Category Archives: General

20-20 Hindsight Becomes 2020 Vision

Originally Posted Meetings Today

20-20 Hindsight Becomes 2020 Vision

You know what? Even though I’ve said “2020” repeatedly in conversations and in correspondence, I didn’t actually hear it. Or, I didn’t hear it as “20-20” in how that term relates to vision.

A colleague in a social media post asked how many among the group were, even though it was “punny,” using the term “2020 vision” as a theme for their conferences next year. Oh, you bet I “SMHed” (which means “smacked my head,” in one of the truncated parlance usages of the day)!

Evidently, “the vision thing” will be in for the coming year. I am surprised that I’ve not yet heard a candidate for office or a product ad campaign play on it as we end one year—and one decade—and start the next.

In the December Friday With Joan, I wrote about age and what we who continue to work past a “certain age” bring to the table in the way of knowledge of industry and history.

We all move so quickly and with such urgency that we too often do not stop to review what has been and how past actions or inactions, past purposes, goals and outcomes impact us and our work. What is often called “hindsight”—or for sports fans, “armchair quarterbacking”—is necessary before rushing ahead, especially headlong into a new year.

I’ve written Friday With Joan since 2015 as well as other articles for Meetings Today. Prior to that, for many years I wrote for another meetings industry magazine. (Alas, none of those are digitally available and all my copies are in storage.) I see so many of the same issues resurface without new solutions offered.

Take time to read or reread these 2019 Friday With Joan highlighted blogs for some insights into your vision for you and the industry for 2020:

See what strikes you as still relevant and what the industry has done to operate smarter or differently. You might even, as I did, go all the way back to 2015 and find this blog, A Proposals Is Not a Contract, as relevant now as it was then—especially in another December of year-end contracts.

Still relevant are webinars others and I have presented or co-presented for Meetings Today. This one on site selection with accommodation and ADA as a focus continues to be an issue. Take from it hints for your next site inspection and remind your hotel partners, too.

Another very relevant issue is our responsibility as meetings and hospitality professionals to advocate for our industry. I teamed up with Voices in Advocacy’s Roger Rickard for this SOS! Industry Advocacy Needs Your Help! Meetings Today Podcast that explores the important issues that impact our industry and how all of us can affect change.

By highlighting some of what I thought were the most impactful 2019 blogs for the first Friday With Joan of this new year and new decade, I ask you to:

  1. Read or re-read past blogs or listen to the linked podcast above.
  2. Reflect on the impact the issues addressed had on you and how they may impact you in 2020.
  3. Consider what actions you and those with whom you work or interact might have taken differently in 2019.
  4. Register to vote, become informed on issues that impact you personally, impact our industry and our world, and then vote.
  5. Determine actions you can take moving into this “vision” year and new decade to strengthen the perception and reality of hospitality and meetings.

We begin this new year remembering those we lost in the past year, whose vision and knowledge will, we hope, live on in our actions. May this new year and decade be one of peace and good health for us all.

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

Do You Feel “Aged-Out” of the Meetings Industry?

Originally Posted Meetings Today

Do You Feel “Aged-Out” of the Meetings Industry?

20 in their 20s. 30 in their 30s. Even 40 in their 40s. And then the lists recognizing those who are doing good work in the meetings and hospitality industry seem to stop.

Where, I wonder, are the 60 in their 60s, for those who were still working at 60 or even 65-plus?

Howard Feiertag is among the oldest and most active in our industry. He astounds me with his energy and willingness to continue to learn, strengthen our industry with up-to-date knowledge and with historic knowledge on which we all continue to build.

Patti Shock was among those who, though officially retired from UNLV, continued to teach virtually and through the International School of Hospitality (TISOH), and also via her contributions to industry publications such as this one and on social media.

Patti, who died November 22 at just barely 78, was an example of those of us who continue to learn and contribute. I have no doubt that she’d have kept going much longer had her death from surgery not occurred.

I was grateful to another industry publication that recently named me a “legend” among influential industry people. The legends? Three men and me. The men are all still working, and at least two of whom are older than I. Those three are, I am pretty sure, much wealthier than I and could afford to retire quite comfortably.

Since I’m often still asked to work for “the exposure,” and because I love learning, applying that learning to work with clients and helping others learn, I continue to work into my 70s.

In the era in which I grew up, I remember stories of the “gold watch” given at retirement to those in white collar jobs who worked for companies for many decades. Yet there was little recognition of those who toiled long into their post-60s at blue collar jobs, often working because their income had not been enough to sustain them in retirement.

In my family, many of those, of blessed memory and including my grandfathers, father, uncles and some cousins, worked until they literally died on the job. My dad, just short of his 65th birthday, would have, I am sure, continued working in sales much longer had cancer not killed him. His dad, my “Papa Billy,” with no college education, retired from a long career in the insurance industry to work elsewhere. He died on his lunch hour. We think he was about 85 years old.

My dad’s brother, a doctor, would have still worked had he not gotten sick. In fact, he continued to practice at least three days a week until shortly before his death at almost 86.

I have no role models for retirement.

Why do some continue working while others retire? Would more people retire, generally and in our industry, if they could afford to do so? Are some forced to retire because their value is not seen and instead companies hire two lesser experienced and lesser paid workers to “take the place” of the senior worker? Would people continue working If they and their talent were valued in their companies and in the hospitality and meetings industry?

A dear friend, a CPA and attorney, was forced to retire at 62 by the firm for which they worked as a partner. One can imagine at the founding of many companies when the lifespan in the U.S. was much lower than 62 might have been ancient. Compare it to today and wonder why anyone is forced to retire if one is still productive. There are many years left in which to provide one’s knowledge.

A recent, though I hear fading, “cool” putdown is “OK Boomer” used against those of us who are in fact of the Boomer generation. How then does that differ from the ageism and discrimination leveled at Gen Y, considered by some for being slackers when it comes to their work ethic? Is forced retirement a form of ageism?

In our industry, those who are older than 40 have a difficult time getting jobs, or worse, maintaining jobs as they age regardless of their knowledge and abilities. Do we value the knowledge of those who are older than even 40, let alone those of us in our 60s or 70s or older? Does history matter, in that we can bring to the table information no one else possesses?

Athletes are forced to retire from their initial endeavors often due to injuries sustained during their careers. Many go on to careers in broadcasting. Older actors and performers, on the other hand, are valued more today than they have been in a long time. (If you’ve not read or heard 83-year-old Glenda Jackson’s successes on Broadway in the last years, do so here.) Then there’s Mick Jagger, after illnesses that have scuttled the careers of many, he’s still performing!

This article from Fast Company is one of many articles and papers I have read about the value of retaining older workers. Is the hospitality and meetings industry not aware of our value?

It was interesting reading what those still working and those retired had to say. I wonder how many more of you are out there and willing to “out” yourselves as being 65-plus and still actively working in the industry. And of those of you retired, what do you miss, if anything, about working? Or did you, like Sandi Lynn, “rewire” after you retired from another job? Or like Keith Sexton-Patrick, take on a part-time job at which he still uses the skills spent in his many years in convention services?

Long ago, a friend, then in hotel sales, said that if I should ever retire, I should call my final column “Life Without Amenities.” I don’t see that happening: one, because I’m not planning to retire, and two, because I’ve turned down amenities regularly. That said, others I think miss the attention and perks that our industry gives to those who continue to work.

Will you tell us why or if you feel valued for your knowledge or dismissed because of your age, whether it’s 40 and younger or 60 and older? You can do so via the poll or in the comments.

If you’d prefer to have me post what you have to say without identifying you, email me at FridaywithJoan@aol.com and I’ll post in the comments without your name or identifiers. And yes, I will understand, as will others, why you do not want to be identified.

Thanks for reading—whether you are doing this while still working or in retirement or contemplating retirement. As we wind down the year, some of us frantically working on year-end contracts, I am grateful to still be part of this industry, working to make meetings and hospitality better.

We have been asked by many about donations in Patti’s honor. Two suggestions:

1. PCMA, which is how I first met Patti, will continue to help students. Visit here, put in the amount and then click where it says “Dedicate my donation in honor of or in memory of someone” and add the name “Patti Shock,” it will be to help students.

2. Or you may donate here, through NACE, which will go to the TISOH scholarship.

THANK you. It will mean so much to family and friends to help others in honor of Patti’s life of educating others.

Related content from the December 2019 edition of Friday With Joan:

[Read more content in the 12.06.19 Friday With Joan newsletter]

From Volunteer to Meeting Professional

Originally Published Meetings Today

From Volunteer to Meeting Professional

I’ve been in the meetings and hospitality industry for more than 50 years—and if you count my very early volunteer experience, more than 66 years, 38 of those with my own company.

I would not be who I am or have the skills I’ve developed had I not been a volunteer beginning early in my life.

Prior to working formally in the industry, I was a volunteer for an art museum in my native Ohio, where I helped create and manage citywide events in the museum and on its grounds; organized U.S.-wide conferences for an organization for which I was a spokesperson; and volunteered for public television, coordinating on-air auctions.

In fact, as I thought about the subject of volunteerism, I realized how so much volunteer experience prepared me for the work I do now and added to the skills I have used throughout my career.

My Volunteer-to-Meeting-Professional Path

Long before I was honored for my work and giving back by volunteering in the industry by induction into the EIC Hall of Leaders, recognized by PCMA’s Foundation with a lifetime achievement honor as an educator; by IACC, HSMAI and NSA (speakers not spies!) for contributions to education; by MPI as International Planner; and often being included as one of the 25 most influential by an industry publication, recently as an influencer “legend,” I volunteered.

I began volunteering around age 6, campaigning to teachers for a U.S. presidential candidate on my grade school playground using the information my parents discussed and I learned from watching the news.

Around the same time, I created street fairs to raise money for polio research, a result of my next-door neighbor and friend, Alan, contracting polio. (We were among the test cases for the new vaccine. Alan, unlike I, received the placebo and contracted polio. He did live, overcame the illness, and was a star-wrestler in high school.)

These weren’t fancy street fairs—we had marble-shooting games, bobbing for apples and other simple games and prizes—and it meant creating, marketing and running events from which I gained experience.

In grade school, I also served as student council president. In high school, I was an active Y-Teen volunteer, which allowed me to attend statewide gatherings at which I gained leadership skills. I was also part of a city-wide teen human rights council and a high school service club.

During each of these opportunities, I gained skills and connections in areas that were then and are still my passions: social  justice and education.

Though I attended college for just one year, that year was a banner one. I was elected as our dorm’s freshman representative to the inter-dorm council where again my leadership skills were enhanced.

Unable to afford more-formal education, and having learned I was not good at learning in structured settings that were unlike my the experiential high school learning I’d enjoyed, I returned to Ohio where, in addition to working a variety of jobs, I sought new volunteer opportunities including working at the local art museum, while also working at a paid, full-time job.

At the art museum, I helped coordinate volunteers for the gift shop and for exhibition openings. My proudest achievement was helping create and then coordinate citywide events where there were visual and performing arts in each gallery, changing every hour, open to the public, over weekends. Public television seemed a natural, too: I helped with fundraising events including on-air auctions.

I joined a new national organization and found myself not only a spokesperson on national and local radio and television programs, I also helped plan national conventions. Laughing as I write, I don’t know how I did it—finding the hotels, booking speakers, and helping create logistics guidelines—I had no idea it was a profession.

Then What?

Before deciding to move to Washington, D.C., from Ohio, I interviewed for a job as a volunteer coordinator for a D.C.-based national association. The D.C. job I so thought I wanted was to coordinate the association’s volunteers throughout the U.S. I flew back and forth numerous times to interview. Alas, I wasn’t hired.

Not being hired for that position was a good thing! To deal with the disappointment, I moved to D.C. without a job, stayed with a friend for a few weeks until I found an apartment, and volunteered for the organization that didn’t hire me, and for another one, while I interviewed for jobs. Through all the volunteering, I gained valuable contacts and experience.

This was in the summer of 1978. MPI was new and PCMA was unknown to me.

While volunteering (I stuffed envelopes—ah the glamour!), the executive director of the association that didn’t initially hire me referred to my past experience—much of which had been volunteer aside from working in an elementary school, selling poultry and books (not in the same store!), and writing ad copy at a newspaper—and said they wanted to hire me to be their first meeting planner to plan their 10th anniversary meeting and events. (In my head, I thought “Call me anything—just hire me!”)

I began work almost immediately, and through a contact from the U.S.-wide conferences I’d help organize, found the Potomac Chapter of MPI. At my first PMPI meeting, the wonderful, now late, Bill Myles, saw me, the Introvert, standing against a wall. He introduced himself and upon learning I was new, asked me to be on the membership committee. Like now, I was not good at saying “no.”

That lead to so many opportunities: serving on committees, on the PMPI Board and as chapter president two years in a row. Through all of this, I learned meeting and program skills that I’d employ in my job and later as a consultant in the meetings industry.

One of my first experiences as a professional planner taught me about contingency planning.

For this 10th anniversary celebration took place in the winter in D.C., the keyunote speaker, was who was to travel from New York to DC by train fell and broke her leg on the way to the train in New York. We had to find a like-stature speaker, and we did.

We planned a live auction to raise funds. For that, I used my public television fundraising experiences to solicit items for donation.

The association couldn’t keep me on full time, so during the months I wasn’t working for them, I found contract work that lead to more experiences and contacts.

I commuted to and from New York to work and learned much more about how to negotiate hotel contracts.

One interesting learning experience was when I dealt with a member of the U.S. Senate who was to be honored and speak at a meeting in Texas and who, at the last minute, had to stay in D.C. for a critical vote.

This was all before Skype and other electronic means of presentations—even before FedEx! By working with others, we made it happen to have a tape (Yeah, I know—long ago!) to play of the acceptance and of the senator’s speech.

I’ve often wondered where I’d be were it not for all my volunteer experiences, through which I gained skills and contacts that all lead to other opportunities.

Skills Gained as a Volunteer

In each volunteer position, I gained skills that I used to enhance other volunteer and paid-work experiences. Examples include:

  • People management
  • Logistics
  • Budgeting and financial management
  • Persuasion
  • Creativity
  • Risk and contingency management and planning
  • Education design

Through volunteering with our MPI chapter, I was able to hone my ability to create educational programming that was not the usual “sage on the stage” program. The people I met became friends who helped me learn with them.

Since then, my energies as a volunteer have been directed to community, educational and environmental organizations, in politics, and for our industry. In our industry, I’ve served on and chaired chapter and international boards and committees.

Of all these, those from which I gained the most notable experience were:

  • serving on PMPI’s (then) Program Committee allowing me to create and deliver different education models;
  • as a member and then chair of  ASAE’s Ethics Committee where my understanding of ethics lead to a greater passion for how our industry and business can operate ethically and still enhance the bottom line;
  • and as MPI’s representative to the (then) Convention Liaison Council (now the EIC) Board, and to the industry-wide Unity Team that researched best practices in diversity and inclusion. During all of these experiences I learned more that I could bring to my work and thus enhance what clients experienced.

As you’ll read here, I did use my volunteer experiences on my resume to show what I’d done. The experiences were all relevant and have led me, as it has others interviewed, to what they do today and how they give back.

Please, in the comments, add the experiences you’ve gained as a volunteer and how you have put them to work in our industry to provide other examples from which we can all learn.

Finally: With this blog, I honor chef José Andrés and World Central Kitchen (WCK). If ever someone in our industry deserves to be honored for giving back, it is chef Andrés and those who volunteer with WCK. We all would do well to emulate, as best we can, the generosity of chef Andrés, and many other chefs, restaurant owners, cooks and others in disaster areas who have given so much to help those who have suffered.

Related content from the November 2019 edition of Friday With Joan:

[Read more content in the 11.01.19 Friday With Joan newsletter]

And a personal note: My long-time, amazing editor, Eric Andersen, has moved on. I miss him lots. He “got” me! If we have a few glitches along the way as we adjust to new systems and people, forgive us. We’ll get back to the Friday With Joan from which we hope you learn.

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

The Power of Reading Books: Life, Spirit and Knowledge Enhancement

Originally published Meetings Focus.

The Power of Reading Books: Life, Spirit and Knowledge Enhancement

In the Grant Snider illustration, “the beloved book,” we are shown the life cycle of a treasured book, perhaps like one of your own—from its yellowed dust jacket, to the inscription by a loved aunt; scribbles in the margins, frayed pages and cracked spine; the old book smell and perhaps a missing page but you still know it by heart and pass it along to another generation.

I prefer print books—the touch and feel, the sense of holding words in my hands. The ability to pass along a beloved book to someone else to love and share then with others.

It continues the cycle of learning and reading.

And I realize that not everyone can read, either at all or in print.

While thinking through this blog’s contents, I wished I could remember, or had a family member to ask, how and when I learned to read.

It must have been a miraculous occurrence. I think it might have been akin to what Beth Cooper-Zobott describes in her responses to my questions to colleagues.

Reading has helped me grow in empathy for others and provided new concepts for use in my work. I remember the joy experienced as I walked to my Dayton, Ohio, library, where I picked up stacks of books to bring home and devour in my attic bedroom.

(Joan’s Note: If you’re interested, “my” library, now empty except for the memories of so many, is for sale. I’ve tried to think how I could buy and renovate it to live in that beautiful building).

I don’t remember the first book I held. I have always written in my books. My friend, Layne, said she never can or would write in a book—that it would be desecrating them.

My margin notes are reminders of what I’m learning or sometimes a thought to pass on. It feels like love to me of the words written and the ideas shared by the authors.

One of My Favorite Books

A favorite quite-worn book in a purple silk cover, The Heart of New Thought, by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, belonged to my maternal grandmother. It was signed in the front with her maiden name and the year 1907, shortly before she married. My grandmother, Jewish by birth and practice, clearly saw something in this book that touched her.

A cousin of my mother acquired it; her daughter gave it to me.

For her 30th birthday, I gifted it to my oldest niece who I hope will pass it on to her sons, both younger than 10 and readers.

There are lots of reasons to read, and especially, to read books in print.

Many others have written the whys—a simple search of “why read books” will take you to articles like “12 Reasons You Should Read (at Least) 12 Books This Year” and “10 Benefits of Reading: Why You Should Read Every Dayand many more justifications.

In questions answered by colleagues and authors, they too make the case for reading.

For me, books provide an escape, a way to learn. They provide a look into lives, current and past, real and created, unlike my own, and through reading I increase my empathy for others. The U.S. could do much better at teaching literacy.

As of 2018, roughly 32 million Americans couldn’t read, according to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy. The Pew Research Center reports on who is reading books and who isn’t. The numbers surprised and saddened me.

Our industry could do a better job of providing suggested reading for each session presented at an industry conference. Imagine the impact of pre-session reading or a list of books, fiction and non- that link to the subject matter for reading later.

Meetings Today has a limited number of suggested books in its bookstore.

What I’m Reading Now, What I Just Read, and Why

Both for personal interest and to prepare for a session on inclusion, I’m reading:

The knowledge gained will add to understanding and to what I hope others can learn about inclusion for the session I’ll facilitate at the Sunshine Education Summit (SES) presented by MPI chapters in August 2019 in Orlando (Additional incentive to attend the session: I’ll give away books, as I often do when presenting to further one’s learning).

The Shape of IDEAS: An Illustrated Exploration of Creativity by Grant Snider (creator of Incidental Comics) is pure delight!

If you are stuck on a problem, pick up this book and open to any page for inspiration—just as I began this blog post with one illustration by the author.

Author Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters should be as high on your list to read as Dr. Paul O. Radde’s Seating Matters: State of the Art Seating and Why It Matters. Both books can be a little weighty because they are research-based.

Both are superb to help create better meetings and gatherings of all sorts. In fact, if you want to give a gift to a supplier friend, these two should be among those considered.

Guy Kawasaki’s Wise Guy is his latest book of ideas and life-lessons.

