Originally posted Meetings Today Blog
Originally published Meetings Today blog
I didn’t mean to create an acronym; it happened as I thought about what has helped me become a smarter professional. In fact, this blog began as one only about reading until more crept in. I didn’t mean for the the subject to sound like a self-help article because I’ve read that self-help articles are not great for any of us. It just happened.
This was inspired because of a number of Facebook conversations through which I learned how many people in my circle of colleagues didn’t know what (or where) Aleppo was. They ‘fessed up after Libertarian Presidential Candidate, Gary Johnson, had a “moment” in an interview.
Here’s what I do know and practice and hope you will too.
This industry has been my home since I was a little girl. Right—no title when I helped create street fairs to raise money for polio research and when I worked for an art museum coordinating events and for public TV coordinating on-air auctions. In fact, not until I moved to D.C. in 1978 and got my first professional job did I know it was a profession.
And from childhood, I’ve loved reading. The trips to the local library, bringing home armfuls of books, were pure joy. I was fortunate to live in a home where my parents read: newspapers and periodicals and books. We didn’t have a television for the earliest part of my life though my dad, of blessed memory, a ham radio operator, was an early adopter of television. Our first TV was purchased in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the Army-McCarthy Hearings, both of which I was mandated to watch (That could also be in the other ROLE categories).
My reading is eclectic:
- At least one daily newspaper (in print) and many digitally, and on Sundays, my treat is the Washington Post and The New York Times.
- Periodicals, in print and digitally, that include Meetings Today (of course!) and other industry trade pubs, and The Atlantic, The Nation, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Time, The Week, Moment and Sojourners, Scientific American and Architectural Digest, among many.
- Books—in print. Only in print. A dear friend and colleague gave me a Kindle once and I tried. It just didn’t feel, literally (pun intended), right. I read an article about how people learn better from reading on paper. I love the feel of paper and especially of books.
- Blogs, social media posts, interviews—if it has words, I’m there!
I can take most of what I read and relate it back to what we do. This article, about a class called “Designing Your Life” and the related book, from the Sunday, September 18, New York Times is an example (Of course I’ll read the book and wish I could take the class).
As I started reading that article, I was skeptical. The more I read and learned of the professors (and authors) diverse backgrounds, age, experiences, and took in the quote from a retiring professor about what he would do next and the request to take the class, I was hooked.
The format (take note, Kristi Casey Sanders!) of the class—even the use of the much maligned PowerPoint, grabbed me. Like Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind” (published in 2006), I envisioned sessions created around some of the concepts.
“5 Ways Total Strangers Can Make Your Trip Better” helped me rethink how we put people together at meetings and how we can make the experience richer for them and use that to further their appreciation for being in the same space.
Chris Elliott wrote about Zika and airlines and refunds. With a client with upcoming meetings in Puerto Rico and Florida, it hit close to home. All hospitality professionals are grappling with Zika and its impact.
- How and where people congregate, how strangers or people who work together interact. I love watching people at airports especially when there’s a shared experience of, say, a delayed flight, and how they band together; or at a food court as the workers arrive and their interactions. One can learn so much that can be used in developing meeting environments by observing others.
- Who the industry sponsors who sponsor outside the industry are. While watching “Guy’s Grocery Games,” a commercial for Burgers-Brew and Que showed that Michigan Tourism was the sponsor. “Brilliant!” I said out loud. I wonder how many DMOs (aka CVBs) or state tourism boards do the same.
- Food and what you can replicate or how it is presented that you’d do differently. That’s an easy one given the number of photos of food on social media! Go beyond the photo and ask questions about placement, or as my colleague, Tracy Stuckrath did when I posted photos from the Charter Member Day at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. with catering by Windows Catering, if they labeled the food for ingredients [I responded that they didn’t and in other circumstances, I’d have noted that to them but I was so delighted to be there and so surprised that they had food available, I let it go. Sometimes even this professional becomes a regular person!]. [Note: if you are planning a D.C. trip and want to go to D.C.’s newest museum, check about tickets. They’re free and because of the interest, best procured ahead for specific times].
I confess: I eavesdrop and learn so much. If we listen to what others are saying in conversations we’re in or those near us, if we listen to the news or what people are saying at meetings in the “open space” (casual) spaces like at breaks, in restroom lines (yeah, usually for women only), in elevators. If we take time to hear silences as well as noise, we generally learn more.
One of the reasons I love learning and practicing improvisation (“improv”) is because it teaches one to listen without jumping ahead. I’ve had the privilege of being in sessions with Izzy Gesell who is a great improv teacher and who, with a hotel sales person (Bob Korin), is teaching improv as a tool for sales managers as Izzy has at PCMA and ASAE and to many others.
Scientific American, one of my favorite publications, has a great take on listening. After you’ve read this, spend some time practicing.
You don’t have to go to one of the Poles to be an explorer! You can explore in your own office, city, town, country. You can explore by reading something you’ve never read (see Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind” for ideas); by going to a meeting that isn’t something you usually attend; by taking classes or listening to webinars even if you think you know the subject. Brainpickings (one of my favorite blogs) has better ideas—and illustrations!—than I can give.
What are you reading? What’ve you observed that has made an impression, created an “ah-ha” moment that inspired you and/or your work? Did you eavesdrop recently and listen to another person or people who might have given you ideas? In what ways have you explored and where and what did you learn?
Share! We learn best from each other.
Originally published Meetings Today Blog
Originally posted Meeting Today Blog
Originally published Meetings Today
It’s August. It’s hot and humid. It’s “vacation time” and you’ll be reading this after both major U.S. political conventions. Why am I making people think?
Originally published Meetings Today
Originally published Meetings Today
Years ago, working in-house as a planner and later in my own business, I worked with groups whose policies sometimes conflicted with laws or social justice issues, in locations under consideration or under contract for meetings. It was important to the groups to know the laws that might impact their meetings and whether or not they should even consider a destination.
I worked with an attorney to develop clauses (sadly, lost to the ages since they were on paper, not even on a floppy disk!) about how the group and hotel would handle these issues if laws were passed after a contract was signed. It was not an easy negotiation but usually, once explained, it was possible to negotiate and contract fair conditions for the parties.
I think about those days often as companies and associations continue to look at similar types of issues and decide where they will spend their money. Then, like now, it was all about where to hold the meeting and what food to serve. During the years of the boycotts brought on by the work of the late Cesar Chavez and United Farm Workers, a number of clients were specific in their contracts about the source of the food served. There are a number of groups now that, like then, determine where to go based on the status of organized labor in the destination and venues.
Most recently, so-called “religious freedom” laws like North Carolina’s HB2 and Tennessee’s counseling law (seen as anti-LGBT) caused meetings and concerts to cancel. Companies like PayPal decided to not open a new operation in North Carolina costing the state jobs and income. When Georgia was considering a bill similar to the one passed in North Carolina, even the NFL said they would relook at Atlanta as a site for future Super Bowls.
In the not distant past, a client, because of bylaws and mission, had to decide if they would hold a meeting in Arizona after that state passed SB1070 (also known as “Papers Please” law). Others have faced similar issues over reproductive laws. You might remember a certain hotel company that was boycotted because of apparent racial profiling (one that I thought was out of business but is still around and running into similar issues again), the states avoided because they flew a Confederate flag, and groups that won’t book a specific hotel company because they don’t allow AEDs in their owned, managed or franchised hotels.
Each group—corporate or association, not-for or for- profit—has to determine what issues impact their decisions about what hotel company or hotel owner with whom they will do business, what local or state laws will be in sync with or in opposition to their mission, bylaws and polices, and what will impact the organization’s image.
In an article in the April issue of Meetings Today and a subsequent webinar about site selection, a number of concerns were discussed, this among them. It certainly seems that the “religious freedom” laws have caused the most angst lately for groups (See this month’s Friday With Joan interviews and links of “must read” articles in the newsletter for more on those).
In many discussions about boycotts, issues explored include those of the legal termination of a contract, the moral (are we hurting more people by terminating a meeting or boycotting a city/state/company than we are by going?), and the tactical (is there time and ability to move a meeting?). Do boycotts change things? Sometimes. Certainly Rosa Parks’ actions did. And in other cases, they hurt as they are at Malaprop’s Bookstore & Café in Asheville, N.C.
I don’t have answers about what is right, wrong, moral, ethical or legal. When you read the interviews, use them to start or continue a conversation in your organization about where your meetings are held. I recently made a personal decision to teach for UNCC and provide education for a client in North Carolina. I can use these laws as discussion points to help others learn what we must consider when we book or terminate meetings.
What I know we have to do:
- Be aware of the news, pending laws (on issues, on taxes), and other conditions (infrastructure) that impact where and how we hold our meetings.
- Know your organization’s mission, bylaws, policies, ethics and other principles to know what would cause a conflict in where you book.
- Include contingency planning on what to do if laws are passed after contracts are signed.
- Follow @MeetingsToday‘s tweets and other news sources and know what matters to your employer or clients so you can be the source for information.
As always the views expressed are my own and may not reflect those of the publisher, Stamats, and the publication, Meetings Today. For comments, email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com or respond in the comments section below. Also check out my related Q&A with legal experts.
Originally published Meetings Today
When I read this article in the Sunday, June 19, 2016—Father’s Day—Washington Post business section, it reminded me so much of time with my dad, of blessed memory, schlepping around the state of Ohio to sell chickens! Like the younger Ted Gup’s experiences in helping at his Dad’s store, I too worked in the family stores—the Joe O. Frank Co./Tasty Bird Farms (also in Ohio)—where I learned to cut up chicken in no time flat and measure, from a huge block of Oleo, any amount requested … skills, alas, I’ve lost over the years but the work experience stayed with me.
My “work ethic” derives from many family members: my grandfathers, one of whom retired and then started another job, dying on his lunch hour at 85; my dad, who, drafted from college into WWII, returned and went to work versus finishing college and even through a cancer diagnosis, continued to work; and my own work, first as a babysitter and then, at 14, a mandatory-my-parents-said work permit and work after school and on weekends, and almost always since then with a few times of unemployment but not since 1981 when I created my consulting company have I not worked.
When I read that definition of “work ethic,” I cringed. It makes it sound as if one were lazy or lacking in character if one didn’t possess what someone thought how you worked was the same as theirs.
Recently, in work for a client, one of the stated goals was to look at who was working how and to figure out how to help the meetings staff find work-life balance. If you’re a meeting planner/professional, you’re reading that and guffawing, right? As a planning professional (and vendor to our industry), do you think you can advance (in whatever way you see it) or even get a job if you believe that balance is more critical than “work ethic”?
As I read all this and conducted the work with the client, it occurred to me, as I am sure it has to many others: Boomers and Xers talk about Millennials and their “work ethic”—well, they criticize Millennials (aka “Gen Y”) for not having a work ethic! (Worse [to me!] the Millennials themselves say it.)
So what is work-life balance? Doesn’t it depend on the worker? Is it necessity or desire that makes us work more? Certainly, many people are working two or more jobs to support themselves and their families.
This, about paternity leave, from the Brookings Institution confirmed that in the US, we talk about a work-life balance and don’t mean it to be for everyone.
We’re connected 24/7 and thus, I think, these words from that article, sum it up:
“In it [the study], we found that nine out of ten millennials say that they can access information whenever and wherever they are, and that 73% are expected to be contactable at any time of day or night. So tell me how are we to find balance if we are expected to be ‘on call’ all the time? Friends tell me that when they go on vacation, if they even take a day off, their emails are overwhelming even if they have an out-of-office message!”
If we really believe in work-life balance, shouldn’t GI Gens, Silents, Boomers and Xers stop the negative comments about Millennials and the belief they have no “work ethic”? If we really believe in “work-life balance,” shouldn’t we pay a living wage so that people don’t have to work multiple jobs?
What do you think? What’s your take on “work ethic” and generational differences? Work-life balance? Is it bunk? Oh and did you know what Oleo was without clicking the link?!
Originally published Meetings Today
Originally published on Meetings Today blog
In the April print and digital editions of Meetings Today, I wrote about the “10 Areas of Site Selection to Question and Learn” and spoke more about site selection on the April 27 webinar, “Site Selection: Finding the Right Fit.” It all ties together with this Friday, May 6, blog and the Friday With Joan interviews about site inspections.
This blog focuses on hotels. It is a fraction of the items on checklists I use. The same principles, and many of the questions, apply if you are looking at a convention or conference center, restaurant, museum or other venue.
