how to build and keep relationships based on my own personal experience. Over the years I’ve worked and built relationships with people who work in sales, convention services and law.

Those relationships, and others this summer after the unpleasant one, allowed me to find solutions to sticky situations in which my clients’ dollars were at stake—situations where I would not benefit directly. (I am paid by fees from clients vs. commissions. That’s relevant because in each case where a relationship paid dividends, my pockets were not further enriched because of the relationships and work).

Here are five guidelines that I think we can all follow to ethically advance our work and build better relationships.

1. Play fairly. Groups should send full RFPs detailing all that’s important (including any non-negotiable items). Suppliers should send proposals that answer all the questions asked in the RFP and others anticipated based on research. Establish realistic deadlines and determine how you both can meet them.

2. Work honestly. Tell the truth in all aspects of your work. Don’t rush through a negotiation just to meet a deadline that involves bonuses for one party especially if it results in an incomplete contract or doesn’t allow time to re-read the contract to correct inconsistencies (See Tammi Runzler’s comments in the Friday With Joan sidebar).

3. Be sincere. Don’t fake interest in the other person if it’s not there. Still be polite and listen to what they have to say. You may be surprised at what you find in common that will enhance the relationship, even if you don’t become best friends, or friends at all.

4. Operate ethically. Become better acquainted with your company’s ethics policy and that of your clients and customers. Planners, stop expecting supplier partners to treat you with a gift or provide personal perks. Suppliers stop offering perks to planners to get a contract signed. In the end, it only furthers the perception about and actions of our industry that draw negative attention and can result in job losses—mostly for planners.

Planners, take a supplier to lunch instead of being expected to being treated (I confess to thinking about the brilliant late Stan Freberg and his “Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America.” One excerpt can be heard here, followed by the full recording).

5. Keep friendships and business relationships separate. If you’re negotiating with someone who has become a friend because you got to know each other through industry activities or you found something in common while doing business together, remember to take off your “friend hat” and put on your “business hat” and be explicit about doing so. It keeps the relationship and the outcomes cleaner.

And now here are some final words to consider.

A friend and cancer patient, Karen Francis, wrote the words quoted below as I was considering the content of this blog post. I share it with her permission:

“As I think about the value of the ‘seasoned nurse’ … I am reminded of the many ‘seasoned bankers’ that groomed my career and contributed to the tremendous success … We all knew how … to satisfy the client’s needs at any cost, and how to beg for forgiveness instead of asking for permission in bending the rules. We were ‘client driven’ not ‘sales [driven]’ and we were all ‘old school,’ trained and developed within by each other’s career experiences.”

To help us become better—and more ethical—negotiators and connectors, I asked people who currently or have been in industry sales and those who help hire for their take on doing business. I think you’ll find their responses helpful, no matter if you’re new to the industry or an old dog learning new tricks.

See the Friday With Joan companion article for these responses.

And please add your tips in the comments. It is complicated, at times, when we form these friendships that may last (or not) after the “deal” is over. We are potentially going to do business together again. It is best to ensure an honest relationship from the start.

Click here to view additional content in the 08.04.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt