Category Archives: Meeting Planning 101

Are You on the Right Side of Ethics?

Originally posted The Meeting Magazines

Let These Meetings Industry Pros — and Your Conscience — Be Your Guide By 

Every industry faces ethics challenges, and meeting planning certainly is no exception. Something that looks like an incentive can be intended as a bribe. Planners are offered so many things so often that the right thing to do can be confusing, especially for novices.

Experts say several factors contribute to ethical lapses and quandaries including: not enough ethics education opportunities; industry guidelines are unclear about specific, ethically ambiguous situations; some planners, particularly those who are independent, have tighter budgets and may count on FAM trips, frequent flyer miles, hotel-stay points and other perks to defray expenses.

No wonder planners face ethics challenges as a routine part of their jobs.

According to Joan Eisenstodt, founder of Washington, DC-based Eisenstodt Associates LLC, a meetings consulting and training firm focusing on ethics issues, “I think our industry is far less ethical than it ever was because of high turnover, the complicity of vendors, younger and newer people who aren’t members of industry organizations, and because many people believe they are underpaid and overworked and are ‘due’ the perks offered.”

Sometimes the right ethical choice is clear, and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes the decision is ethically correct but gives the appearance of being unethical or at least inappropriate.

Ethics Education

Eisenstodt believes that more ethics education is needed to make planners aware of potential issues, especially those that fall into gray areas. “We need far more education now than ever,” she says. “I think ethics needs to be on the agenda of every industry organization at every national, international and chapter meeting. If a national organization or chapter does one ethics program every few years, they believe it is okay.”

Karen Kotowski, CEO of the Events Industry Council (EIC), offers a different assessment. “I think we do a fairly good job, particularly for the CMP community,” she says. “Our Events Industry Council Manual 9th Edition is the primary study resource (for the EIC’s CMP certification) and covers professionalism, ethical behavior, best practices, and how to develop and implement a code of ethics for your own organization.”

The EIC has an enforceable CMP Code of Ethics, which says that planners shouldn’t use their “position for undue personal gain and to promptly disclose to appropriate parties all potential and actual conflicts of interest.” In addition, the code says planners should “actively model and encourage the integration of ethics into all aspects of the performance of my duties.”

Questions about the EIC standards are included on the organization’s CMP exam. According to Kotowski, “CMPs are required to read and agree to abide by the CMP Standards of Ethical Conduct on their initial certification application, as well as every time they recertify.”

The EIC can remove certification from planners who violate the standards. “The process ensures a CMP receives due process and the procedures are consistently enforced if a complaint is made,” says Kotowski.

Ethics Violations

Kotowski adds that the most frequent violations involve people who use the CMP designation after they fail to recertify. “A more infrequent, but equally serious occurrence, has been occasions where someone uses the credential who never earned it,” says Kotowski. “We can’t ensure ethical behavior. We can encourage, educate and enforce it if need be.”

The Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) has its Principles of Professional and Ethical Conduct, which asks members to “avoid any and all conflicts of interest and advise all parties, including my organization, of any situations where a conflict of interest exists.”

The PCMA principles also ask professionals to “refuse inappropriate gifts, incentives and/or services in any business dealings that may be offered as a result of my position and could be perceived as personal gain.”

Some industry ethics experts say that industry standards provide general guidelines but aren’t uniform, are infrequently enforced and don’t cover many specific ethics challenges that planners commonly face.

According to Christy Lamagna, CMP, CMM, CTSM, CEO and master strategist at Bernardsville, New Jersey-based Strategic Meetings & Events, “If the industry were more strategic in how we planned and came together to form unilateral goals, standards and practices, we would be seen differently, treated differently, and better behavior on all sides would result.”

Knowing Ethics Codes

But many planners aren’t familiar with industry standards. According to Eisenstodt, “I think if you asked members of the various industry organizations when they last read the code for the organization for which they are a member or hold a certification, you’d find that few have.”

Unfamiliarity with ethics standards is especially common among numerous people who plan meetings but aren’t trained planners. “I think that the gap in awareness, if any exists, may be with those non-professional/part-time planners who are asked to plan a meeting, but it is not their day-to-day job,” says Kotowski.

Kotowski believes that untrained, part-time planners are even less aware than professional planners of potential ethical pitfalls. “I would urge those non-full-time planners to use our EIC manual as a desk reference for these practices and to become more professional in performing these activities that may not be their full-time job,” says Kotowski.

Lamagna agrees: “Those who plan meetings aside from their full-time responsibilities often make the wrong decisions as they are not exposed to guidelines and ethics codes. The bigger problem is that the industry is too segmented. If we had a universal platform to stand on or required a licensing procedure for this role, then we’d eliminate enormous amounts of unethical behavior.”

It’s also difficult to curb unethical behavior because suppliers and vendors may have inadequate ethics standards or none at all. Suppliers may not be clear to planners up front about the intention of their perks and gifts.

According to Eisenstodt, “The piece of this that is not addressed is whether the vendor or supplier is complicit in any unethical behavior and, if so, how should it be addressed. Having seen clients fire planners who violated ethics codes with the complicity of vendors, and seeing the vendors continue working for their companies, means we have no real standards across the industry.”

FAM Trips

Knotty ethics issues can result from FAM trips — expense-paid trips that hotels, venues and CVBs offer planners to acquaint them with properties and destinations.

Some planners accept FAM trips with no intention of ever considering the destination for a meeting. That’s not ethical, says Lamagna. “If you know your client base will never go to a destination, don’t accept the invite. These trips cost money and are investments in future business. Be respectful of that. If you don’t have business to share at that moment, but believe you may in the future, then consider going,” says Lamagna.

How can planners who want to do the right thing ensure that personal biases don’t influence their recommendations?

Lamagna offers the following advice: “I always repeat the mantra, ‘it’s not about me’ with every component of a program from menus to gifts, flowers or wine selection. I remind myself that I am not the audience. I base my recommendations on the group’s goals for the meeting, personality of executives and guests, budget, tolerance for travel, etc.”

While FAM trips are a problem, some experts believe that other ethical problems are more common.

Perks and Gifts

Says Eisenstodt: “I think FAM trips are the least of our concerns. They happen less frequently. I think the issue of prizes at trade shows/hosted buyer events and even the hosted buyer events themselves are of far greater concern as are the gifts given, the undisclosed commissions, the hidden fees and so much more.”