1. In Person or Virtual Site Inspection
Not everyone can afford to visit every destination (city/country) or site (property/venue) under consideration before making a decision and contracting. Every meeting professional has had to book “sight unseen” and hope that the RFP questions and responses—and the contracts—cover all thoroughly.
Just like experiential meetings are best, so are physical site inspections. Technology does not yet allow us to experience a site as we would if we were there. There are things you won’t know—an airwall’s ability to block sound; whether room service trays are left out overnight; the flow of people from entry to front desk to elevators to meeting space and through the meeting space; using various means (wheelchair, electric scooter, blindfold, ear plugs) to check accessibility—unless you do a site inspection in person. One day, maybe, virtual site inspections … though I wonder about the privacy of cameras in all areas!
2. Prioritize and Allow Adequate Time
List who and what are critical to your meeting and its participants, speakers, vendors and others, before you schedule a site inspection to help you and the venues make the most of the site inspection.
With priorities in mind, consider the time you want and need to thoroughly see and experience each property. The amount of time depends on what’s most important to and for your group and meeting. For example, if you have a one day meeting that, unless an emergency occurs, won’t use sleeping rooms, your priorities may be meeting space, audio visual support, food and beverage, and access.
If you require guest rooms, what’s most important: view(s)? quiet? amenities? cleanliness? (Do you check under and behind beds, other furniture? Check bathrooms for mold? Ask about how they clean and replace drinking glasses and bedspreads/comforters?)
3. Schedule or “Surprise” Site Inspection
Some planners believe a more realistic experience is achieved if they just show up, unannounced, for a site inspection.
Better: schedule your site inspection in advance to ensure people with whom you need to meet are available (see No. 4), and your priorities can be achieved. You can take time, unaccompanied, to sit in a lobby, walk the halls at night, use room service or eat in the restaurant to observe areas you believe might have otherwise been staged just for you.
If you’re looking at multiple hotels or hotels and a convention center, ask the DMO (Destination Marketing Organization also known as the Convention and Visitors Bureau, or CVB) for assistance. They can help you schedule appointments.
Whether to go when there are groups occupying the space (see No. 5) or when it is empty will depend on your availability, that of the property(ies), and your needs. Ideally, you would conduct two inspections: one when the hotel is occupied, another when it’s not.
Usually we don’t have that luxury.
4. People You Should Meet
Schedule, at the very least, meetings with a sales manager assigned to your account, the director of event services (aka convention services) or a convention services manager, representatives of the in-house AV company and of the unions, the director of loss prevention (security), front office manager, director of housekeeping, the chef and catering manager (note: in some properties, event/convention services and catering are a combined position), the general manager, and if on site, an owner, and any others who may help you learn more about the property, its staff and service.
After a thorough RFP is sent and responses received, you’ll have evaluated and ranked your choices and then schedule site inspections. I like to start a site inspection with a meeting with all parties to explain the meeting for which the site inspection is being conducted, and ask them to tell me and the client more about the property from their department’s perspective. Asking questions and listening closely and asking follow up questions allows you to learn more than you might on a walk through with sales alone.
Allowing time for this plus the walk-through means inspecting a site may require a minimum of three to five hours per property. Don’t scrimp on the time and rush through it. You may want to record your comments and take photos or videos as you go—seeing more than one hotel a day can cause them all to seem alike! Take time to gather accurate information.
5. What to See and With Whom
Like my industry lawyer friends say about industry legal issues, “it depends” on your meeting, its complexity, the participant demographics and on your priorities.
Usually a sales manager accompanies the planner and/or group conducting a site inspection. I strongly recommend being accompanied by an event service professional (aka CSM) and someone from the in-house AV provider. They use the space daily and will be able to best answer questions. You may also have with you others from your or your client’s organization, vendors (AV, decorators) with whom you contract, and volunteers. Prepare all of those who will accompany you on what specifically you want to see and experience. It’s easy to be “wowed” by amenities when those may not be most important to your group.
Representative Guest Rooms and Suites.
- See as many of the different guest room types as possible. Years ago, a student said see “the worst room in the house” (thanks either Kelly or Bob!)—the one by the elevator or ice machine or not renovated or without a window or with a view to the trash or over an area where private parties with music are held. You know someone in your group may get that room and you want to be prepared.
