Category Archives: Hospitality

From Sages on Stages to Sages on Screens: Pivoting to Virtual Meetings

Originally published Meetings Today

From Sages on Stages to Sages on Screens: Pivoting to Virtual Meetings

Is it really July? I finally got out for a haircut. Apartment door to elevator to garage to car (my spouse drove—I don’t drive [despite what someone once said, yes, you can be successful and not drive!]—six blocks to haircut where every precaution was taken. It felt great and I was terrified being out.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases soar in many U.S. states; meetings and conventions continue to be postponed or to move to a virtual platform; and sports, theater, and most other events are on hold.

Moving From Physical to Virtual

We don’t yet have the terminology for all to use for what we had referred to as “face to face” (or f2f) meetings that I now call “physical” meetings. We are face to face virtually on many platforms. What’s your preferred nomenclature?

Reading and listening to what others say and ask about moving their conferences to virtual formats from purely physical (vs. hybrid) meetings, what I hear are issues not considered until they had to be:

  • What will draw a virtual audience?
  • Will the virtual audience be the same that would have attended the physical meeting?
  • Will more people who might not have been able to afford to attend now be able to engage virtually? People from countries where travel is restricted? Those who finances might not allow them to otherwise attend? And are we designing for inclusive meetings?

I have some questions, too:

  • Is this an opportunity to create platforms that include more people with disabilities who couldn’t as easily participate physically because of barriers? (See June’s Friday With Joan for more.)
  • How long can people tolerate sitting in front of any screen? (Given how many virtual meetings in which we’re all participating, the question weighs heavily as my tush tires from being seated at my computer!)
  • Can or should we charge a registration fee? What is reasonable for participant and organization?
  • Do we need to make money, or at least not lose money, with the cost to present a virtual event?
  • What are the ‘anchor’ elements of our meeting? Exhibits? Education? Awards?
  • For associations, governance? “State of the industry/company” CEO/president addresses?
  • In what new ways might we present the key elements to ensure recognition and participation?

Designing for Virtual Delivery

I think constantly about all those issues and what it means for the content, and design and delivery, of content for speakers/presenters/trainers/facilitators. If and when physical meetings go forward while COVID-19 is still active, will those who deliver content—whether hired professional speakers or presenters or our internal subject matter experts (SMEs)—be willing to travel and be with others? And if not, how will they present virtually?

Consider:

For physical meetings, what precautions such as stage, lectern, microphone and other “touch” surfaces will we need to sanitize, and how thoroughly and how often after/between use?

If we would usually “pass a mic” for interaction, what must we do to ensure the safety of all who touch after someone else? (Immense gratitude to the participant in a session at the Cascadia Conference in March—the last time I traveled—who made me aware of this. It was an “I-can’t-believe-I’d-not-thought-of-it” moment. If you see this or know someone who knows who it was, please contact me at FridaywithJoan@aol.com.)

In what way can we create virtual interaction such as the serendipitous interaction individuals are used to and desire at physical meetings?

Who among our usual speakers—or for many, our already-planned-program speakers—can be as or more effective virtually?

In what ways must we train and coach our content experts to engage virtually?

A Few Tips

Immense gratitude to Julian Smith and Iain Bitran who gave me time (uh huh, via Zoom) to talk about moving their physical conferences to virtual ones in very short time frames.

Here are some key tips to consider:

  • Train speakers to present virtually.
  • Show speakers how to use cameras and even the how to use lighting, microphones; how to lean forward to present that most important point. (Keith Knight, Gentleman Cartoonist, did that so well in this presentation “Red, White, Black and Blue” on racial literacy using his drawings to ensure that the points were illustrated.)
  • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. It does not take the spontaneity away from the actual presentation. It ensures that everyone is cued to present.
  • Ensure moderators are available to interrupt to ask questions from the chat or from the Q&A. And like at a physical meeting, make the sessions interactive by having the moderator ask pertinent questions when they are asked to a specific point.
  • Provide platforms and encourage interaction among registrants before the virtual conference begins. Build community to provide comfort so that commenting in the chat is natural.
  • Set specific goals and objectives for each area of the virtual conference just as you would a physical one.
  • Consider the size of sessions and the platform used—the more people, the potential for less engagement.

And Finally…

Don’t do what a colleague said to me: “Plop and drop” your physical conference into a virtual event. The dynamics and need to present differently will either engage or damage the outcomes and potentially your organization’s reputation. Moreover, if and when we are able to meet physically again, you want to show that your conferences take all needs into account.

Postscripts

Personal point of privilege: HAPPY 92nd BIRTHDAY (July 8) to you, Howard Feiertag! If you want to shout out to him on some area of social media do, albeit belatedly since we are publishing a week later than usual. He has taught more of us directly and thus more of all of us through the teaching of some for so long. He is the backbone of understanding and integrating good sales and marketing techniques for our industry. When I learned negotiating skills from him at MPI Institute in 1981, the lasting value of his techniques in teaching, his infectious laugh and warmth continue to be part of my life and professionalism. May you live many more good and healthy years, dear mensch!

U.S.-eligible voters: Register or check your registration. Many U.S. states and territories have “cleaned” their voter registration rolls. Check, too, to see if in fact you are registered and where you should vote.

Remember that because of COVID-19, some US states and territories are not opening as many polling places for primaries or the November election.

Vote! There are ballot issues and people running for office who will impact what we do in this industry. On Twitter at @meetingstoday, we post links to issues that impact our industry. Voting is a precious right fought for by many. It is a responsibility of us all. If your city or county or state has a ballot initiative tied to taxes or other issues impacting meetings, tourism and travel, please alert us by tweeting and tagging @meetingstoday or me, @joaneisenstodt, or email me at FridaywithJoan@aol.com

The views expressed here are those of the author or those interviewed and may not express the views of our publisher. If you would like to make comments anonymously to this blog for posting or simply to send to the author, please write to FridaywithJoan@aol.com. State if you would like your comment posted here without attribution. Your confidentiality is promised.

Read more from Joan:

Epic Challenges Ahead: Expert Opinion on the Post-COVID-19 Meetings World

Originally published Meetings Today

Epic Challenges Ahead: Expert Opinion on the Post-COVID-19 Meetings World

On the April 27 WHO press briefing, it was stressed that it is not time for “mass gatherings.”

If you follow the link in the sentence above that provides WHO’s definition of “mass gatherings,” you may think that a meeting for 100 or 500 or 1,000, even a city-wide, might not be “mass” and perhaps it’s safe to go ahead with your meetings, conventions and events.

Most U.S. states and many countries still have guidelines that restrict how many people can gather. Even if it is permitted, physical distancing is strongly recommended by most if not by some leaders. What WHO recommends for gatherings is available to download. It’s worth your time to consider the recommendations.

I reached out to the Events Industry Council (EIC)—as recently as earlier in the week of the publication of this newsletter—in hopes it had developed guidelines for seating, changing capacities for spaces, and for issues, from the formerly convened APEX Contracts Panel, on what this means for contracts in place and those being negotiated, especially for room blocks, attrition, impossibility and cancellation. This is what I received just before we made this live. As an industry, we’re not ‘there’ yet.

The issues about which I wrote in April remain. On April 14 during Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID), virtual events and virtual components of EIC-member organizations, I wanted to hear thinking about the impact of COVID-19 on when we can gather again and how.

I heard little except the usual encouragement to meet. That’s all well and good if we have guidelines to keep people safe. We do not have more than what WHO published.

In discussions among colleagues in social media, including on ASAEs Collaborate and in the “Events Industry Friends” group on Facebook [to join, answer the three questions], there is frequent conversation about the how/why/when we can move forward. There is no consensus though all want the industry to recover.

None of this would be so critical if so many of us weren’t dealing with postponing meetings and determining the configuration for those to be held in the latter part of 2020 and into 2021.

While many groups are pivoting to entirely virtual meetings, others are moving forward planning their events to perhaps meet as contracted or to attempt to revise the content and delivery to accommodate physical distancing.

I am grateful to Paul Bergeron, IOM, a freelance reporter covering association management, for his contribution to this newsletter on thinking about pivoting to virtual meetings. Pivoting has been swift and I, like Paul, fear that too little consideration is going into the long-term implications.

The impact of COVID-19 on how we hold meetings and events impacts nearly every element of a meeting. Considerations include the following, and this list is just a start:

  • Physical distancing: a colleague with an upcoming meeting determined that a room that normally could hold 250 could hold at most 36 people with six-foot distancing; rounds would be impossible; and issues for people who need sign language interpreters more complex.
  • Exhibit load-in/load-out times and conditions
  • Rehearsals
  • Room blocks
  • Attrition
  • F&B minimums
  • Service
  • Cleanliness
  • Guest room availability between one guest’s departure and another occupying a room
  • Elevator use

Lots of Questions and Thoughts; Few Answers

Some of the following thoughts were posted on various platforms, others were solicited. Only one is attributed because the issues are all sensitive regarding whether or not groups can or will meet.

I am grateful to The Wynn and to Marriott Hotels for their input on some of what we are considering around cleanliness. I hope they expand their thinking, quickly, to meetings and that the entire industry does far more, quickly.

I wanted for myself, clients and for readers, other voices to be considered as we all determine what to do. Voices of vast experience help me; I hope they will help you as you consider where our industry goes and how.

If in editing the comments from colleagues, I’ve erred in expressing their views, my apologies. I am grateful beyond words for their time in discussing complex issues because, I, a “P” on MBTI, needs lots of input to get to “J!”

Why Meet?

One exchange in ASAE’s Collaborate with Michael LoBue, MS, CAE, president of San Francisco’s LoBue & Majdalany Management Group was one of the better ones. (A lengthy and rich discussion on Facebook in the above noted group was too much to post.) My edited response to Michael follows his questions and comments.

Michael LoBue: ”I haven’t read this anywhere, which surprises me, but doesn’t hurricane season officially start off the Atlantic Coast on June 1st and runs through the end of November? [Had he only been reading my mind, he would have discovered many internal conversations.]

“Given states like Florida, Georgia and South Carolina are re-opening their local economies by relaxing physical distancing, and the incredibly infectious nature of the coronavirus, why wouldn’t we expect the next U.S. hot spot to shift to the South… and then if a hurricane hits … the entire East Coast will shut down again.

“Even if things open up in other parts of the country at that time, everyone will correctly want to go into physically distancing again—plus no one from the infected areas will be traveling anywhere to attend meetings.

“I’ve never been in an evacuation, for a hurricane or anything else. I’ve talked to people who have. It doesn’t seem like a desirable experience—to have it happen during a pandemic doesn’t seem to improve those prospects (he writes sarcastically).

“BTW, I heard that Germany cancelled Octoberfest this year [Correct: We tweeted it for Meetings Today.]… Why any face-to-face meetings between now and the end of the year are on anyone’s calendar is a mystery to me.

“Am I alone in this view?”

My edited response to Michael’s post:

Michael, thank you for raising these issues. They are very much on my mind and in my planning for clients and in my writing for the meetings industry.

In the off-the-record conversations with hoteliers and DMO CEOs, and with colleagues who plan meetings and travel, there is a belief that many hotels may never open again. In addition, COVID-19 (now thought to exist in a greater percentage of the world’s population than originally projected) could stick around and join whatever flu strain or mutation of COVID-19 appears later this year, so add that to the existing critical issues for which to plan for if meetings/events—or any gathering of more than a few people—are to occur.

Yes, correct on hurricane “season.” We’ve already seen that in states where tornadoes have occurred, physical distancing had to be put aside in order to provide shelter for many impacted. Convention centers and like facilities, that house meetings and events, are being used for what is called temporary shelter for either COVID-19 patients and/or those who were formerly homeless.

These same spaces are needed for those impacted by tornadoes. During hurricanes or other disasters (like wildfires), these facilities are used.

Add these issues in considering whether to meet:

  • Workers who will not want to work again in hospitality (including those who work/ed in transportation) for fear of illness and/or another round of layoffs.
  • Transportation itself (air, ground) and no idea when schedules as we knew them may resume.
  • Lack of hotels’ and cities’ policies and plans for implementation for cleaning, seating or other issues (attrition is one) impacted by distancing.

The list goes on for those of us planning for contingencies.

There are many who believe that talking about these issues is “fear-mongering” designed to scare people from planning or attending meetings and doesn’t show faith in what the hospitality industry can do. (Yes, #HospitalityStrong is trending among some.) I want to believe that we can meet again as long as we are prepared to keep people safe.

Groups, forced to make decisions now based on hotel or convention center cancellation charges, are being put in very difficult positions: choosing to stay afloat by having a meeting if states and cities say the guidelines for safely gathering have been met and the go-ahead given, or paying cancellation fees, with no registration income or less income for virtual events.

I’ve not mentioned the issue of city and state infrastructures and services that will be decimated because of lack of tax income, or the ability to obtain food with so many processing plants closed because of COVID-19 outbreaks, or the farmers plowing under crops and dairy farmers dumping milk.

I say, yes, Michael, I do not think there is much hope for 2020, but there needs to be lots of energy to plan to hold meetings and for contingencies.

What About Travel?

It’s not simple to figure out the pieces that go into planning a meeting under what were normal circumstances. In an email conversation with a colleague who was in hotel catering for years and now plans events, issues were raised about what is and isn’t open and about travel. To protect this person’s identity, I have edited some of the comments.

The hotels [in the city in which they live] are all closed. There are a few I’m sure that have a skeleton crew and some smaller ones that have restaurants trying to still do deliveries.

“It’s so hard to know what the “new normal” will be: Which restaurants will make it? Which stores? Will people want to travel? HOW will they travel? The days of non-sanitized planes and crowded flights, at least till there’s a vaccine that works, are over.

“I think flights will have to have fewer people on each plane and will need more than 30 minutes to an hour for people to disembark and then new passengers to board and take off. 

“I think airlines are going to have to do much more cleaning of the planes between flights, which will increase “gate time” and change schedules, which means that it will be way more expensive to fly.

“Likewise, hotels are going to have to figure out that housekeepers will need more time to clean each room. Hotels may consider switching from carpeting to hardwood/laminate or tile floors. Hotels on beaches or with pools will have to disinfect to the hilt. We’ve all been amused and grossed out by those “black light” reports, but now that a hotel could be culpable of murder—this ain’t so funny! It’s not bedbugs which are gross and a “problem”— people can die from this virus. So, that’s going to have people more “heebie jeebying” than before and more inclined to “tele-meet” than ever before.

“I do hope it’s sooner rather than later, and indeed that by October it will be “normal.”  

Taking this and my own conversations with airline personnel into consideration, I asked a colleague directly in the travel segment of the industry the following questions; their answers follow.

QWhen and how do you think airlines will begin to fly even half their domestic schedules?  

AMy guess is spring of 2021, at the earliest. There is too much uncertainty for the rest of 2020. The benchmark will be how well do the winter flights sell, if there is no second wave, or fear of a second wave.

Q. What do you think will make travelers feel safe in airports? On planes?

AOffer free protective face masks on request; have line space markers; announce reminders to be respectful to your fellow passengers and crew; allow passengers to change seats if they are concerned; and continue to offer flexible flight change options

Q. What do you expect the biggest changes to be in how we travel for leisure, business and to conferences?

A. For a while, we will travel to familiar places, less crowded destinations, and on shorter trips, for leisure.

For business, we’ll meet in smaller groups, for less time. We’re less likely to extend city visits, see a show, go to a group dinner, want to meet everyone in the office, for “face time.”

For conferences, we’ll radiate to smaller meetings, with more spacing between seats, fewer breakout rooms, temperature checks, and masks. It will be awkward, and there will be smaller audiences reflecting the reluctance to participate in large group gatherings.

Pre-arranged small get-togethers will be organized online before a conference, so there can be a brief meet-and-greet on-site, and no need to attend mass networking events, or spend lots of time at big receptions or crowded evening events. [I wonder what will happen to “hosted buyer events,” where the intimacy of face-to-face cannot happen for some time.]

Small and roomy will beat large and packed-in. We will see wide-scale behavior change in venue site selection. No more small nightclubs or narrow hallway receptions. Opening events will be held at outdoor sites or large museums, with plenty of room for peace of mind. Large gardens or private parks will offer more comfort. 

The crowded tradeshow floor is also endangered and may be replaced by smaller supplier group-specific exhibitor opportunities. For example, there might be a “Middle America Small Market” room and a “West Coast Top Tier” room, with room capacity controls, and delegates will stroll between them.

Q. What else do you want to tell people about the impact of COVID-19 on the meetings industry?

AOrganizers will need to relax change and cancellation policies. There will be lots of fear and uncertainty for a while. Delegates, exhibitors and (association) members will come from different geographic locations and different personal comfort levels. Some will adjust better than others to all the changes.

Planners will need to be sensitive to these changes, some of which will be expensive. CEOs and CFOs will need to accept it will cost more to draw fewer people to meetings and events. There will be less interest in promoting meetings by the numbers they draw, but instead, by the niche they serve. Some companies will get nervous and will cancel 2020/2021 staff travel out of fear, or for budget reasons, and this should not be inferred as not being a supportive or loyal member.

What About Hotels?

As noted above, The Wynn Las Vegas and Marriott hotels have put forth guidelines about cleaning. Prior to these plans being released, I asked three respected colleagues, two of whom recently retired, one of whom is soon to do so, and all of whom were with hotels in “lofty” positions, with a combined total of nearly 100 years in the industry (though they are all still younger than I am!) for their thoughts on the current state of the meetings industry.

I am grateful to them all for years of doing business together and, with our “business hats off,” friendship, and never more than now when ideas need to be explored in uncharted territory.

I am also grateful to another colleague still working with an open hotel for their input.

Colleague 1:

“Testing is the key. Hotels will have to confirm that all of their employees have been tested (multiple times) and are negative (for COVID-19.) Hotels will also have to take extra steps to show the facility is a safe place.
“Contracts are going to have to change to give planners more leeway on attrition and cancellations since no one will know for sure who will attend even when they try to hold a meeting.

“I see a reversal of the trend of leaving the hotel for F&B functions to wanting to stay in the hotel since it’s a more controlled environment.

“Since flying is a big concern, there might be an increase in regional drive-in meetings.

“Planners may need to let attendees participate both in-person and fully online to get people more comfortable (with gathering again).

“Social distancing rules will need to be established in all meeting rooms and outlets.

“Tradeshows are big problem. I see one-way aisles, limits on the number of people in a booth, more online demonstrations. (A model groceries are using now in many cities.)

“I see smaller sessions happening in meeting rooms but spaced out for social distancing and large sessions online so could you watch from your room or at a distance.”

Colleagues 2 and 3:

These two had an email exchange prior to my contacting one and then the other. I have permission to share their edited thoughts, exchanged before the three of us spoke.

Colleague 2: “Times are crazy, but my family is all good and I hope the same with you. What are you hearing in the industry for groups having to change programs/set-ups to maintain six feet of social distancing? Seems this would turn the meetings and convention industry on its head.”

Colleague 3: “What I think is that bad times are ahead for meetings. If we think that groups are just going to reschedule and put thousands of attendees at risk…the liability is huge, and associations and companies aren’t going to do that easily.

“The only thing that will save us [and the industry and meetings] is a vaccine. Short of that, it will be a long road back. Really worried for the kids. [These colleagues have children who work in the industry.] This is not the legacy I had hoped for.”

Colleague 2: “I so agree with youThe meetings and conventions segment is so critical to the hotels. Big hotels are not going to make it, especially the ones that recently opened.

“It took three years to go from peak to trough after 9/11 and 4 1/2 years after the 2008 financial crisis. I say this is going to be worse. A vaccine is key, but I think events will change for many years.

“Programs are going to have to be adjusted; the virus impact on what we know and loved is monstrous. I love the world we lived in. As I write this I think about … being at events with friends celebrating our industry and now I think it will be years before that comes back. I hope the young people at some point will be fortunate to have the same experiences.”

Colleague 3: “It seems that our path and successes may not be the same for our children. There are so darn many hotels popping up….. Big shakeout for sure.
[About going to industry events.] We sure had a great run and I hope our kids get a shot at what we enjoyed, but I worry the entire industry is going to change and not for the better…just look at how easy virtual meetings now are. Face-to-face isn’t going to be back as fast, if at all.”

Following up this exchange, one of the two above wrote to me when I asked if we were going too fast in re-opening the industry. It is edited for space and anonymity:

You are right, Joan, that hotels and airlines are hatching plans and probably too quickly. Saw the other day the ‘new’ seating arrangement for planes. Great, except that the one MOST important thing that will keep people from flying is the issue of filtered air on planes…it’s less about the seats, much more about how to keep the air that everyone breathes virus-free.

“Hotels are right in looking at the markets which can move quickly: business travel, leisure and sadly, not large group…. I’m betting 2021 or later realistically. All the [industry] talking heads will tow a [party] line but the real direction is going to come from the travelers themselves.

“Would you fly or stay in a hotel anytime soon? Every group needs to poll their members to determine direction.”

“Personally, I think we are moving too fast in reopening. A reinfection flare-up will really push us back. Just read earlier in [paper named] a column written by three lawyers who said that the liability in opening up stores, restaurants, etc., will be staggering if people get sick again.

“Our own industry doesn’t seem to be thinking this way.”

Last, from a colleague still working in an open hotel in a major market. Again, edited for anonymity, clarity and length.

Q. What will it take for the meetings industry to reopen to anything close to what it was before COVID-19?  

ATo reopen to anything close to what we were accustomed to pre-COVID-19, three primary elements will be needed: cleaning, infrastructure and flexibility.

All suppliers will need to conform to and execute CDC-endorsed cleaning standards; suppliers and planners will need to work to execute changes in physical and customary “infrastructure.” All parties—all suppliers (even if not contracted by a planner, such as airlines), planners and attendees involved will need to be flexible and adjust policies based on what medical progress has been made,

Ultimately, all parties need to ensure that guests/meeting attendees feel that steps have been taken to ensure everyone’s health, safety and security.

Hospitality chemical suppliers, such as Ecolab, were immediately proactive in reaching out to their customers regarding chemicals and CDC guidance the first two weeks of March, as were AHLA, and in our case, our state hotel and lodging association.

Infrastructure changes are going to be a big part of our ability to operate within the next year. Hotels may need to reconfigure front desks to accommodate a plexiglass shield as grocery stores have. The formerly popular open-pod front desk design will go away. There will be installation of more self-serve check-in kiosks that also issue key cards.

In addition to physical distancing reminder signage, we may need floor markers like stores are using. We’ll add hand sanitizer stations everywhere. Physical distancing protocol may require furniture removal to allow more space in lobbies and public areas.  

For meetings, physical set-up standards will have to change to 1 per 6-foot classroom at least short-term. Depending on the rooms and audience size, theater style may have to set for space for three or four times the seating as the expected numbers.

Receptions have to be re-imagined: Buffets and action stations will disappear, and bar set-ups will need to factor physical distancing.  

Meetings will need to include a virtual component for those not able or willing to travel. Programs will need to rethink networking and other social components for the next 12 to 18 months. 

Individual and group hotel reservation cancellation and meeting registration policies will need to be as flexible as possible. As flights (“lift”) have been drastically cut and are likely to remain that way for some time, planners must plan for their potential destination before finalizing plans vs. taking for granted that one can easily get to D.C. or Chicago as they used to. National meetings may go away for a few years and become smaller regional meetings due to change in air and change in our dynamics.

Q. What are the potential hazards for hotel workers and guests in returning to hotels?

AI believe it was Dr. Fauci who said, “We don’t make the timetablethe virus does.” That means we have to address a workplace/facility hazard that cannot be seen and one scientists/medical community is still learning about. [We are only four months into research.]

Until there is a vaccine, assume everyone could be asymptomatic and/or a carrier, and execute cleaning and infrastructure changes accordingly to create optimal conditions for both guests and employees.

To face the potential hazards, provide the recommended protective equipment to employees and the optimal safe layout to provide physical distancing, and supplies and services to support guests. If we put many safeguards in place and go beyond required cleaning protocols, our guests—and employees—will be shielded from hazards to the best of our ability.

Q. What has been your experience during COVID-19 with an open hotel and what guests want to know?

AHotels in our state are considered an “essential business,” but under the state of emergency/shelter at home order, we are authorized to turn away guests whose stay is not due to essential work. We have turned away guests who say they are there to simply “get away” from their house.

Most of our guests the last few weeks have been police and fire personnel working extra shifts and want to be close to their stations. We have been hosting nurses on temporary assignment at one of the three nearby “specialty” hospitals that do not have COVID-19 units.

I have been working with a domestic violence organization needing additional temporary shelter for their clients and also the American Red Cross seeking to secure a designated hotel for their normal course of business of providing families shelter in case of fires.

Business travelers right now are traveling medical professionals and other first responders. We are participating in a “day rate” promotion for locals to use rooms for a workspace during the workday—we have seen day guests for this. [On behalf of all of us, THANK YOU!]

We are running between 8% and 15% occupancy. We’ve kept guests informed by posting information regarding the shelter in-place order, changes in service and our current housekeeping protocols. We are primarily in a residential area that borders a medical campus, so we do have a great deal of options for food service—either carry out or delivery. We keep as updated as possible list regarding options.

On May 1, so far, we’ve been told hospitals are able to start non-emergency procedures (joint replacement, colonoscopies, etc), so we may see guests who want to be close to family members. Clearly this, too, may change.

I’m still wrapping my head around everything. I do not think we will return to business levels we saw in 2019 for many, many years.  

There you have it: different voices of experience. If my crystal ball, still not working the way it used to, were better, I’d have easy answers.

What we need is great collective discussions among many, including medical and scientific, emergency and other personnel, to help us figure out what to do. And we need patience as the world contends with this horrific illness.

We need to look at the inequities made more visible by this. We need to give what we can to help those who are in great need. I recommend your local food bank, World Central Kitchen, founded by the amazing chef Jose Andres, that now in addition to feeding people in disaster areas around the U.S. and world is feeding first responders and those in need in many cities, including mine (Washington, D.C.), and to Unite Here to help the many hospitality workers who are out of work and who we need to be healthy and safe so they can return to support us and our meetings.

Postscript

If you are a U.S.-eligible voterregister or check your registration. Many U.S. states and territories have “cleaned” their voter registration rolls. Check, too, to see if in fact you are registered and where you should vote.

Vote in upcoming primaries and national electionsThere are ballot issues and people running for office who will impact what we do in this industry. On Twitter at @meetingstoday, we post links to issues in upcoming elections that impact our industry. Voting is a precious right fought for by many. It is a responsibility of us all.

Because of COVID-19, many US states and territories have changed their primary dates and/or have added special elections. Please check your state’s or territory’s dates at their board of elections.

Sales May Sell But It’s Event Services That Brings Repeat Biz

Originally published Meetings Today

Sales May Sell But It’s Event Services That Brings Repeat Biz

When meeting planners express frustration with the CSMs (convention services managers) (aka ESPs, event service professionals) who don’t call or email in a time frame that is acceptable to the planners, or who suggest that the CSMs don’t know enough about properties, I bristle.

Many of us who’ve been in the industry for some time know that sales will sell the world and that those in service must make it happen, regardless of the realities of what has been sold.

That’s not just an opinion, it’s the reality of the current and former CSMs I interviewed.

My First Professional Experience with CS and Sales

I moved to Washington, D.C., where I still live, in 1978. My first job here was as an association planner for the association’s 10th anniversary meeting. Although I had planned meetings and events around the U.S. prior to my move, I wasn’t schooled or trained in the profession.

On my first visit to the already-contracted hotel, I met with the sales manager and convention services manager and said, “Tell me everything.” They did and it was the beginning of my “love affair” with convention services and all they brought to the process and execution of meetings.

This convention services manager and all those who worked the back—or heart (Thank you, Mark Andrew, for the better term.)—of the house to set and service meeting and event space ensured my employer’s 10th anniversary meeting, celebration and related events were flawless.

I could not have done it without them.

I’m guessing that you planners could not manage without them. And I know that those of you in sales depend on them to deliver the magic you sell.

Who Plays What Role

Those in sales and marketing do lots to woo planners and groups to come to their properties. They are given budgets to entertain and attend industry events to schmooze planners. CSMs must produce what sales sells and it is not always easy. And in the end, they do it, sorta like the analogy of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire—backwards and in heels. Well, not exactly—rather, they do it working very long hours and days for much less money and far less respect than those in sales receive. In fact, I’d compare their role with ours as planners; we make it look easy even when it’s not, and get far too little credit.

Many planners will understand when I say that too often the salesperson shows up on day four of a five-day meeting to see when you’ll book the next meeting at their property. The CSM is there with you from the start of the pre-con(vention meeting) and through the post-con, and every day and evening of the event. And if they can’t be there that late, they ensure someone who knows the meeting will be.

If it goes well and the group rebooks, the CSM, unless we planners specifically say it, won’t get the credit for the return booking. If it goes badly, and it can, the CSM is blamed (sometimes fairly as in the one with whom I worked who showed up at 9 a.m. for the 7 a.m. general session rehearsal and left by 3 in the afternoon) even if they executed their role magnificently.

Relationship of Planner and CSM

Like some of you, I, too, have been frustrated when a phone call is not returned “promptly” (which some believe is within 10 minutes!) or an email is not answered with the information urgently requested for a meeting in a few months or later. When a CSM is working with an in-house group, their “desk-time” (as noted in the interviews I did) is limited. They are giving their attention to those in-house. We’ve all seen the domino effect of one planner late with their meeting specifications (“specs”) on upcoming meetings: No one gets what they need on time.

In 2019, when I spoke at a conference, the CSM was the person who, with the client, helped me the most. The CSM managed a complex in-house meeting with many demands while begging the next groups to please send their very late specs. It was all done with a smile and kindness.

I know and you do, too, that we get very cranky when our employers or clients or volunteers with whom we work don’t tell us what they need or do it very late or make changes—frequently! We all depend on each other.

CSMs must be part of site inspection.

Intuitively, I knew that. Experience confirmed that too often those in sales, who usually conduct site inspections, don’t know the intricacies of the space and its use. They are not exposed in too many circumstances to the intricacies of set-ups and flow that a CSM has that can then benefit the planning of our meetings. And if the CSM is also responsible for all or aspects of catering, they can add their knowledge at the time we are still considering which property to use

Wait…are you bashing sales?

Nope. I wish all hotel, convention center, conference center and other venue salespeople had convention services and operational backgrounds. In fact, I think it should be mandatory for anyone selling space and its use to have first been part of a service team. The industry doesn’t understand or work to ensure complementary roles and training.

Salaries and incentives, too, may be part of the issue. Salespeople are tasked with booking quotas that can push them to book more without explaining all that a planner needs to know. Too often those who plan are not trained, and we need to have partners who understand all aspects of their properties and how our meetings and events will work. You’ll read in the interviews of situations where CSMs saved everyone by their attention to detail.

When it’s not working

An experience with a client meeting at a major convention hotel taught me to ask many more questions in the RFP about the CSMs’ experience, including whether they are members of ESPA. On a site visit with just the CSM, I was surprised when they—a director—who had been with the hotel many years never, as we walked through, addressed any of the set-up people by name. I want to see teamwork from the first experience.

About 15 minutes into the inspection, and with other hotel options from which to choose, I stopped and asked why they were not addressing the staff by name. I was told, “They work for me. I don’t need to know their names.” My response? Buh-bye—I want to see a team that respects each other and works with respect to make meetings happen.

The relationship starts with the first call or visit and asking about experience and how they work with the entire staff. If there is not knowledge and cooperation, the meeting can suffer.

Training is available

I served on the customer advisory boards of a number of hotel companies, and on the (then) CIC (now EIC) Board as one of MPI’s delegates.

During service on the hotels’ advisory boards, I repeatedly asked why CSMs were not sent to industry meetings to meet and learn with planners and with salespeople, and why CSMs weren’t part of the tradeshow team. It made sense since I knew they were the reason groups rebook.

When I served on that Board, I got to know both Keith Sexton-Patrick and the now-late Bill Just, he the founder of ACOM, now called ESPA. Spending time with them was invaluable. They worked hard, as do all now on the ESPA Board, to persuade hotels, convention centers and conference centers to support their CSMs with ESPA membership and for attendance at industry meetings to learn and build relationships.

Alas, too many service departments are understaffed and those who do the work are too often stretched too thin by the planners who don’t provide their specs on time, and so getting away is difficult. See what Deidre Reid, ESPA Treasurer has to say about the support she receives.

Hmmm… a vicious circle?

What can be done

  • Salespeople and planners must promote—even insist—that the CSMs in the properties in which they work be made members of ESPA. (I gain nothing for this promotion.)
  • The industry must elevate the standing of CSMs. Thankfully, of those inducted into the EIC Hall of Leaders (I’m a proud 2004 inductee.) are some from convention services. I was thrilled that Keith Sexton-Patrick was honored, with Jim Daggett, the late Doris Sklar, and me, by HSMAI, with the Pacesetter Award in the 1990s.
  • We all need to establish and meet deadlines to help each other shine.
  • Meeting planners can help train CSMs just as they have helped train us. Help them learn more about adult learning and the work we do.
  • Planners must write specific praise of CSMs in real letters to GMs and owners.

This blog and edition of Friday With Joan is dedicated to a number of people, all in convention/conference services, some who have passed away, and all of whom made clients’ meetings and events great and made my life richer and my work smarter: Alvin A. Brazile, Jr., Michael Conod, Bill Just, all of blessed memory; and Devon Sloan, Kim Peterson and Linda Tudor.

Postscript

  1. Keep up to date on novel coronavirus/COVID-19 and the repercussions around the world. We are trying to tweet from @meetingstoday as often as information is available. Wash your handsDon’t touch your face. Cover your coughs and sneezes. Read information at CDC and WHO. Assume nothing about the spread and impact of this virus. We are seeing more cases in the U.S. now that testing is available, and more deaths. As I finish this, more deaths have been reported in Washington state.
  2. If you are a U.S.-eligible voter, go to this link and register or check your registration. Many U.S. states and territories have “cleaned” their voter registration rolls. Check, too, to see if in fact you are registered and where you should vote. Vote in upcoming primaries and national electionsThere are ballot issues and people running for office who will impact what we do in this industry. On Twitter at @meetingstoday, we post links to issues in upcoming elections that impact our industry. Voting is a precious right fought for by many. It is a responsibility of us all.

Instead of Job Burnout, Try This

Originally published Meetings Today

Instead of Job Burnout, Try This

All who work in any part of the meetings/hospitality/tourism industry experience face often unrealistic deadlines and people and events outside of their control that pull in competing directions.

Does any of this sound familiar?

  • Competition between quality meetings and service versus budgets.
  • Long and irregular hours.
  • Failed attempts at work-life balance.
  • Commuting.
  • Technology, that while helpful, keeps us always available.
  • The exhaustion of travel and onsite meeting and event management.

It’s nearly impossible not to feel burnout!

Meeting planning—or as defined by studies as “event coordinator”—has been listed as one of the most high-stress professions.

Other jobs in hospitality must suffer a similar level of stress and burnout, such as hotel and venue sales, with constant revenue goals and wrangling contracts, plus evenings entertaining clients; and convention services, because there are too few people working in these positions, which take on the stress of facilitating what salespeople sell.

Burnout results in not just the need for time off. It results in a dearth of new ideas because we can’t see, well, the trees for the forest! (Yes, I intentionally reversed the adage.) With that comes meetings that look and feel way too alike.

We are overworked, overwhelmed and in need of being refreshed in body, mind and spirit. We want to bring back the energy we felt with a new job or new concept with fresh insights. When people talk about managing burnout, they speak of time away from work…time away from all responsibility.

Is a Vacation Actually Enough Time Away?

I’ve long said I want to find a way, like what I want in my next reincarnation (a super-fan of the film Defending Your Life, I believe the possibility), to enjoy days with zero responsibility to clients, the industry, learning, my spouse and family, my beloved cats, home, etc.

Then again, I love learning, so maybe it’s that I want time to learn without other responsibilities.

I do not believe that vacations alone can renew and refresh. They are too short or not taken at all. This Travel + Leisure story cites statistics that reveal one-third of all Americans haven’t taken a vacation in more than two years.

When people do take vacation, the planning alone, especially for those in our industry, feels like work!

You probably saw US Travel’s National Plan for Vacation Day and, like I, chuckled that there are now guidelines to plan a vacation. Sheesh, most of us are asked to do so by others.

In the last months, the number of industry professionals I know who retired was mind-boggling. The numbers plus the aging of meetings and hospitality industry professionals led me to write the December “Friday with Joan” about those who are feeling “aged-out” of the industry.

Not one of those who had or were planning to retire soon expressed regret. Suzette Eaddy expressed it well—not having to be somewhere and do something specific every day. Sandi Lynn said she “rewired” instead of entirely retiring, which has elements of the alternative you’ll read about below.

This op-ed about the so-called “Megxit” decision by the Sussexes was a big AH-HA. The first line reads, “Step back is the new Lean in, and I am here for it.

It went on to describe what the writer, Michele L. Norris, believed it meant: “I am going to assess the landscape and figure out how to move forward on my own terms—or figure out whether the prescribed path is even the best fit.”

It screamed “SABBATICAL!” to me.

Colleagues Share Their Sabbatical Stories

Jean Boyle, whom I met through MPI years ago, was someone I remembered had taken a sabbatical. When I asked her, I learned that she had taken two sabbaticals in her work history.

I reached out in various industry groups via social media and to specific colleagues to find out if others had taken sabbaticals or if they were an offered or negotiated option.

In a wide-ranging conversation with Shelley Sanner, M.A., CAE, senior vice president industry relations at McKinley Advisors, about how associations can easily align their missions with a sabbatical, she said she took a sabbatical in 2017 and alas, said that no one at their company has since. A shame, we both agreed.

Sanner said all the pieces must be in place, including who will pick up one’s work while away and if that means hiring others or providing training to staff currently in-house, before someone goes on sabbatical. As others, and in particular, Amanda Cecil, said, one must step totally away from one’s job in order to use time on a sabbatical well.

Mike Gamble, president and CEO of SearchWideGlobal, said one of its employees was on the verge of quitting. Instead, they negotiated time to travel, about which you can read here. It was clearly a sabbatical that benefitted the person and company, broadening their scope of knowledge.

As sabbaticals are more common in academia, I reached out to Professor Deborah Breiter, PhD, CEM, at The Rosen School of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida (UCF), also profiled in the December “Friday With Joan,” remembering that she had taken one.

During hers, she wrote:

I used the time to edit a book of event case studies with Amanda Cecil, earn my CEM, and create a series of videos for one of my online classes. I took two semesters off at three-quarter pay. I could have taken one semester at full pay.”

Deborah told me that Amanda Cecil, PhD, CMP, professor, Department of Tourism, Events and Sports Management, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) had also taken a sabbatical, about which you can read in the next part of this edition of “Friday with Joan.”

It made sense and fit with what I’d wanted to do years ago: Have a select number of senior D.C.-area planners rotate jobs for a period of up to six months to learn what other organizations do in order to refresh and renew thinking, to bring new ideas back to their employers and work.

Many of us believe we are indispensable. We’ve fed that assumption by keeping much of what we do and know “in our heads.” We talk about what would happen if any of us were “hit by a bus,” believing that no one could ever manage without us. (Okay, yeah, they probably couldn’t, but if we burn out and can’t function, isn’t that almost as bad as being hit by a bus?)

In my conversations and reading, I learned of all the potential sabbaticals offer to any profession. Sadly, what I also learned is that many so-called “sabbaticals” are really extended vacations without a specific purpose.

Even more sadly, I know how little money is set aside for industry colleagues for professional development and fear paying someone to learn for longer than a few days will be pooh-poohed. If we can incorporate different thinking, we can change this.

I asked those with whom I spoke if they thought sabbaticals were feasible for those who work in our industry.

Deborah Breiter Terry wrote:

“I think sabbaticals are feasible for any professional employees (as opposed to hourly) who have been with an employer for a certain number of years (probably seven). They would have to go through some sort of application process and show how they would use the time and what the eventual benefit to the company would be. Perhaps somebody wants to take six months to go to school or maybe they want to be a visiting lecturer or executive in residence at a college or university.”

From Mike Gamble:

Work life balance is now a competitive advantage, and companies who truly ‘walk the talk’, will recruit and retain the best talent. Sabbaticals are one way to reward tenured employees and show them that you care about their health and well-being.”

Jim Zaniello, FASAE, president of Vetted Solutions, told me that he’s seeing more associations offering sabbaticals in their hiring of senior level positions:

Associations should offer all staff—not just the CEO—a sabbatical for a significant tenure, say, their 10-year anniversary. It’s a great employee retention incentive as well as an investment in employee wellness.”

This 2017 article makes the case for associations to provide sabbaticals. In emails with Ernie Smith, the author, I learned he’d not heard from any associations that had implemented sabbaticals.

This article from Inc. details companies that offer sabbaticals. In checking with someone with the parent company of Kimpton Hotels, I was unable to learn if they in fact still offer them and what the guidelines are. Stand by—once learned, I’ll add to the comments to the blog.

Ask yourself the following questions when considering any kind of sabbatical:

  • How then do you decide if you want a structured sabbatical v. more vacation time?
  • What guidelines could and your employer develop to justify sabbatical, with pay?
  • What benefits would you ascribe to you and to your employer?
  • What are you willing to do in order to avoid (greater) burnout and instead focus on new learning to enhance your thinking and energy?

Rosen College of Hospitality’s Sabbatical Guidelines

How can you structure the sabbatical application and process?

With permission, linked here are the full guidelines from Rosen College of Hospitality Management University of Central Florida SABBATICAL POLICY. [Note that numbers and letters are not in order. We left them as they are in the policies to maintain the integrity of the document.] Where it refers to “this college,” translate that to “organization” or “company” for the purposes of thinking about what your organization could do. I’ve captured a few sections of the entire body here to add to the questions above.

”Based on the University of Central Florida Sabbaticals and Professional Development Programs as stated in Article 22 of the most recent version of Collective Bargaining Agreement, the following sabbatical policy has been developed for the Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

A. Purpose

Policy. Sabbaticals are granted to increase an employee’s value to the University through opportunities for research, writing, professional renewal, further education or other experiences of professional value. While such leaves may be provided in relation to an employee’s years of service, they are not primarily a reward for service.

B. Types of Sabbaticals

  • (1) Type I Sabbaticals: Each year, each college shall make available at least one [Type IA] sabbatical, either at full pay for one semester or one [Type IB] at three-fourths pay for one academic year, for each 20 tenured and tenure-earning employees, subject to the conditions of this Article.

C. Eligibility for Sabbaticals

  • 1. Full-time tenured and tenure earning in-unit employees with at least six (6) years of full-time continuous service with UCF shall be eligible for sabbaticals.
  • 2. No paid leave(s) or family and medical, parental, administrative or military leave(s) will be considered a break in continuous employment.

D. Application and selection [See full policies for more.]

a. Faculty must have served in the college for at least six continuous years since the year of hire and shall be eligible for a subsequent sabbatical six years from the completion of a sabbatical. Previous sabbaticals will be taken into account when ranking sabbatical proposals.

b. Proposed sabbatical projects shall show connection to the UCF mission as well as the Rosen College of Hospitality Management’s mission, goals and strategic directives.

c. If seeking an affiliation with an organization, faculty should include the project description and a letter indicating acceptance by the organization.

d. Faculty projects that designate measurable outcomes will be given priority in selection.

e. Upon completion of the sabbatical, the faculty member must submit a report of the project within 30 days. The report is subject to review by the College Sabbatical committee, the department chairperson and the Dean of the College.

f. Successful completion of the sabbatical shall be taken into account for the faculty member’s annual evaluation.

(8) In ranking the applications worthy of a sabbatical, committee members shall consider the merits of the proposal and the benefits of the proposed program to the employee, the University, the college and the profession; and the length of service since previous sabbatical. Committee members shall not disadvantage an applicant due to his/her academic discipline.

(10) In the event of an exceptional opportunity for an employee to participate in a prestigious academic award/activity for which deadlines prevent application during the normal application process, the dean may award a sabbatical outside of the above defined process. All employee eligibility requirements must be met and all sabbatical terms defined below apply.

E. Terms of Sabbatical Program

  • (1) The employee must return to the University for at least one academic year following participation in the program. If the employee fails to return to the University for at least two consecutive semesters (excluding summer) following participation in the program, all salary and fringe benefits received during his/her participation in the program must be repaid to the University within 30 days of resignation or job abandonment. If the employee makes little to no effort to complete the project described in the application, the employee shall receive an “Unsatisfactory” overall annual evaluation and will be ineligible to apply for a sabbatical for ten years.
  • (4) Employees shall be eligible to apply for another sabbatical after six years of continuous service at UCF are completed following the end date of the previous sabbatical.
  • (5) University contributions normally made to retirement and Social Security programs shall be continued during the sabbatical leave on a basis proportional to the salary received.
  • (6) University contributions normally made to employee insurance programs and any other employee benefit programs shall be continued during the sabbatical.
  • (7) Eligible employees on sabbatical shall continue to accrue leave on a full-time basis.
  • (8) While on leave, an employee shall be permitted to receive funds for travel and living expenses, and other sabbatical-related expenses, from sources other than the University, such as fellowships, grants-in-aid, and contracts and grants, to assist in accomplishing the purposes of the sabbatical. Receipt of funds for such purposes shall not result in reduction of the employee’s University salary.”

What’s Your Take on Sabbaticals?

If you’ve taken a sabbatical, want to put together a proposal for one, or if you think, “No way will this work,” tell me about it! You can write to me at FridaywithJoan@aol.comI’m glad to publish your comments anonymously.

And finally, a special note:

I’ve voted since the very first time I was eligible to do so which was, then, 21 years of age. If you are a U.S.-eligible voter, go to this link and register. Many U.S. states and territories have “cleaned” their voter registration rolls. Check, too, to see if in fact you are registered and where you should vote.

Vote in upcoming primaries and national elections. There are ballot issues and people running for office who will impact what we do in this industry. On Twitter at @meetingstoday we post links to issues in upcoming elections that impact our industry. Voting is a precious right fought for by many. It is a responsibility of us all.

The views expressed here are those of the author or those interviewed and may not express the views of our publisher.

Related content from the February 2020 edition of Friday with Joan:

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.

Professionalism Includes Speaking Up

Originally published Meetings Focus.

Professionalism Includes Speaking Up

There’s a lot on my mind.

The impetus for this edition of Friday With Joan included news stories that made me wonder why I could find little about stances and actions taken in the meetings industry.

And when I’m talking about the meetings industry, our industry, I’m also referencing the individuals within it. How easy it would be to add our voices to the millions of others.

Coinciding with the start of the Jewish New Year, a time of reflection and renewal, I’m no doubt doing what is considered to be, at least around a family table, not easy.

I’m talking about politics and religion.

Stay with me. It’s about policy and actions. It’s about understanding our industry’s impact around the world, and the impact we could have if more acted.

Why Are We Talking About Religion?

The start of the Jewish New Year plays in because the liturgy always gives me pause.

This year, at the Reform Judaism service in D.C. sponsored by the Sixth & I Synagogue we heard from—in words and song—our usual and special thought-leaders, David Altshuler and Doug Mishkin, with the added joy of hearing Rabbi David Saperstein whose passionate leadership in areas of social justice for people and planet has inspired many.

(If you are not familiar with any of them, and in particular Rabbi Saperstein, who has spent his life as an activist and moving others to action, I hope you will read more at the links).

Chuckling as I write: yes, dear Gina Glantz and GenderAvenger, this year, other than the Torah reader, it was all men leading the service. It isn’t always, I promise.

In fact, the senior rabbi for Sixth & I is a woman who leads a different service

The words of and conversations with thought-leaders—and others in our industry who are listed in greater detail below—led me to think about the issues in which I wish more would speak up. Issues that impact meetings, tourism and all of hospitality.

Here are just some of those issues that I believe require not only words, but action.

Issue No. 1: Inclusion

Years ago, I chaired the first task force on diversity for Meeting Professionals International (MPI). The industry’s associations have had committees, task forces and other efforts to discuss diversity. Now, I’m told, the focus is on inclusion.

When U.S. President Donald Trump insulted Baltimore—a city near and dear to my heart—and the Honorable Elijah Cummings, the person who represents much of it in the U.S. Congress, with what seemed to me and others racist stereotyping

I wanted our industry to speak out.

Oh I didn’t expect, although I hoped, we might discuss racism (and other “isms” of exclusion) in our industry. I hoped that the voices of other DMOs (aka CVBs) would speak for Baltimore as they did in support of Las Vegas when former president Barack Obama said not to go to that city (or even have lavish meetings).

Something our industry still references to this day.

Baltimore’s government and its DMO (Visit Baltimore) did a great job of countering the insults by taking out full-page ads touting all the great attractions and people of their city.

Where were the voices of our industry in support of Baltimore? In talking with some in the DMO community, I learned that it was really up to Baltimore to defend itself.

I still don’t get it.

If our focus is on “economic impact,” the words said about Baltimore certainly could have an economic impact. And to insult a sitting esteemed Member of Congress who is African-American just seemed to be, well, not inclusive in thinking or actions.

How about we hit some issues squarely and have industry discussions about the “isms” as we look again at inclusion? How about we defend the people and cities in which we meet and the diverse populations who attend and serve our meetings?

Issue No. 2: Ethics

The news from Las Vegas, about which Jeff German, investigative reporter for the Las Vegas Review Journal, has written and tweeted extensively, has both ethical and legal implications. Lawyers will work out the legal. We can look at the ethics issues.

The latest, although not the first of its kind, news from Las Vegas is the use of airline vouchers by Las Vegas CVA staff and about the perks the LVCVA Board received.

There is much more to be read as this moves forward. The links will get you started.

If you want to learn more, follow Mr. German on Twitter.

Why is this an ethical issue? In researching, I learned more about the accreditation program of Destinations International. It is a lengthy and involved process.

Those DMOs that achieve accreditation are bound by a code of ethics.

As a customer who believes strongly in the work of CVBs and DMOs and those who work for them and thus for us and their communities, I know the importance of the actions they take and the perception of the governments that oversee them.

If we believe that our industry should be perceived as professional, we must act ethically. We must ask those with whom we work of their ethics policies and disclose our own.

And then we must abide by those policies.

Whether you choose to call out unethical behavior is an individual choice. Consider it.

Issue No. 3: Climate

As young people lead the way on September 20 for a world-wide day of climate strikes, I tweeted and posted elsewhere in social media asking who had organized strikes.

More specifically, I was reaching out to the EIC member organizations and asking: Which hotel owners or brands, which DMOs, which chapters of industry groups, had organized strikes or gave employees time off to join in demonstrating in support of fixing our climate?

Note that if you think this is the effort of children only, and this dissuaded you from joining in, realize that there are plenty of those who are much older that are joining this fight.

I was heartened to learn from 21c Museum Hotels representative Kelsey Whited, Public Relations + Influencer Manager, the following:

“We did not take any actions specific to #ClimateStrike such as allowing time off for employees to participate, but we hosted free and open to the public screenings of Anthropocene: The Human Epoch at four of our locations, scheduled to align with the timing of the Climate Strike, which were well attended. More information here.

Though not currently on view, The SuperNatural is a traveling 21c Museum Hotel exhibition that will open at 21c Museum Hotel Oklahoma City this spring 2020.

(If your hotel or DMO or other hospitality/tourism/meetings company participated as an entity or gave time off for #ClimateStrike actions, please post below and/or write to me via email at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and send me photos if available for possible use).

The reports are frightening.

Even if you prefer to think that this is “just” cyclical and it will correct itself, for those of us booking meetings even a year out, paying attention to the implications right now of drought—which can lead to catastrophic fires, lack of available food or potable water—is important.

Then there’s the cycle of storms and hurricanes and the ensuing devastation they cause on and to places like Puerto Rico, Houston, much of Florida, the Carolinas, and the Bahamas. This has to be considered for the, again, business case for our industry.

In Europe there is #flightshaming—companies are restricting plane travel for many. If meetings can’t be held virtually, then employees are to take buses and trains.

Is there such an effort in the United States? Do we not see the implications on planet and business of these changes?

These businesses closed and participated in the #ClimateStrike.

Patagonia, with a mission that supports the environment, ran a great ad.

Our industry could have planned and done the same.

There’s time for GMID to take action for April with ads or even combining art and creativity for making our voices heard like these murals in San Francisco.

Climate issues are not going away!

Wait, We’re Not Done Yet! More on #ClimateStrike

In an article linking to a blog post explaining the company’s position, Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario wrote, “Our customers are demanding we act—this generation of youth is not backing down and neither should we. Sharing this common challenge gives us hope.

“We need to step up, to move forward with optimism and American innovation and ingenuity to invest in solutions and fight the fight of our lives to save our home planet.”

H&M will help you recycle your clothing. That seems a pretty easy step for a chapter of an industry organization to collect clothing—slightly used or new for those without, used for recycling by taking it to H&M. Make it another CSR project.

Shawna McKinley provided specific information about climate issues that are impacting U.S. meetings destinations like Las Vegas where heat is causing people to not go outside.

Definitely read this article from The Guardian:

From the article: “The coroner’s office in Clark county, which encompasses Las Vegas, often records heat as a contributing factor to accidental deaths.

“There are hikers succumbing to lethal temperatures in the surrounding desert and heat-related deaths in cars and homes when occupants forgo cooling.

“Roberts has seen homeless people with post-mortem burns from collapsing on hot streets.”

It goes on to say: “Las Vegas is the fastest-warming city in the United States, its temperatures having risen 5.76F since 1970. A June study of coroner data by the Las Vegas-based Desert Research Institute found a correlation between heatwaves and heat-related deaths in southern Nevada, both of which, they say, are on the rise.

“And a recent Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report warns that without global action to reduce carbon emissions, the city will probably experience 96 days of heat above 100F by the end of the century, including 60 days over 105F, and seven “off the chart” days that would break the current heat index.”

Where were we as an industry with banners and signs to let people know we understand the implications and are willing to act? Or were we still focused on patting ourselves on our collective backs because we’ve eliminated paper handouts and plastic straws at meetings?

And that the hotels we use have implemented “green washing” by asking us not to have our rooms cleaned—which has economic implications for staffing and in fact, does little to be sustainable—or switching from small bottles of amenities in hotel rooms?

Paul Salinger, a corporate marketing colleague, wrote:

Greta Thunberg—We all admire her, I admire her. The big question for all of us is how can we help her and let her go back to school, back to having a childhood.

“What actions are we all taking? Yes, she is addressing political leaders, but she is really addressing us all. Did you walk/bike today over driving?

Did you skip flying just one time this year, even if it meant foregoing another conference or event or speaking engagement or vacation? Are you pushing the company you work for to move away from fossil fuels and to clean energy? Did you donate to an organization that is planting trees on a massive scale to help capture carbon?

“Did you write your legislator at any level demanding action and change? Etc., etc., etc. Less conversation and admiration and more action!

“If you’re not doing something to help, then how dare you just sit back on social media and admire her. Get to work people!”

What Does This All Mean? Why All the Politics?

Maybe this blog is my form of tashlich (alternatively, tashlikh) for our industry—the casting off of sins or transgressions** for the new year.

Maybe by writing this and asking others to comment (although some were unwilling to go on the record—see Susan Sarfati’s comments; she was willing and wonders the same as I) I am hoping to start this new year by prodding our industry to do more and better.

Perhaps Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID), sponsored by Meetings Mean Business, an arm of U.S. Travel Association, will mandate that education and voter registration be part of every single event rather than celebrations.

Perhaps days of action could replace the GMID celebratory parties. We all are grateful to those groups that band together to present education.

In talking with some who have created that education, they concur: more education, less partying, will bring our industry forward on issues.

What I want is for my—our—industry to educate and move people to act in the interest of our industry, our world and our planet and its people. I want to ensure that all of those reading this will think about what we can do, beginning with registering to vote.

Roger Rickard and I concur on this one even though on some issues we disagree, politely!

How will you join me?

*Thanks to Those Who Inspired This Content

I am grateful to, and inspired by, those with whom I communicated as I researched the content for this blog post and the Friday With Joan newsletter content.

I’ve been stewing about issues that impact our world and thus our industry.

My frustration with a lack of attention to, and action, about many issues, some of which I included in this blog post, by our industry associations, companies, and individuals that can influence issues that impact meetings, tourism, and all of hospitality; who could write and speak, and encourage action (registering to vote and voting, for example), is great.

Among those, in no particular order, whose voices and ideas helped me think:

  • Zoe Moore
  • Patti Shock
  • Paul Salinger
  • Nancy Zavada
  • Shawna McKinley
  • Susan Sarfati
  • Paula Stratman Rigling
  • and Roger Rickard.

My invaluable colleagues—who represent different positions and areas of interest in our industry—provided ideas that may lead to suggested actions, some of which are included in the blog post. Others are referenced in the article related to this blog post.

And to Tony Cummins and those in his class at Richland College for their ethics discussion with me the week of September 30, I am especially grateful. Students in hospitality have lots to say and need to be at more tables in discussions.

Just as Greta Thunberg inspired many millions of young (and not-so) people to work to make a better environment, hospitality and meetings students are needed as we talk about the issues. They will carry on this industry’s work.

OK. Ready? Join the discussion here, in agreement or not, and in your workplace, in industry organizations and at the chapter level, in your homes and communities.

**Susan Sarfati suggested a different form of thinking of tashlich—that is an action of doing a responsible action versus casting off of sins. Like doing something for lent versus giving up something, it is a better way of thinking for me.

 

Planners: Get the Respect You Deserve!

Originally published Meetings Focus.

Planners: Get the Respect You Deserve!

Do you ever feel like you are caught in a time warp?

In discussions among meeting and event planners on social media and face-to-face, there are things being said that have been repeated for as long as I’ve been in the meetings and hospitality industry, which is a very long time!

We use our left brain (logical) and right brain (creative) sides to create budgets, meals, decor, select speakers and develop education. We use both sides of our brain to negotiate contracts worth thousands to multi-millions of dollars.

Our brain is crowded with figures and facts that allow us to communicate all that’s needed to co-workers, committees, management and business partners. And we do not give ourselves credit for the amazing brain power we have and use.

Stuck in the ‘Cost of Coffee’ Loop

When serving on the ASAE Meetings and Exposition Section Council in the 1980s, the cost of coffee and other items to support meetings was discussed at our meetings.

There was always a request for comparison of what “deals” the rest of us were getting for our meetings. I knew then like I know now that:

a) you can’t compare apples to wrenches because every meeting even at the same property—even your own meetings in different years—may be differently priced.

…and b) too many factors impact costs.

[Related Content: 4 Keys to Greater Success As a Hospitality Professional]

The charges for coffee and the cost of food and beverage were the subjects of the August 2019 Friday with Joan content, which included a blog post and more.

And as long as I’ve been in this industry, and at those Council and other industry meetings where I met with colleagues, the words of the late Rodney Dangerfield (“I don’t get no respect”) have been echoed by planners.

I’ve taught about it, and for Meetings Today, written directly about it and included the subject in a blog post about reading and this one among others.

Meeting Planning Is More Than Rocket Science

I have frequently said that what we do is more than brain surgery or rocket science because of the complexity of all that goes into planning meetings and events including budgets, content and learning, safety and contingency planning, and so much more.

Despite years of discussion on the topic and various industry association initiatives, we seem to still “get no respect” or at least not the respect we truly deserve.

That being said, I think we are part of the cause of the (perceived?) lack of professional respect for meeting and event planners individually and collectively.

[Related Content: Not Your Elevator Pitch—Your Story!]

Despite the goal of “achieving a seat at the table” that Christine Duffy, then with Maritz and now CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, made part of her platform as MPI President (2005-2006), and all the work done within our industry to promote the profession—including Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID)—we are clearly “not there” yet.

I think our profession and work are not understood, partly because few are documenting their accomplishments and/or taking credit for what they do.

GMID is celebrating in the industry while externally we’re not known.

Sometimes You’re a Leader and Other Times ‘You Are Like A Hostess’

To wit: recently written in a social media group of industry professionals:

What I find frustrating about being an event planner is that on one end of the spectrum you have high-level responsibilities and on the other end of the spectrum you are like a hostess at a restaurant. Does anyone else feel this way?”

[Related Content: Lifelong Learning Is Everyone’s Responsibility!]

It was followed by responses including this:

I have felt like this for years and yet I wonder if I do it to myself sometimes. I am shy about taking credit and in fact feel uncomfortable when I receive it in a public setting.

“I am also not great at setting boundaries and will do whatever it takes to ensure it is a flawless event. I need to learn how to “toot my own horn” and help others do the same.

“I’m not sure if that will address the perception by some that what a planner does is trivial. There may always be those people who believe that in which it says more about that other person than the planner. I think also learning how to communicate on the level of the CEO, board members, etc., and then consistently doing it helps too.”

To the group and to the person who wrote the response above, I asked: In addition to what you wrote above, why do you think this is? Is it that our profession is, we think, mostly women? Is it because women are taught to be demure and self-effacing?

One response: “Yes, unfortunately, I believe that to be true.

“And also the way men in power see the [role]l. if they don’t understand it, they see it as ‘if I don’t know how to do it, it must not be that difficult.’”

Getting to the Root of the Problem

I reached out to Robbie Nance, administrative associate, office of medical education & academic affairs at Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.

I met Mr. Nance in 2018 when I facilitated a class on meeting planning for the American Society of Administrative Professionals, where he was one of few men in a class of more than 125, a percentage that mirrors events for those with titles reflective of meeting and conference responsibilities.

[Related Content: Defining the Meeting Professional]

Curious to see if titles mattered, I asked him what he thought was the level of respect he received from those with whom he worked. An edited version of what he wrote to me:

I feel respected by my colleagues. I do not feel respected by those in upper management. While they tell me, “You’re more valuable than you know,” and “Without you this office wouldn’t run,” on a daily basis, telling and showing value are two different things.

I am a male in a typically female-held position.

“But I am also a male in a predominantly male field.

“More and more I feel that the lack of respect I receive is related to my age—I am 30, the youngest in my office with the average age of those I work with in the 50s.”

[Again, this mirrors many who hold titles related to meetings].

A Respected Meeting Planner Shares Her Secret

I asked Margaret Moynihan, who retired in 2015 from Deloitte & Touche, if I remembered correctly that she had—years ago at an industry meeting—explained her professional success by documenting all she did. She wrote:

When I began my career at what became Deloitte & Touche in 1975 as a secretary, I was asked to assist with a series of 3 meetings. My responsibilities included registration, proofreading BEOs, checking room sets and communicating to attendees.

“After these meetings I was offered a job in the newly-forming meeting planning group. I made sure I did everything to get the job done even if it was not part of my job description. As time passed, I would document (on a steno pad!) the savings I accomplished meeting by meeting.

“The documented savings included negotiated sleeping room rates, F&B, AV and meeting room rental. I also documented cancellation fee negotiations. 

Once a month I would report these savings to my manager. I prepared a mid-year and annual report. [Emphasis is Joan’s]. If I was quoted in a trade magazine or was asked to be on a panel—this was also part of my report.

[Margaret was a member of MPI’s Greater New York and WestField Chapters, served on and was honored by the MPI Board and was Chair of the MPI Foundation Board].

“I read every publication that dealt with negotiations and meetings. Soon I became the ‘go to’ person on almost anything to do with a meeting. I learned early that no one was going to ‘toot my horn’ factually better than myself. [Emphasis Joan’s].

“After meeting negotiations, I moved on to airline, car rental and corporate card—documenting [my progress] every step of the way.

“It was extremely satisfying to document my accomplishments.”

Margaret was rewarded with promotions that reflected her senior role in the organization, retiring as “Director” which was equivalent to “Partner” with the same benefits except the ability to vote on firm issues. When Margaret retired, in the U.S. there were approximately 120,000 employees, 5,000 partners and 1,600 directors.

Other Ways to Track Your Accomplishments

Robbie Nance also documents his accomplishments albeit not in a steno pad:

There are a number of ways I make sure they know what I am doing. My office is directly outside my boss’s door—he enters my office to get to his, allowing for constant communication (communication is the key to everything right?). Being a small team, I am ever mindful that if one of us were to get hit by a bus it would be a big deal.

So I take the approach of trying to include a senior level person from time to time so that someone knows what I do in the event something tragic would happen and I do my best to note steps taken to complete a task in an effort to make a running manual of what to do in the office. I also keep a desk calendar, so that when I am away, anyone can see what I do on my desk without having to access my Outlook calendar.”

Margaret Moynihan and Robbie Nance, with different titles and at different times in our industry, are both examples of those who know their value and who did show and who now continue to show their worth. Why is everyone not doing so? Let’s change things.

6 Steps to Get the Respect You Deserve!

1. Record all your accomplishments regardless of how small you think they may be. Saving 50 cents per meal may not sound like much until you add up the savings for a year.

2. Report all you’ve done and compliments received—from dollar savings to compliments from those who attend your meetings for the great education they received.

3. Ask business partners to write to your managers about how you worked ethically and professionally with them, including examples of what you did that exceeded their expectations—from site selection to management on site. Just as we planners write thank you notes, asking for specifics, in writing, from partners will help you gain status.

4. Serve on committees and boards of industry organizations and learn from those experiences. Then document how you have used those experiences to enhance your work. It’s tough to get the time and money to participate professionally.

Showing ROI will promote you and the activities.

5. Be visible in the industry. I always ask for people to interview for articles just as these people were. Be a subject matter expert and a person with knowledge so that you are asked and can volunteer to respond to requests from journalists and bloggers.

Then post the links so others see you.

6. Toot—nah, BLOW—your own horn.

Instead of saying “aw shucks, anyone can do this—it’s not rocket science or brain surgery,” show how you helped 100 or 500 or 10,000+ people learn, travel and stay safe from harm as you created and implemented plans for your meetings and events.

Take what Margaret Moynihan and Robbie Nance said to heart and do as they did (I’m pretty sure, having met Robbie, he too will gain more recognition).

Parting Words of Wisdom on Respect and Self-Worth From Jamie Triplin

Serendipitously, Jamie Triplin, a published author and strategic communications consultant, posted some excellent words of wisdom right as I was finished writing this blog post. With permission, I post what Jaimie Triplin wrote.

May it serve as a reminder to us all to feel and show our worth:

Life is too short to walk around feeling unappreciated—personally and professionally. If you truly know your worth, you’ll never have that problem.

“Life should be lived based on the value you place yourself.

“If you feel low, you’ll accept trash behavior from your environment.

“I don’t know about you, but, I’m of high value.”

Some Additional Strength to The Bahamas

It is impossible not to think of the people of The Bahamas who have lost everything.

We tweeted from @meetingstoday a link to World Central Kitchen, the organization formed by Chef José Andrés, that was on-the-ground and prepared to feed people.

There are many verified organizations to which you can donate to help the people impacted by Hurricane Dorian. We hope that you will, if you have the means to do so.

We all know that a “tourist destination” like The Bahamas is dependent on our support. Just as we helped those in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, we hope you will donate to help others. No matter how much respect we receive, it’s important to be kind.

 

You’re Charging How Much?!: The Case for Smarter F&B Budgeting

Originally published Meetings Focus.

You’re Charging How Much?!: The Case for Smarter F&B Budgeting

Food and beverage (F&B) can make or break a meeting or event. And certainly, the complete absence of F&B can set in motion kvetching like you haven’t heard since the last time you managed a meeting without it. Just try to have a meeting break with no coffee!

I’ve been in this industry a long time. Years before my own company, Eisenstodt Associates, celebrated its 38th anniversary on June 1 of 2019.

Planning meals has never been my favorite thing to do. In fact, I would place it among my least favorite things tied to the involved process of planning meetings and events.

Guessing what others would want to eat on a given day is a nightmare especially when we are planning months out and have no idea what will be fresh, what will be available, and what factors impact what a chef can best prepare.

Or what an audience will want to consume.

Key Considerations When Planning F&B

In planning events where food and beverage elements play a starring role or for when any sort of F&B is offered, we must consider, at least, the following key items:

  • Group demographics
  • Availability of food and beverage
  • Chefs’ abilities and specialties
  • Religious practices
  • Allergies and food and beverage sensitivities*
  • Accompanying meeting and event activities
  • Service provided
  • Meal and item costs
  • Service charges and taxes**

*Tracy Stuckrath is a prolific writer and speaker about allergies and sensitivities. You can learn more about her and read additional insights about F&B on her website.

**These are likely to change if we are booking six months or more from the planned event.

Not only must we consider the above items related to F&B, we must convey all this information in our RFPs for meetings and events.

And we must clearly state that in order for us to respond appropriately and then create a contract, we need full and complete information.

Déjà Vu All Over Again: Coffee’s Cost Per Gallon

In all my years in this profession, there is rarely a month—or even a week!—that goes by when the cost of a gallon of coffee is not discussed.

As in, “Why does a gallon of coffee cost x?” Lately and frequently again on social media, the cost per gallon discussion has reared its head.

(We used to look at the cost of “dry snacks”—potato chips, peanuts, pretzels—when those were considered the budgetary best for cocktail receptions without “real” food!).

The discussions have been accompanied with questions about the amounts billed for taxes, service, and ancillary fees, on top of per plate or per person costs for various F&B offerings.

Other popular topics of discussion related to F&B include:

  • the number of, and charge for, servers for buffets, continental breakfasts or breaks
  • bartender and, if cash bar, cashier charges and minimum numbers to serve and the minimum hours we must contract
  • the administrative fees now added to food and beverage (F&B) events

Nothing in the discussion seems to change.

Calculating the Cost of a Gallon of Coffee

I looked back at 2012 menus*** from a contract negotiated for a client’s 2016 meeting.

At that time, a major Las Vegas hotel at which the meeting was booked charged $70.00 per gallon of Kona coffee plus 21% service charge plus 8.1% tax on both the coffee and on the service charge.

If one calculates that, and assumes 20 cups per gallon, it’s about $4.57 per cup.

In emails with James Filtz, interviewed here, I asked about the cost of coffee.

He said “In 2014 coffee at The Venetian in Las Vegas was $86 per gallon. Today it is $100 per gallon. That’s about a 16% increase.”

I checked with the same unnamed Vegas hotel above for their current prices. The price of coffee at the major Las Vegas hotel previously contracted, came out to $95.00 per gallon, with a service charge of 23%, tax of 8.5%, and the service charge taxed slightly over 4%.

How does that compare to what a cup of made-at-home coffee using a Keurig costs, considering the purchasing and labor that goes into how a hotel provides coffee?

Is it cheaper for each guest to run back to their rooms, use the in-room coffee maker (if there is one and the condiments are to their liking), and the time it takes for them to return for valuable networking?

I found this about Keurig, where the cost per cup is measured on a 5-6 ounce cup.

***A Pro Tip Regarding Food & Beverage Menus

Most hotel menus are now electronic.

When you negotiate more than a year out with an escalation clause on food and beverage, the menus from which you are negotiating will no longer be live on the website.

I recommend printing them out—on post-consumer paper—and attaching to the final signed version of the contract and saved as a PDF in your files and saved with the printed contract and menus and other policy documents on paper.

Otherwise, you have nothing from which to gauge prices.

Hidden—and Not So Hidden—F&B Costs

Hotel owners and management companies want to make money. Now more than ever. We want hotels to be kept up—that is, furnishings to be clean and updated.

I hope all or most of us want people who work in hotels, especially those who provide service, to make “livable” wages—though I’m not sure even $15.00/hour in most markets is “livable.”

Or is it “not on my group” mentality among meeting and event planners that is the issue—you know, charge other groups what you need but negotiate my costs to what I want to pay?

My meeting and event clients have almost exclusively been not-for-profit groups for whom budgets are tight. Yet, as chef and humanitarian José Andrés says:

“I realized very early the power of food to evoke memory, to bring people together, to transport you to other places, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

If we skimp on food or beverage, it reflects badly on the hotel, caterer or our group.

The Power of F&B at Your Meeting or Event

Food makes memories. Food brings people together. Harrison Owen, back in 1985, knew the power of breaks on the overall experience of learning at meetings. We know the power of available food and beverage to make or break a meeting or event experience.

See what three planners interviewed had to say about what’s important to them and their questions about costs. When will we budget differently and realistically and think about what the two NACE officers have to say when we plan and negotiate meetings?

Oh, and don’t miss the “bonus section” of the August 2019 Friday With Joan newsletter: I had the pleasure of dining with Tom Sietsema, food critic for The Washington Post, at a José Andrés restaurant. Read more about how noodging can pay, the ethics of dining with a food critic and Sietsema’s “go-to” food when he’s not on-duty—one of my favorites too!

Where Life, Death, Grief and Hospitality Connect

Originally published Meetings Focus

Where Life, Death, Grief and Hospitality Connect

Now or next week, at a meeting or event where we are to network and enjoy ourselves—or perhaps in your office—someone, maybe you, are or will be grieving.

Perhaps you have been asked, as I was, to help plan a life celebration for a co-worker or a friend or a family member.

Because sometimes, just as we are asked to help plan joyous events, we are asked—like Alison Bossert (interviewed here)—to help with end-of-life events.

Just like life cycles, thinking for Friday With Joan often goes in unplanned directions. This is part one of a two-part series of blog posts, about where hospitality and death intersect.

The second of two blog posts—planned for Friday, May 17, 2019, barring any unexpected life events—will address how our industry, and one school, is going to help prepare a new generation of industry professionals to work on the one life event that is inevitable: Death.

A Lack of Time to Grieve

For years, I’ve researched bereavement policies. It might be because the day after my father (z”l) died, I left on a site inspection trip with a client.

My company was new; my client was important; there was to be no service or sitting shiva for my father.  It made sense at the time.

Since then, my mom (z”l) and many family and friends died.

I’ve been an observer to, and comforter of, friends, family and colleagues as they managed through death and the rituals associated with those deaths. I’ve seen the time that wasn’t given for grieving including the stinginess of bereavement policies.

When three friends all unexpectedly died this spring, I felt as if I’d been repeatedly punched in the gut. Even though I’m self-employed and could, theoretically, take time off to grieve, I really couldn’t. Clients’ work, like one’s job, takes precedence too often.

Why Do We Hesitate on Planning for Death?

As I plan a life celebration for one of those friends, it’s an opportunity to look at life-cycle events and their impact on each of us as individuals and at our industry and what we can do to learn more and help others—as friends, family and professionals.

There are many people who could benefit from our expertise.

The upcoming May 17th blog will explore more life-cycle events, some new, that require thoughtful planning and execution. In fact, we might stop poo-pooing the term “party planner” since many life events are in fact celebratory parties!

We often do little planning for—In fact, are uncomfortable discussing—how we will be remembered, our legacy, how we will or will not provide a format for laughter and tears. In my family, even the word death usually carries “<spit spit>” to ward off negative spirits. Or the word is whispered because if it’s not said out loud, we can pretend it won’t happen.

I’ve always wondered why, if death is a part of life and inevitable, we don’t plan the event. We plan events around birthdays and weddings—and even divorces—but too few have or share plans for their deaths.

These articles may help us understand why we don’t talk about death and should:

Neither of my parents wanted any service or memorial.

The Ways in Which We Choose to Grieve

In order to grieve with others, I asked friends to sit shiva for an evening with me after my Dad died. Though most in attendance didn’t know my father, it was comforting and funny to tell stories about his life including his behaviors at tradeshows.

One of my favorite stories, before mobile phones, was when he used a fake phone on a cord in his pocket and a ringer to pretend to get calls in elevators and on the show floor!

For years my mother said she wanted to have, before she died, a Chinese dinner for 12 just for herself. She never did.

With friends’ help, we gathered and had a superb Chinese dinner for 12 and toasted my mother. All in attendance had met Mom some years before and could tell stories.

Later, in my hometown, family and friends gathered over lunch to remember Mom. It helped me and others grieve; laughter mixed with tears of loss allowed us to celebrate her life.

Celebration-of-Life Planning Is Quite Glamorous

When I read this Washington Post article about celebration-of-life planner Alison Bossert, it led to learning of a new program in hospitality, about which I’ll say more here on May 17.

After reading the Washington Post article, I reached out to Alison of Final Bow Productions and we connected for a discussion. I am grateful for our long conversation.

Her passion for and understanding of what we don’t do and need to do led me to wonder why those in our industry are not better trained for celebration-of-life events and why more aren’t engaged in helping others at one of the most difficult times of their lives.

Celebration-of-life or end-of-life events can have all the glamour many in the industry crave when they say they want to be in events.

You’ll see that from my notes about Alison and interview with her. So, let’s talk about it. Read the notes from the interview with Alison and her own words.

Read more about bereavement policies and the words of surviving family about how they are coping. Return to the Meetings Today Blog to read the upcoming May 17 post about a new program and what I think our industry needs to help us learn more. Life and events are far beyond weddings and conferences. Let’s broaden our thinking and training.

A Special Dedication

This newsletter and blog post are dedicated to three friends—Bev, Chris, and Meredith—all of whom died within 10 days of each other this spring.

And it is dedicated to BizBash’s David Adler whose father, Warren Adler, also died.

I am indebted to each of the friends and those who loved them for their input and to you, David, for the foresight to ask your father the questions too many of us have no answers to and wish we did for those who have left this life.