Indeed, many ethical issues stem from perks, rewards, points and gifts offered to planners or that they rarely request. Suppliers such as hotels and venues as well as CVBs bombard planners with perks such as hotel nights, airfare points, spa treatments, five-star dinners, limo rides, tickets to sporting events and concerts, and trips for family and friends.

It can be difficult for planners, especially novices, to decide when it’s ethical to accept freebies. A perk may also be a bribe, or at least give the appearance of one.

Organizations, corporations and event stakeholders know that planners are offered perks. Still, not revealing the acceptance of the gifts could be unethical if the offerings favorably impact a planner’s recommendation or decision about a property or destination. Even if a reward doesn’t influence the decision, non-disclosure could give the appearance of being unethical if the perk is revealed later.

Lamagna offers the following advice for dealing with perks, points, rewards and gifts. “We give any gifts we receive to the client,” she says. “For instance, a property awarded us a watch after the event. We had them send it to our client’s CEO. If you are upfront with the client and they are okay with you accepting points, use them as a perk for employees.”

Gray Areas

Many planners perceive some perks as gray areas. Here are two examples:

A hotel, vendor or other supplier offers an expensive dinner at a swanky restaurant: “Five-star dinners should not be the norm,” says Lamagna. “That said, if a relationship has developed with a vendor who takes you out to celebrate or as a thank you, and you can separate that from ‘owing’ them something in the form of business in the future, then that may be okay. Nothing should ever be expected, done in excess or abused.”

A hotel offers a room upgrade: “Accepting upgrades while on a site visit is not unethical but it is inappropriate,” says Lamagna. “Upgrades offered onsite during a program should also be declined because the meeting is not about you. You are staff, not a guest. We put into our preshow notes that no one from our team is ever to be upgraded so there is a clear path for everyone to follow.”

Should a planner who has accepted points and perks not recommend the hotel even if it is a good match for the meeting? Why? “When you have to start asking yourself these questions you are blurring a line,” says Lamagna. “Focus on the client’s goals and best interests, and be transparent in your behavior. That eliminates most challenges.”

Eisenstodt agrees that transparency is the best course. “Destination, venue and vendor salespeople have quotas to make, and we all have been begged to get contracts signed,” says Eisenstodt. “We have an obligation to know and disclose the criteria on which we base decisions. Discussing with an internal or external stakeholder the selection criteria means that one can be more objective, and show the objectivity in the decision-making.”

The need for ethical behavior among meeting planners grows as more join the events industry. According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of meeting and convention planners will continue to grow 16 percent through 2018 — faster than the average for all occupations.

Expert Advice

Planners can take the following steps to increase awareness about ethics:

  • Experienced planners should serve as ethics mentors to new planners, and newcomers should seek advice from experienced peers.
  • Talk to a boss or coworker about a situation when the course of action isn’t clear.
  • Put the best interests of stakeholders and clients first.
  • Be aware of how actions might be perceived and interpreted even if they are technically ethical.
  • Planners facing an ethical dilemma should ask themselves how they would feel if their actions were posted on social media.
  • Corporations that lack their own codes of ethics should create such standards.

Corporate Ethics Codes

According to Eisenstodt, “Most corporations, if not all, have codes of conduct/ethics.  Of the corporate planners I know, all have said they are asked once a year to do an online evaluation of ethics issues. I have helped clients write specifics, using their overall codes, for their meetings departments so that individuals knew, for example, the value of gifts or meals or entertainment they could accept.”

Kotowski offers advice on what the corporate codes should cover. “It would include their own specific practices and standards regarding how they interact with their clients and conduct their business,” says Kotowski.

The codes also would cover company-specific “financial practices, how they report their activities to the client, transparency in billing practices and expectation of employee interactions with vendors and suppliers,” says Kotowski.

Hold Peers Accountable

Planners should know and abide by ethics codes and hold their peers accountable for doing the same. Suppose a corporate planner finds out that a peer within the same company has acted unethically. What steps should the planner take?

Eisenstodt offers the following advice: “It is generally thought that one should approach (not report) the person thought to have acted unethically based on the company’s code and say something like, ‘I think you did X and it seems like it might be in opposition to the company’s code of conduct in section Y,” says Eisenstodt. “Please tell me a bit more so I can understand how to apply the code to my own work.”

Eisenstodt advises that planners talk to human resources when in doubt about what to do, or use the company’s anonymous reporting system. “Use what works best and most comfortably for you. If the person believed to have acted unethically holds a certification, determine what you need to do and how to report the information to (the certifying organization). Do that only when certain of the information.”

According to Lamagna, corporate planners have a duty to report ethics violations. “There is no middle ground with ethics,” says Lamagna. “Once you know something is happening that is unethical, it is incumbent on you to share the information. If you are unsure and it is not your responsibility to follow up, share the concern, not an accusation, with the appropriate person and then step aside.”

The right ethical decision isn’t always clear, and planners may see the same situations differently. However, it’s crucial that planners approach issues with a knowledge of ethics standards and a willingness to make the best efforts to apply them.  C&IT

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

Originally posted Meetings Today Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of these people and issues occupy my thinking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It even contributed to the demise of many travel companies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not “free money” in any case.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emphasis is the blog author’s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could Marriott have handled this differently?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is a boycott for financial reasons for oneself now Kosher?

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

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

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

How to Network and Ethically Do Business in a Relationship Industry
https://www.meetingstoday.com/Blog/PostId/306/how-to-network-and-ethically-do-business-in-a-relationship-industry

‘Ethical Negotiation’ – An Oxymoron?
https://www.meetingstoday.com/Blog/PostId/288/ethical-negotiations-an-oxymoron

What’s Wrong With Hotel Contracts?
http://www.meetingstoday.com/newsletters/friday_with_joan/2016_08_05.html

Seven Keys to Hotel Contract Success
https://www.meetingstoday.com/Magazines/ArticleDetails/RegionID/0/ArticleID/28848

Is the Meetings Industry Corrupt?
https://www.meetingstoday.com/Blog/PostId/191/is-our-industry-corrupt

When Laws and Meetings Collide: Go, Stay or Boycott?
https://www.meetingstoday.com/Blog/PostId/280/when-laws-and-meetings-intersect-go-stay-or-boycott

Contracts: Accommodations (Meetings Today Webinar)
https://www.meetingstoday.com/News-Events/Event-Details/ItemID/4093

Contracts: Critical Clauses (Meetings Today Webinar)
https://www.meetingstoday.com/News-Events/Event-Details/ItemID/4091

Planning for Contingencies: Site Selection to Contracting

 Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Planning for Contingencies: Site Selection to Contracting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14. How do you support and protect your employees?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only by sharing can we become stronger at contingency planning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 Destination and Site Selection Tips Updated for Our Times

8 Destination and Site Selection Tips Updated for Our Times

It used to be much easier to select destinations and sites/venues for meetings and events: rates, dates and space were the common denominators.

Today, regardless of which side of the political or cultural divide you sit (or stand or march) on, you are, I hope, aware of the many issues and laws just in the United States that impact booking and holding meetings. I’ve written about it before in previous blog posts for Meetings Today titled “What Do You and Our Industry Stand For?,” “2017 Meetings Industry Hopes & Predictions” and “When Laws and Meetings Collide: Go, Stay or Boycott?

Why have I repeatedly written about and returned to this topic?

Because those in positions of authority in our industry first touted U.S. President Donald Trump as “one of us”—he owned hotels and golf courses and certainly would  help to make tourism and travel more robust. Because as time has gone on, the executive orders and proposed U.S. budget have caused an awakening of the damage that can be done to hospitality with the stroke of a pen. And because I have experienced the impact of changing times and laws on meetings and booking meetings for clients and from colleagues. It appears, with the latest news about the travel ban, that there are still questions about who may or may not come into the United States.

And the laptop ban? We’re still uncertain about the impact it will have, especially if it is expanded. [Editor’s Note: it appears laptops are safe for now.]

In case you weren’t following closely, here’s a timeline of our industry’s reaction to the election of our current president and the subsequent actions impacting meetings, tourism and travel.

On Nov. 9, 2016, the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) congratulated Donald Trump on his election as the 45th U.S. President and said they thought he would be good for our industry because he was a part of it.

On Jan. 23, 2017, the industry again expressed its eagerness to work with the Trump Administration.

Then came what is now known as the original “travel ban” executive order, and on March 1, 2017, the impact of the “Muslim travel ban” and its cost to the U.S. was expressed in this article from The Independent, one of many articles from in and outside of the U.S.

On March 9, 2017, there was more discussion about the “travel ban”—now with more questions because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling—again confusing us all.

On May 17, 2017, The Hill published an article describing alarm over the potential of an expanded laptop ban within the travel industry.

On May 23, 2017, the Los Angeles Times published an article on the travel industry’s outrage following the announcement of President Trump’s proposed budget, which included a funding cut for the Brand USA marketing program.

On June 16, 2017, after airline, hotel, tour and travel companies—and many associations—had already begun the process of working with Cuba, President Trump announced an updated policy making it harder to do business in or travel to the Caribbean island nation.

In addition to the laptop concerns, which made it complicated for those traveling from other countries—especially for speakers and presenters who rely on their laptops or tablets to do work while on the road and to use for their presentations, foreign visitors now face even more visa application restrictions that require some applicants to submit their social media handles, thus giving up a great degree of privacy.

And here’s more information about the TSA and Homeland Security’s stricter security measures for travel that may discourage international visitors in the U.S.

Of course there are issues in the majority of U.S. states impacting our industry. If you’ve not kept up with what happened in North Carolina because of their so-called “bathroom law,” search it. There’s so much written about the business impact of the bathroom bill that the links would consume this entire blog.

North Carolina wasn’t the only state to pass or consider a “bathroom bill.” As noted in the July 2016 Friday With Joan newsletter, the American Counseling Association pulled out of Tennessee because, even after trying to work with the governor and state legislature, a law in direct opposition to their work, was enacted.

And then there’s this:

AILA leaves TX for 2018 over sanctuary city law. I was also told at least one other association canceled their Texas meeting because of the anti-sanctuary city law. A full account of this was unable to be obtained after contacting multiple Texas DMOs (aka CVBs). You can follow ongoing industry issues at Texas Competes.

From the Houston Chronicle, concern was expressed about boycotts of Texas over a variety of laws, including the sanctuary cities ban.

PCMA pulled out of Houston while in “pre-contract phase” in anticipation of the special session called by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in which he and others hope the state will enact an anti-transgender law (aka “bathroom bill”) similar to North Carolina’s. Follow along at Equality Texas for updates. Texas did pass this law that limits adoption by LGBTQ persons, which is causing groups to reconsider Texas as a destination for meetings.)

Another group has stated they may leave Houston if a “bathroom bill” is passed in Texas.

Beyond social and other like issues that impact who can travel and from where and how, many states and political subdivisions are attempting to enact laws to raise taxes to fund convention center expansions or built stadiums or fund other needed infrastructure or housing in their communities. In addition to reading tweets at @meetingstoday where we post links to tax laws, subscribe to the local or regional business journals or, if they exist, digital newspapers or alerts on “hotel” or “tourism” taxes to keep up to date. An increase of even 1% in room or sales taxes can have an impact on your budget.

So what is this all building up to? I wanted to provide Meetings Today and Friday With Joan readers with a list of eight actions planners—and our supplier partners in asking for and providing information—can take to help them navigate the destination and site selection process in modern times.

1. Know the mission, bylaws, policies and stands on social and economic issues of your company, organization and clients. If you don’t already know, make sure you research this information. It will help in your planning!

2. Know your audience. And that’s not just who will attend your meeting. Also know their families and traveling companions who want to feel safe and included.

3. Question management about the impact the passage of laws (federal, municipal or state) would have on your meetings, its participants and vendors, including potential boycotts or travel restrictions impacting attendance and image in the public square.

4. Revise your RFP to include the issues that are most important to your group, the ones that influence where and why you book and don’t.

5. After revising your RFP, also update it to include questions about the following:

  • Pending laws on raising taxes or ones that may impact individuals coming to the state or city, or from or to other countries.
  • Contractual provisions for “impossibility” in stopping the meeting if a law is passed that is in direct opposition to your organization’s mission and on attrition if the meeting moves forward and is boycotted by a percentage of persons impacting attendance, room pick up and other provisions (See the sidebar for more on this language and how and why it was developed by one major EIC (formerly CIC) member, the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)). This may also impact some professions such as medical, journalism, or legal who may be called into service in case of critical situations.

6. Work with an industry attorney on crafting language to negotiate and explain provisions in your RFP upfront to any destination and venue you are considering and to vendors with whom you may contract (See the Academy of Hospitality Industry Attorneys (AHIA) for a list of its members).