- If you use suites, see different types: those with separate parlors and entrances to those parlors; one room “executive” suites, some with Murphy beds. If you have noted a priority for a “Presidential Suite,” ask to see those the hotel designates in that category and how they each may differ.
- Smoking or nonsmoking? More hotels (see link in resources) are now all nonsmoking. Some groups have smokers and may need to consider—for guest rooms and suites—if this is a priority and what the policies are for smoking in a nonsmoking room.
- If your preference is like mine to go when a property is occupied, you may not be able to see as many (or any) guest room types. Perhaps finding a compromise time when a group is meeting on a last day and many people have checked out (and rooms have been cleaned) will be optimal. Work with the DMO and hotel to determine what’s most advantageous for you and the property’s availability.
- If you can, stay overnight (see No. 8 about who should pay). Experiencing a guest room—one that has a connecting door, for example—allows you to check for soundproofing, security and general comfort.
All Meeting and Public Space.
- I prefer to see meeting space in use to more easily test airwalls. The venue may need to secure permission from in-house group/s for you to see their space either occupied or when they break. If you can’t see space occupied, check with references for groups like yours to learn their experiences. It won’t be the same; it will give you some reference points. If there are groups in house, make it a point to talk with the planner(s) about their experiences.
- If your group requires specific sets and the hotel is not occupied, ask if they will set rooms to your specifications (which you’ll send ahead) to see how your sets looks in their space.
- Check access to the space from the hotel’s entrance/s and from guest rooms. In a property with multiple towers or buildings, consider the distance and your group’s demographics—are there people for whom the distance, with or without a mobility device, would be difficult? Look for directional signs and determine if the signs are be adequate, or what needs to be improved or added.
- Ask about and see the types of meeting furniture a property has: hard surface tables that don’t require skirting and draping or dented plywood? Different sizes and types of tables such as real crescents (versus using a banquet round)? Ergonomic chairs? Soft furniture able to be used in meeting rooms or on stages? Sizes and numbers of risers?
Audio Visual (or AV)
- You will, in your RFP, have asked for price lists and conditions of use of the in-house company and conditions for use of an outside company. Even if you use an outside AV company, ask the in-house provider (and perhaps an hotel engineer) to conduct the site inspection with you to help explain how and where the sound systems are (or aren’t), power, lighting, and more. If your external AV provider is with you, coordinate ahead of time for the questions you both need to ask.
- In your RFP, you’ll have asked details about transportation to and from airports, trains, and public transit to and from the hotel. Confirm that by experience when you arrive (see No. 9).
- Consider conducting a portion or all of the site inspection using a mobility device, wearing ear plugs or an eyepatch. Regardless of what a venue tells you about their ADA compliance, you’ll learn firsthand what a participant with a disability may experience (think you have no one with a mobility or other disability? An individual can become disabled—permanently or temporarily—in an instant. Be prepared). Stay on or in the wheelchair or scooter to use restrooms, access restaurants and other outlets, and guest rooms (for more information, go to the U.S. Department of Justice resource linked in “resources” below).
Sustainability or “Greening”
- I rely on both the CIC APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Meeting Standards and MeetGreen’s resources for checklists. Their checklists will guide you and take you beyond what you might be told about a venue’s green standards.
6. Food and Beverage
Some planners like to conduct “test” meals or “tastings.” I’m not a fan of doing so because they are meals prepared for a small group and will not be like those prepared for your meeting of 25, 50 or 1,000 or more people. Better, if you conduct a site inspection when another group with similar demographics is in house (see No. 5), ask to see and sample the meals they are served. These will be more representative of what your group may experience and you will get a better sense of the hotel’s capabilities.
I’m also a fan of eating in the employee cafeteria after a large group meal when leftover meals may be served.
Meet with the chef to learn about the hotel’s capabilities and the chef’s preferences, if and how they serve locally grown and produced food, if they have and use their own garden for herbs, produce; if they are beekeepers. Find out what they do to prepare requests for vegetarian, vegan, Kosher, Halal and other meals that may be needed (Patti Shock’s webinar on food and beverage will be helpful).