I swear that my receiving a signed copy of the book was illustration of his concepts in Selling the Dream which is all about how to promote your products and companies! The difference? I’d read all of Guy’s other books and would have happily purchased this.

In fact, after I’d read it—and marked it up!—I sent copies to others I thought could benefit from and enjoy Guy’s life, wisdom, and willingness to keep trying new things.

(Joan’s Note: Read more about my connection to Guy and why you too should reach out to the authors you like in my related Q&A where I did just that).

Books I Read and Will Read Over and Over

No doubt you’ve heard me say or read how well I think of Daniel H. Pink and especially of one of his early books, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.

In that book, I learned how to better use off-site venues, especially museums, for more than social events (If you’re a podcast listener, try the Pinkcast for more of Dan Pink’s thinking).

Some years ago, I conducted book club-like sessions at various meetings using the book and chapter exercises to help others move their thinking forward.

With Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind, StrengthsFinder and the inventory that goes with it made a lasting impression, so much so that I revisited it in this March 2016 blog post.

Today, still, both enter my thinking when working with groups and engaging others in the meeting planning process and the outcome of meetings.

A memoir, three works of relatively recent fiction and one children’s book have stayed with me for many reasons, the greatest of which for me has been honing my empathy for those in other circumstances. We do not choose the circumstances into which we are born.

These four books, among many I’ve read, have become roadmaps, with Blind Spot noted above, for rethinking how I see others and what I believe can be done to support others in their endeavors. For anyone in the meetings and hospitality industries, empathy is a key to listening and moving relationships and conversations forward.

It is “The ‘soft skill’ that engages the whole brain.

More Recommended Reads

Memoir: My dear aunt Ann sent Educated by Tara Westover, to me. I’ve found that each person who has read this book had a different experience—based, as was mine, I’m sure, on our sense of place and family and circumstances into which we are born.

Ms. Westover’s experiences show the ability to go beyond where we begin.

More, she shows the critical importance of mentors, formal and informal, and the influence of those in our lives who chose to help us overcome obstacles.

Fiction: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad: A Novel was riveting. I could feel the tension of those traveling and the sense that the underground railroad was in fact a real railroad. Whitehead’s writing allows us to step back in history and realize the sacrifices so many made.

The writing of Thrity Umrigar, interviewed here, was recommended to me by friend, and fellow reader, Donna Brandwein. I’ve now read almost all of Ms. Umrigar’s books.

Two books in particular—The Space Between Us and The Secrets Between Us—impacted me in ways that I find difficult to put into words. Set in India, they could easily be in any place showing how class can separate us as much as education and income can.

It in fact, can define us and define the circumstances in which we live and never leave.

Funny, as I write this blog, tears spring back to me about the lives of the characters and their striving. Beautiful writing that delves deeply into relationships among and between those of different classes and circumstances and shows what we can do to help lift each other.

Children’s book: Malia the Merfairy and the Lucky Rainbow Cake by Jamie A. Triplin creates a world for children and adults where anything is possible. Like Jeff Hurt, I love to read children’s books. Malia made me smile for so many reasons.

 

Morgan McIntyre Posing Proudly Holding a Copy of Malia the Merfairy and the Lucky Rainbow Cake by Jamie A. Triplin [Joan’s Note: I gifted this book to my young friend, Morgan McIntyre (pictured here), who also very much enjoyed it! There’s no better gift than a good book.]

 

It is delightfully illustrated and teaches lessons about racism that are often missed by all of us. Seeing in a story a princess who looks like, well, not the usual blond, blue-eyed ones too many of us are used to seeing, is like going into a hotel and finding that many different people work behind the front desk, in management as well as in the heart-of-the-house.

It helps us learn what it it’s like to be different in a world where so many look the same.

As the industry again focuses on inclusion, this book is a good way for you to learn what the children in your life already know.

The Power of Good Books (and Authors)

I have lots of favorite authors other than those cited here. Among them:

  • Harlan Coben because trying to figure out crimes is like trying to solve the puzzles of putting a meeting together;
  • Anne Lamott and her most recent Almost Everything for its hope and humor with chutzpah;
  • Keith Knight, gentleman cartoonist, whose books are as engaging as his cartoons and talks about police brutality and racism and his marvelous illustrations that use topical issues and illustrations to highlight contemporary issues with which we deal.

I’ve often said that if I were to retire, I’d like to “just” read—the stacks of books that surround me, the ones at the library and the ones still to be written.

Except that’s not entirely true: I want to read and find applications for what I read. Sharing these ideas with you is another way of broadening ideas and reading.

You probably saw one or more of the lists of “summer reading” or “beach reading,” perhaps putting some books aside (or on your electronic device) to be read if you are taking a vacation or going to the beach or for a long flight for work or just as a break.

Good books and the authors who write them transport us to new dimensions in such a way that you might even feel you’re at the beach even if you aren’t!

What Are You Reading?

What are you reading and why? It’s not a book club; it is a way for colleagues to share what we love to read and the impact it has on us. Read on!

Are There Stupid Meeting Questions? It Depends!

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safety and Inclusion Tips for Meetings in Troubling Times

The last few weeks have been especially difficult.

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

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

Stay with me, please. I’ll show you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safety and Inclusion Tips for Meetings and Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inclusion Tips When Convening and Educating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Reading From the November 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

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

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

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relaxing Standards in the Meetings Industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s Enforcing Our Industry’s Ethics Policies?

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

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

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

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

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

Why write now—again—about these issues?

Why I Choose to Write About Ethics

There are multiple reasons:

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

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

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

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

Real-Life Examples of Questionable Behavior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advancing Integrity in Our Industry

Where do we go from here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Just One More Very Important Thing!

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

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

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

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

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

Related Reading From the October 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

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

Participant Safety Above All Else: On Water, Land or in the Air

Originally published Meetings Today blog

Participant Safety Above All Else: On Water, Land or in the Air

Immediately upon hearing about the Branson, Missouri, duck boat catastrophe, in addition to feeling a profound sadness for the families, my risk management thinking went into high gear.

Tyler Davidson, content director with Meetings Today, and I agreed that something must be written to help us all grasp the responsibilities in what we review—for our individual leisure plans, and for the activities often enthusiastically suggested to us by a hotel concierge or convention services staff.

Not to mention additional recommendations from DMOs, DMCs, colleagues or salespeople.

An additional note: if any of the quotes transcribed within this blog post are in fact or concept incorrect, I take responsibility.

Mr. Loebl also suggested the following:

“The most useful resource I’ve found to determine a specific state’s boating requirements is the U.S. Coast Guard Mobile App. [See the website for a] description and links to download to your phone.”

Although mainly geared to recreational boating, the information is still useful.

“The website that belongs to the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) has a page with links to a [boating laws] reference guide for each state with a number of questions related to boating safety public laws,” Loebl continued. “There is also a breakdown by topic area.”

“Not every [boating law administrator] regulates commercial vessels on its state waters, so it is a mixed bag,” he added. “If more specific info is needed about a particular state, [it’s] probably best to go directly to that state [boating law administrator], which is easily done using the USCG mobile app.”

An additional note: if any of the quotes transcribed within this blog post are in fact or concept incorrect, I take responsibility.

Mr. Loebl also suggested the following:

“The most useful resource I’ve found to determine a specific state’s boating requirements is the U.S. Coast Guard Mobile App. [See the website for a] description and links to download to your phone.”

Although mainly geared to recreational boating, the information is still useful.

“The website that belongs to the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) has a page with links to a [boating laws] reference guide for each state with a number of questions related to boating safety public laws,” Loebl continued. “There is also a breakdown by topic area.”

“Not every [boating law administrator] regulates commercial vessels on its state waters, so it is a mixed bag,” he added. “If more specific info is needed about a particular state, [it’s] probably best to go directly to that state [boating law administrator], which is easily done using the USCG mobile app.”

I’m also grateful to a duck boat franchise that provided answers to questions I had about safety and operations. Respecting its privacy, I am not including the contact’s name or the location of operations.

“I certainly understand the hesitation [about riding duck boats after the accident]. What happened in Branson was so unfortunate and has sent shockwaves throughout all of the duck companies nationwide.

“[In response to your query about the photos on the website] the reason you don’t see anyone wearing life jackets … is not because we don’t have them. At any time during the tour you are welcome to put one on. If you want to put one on, you can. The pictures on the website are from a photo shoot last year. And no one [among the passengers at that time] wanted to put their [life jacket] on.

“I cannot speak for what the Branson ducks did, but here’s what we do and what we have done for the past 15+ plus years [that I’ve been associated with this company, although it has been in business longer].

“Every morning, the captains come in at 7:00 a.m. The first thing they do is pull up the weather.

“In my opinion before Branson and after Branson, our master captains (all of them have a masters’ captain license) are better meteorologists than those you see on TV.

“Weather is what our captains deal with every day. There is ALWAYS a captain set aside to watch the weather. That’s all they do that day. No tours, just weather watching.

“They have two computers, one TV and four phones. They are obsessed with the weather.

“The other captains scheduled on that day then do two pre-trip inspections. One that is DOT required and one that is Coast Guard required. Any discrepancy, the duck doesn’t go out. Any issue, the duck doesn’t go out.

“We don’t go out when the wind is high. We don’t go out when the tide is high. We don’t go out when the tide is low. We don’t go out when there is lightning and thunder.

“And no captain works for more than 12 hours per DOT rules.”

Use the above responses, in addition to the checklist questions that accompany this blog post as a separate article, to ask about the duck boat or other like operations for a personal or group activity.

Given this information and what was said in interviews with the survivor, Tia Coleman (that the passengers didn’t have to wear life jackets), and from emails and posts on social media from friends and colleagues who have been on duck boats, and in looking at photos on websites of different cities’ duck boat operations … I am not confident that it is suggested that one wear life vests aboard all duck boats.

Pay attention to the follow-up articles and read what the investigator from the NTSB said about the storm that was predicted. Note the mention of another duck boat that went out about the same time and returned before the storm worsened.

And here’s a former NTSB Chair calling for a duck boat ban.

Read the list that Tyra Hilliard, who shares my passion about risk and contingency planning, and I compiled of questions to ask before taking part in any sort of boating or other water-based transportation activity. Think how these or like questions apply to any form of transportation or venues you book.

Consider that what happened in Branson could have happened to you or your family while on vacation or to those attending your meetings whether as a sponsored activity or as one recommended by you. If not recommended by you, maybe by your supplier partners with DMOs or hotels or DMCs.

In the initial Meetings Today article, we shared five key areas to consider when assessing transportation risk (with questions). Those are now expanded in the accompanying checklist presented in the Friday With Joan newsletter. Please add your safety precautions for any of these areas in the comments. We all are safer because of the experiences of others and by sharing information.

Be safe. If you are out on the water, wear a life vest or jacket. If you are on land and riding a bicycle or motorcycle, wear a helmet. If you are planning to be in or hire land vehicles—car (private or contracted) or bus—ask if they have a seat belt, then tell your participants to do what you do: wear seatbelts. When you are on a plane or a train, no matter how many trips you’ve taken, put down your reading materials and listen to the information about safety. In a hotel or other meeting facility? Count the steps from your guest room to the nearest evacuation area; look for evacuation and shelter-in-place areas.

Pay attention to all that will keep you and your participants safe.

As you inspect the car services and other companies with whom you contract, channel me! Each time I ask and want to contract safety issues, I’m told “no one has ever asked that before.” It is high time others did ask! In talking with industry attorneys, it was said that yes, those who hold designations such as CMP are likely to be held to a higher standard in the due diligence they perform in their recommendations.

CMP or not, make it safe for everyone.

I offer my continued condolences to those so horribly impacted by this tragedy—the families, their friends, the employees of the franchise and all others. How can we help but feel for them?

As I reflect on all the life-ending events suffered in our world and in our industry in particular, I ask as I have for years: How can we not put safety first in all we do as professionals on any side of this industry?

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

Related Reading From the August 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 08.03.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

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.​