7. Stay on top of the news and bring issues to management and/or your board of directors—before they bring them to you—that may impact your in-place contracts, the meeting or event attendance, image and sales or membership.

8. Develop a strategic plan for communications within your organization to ensure the future planning of meetings is well-informed.

Look, I’ve been there and in fact just spent two months working through issues for a client in trying to manage a cancellation and rebooking because of some of these issues. As early as the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I was managing meetings and negotiating provisions that impacted groups because of specific laws.

Then it seemed clients thought they would be OK … until they weren’t.

ASAE’s direction and PCMA’s stand are just two industry specific examples. I hear from many who are working with their attorneys and vendors to refine for them and negotiate into contracts or addenda what is now referred to as the “ASAE Clause” (see sidebar).

We have an obligation to be smart about and up to date on the issues that affect us. We also have an obligation to work with our business partners upfront on all the issues that may impact our meetings, no matter how difficult it may seem. To not do so can be costly in dollars and reputation.

Disclaimers: for this and all editions of Friday With Joan and other periodic blogs written by the author, the information is not intended as legal advice. Should you need the services of a lawyer (or other professional) you should contract for the services. And, as always, the views expressed by contributing bloggers and respondents are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Click here to view additional content in the 07.07.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.

9 Ideas to Innovate Meeting Design and Delivery

Originally posted on Meetings Today Blog

9 Ideas to Innovate Meeting Design and Delivery

With thanks to Anu Garg of A Word A Day for this:

“Most creativity is a transition from one context into another where things are more surprising. There’s an element of surprise, and especially in science, there is often laughter that goes along with the ‘Aha.’ Art also has this element. Our job is to remind us that there are more contexts than the one that we’re in—the one that we think is reality.”
— Alan Kay, computer scientist (born May 17, 1940)

Surprise and joy. These are the emotions I have felt when an educational experience, in particular one in a school or meeting setting, was creative and transitioned from the usual straight rows of chairs to a more audience-centric setting and from a lecture to an engaging, interactive experience.

These same emotions were felt in Stanley Blum’s civics class in my Ohio high school where the (awful!) tablet chairs were set in a circle versus the straight rows in most other classes. Surprise and joy are also what I felt when (the late) Lenore Clippinger allowed us to bring pillows on which to sit on the floor of her English Literature class in the same school. And when Mr. Blum invited us to his home for current events discussions and we sat on comfortable furniture and were served cocoa and cookies.

Come to think of it, it’s similar to what Bill Host, and I created at a PCMA discussion “session” about Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind”: some cocktail tables, beanbag chairs, lots of windows, small vases of flowers on the tables, and cocoa, tea, coffee and cookies. [For that, thanks to Kim Peterson at Seattle Sheraton who helped create the setting].

Yes, I’ve written about some of these experiences before (here and here). Additionally, in the sidebar of the June 2017 Friday With Joan newsletter (which also includes this blog post), I interviewed the Blums’ daughter, Sarah Routman, about her work. Clearly she too was influenced by her dad’s examples of good education and learning.

Jeff Hurt, a colleague and friend since his long-ago days working at MPI, and now Executive Vice President, Education & Engagement at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting—who describes himself as “a lifelong learner trying to embrace learning, unlearning and relearning”—reads and writes extensively about learning and the brain.

Janet Sperstad, Ph.D., Program Director of the meeting and event management degree at Madison College in Wisconsin, wrote her dissertation, “Purposeful Meetings: Driving deeper meaning, insights and innovation,” on the topic of better meeting design.

Janet was also recently interviewed in this great article from PCMA about the paper she and Amanda Cecil, Ph.D, CMP, associate professor and chair of Indiana University’s School of Physical Education and Tourism Management, are writing entitled “Purposeful Meetings: How to Plan with Deeper Meaning, Innovation and Insight in Mind.”

(You can learn more here about Janet and Amanda’s work).

For years, in teaching “meeting planning 101” classes for MPI, PCMA, ASAE and others, I’ve conducted an exercise by first saying “Adults learn and participate best in pleasant surroundings” followed by the question “What makes it pleasant for you to learn?”

This is often paired with an exercise of drawing a three-panel cartoon of one’s best learning experience. (Thank you David Johnson from whom I learned, at an International Association of Facilitators (IAF) meeting, this activity that can be adapted to many situations and makes me think of the exercises in the aforementioned Dan Pink book).

>> ACTION: Try this. Identify what makes it pleasant for you to learn, and if you’re willing, add what that is, in the comments section below. <<

Were you able to quickly identify the elements of “pleasant”? Or were you, like most, in need of parameters to identify where the “pleasant experience” and the “best learning experience” occurred (at a conference? in a school setting? in the office? at home?)? Or was it difficult to remember your best learning experiences?

It may be like the (in)famous quote from the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, about pornography: “you know it when you see it”. We know a good meeting or learning experience when we we see it or don’t.

Mine? I’ve cited some from high school. I know I don’t like straight rows of chairs or tables—even crescent rounds in straight rows. The sight lines are always awful and the rigidity of the settings sets a “bad school” atmosphere for me. I love natural light from windows, food and drink available at all times, interaction—natural not forced—with others with whom I’m learning [one day, on a plane or train, I know, after reading a great article, I’ll engage those around me in discussion!], and the ability to do what I need—sit, stand, put my feet up, or leave if it’s not working for me.

If you read the May 2017 Friday With Joan newsletter you learned I was in college full time for only a year where most classes were in auditoriums with seats with tablets. Even without the formal education of the colleagues cited and interviewed I am an avid reader and observer of people interacting and learning in different settings.

I am curious about those, who like I, abhor straight rows and lectures, find TED and all the spin-offs effective since they are, in essence, well-rehearsed lectures. I watch many “TED talks” and especially like this one of Sunni Brown on doodling. She’s engaging as are many TED-talkers and programs. They are really lectures but they are lectures with personality, right? And they are lectures with opportunities to engage with others.

When I think about what makes it pleasant for me to learn and the experiences I’ve had that were conducive to learning in meetings, I think of these:

1. ODNetwork: in working as the planning consultant with them, they set a standard meeting room as theatre-in-the-round which created a different mindset just by walking into the room. And it was low key and worked—just a short stage in the center of the room and chairs set around the stage, circled, with multiple aisles.

2. ODN and IAF both had areas for creativity where, at any time, one could color, build and use different materials to relax and use one’s right brain. Disney created similar experiences for PCMA and ASAE in rooms that I remember going to often because the spaces themselves were differently set with lots of creative materials. In one, at an ASAE meeting years ago, in a session held in the room, the first instructions were to take our shoes off and put our heads down on our arms on the table and to listen to a (children’s) story. (Yes, this can be adapted for those who are differently abled).

3. ASAE, at a meeting in Boston years ago, set all general sessions in the round. The stage was round with a rotating center on which a lectern stood and behind which a few people delivered their messages. Screens were flown from above and all around the stage, easily visible for each section of seats. More speakers—(it must have been the early ‘90s because James Carville and Mary Matalin were among them)—walked around the stage. Because, if I remember correctly, no one was more than 10 rows back from the stage, seated with lots of aisles down which there was entertainment each morning before the general session started, I looked forward to going to each general session which is not my norm! More it meant that those who like to sit on the aisle could more easily do so and not disrupt those who wanted to leave since the rows were short.

4. ASAE again created a novel setting also in Boston (hmm…was it Boston?) years later where there were different seating configurations in the ballroom foyer and lots of screens on which you could watch the general sessions without being in the large dark room set in rows. I’d started in the ballroom and was driven out by the size, dark, and “usual” set to the foyer.

What didn’t work: the foyer set was conducive to, and I believe intended for, conversation, perfect for Aural learners. (One could even get a shoeshine and still watch the programming in the general session in another area of the convention center).

A colleague and I sat in the foyer and talked about what we were hearing and seeing, and were “shushed” by others. When doing something different, explain the how and why and how to use it to the best advantage. Different for the sake of different doesn’t work unless we educate those in attendance.

5. PCMA, at one meeting, set general sessions and breakouts in theatre-in-the-round. A lawyer colleague and I presented our session in one of those breakout rooms. Outcomes?

  1. People entered without having been told why the rooms were set differently.
  2. Most everyone stayed in what would usually be the “back”—that is by the doors—rather than going to the sides or other side of the center of the room’s slightly raised platform.
  3. PCMA, I was told, didn’t use that set again because a) speakers didn’t know how to use it [see the sidebar interview and in particular what Paul Radde has to say] and b) it wasn’t explained to the meeting participants. They expected a lecture at which they could stare. (Yes, there were screens around the room so any visuals could be seen easily no matter where one sat).

6. When PCMA first experimented with “Learning Lounges”, and other interactive areas for those of us who prefer learning with each other (like the hallway conversations many love and the “peer learning” that MPI’s Foundation discovered years ago was really what most of us call “networking”), it was far more intimate than it has become.

Remembering the first year, a colleague and I sat in the area behind the stage where we could watch and still talk with each other. I tweeted with someone who was in front of the stage wishing she weren’t “stuck” and not permitted to talk during the session and for whom leaving felt awkward and rude to the speaker.

Maybe what we need are more “norms” or ground rules that allow people to move as needed without feeling they can’t leave like what, in Open Space Technology used to be called “The Rule of Two Feet” (“If it’s not working for you, you may leave”) and which has been renamed “The Law of Motion and Responsibility” to be more inclusive of those who may not have or use two feet.

7. MPI has experimented with different designs including using Open Space Technology where the audience, with some subject matter parameters, sets the agenda. Having used Open Space (for which I am eternally grateful to Harrison Owen, initially, and later to Lisa Heft) for a variety of clients, it’s one way to accommodate different types of learners and peer learning. It’s not for every person or meeting. With World Café  it’s one more option in one’s toolbox of design.

8. Loretta LaRoche, the capnote (closing) speaker at an IACC meeting years ago, did just what Sarah Routman suggests in the sidebar: her very being and work created laughter, great big tear-rolling, doubled-over laughter. She allowed us to leave feeling good about our work, ourselves, and the conference with her style and words. I can’t remember leaving a conference ever feeling so good. (This, a Loretta LaRoche YouTube clip about “wearing your party pants,” should make you feel the same now).

9. Recently at ExhibitorLive, I presented back to back sessions about creating different meeting settings and delivery methods. I asked for and through the understanding of Dee Silfies, responsible for education, and of CORT Furniture for the different furniture—not all of which was too low for those who may not be able to get down to or up easily—we created an example of what can be done. At the break (30 minutes versus 15 or even the back-to-back-to-back with no time between sessions at too many meetings), some participants who’s not signed up for the second session, did so.

They liked my style of teaching, the creative tools used, the “norms” and permissions given, and the set that was more relaxed and comfortable and included some crescent rounds for those who wanted more traditional seating.

Here’s the thing: it is messy and more difficult to design conferences and meetings to accommodate different learning preferences and comfort levels, and adding genuine laughter, for and from those who are participating and delivering.

As we continue to learn more about learning and interactive—”audience-centric,” experiential, community-focused—gatherings, we will need to change what we do. And to do so means involving our partners (aka “suppliers”) and those responsible for the fire laws and other safety and security issues, and policies governing spaces. Having suggested that many years ago after being told “no rounds” in a convention center unless we were serving food, I’ve not yet seen that the industry is meeting with all the right participants to make massive changes.

There are enough researching and talking about changing learning models at meetings that the revolution to create better conventions and conferences is upon us. ASAE just completed XPD about which the reviews are still coming in. I’m hopeful you’ll join in and tell others the creative ways you’ve designed and delivered events and meetings and more, suggest ways we can better truly partner with venues and vendors rather than just looking to them for underwriting. I’m convinced they are the key to making it work by understanding education and how their spaces and work can contribute. Share this with each other and your partners. Let’s move meetings forward. Really!

This blog post and the June 2017 Friday With Joan newsletter are dedicated to the people and organizations noted below because they want people in sales to learn more about how to help market, sell and service more creative, comfortable, conducive-to-outcomes, experiences. It seems our industry has relegated “suppliers” to a category of “sponsors” and “underwriters” versus full partners in learning and creating (or co-creating if we’re still using that buzzphrase) and suggesting different uses of their spaces.

Thus, this blog post is dedicated to Michael McQuade, Director of Sales, Washington State Convention Center, and founder of Emerging Sales Professionals, an organization committed to helping those in hospitality sales learn more to aid them in making meetings and eventsand those who sell space and servicesmore rounded in their knowledge beyond “rates, dates and space”, and to Convention Sales Professionals InternationalI had the privilege this Spring of presenting sessions to both organizations on how to be consultative sales professionals by understanding the elements of good education at meetings.

Additional thanks goes out to Brent Grant, CMP, for patience to create the right audience-centric room set. Also to Jane Kantor of Visit Bellevue and the Meydenbauer Center and Julie Deweese of the Oregon Convention Center, for their creativity in programming.

Click here to view additional content in the 06.02.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Is Alcohol Needed at Meetings & Events?

Originally published Meetings Today Blog
The stories from Russia about the lives lost to alcohol poisoning (from both vodka and less traditional “beverages”) are devastating but no more so than this article about the how heavy drinking for women has been “normalized” or even romanticized.

I’ve written before about this topic and will continue to talk and write about it because it is a health and a safety issue—for those who consume alcohol, those who are in their paths when they drive and all those who surround them.

It’s an issue of host responsibility and liability when one has a holiday* (office, friends and/or family) party or a meeting or event or invites others to events as suppliers in our industry do. It astounds me that we still consider an event not “festive” enough if alcohol is not served. Given the make up of our industry (believed to be mainly women) you’d think we’d be more careful about wanting to not poison people.

I drink now and then. In my immediate family, alcohol just wasn’t consumed so I never developed a “taste” for it and I’m fortunate to not be an alcoholic, active or in recovery, as so many friends and colleagues are. I’ve always said I’m not “anti” alcohol consumption but after reading the above noted story about women and consumption, I may change my mind.

These guides from MADD and FindLaw cover dram shop laws; another from the Global Gaming Business Magazine provides more information. It’s always best to talk with your organization’s or client’s attorney and those involved in risk management to learn more about you and your organization’s responsibilities for alcohol service.

Laws vary by country. If you’re conducting a meeting or business outside the United States, learn more about customs and laws to ensure safety and protection and appropriate behavior.

Whether it’s New Year’s Eve or an industry event, a family gathering or a meeting you’ve planned, plan responsibly for alcohol consumption and consider if you really need it at all.

*If you’re already looking ahead to next “holiday season,” please try to be inclusive of all: not everyone is permitted to attend parties; not everyone celebrates the same winter holidays; and if you’re decorating in red and green, considered traditional Christmas colors [Hanukkah’s are silver or white and blue; Kwanzaa’s are red, black and green], call it a “Christmas party” since the decor won’t fool anyone!

I wish a safe and healthy new year to each of you. Watch for the Jan. 6 Friday With Joan newsletter for hopes and predictions from me and others in our industry.

Insurance: How Covered Are You and Your Meetings?

Original published Meeting Today Blog 

Insurance: How Covered Are You and Your Meetings?

One of the best lessons I ever learned was from Jeff King, Esq., who, for years, was the attorney for the Convention Liaison (now Industry) Council. In a lawsuit over a client’s cancellation of a meeting—where the client and I, individually, and my company were all sued—we hired Jeff to defend our case. He said, “It doesn’t matter if you are right or wrong, you can still be sued.” –

Because of that, because of others’ research and work in this field, and because of what I observe, I have and will continue write and teach more about meeting and event risk and how to best manage it. No matter how much Tyra Hilliard, others and I teach and write and speak about it, it doesn’t seem that individuals and the industry understand that what we do is risky business*.

Given that there is still not sufficient planning around meeting and event risk, it astounds me when I hear people and groups question whether or not to insure aspects of their meetings and events. There is a belief that if contracts contain the necessary clauses (do yours?) there is no need to have insurance or that certainly whatever the venue has must cover you and your meeting. Here are three resources (the August 2016 edition of Friday With Joan, a free contracts webinar I recently led for Meetings Today, and another free contracts webinar hosted by Tyra Hilliard) that provide plenty of information to consider.

Also consider these “what ifs”:

  • An “Act of God” (force majeure) occurs just before your meeting commences causing any number of participants from arriving and the meeting goes on because you’re there, and key players and others have already arrived. You’ve given your F&B guarantees. You believe that force majeure will no doubt be in effect. It is my understanding that force majeure or “impossibility” clauses cover what happens if the entire meeting is stopped or if the occurrence—say a storm—is in the destination and not en route. What costs might you incur that might be covered if you had insurance?
  • Your main stage speaker is a no-show or (worse or better?!) does not deliver what people expect from what is said and your meeting registration information contains a clause where if people aren’t satisfied, they may ask for a refund of their registration fee. Now what?
  • Someone over-drinks before attending an event that’s part of your meeting and then drinks again—with the drink tickets you thought protected you because you only gave each person two—and injures themselves or others. Who and what is covered for any damages to people and property? In the event of a lawsuit?
  • You or a speaker, exhibitor or entertainer play music for which you didn’t secure music licensing agreements and you’re sued. How will you—either as an in-house planner or third party who made the arrangements—be covered for legal costs?
  • You’re a third party who helped a client select a site that they later cancel. If you work on commission, what now? If as a result of the cancellation, the client is sued as are you for what is believed your role—whether it was booking a site that was, for the meeting, under construction, or didn’t have AEDs and in your RFP you didn’t ask and someone is harmed, or … well, I’m guessing you can fill in the blanks.

Can you, in contracts or with insurance, cover and be protected from all contingencies? I doubt it. Things happen—like laws that are passed in states like North Carolina causing groups to cancel or move their meetings, or the hotel, at the last minute (which could be two weeks for some or the day before for others) changes your meeting space or there’s a strike at an airport causing extreme delays and people turn around and go home versus coming to the meeting or … you fill in the blank.

Yes, there are laws that cover some contingencies. And still, there are costs involved that without insurance may not be able to be restored.

I’m not an insurance expert or a lawyer. All I can do is advise clients and readers and students to learn more about how they, individually, are covered, and by whom in booking and/or executing a meeting or event, and that they investigate with their risk management and legal advisors what they need to cover.

My gratitude to Lou Novick of the Novick Group in Rockville, Md., an insurance broker who knows meetings, for adding his knowledge to the sidebar of this blog. Lastly, this bulletin from Narcotics Anonymous is a good primer on why having liability insurance, including for events, is a good idea.

P.S. Here’s a couple bonus resources that also may be worth your time:

*If you’re in the San Diego area, I’ll be leading a session on identifying risk and developing a contingency plan on Dec. 15 for the Calfornia Society of Association Executive’s (CALSAE’s) f2f meeting. I’ll be leading the discussion via livestream and you must be physically present at the event to participate. Learn more here.

Planning Events: Back to Basics

Originally published on Meetings Focus Blog

We’re the worst aren’t we? Planners who attend events in which we were or weren’t involved in the planning and execution. Yet, it may be because we know the best practices that we are more critical of what should be done or what is written in industry manuals as best practices.

We expect the best! After some recent experiences, and seeing some photos online of a large industry event, reminders of the basics seem in order.

Know your audience. That includes age, gender, gender identity, abilities, disabilities, allergies (food and environmental) and once known, plan to meet those needs. A venue that allows smoking in an area where it pours into the event or is prevalent in restaurants surrounding a smoking area like a casino is not healthy for those with lots of different health issues; a scented venue causes problems for those with chemical sensitives (covered under the ADA).

A venue with lots of steps makes it difficult for some (many in some cases) and certainly makes it more difficult for those who use mobility devices. Consider whether the entertainment and programmatic choices are appropriate for the kind of event you’re planning. If it’s a networking event, consider if people can hear and talk above the sound.

Develop and employ objectives for the overall event and for individual components. If one of the objectives is to showcase best practices in meetings then … do so! Set the rooms in something different than straight schoolroom or theatre rows. Use screens that are appropriate sizes so that all people can see any visuals used.

If peer-to-peer learning and social networking are objectives (and they should be, studies show, for all events, social, fraternal and educational) determine what space and conditions will most contribute to those objectives. Ensure appropriate seating for the demographics, space allocation.

Provide information about how to find others in the group, adequate and appropriate (including “handicap spaces”) parking, are other examples of meeting objectives.

Communicate—from RFP to post-con—with the venue and vendors ensuring they know what you want, can meet those needs, and that any surprises aren’t because of thorough communications. That is, take nothing for granted! Just because you used “one of their properties” (or a vendor) in a different destination or even of the same brand or the same property at a different time, doesn’t mean it will be the same again.

Put in writing, even before the contract, all the expectations you have and they have and provide your objectives so partnering can start from the beginning.

Plan food and beverage to match times, demographics, abilities, and needs. There’s nothing worse than an event that begins at 7 p.m. which is dinner time for many and to learn there will only be “dry snacks.”* If that’s the case, let people know ahead of time and provide a list of restaurants near the meeting venue for those who may not be familiar with the area.

Survey the needs of participants to know their food allergies or other dietary needs: vegan, vegetarian, lactose-intolerant, gluten-sensitive, etc. (I’m a fan of Patti Shock and her writing including “A Meeting Planner’s Guide to Catered Events”).

Practice sustainability! At a recent industry function, a colleague and I were surprised (OK, stunned!) to see water bottles v. water stations. Handouts are not the nemesis of green! As long as they are printed on post-consumer products using sustainable ink and fonts.

Giving gifts? If gift wrap is needed, use post-consumer wrapping paper and avoid over-packaging with lots of tissue. Food waste is a major issue in the U.S. If you want to overset, it’s OK as long as you know that the venue is going to reuse or donate what food they can. Or serve plated meals, asking participants ahead of time to indicate their preferences.

Two great resources for sustainability are MeetGreen and GMIC.

Program for maximum involvement and attention. Small screens for large audiences, long programs that go on and on, bad visuals, untested sound, ill-timed programs or those that are not timed as promised, unexpected guests at the mic/lectern (aka “podium” for those who insist!), lack of audience involvement, inactivity/sedentary audience for long periods, and more that you can list all lead to “fanny fatigue” which leads to brain fatigue and napping.

Not all programs have to be interactive; they do need to engage. If you’ve followed me here or in social media, you know I tout Jeff Hurt’s blog, and Paul Radde’s book, “Seating Matters”, and Adrian Segar’s work which, like mine, involves deliberate meetings and events.

Be safe! I wrote extensively here about AEDs and was surprised, at a recent industry meeting, to learn that the venue had AEDs, but not in the meeting space. One was required to go to the heart/back of the house to a house phone—no house phones in the meeting rooms—to contact security to bring the AEDs.

Select destinations and sites with safety first in mind: nearest hospital or emergency facility, AEDs on property, CPR-trained personnel on staff 24/7, and procedures to handle food allergies and other emergencies. Announce, at the start of every event, the location of the emergency exits and the procedures. Yes, you can do this at social events too: doing one’s “flight attendant routine” always gets a laugh and attention so people know what to do if they have to evacuate.

And about *dry snacks: they encourage beverage, often alcohol, consumption. Over-drinking can lead to many disasters: drunk driving, alcohol poisoning, and other dangerous behavior. Talk with the bartenders, even if it’s a cash bar or ticketed, to find out their practices and policies about stopping over-consumption of alcohol.

Yes, there’s much more to planning an event than most people consider. And there’s much more to selecting destinations (that have airports that are accessible for people with disabilities), sites, caterers, AV and production companies, and planning programs, and contracting.

This is a snippet that occurred to me after a few events that puzzled me.

Defining the Meeting Professional (Who We Are, Where We Came From)

Originally posted on Meeting Focus blog

What was your reaction the first time you said you were a “meeting professional” and the response was “Oh, you’re a party planner?” Not that there’s anything wrong with being a party planner; social events are often a component of what we do. It is however a fraction of the whole of who we are and what we do. And as many of us have said in interviews and to each other, even our families and friends don’t fully understand what we do!

Does meeting planner or event planner, conference coordinator or meeting architect, or meeting or exhibit manager or designer sound better? More, is it understood?

Even in our own (Meetings? Convention? Hospitality?) industry there is no agreement on the term(s) to use to refer to what we are or do.

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ” ~~ Michael Crichton (thanks to Goodreads quotes for this).

From what tree do we come? In this and future blogs, we’ll explore more about our “tree” to help us consider the steps we can take and education we need to become more professional and to gain the recognition for the complexity of what we do—that I hope will take us beyond negative media coverage and congressional hearings.

I remember when former U.S. Representative to the United Nations and former Atlanta Mayor, Andrew Young, spoke at a Meeting Professionals International (MPI) meeting in Atlanta years ago. He said a meeting professional had to have been around to plan the Last Supper! There’s no documentation, but of course he had to have been right.

To prepare to write this blog I relied on history of the Convention Industry Council (CIC), our industry’s umbrella organization. Thanks to Karen Kotowski, CAE, CMP, CIC’s Chief Executive Officer who sent two documents showing some of the history.

I talked and emailed with industry veterans and MPI founders, Howard Feiertag and Rod Abraham (link to interview), and with another MPI Founder and MPI’s second executive director, Doug Heath; industry attorney Jonathan Howe, Esq.; and DeWayne Woodring, long time Executive Director of the Religious Conference Management Association (RCMA).

In the first of what Karen sent—written in 1953 and the second, an updated version in 1956—both titled “Group Business Unlimited! … from 20 rooms to 2,000” it is written:

After many years of exploratory study and informed meetings between those concerned with group business problems, the Convention Liaison Committee was formally organized in 1948, as a coordinating group made up of three or more representatives of each of the following organizations:

With the general goal of coordinating the best interests of the organizations represented, the Committee has set for itself the following objectives:

  1. To bring about a sympathetic understanding and acceptance among these organizations of the responsibilities of each to the other.
  2. To create a sound and consistent basis for handling convention procedures and practices through a program of study and education.¹
  3. To conduct educational and other activities of mutual interest to the participate organizations.”²

This appears to be the first “Manual” preceding the one titled “Convention Liaison Manual” first published in 1961. I have a copy of the third and fourth editions of the latter manual.

From the initial “Group Business” Manual to the 1961 manual, the industry realized that in addition to those who supplied the industry there were customers. In “Group Business,” the skills needed focused on sales and marketing skills and building relationships among the venues and CVBs.

In the edition of the CLC Manual I have, the skills began to incorporate more about areas (site selection, housing, air transportation, function room setups, and all of four pages on contracts (Compare that to the APEX Contracts Panel report!) of expertise needed for those planning meetings and conventions.

In “Group Business,” “he” and “him” predominate; in the early CLC Manuals, it was “he/she.” In the former, illustrations are only of men; in the 1956 version, a few illustrations include women, and the cover of the early Manual shows what may be one woman in the lower right hand corner.

In conversations with many of those who served as early or earlier than I—I served on the CLC Board of Directors in the early ’90s, thanks to Doug Heath, who, after my noodging about so few women representing an industry that even then, on the meetings side, appeared to have a majority of women, appointed me to be one of MPI’s 3 representatives—was told that in the early days, the meetings were really more about entertaining the industry associations’ delegates and providing gifts to them. Though there was some of that in the first years of service, we did delve into bigger issues with speakers about music licensing and the ADA.

It’s a brief start to the history, to which I will further detail in coming blogs. More, in addition to what Howard Feiertag and Rod Abraham have to say about their histories and skills needed then and now, we’ll look at skills needed today and into the future for those who call themselves “meeting professionals.”

Add to the history in the comments. Ask questions about where we came from and spread the word of the history of our industry (At the recent CMP Conclave, I asked in what year CIC was founded and the answers didn’t go back far enough!).

¹ The CMP—first known as the Certified Meeting Planner—designation was not instituted until 1985. This Committee had, other than ATAE and, in 1956, the addition of the National Association of Exhibit Managers (the forerunner to IAEE), no organizations representing customers so it made sense that the focus was on hotel operations.

² In 1956, a fourth objective was added: “To acquaint the public with the fact that conventions are essential to industry and to the economy of the community and the nation.”

Safety is Not a Meetings Industry Priority

Originally published on Meetings Focus Blog

Very recently, I learned that a major hotel company’s Loss Prevention Department does not allow Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) to be purchased for their hotels because, they say, it exposes them to more liability. I learned this when I spoke—on risk anticipation and contingency planning—for an industry event at a hotel owned and managed by this company, and then asked a GM with another in this brand’s portfolio who confirmed it.

Even though the hotel at which I spoke has done extensive renovations and is spending another $1 million on meetings upgrades, they aren’t using the money to make people safer.

I was curious to find stats on how many hotels had AEDs and/or policies for or against having them. I turned to a researcher at another industry organization who found the last articles written on AEDs for and in hotels were in 2005 and 2006, and this Wall Street Journal article in 2009.

I’m also gathering stats on how many convention centers, conference centres, and other related facilities have AEDs (I know that D.C.’s Ford’s Theatre does! I’m pleased to see each time we attend a performance). I also found this 2013 article from Forbes about the “life saving device that is largely ignored.” And since 2004, U.S. jets must have an AED on board. But not hotels?!

In the previously mentioned Wall Street Journal article, you’ll read that the American Heart Association said it would not hold meetings at hotels where there were no AEDs (As this goes live, I was unable to verify if this policy stands today).

The importance of AEDs was made clear to me in my reading and in a post years ago on an industry listserv by industry attorney, Jim Goldberg, whose friend died while playing tennis at a club at which the AED was too far from the court to be useful.

In the last few years, I got to know colleague, Julie B. Walker, CMP, of ChoiceMeetings, whose college age daughter, Peyton Walker, died as a result of not having an available AED in her dorm.

Julie provided some basic background on Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA):

  • SCA kills more than 300,000 people each year in the US alone—most are in the prime of their life and have little or no warning prior to their SCA event.
  • For those who are lucky enough to receive CPR right away, their chance of survival is 2%.
  • For those who have paramedic/emergency room advanced care—survival rate increases to 5-15%.
  • For those who are fortunate enough to receive CPR & AED caresurvival rates increase to 50-75% (emphasis mine).

According to the Initial Life Support Federation, “The solution to the growing dilemma of premature cardiac death is the availability and rapid application of an easy to use AED—a simple and inexpensive device that can help to protect and extend thousands of lives.”

CPR alone will not save someone in cardiac arrest. The American Heart Association says we could “save 50,000 lives per year with broad deployment of AEDs.”

So tell me, hotel owners, management companies, and personnel, why do you think the liability is greater to not spend the money to have multiple AEDs on property versus spending it to make the guest rooms prettier? And planners, tell me why we are not demanding AEDs, or like my friend and meeting professional, Terry Blumenstein, CMM, who has for years taken AEDs (yes, they’re portable) with him to programs (even if hotels have them), taking them with us?

If you have AEDs, though they are pretty foolproof to operate, knowing where they are and how to access them must be SOP for all hotel and other venue employees.

You know, it doesn’t matter how cool the venue is or how great the meeting: If people are not safe, nothing else matters. What part of this area of contingency planning does our industry not understand? And why do we not put people and their lives first before anything else?

Some resources to consult as well as your own organization’s legal counsel and risk management professionals:

I’ll expand on this and other topics in upcoming blogs and editions of Friday With Joan, to which you can subscribe. I’d love your input below, or if you prefer to be quoted anonymously, email FridayWithJoan@aol.com with comments for posting or just for me.

Joan