7. Staffing and Service
Years ago, one of the best comments I ever heard was in meeting planning training conducted for a client’s staff: over three days, one of the lunches was in the employee cafeteria. After lunch, I asked about the experience. One person observed “The suits ate with the uniforms,” meaning management and line staff sat together. And one of the worst site inspections I’ve ever been on—one I cut short after 15 minutes—was when the director of convention services who was guiding me through was acknowledged by name by all the line and management staff we encountered. He addressed only management staff by name, not line staff. When asked why, he responded “They work for me; I don’t need to know their names.” The site visit ended right then.
In your RFP, you’ll have asked about employment longevity of management and line staff, how many staff are full or part time, and how many positions are outsourced and not direct employees of the hotel. When you meet the hotel GM, get a sense in what ways this person is engaged with all staff.
Talk with staff in different positions to learn their experiences. Sit in the lobby and observe the front desk, bell, valet, and concierge staff. Walk the back (or heart) of the house to observe both cleanliness and storage, and how all staff are treated. If you eat in the employee cafeteria, you’ll observe how employees acknowledge each other and the relationships among individuals and departments. When talking with union stewards or department heads, ask about labor contracts and negotiations with management and owners to determine any red flags that may impede your meeting (and about unions: some planners automatically dismiss their usefulness.
When it comes to sustainability of human beings, they are often one of the strongest advocates. Consider a different view from one you may have).
8. Paying for the Site Inspection
Whether it’s a “three hours and a walk through locally with a meal,” or “a trip involving a few nights,” there are costs involved in a site visit: transportation, parking, and meals among them. Often, coordinated by a DMO, cities, hotels and other venues will pay for meeting planners to come to their cities, experience what they have to offer, and pick up the tab for all expenses.
FAM trips have been abused and an ethical cloud often hangs over those who go to destinations that they know they will never use in their current job, sometimes justifying that one day, in another job, they might. If you can’t otherwise go to see a city and hotels, you can ask a DMO if they are scheduling trips to which you could be invited provided that during the time there you see and meet with those that will be pertinent to your group and meeting.
If your company or client prefers to pay for your trip to ensure there are no real or perceived obligations, pay for your trip and if you contract and hold a meeting, consider negotiating that amount being deducted from the master account.
Help your employer or client understand the importance of experiencing the properties and build into their meeting budgets transportation, accommodations, and meals.
9. VIP or ‘Regular’ Treatment
Sometimes if a DMO helps you schedule appointments, your contact may offer to arrange and even pay for or provide transportation to and from the airport and the appointments. If the convenience is helpful, review the schedule to ensure it will provide the time you need to experience everything on your checklists. If all your meeting participants are to be “VIP-ed”, consider upgrades (better rooms), special check-in, and even in-room amenities.
Remember: you’re there to experience what your meeting participants will experience. It’s best to set parameters for your stay from arrival to departure and to say “thank you but no thank you” to VIP treatment.
10. What if …
- you’ve used the property in the last 6 months? The last year or two?
- Even if your program is the same or the hotel has not changed owners, management company, or brands, conditions and staff can change. Conduct a site inspection.
- there’s no budget for a site visit?
- FAMs? Hosted Buyer programs?
- They are useful if used for more than the social events! Just as you would for a pay-your-way site inspection, build in time for those with whom you need to meet and what you need to experience.
- Pay and have the cost (agreed to in advance) refunded to the master account if you contract and hold the meeting.
- Prepare a volunteer in the area to conduct the site inspection. They can use media to take you with them and for you to ask questions (it’s another good way to check connectivity in the venue).
- Use social media to ask colleagues about their experiences.
- Read all you can including, yes, on TripAdvisor.
- FAMs? Hosted Buyer programs?
- Submit thorough RFPs.
- Require (demand!) thorough proposals in response to your RFPs.
- Prioritize your needs and schedule.
- Experience what will help you make a decision based on your priorities.
- Most expensive cities for business travel
- Destination Marketing Association Intl. for DMOs (aka CVBs)
- Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) for information on smoking/nonsmoking laws and ordinances
- ADA and Meetings
Better Room sets: “Seating Matters: State of the Art Seating Arrangements”
For comments, do so below or to me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com. And be sure to check the interviews with CSMs, sales, and a meeting planner in the Friday With Joan newsletter.
Posted by Joan L. Eisenstodt
Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt