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Why Reading Is Fundamental to Professional Success

Originally published Meetings Focus

Why Reading Is Fundamental to Professional Success

I’ve been a reader all my life and I believe it has helped me succeed in my professional life.

My parents subscribed to two daily newspapers and to many periodicals. What didn’t come to our home, I read at the library, especially if it had an interesting cover.

I also made a habit out of reading the magazines I sold during fundraiser season to make money for my school. I would think up the reasons behind why people subscribed to them.

No matter the type of media—books, periodicals, newspapers—my preferred way to read is in print though I do read many articles and interviews digitally. I’m a life-long learner who can find value in and application for almost everything I read, passing along to clients and colleagues and posting in social media for discussion some of the articles I find most useful.

Yes, it’s sometimes difficult to keep up.

Next to a favorite chair in our living room—or is it an all-purpose room in an apartment if it’s living/dining?—by my side of the bed, and in stacks on the desks and floor of my office, are books and periodicals I’ve read and want to reference or to be read.

I’m always finding interesting things to read and I truly believe it is an easy way to benefit your career and sharpen your mind—and maybe even unwind, depending on what you choose to read. Staying current on the news can certainly help you in your event planning.

This blog post provides some of the useful information I’ve recently read. On June 7, 2019, you’ll have the second part of the official Friday With Joan newsletter about the intersection of life- and end-of-life events and hospitality. You can read part one here.

[Related Content: Check Out More Musings From Joan Eisenstodt]

Interesting Articles for Meeting Professionals

All About 5G: Either at newsstands or online if there aren’t paywalls, find the June 3, 2019 edition of Time magazine, and the May 27, 2019, issue of Bloomberg Businessweek.

In Time, be sure to check out “The Battle for 5G” by Charlie Campbell and the related environmental sidebar “The coming mountain of e-waste” by Alana Semuels (to be read before buying yet another electronic device to accommodate 5G if you can get that at all).

The main article discusses the impact of the government’s blocking of Huawei services in the U.S. (and some other countries) to supply 5G.

The implications in rural areas is especially critical.

In Bloomberg Businessweek, Trump Puts Tariffs on Pizza Toppings written by Jeannette Neumann with Bryce Baschuk, about the cost and availability of black olives is a short article that may seem inconsequential at first glance.

Sure … until your CEO wonders where the black olives are!

In that same issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, read “Where The Money Is” that has lots of information on economics and wealth inequality. There’s a good segment on The Plaza Hotel in New York and how its ownership changed hands, more than once.

Creating Welcoming Conferences: Sherry Marts is a colleague and role model. She’s a recipient of the MIT Media Lab “Disobedience Award,” a higher compliment I can’t imagine! Here, on her website—at no charge, not even a need to get on her email list—are guidelines to create safe and welcoming conferences. Here’s a more direct link to the information.

Build Your Own Bliss Station: This is a watch/listen/read suggestion about how to build a bliss station, an episode of The Pinkcast moderated and created by Daniel Pink, the author of one of my still-favorite books, “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future.” Dan Pink interviews Austen Kleon on creating bliss stations.

It is captioned making it accessible.

And there are lots of applications for creating bliss stations for use at meetings. I’m thinking about applications; detail yours in the comment section below.

A Very Important Read: Politics must be part of our reading. We’ve tweeted via @meetingstoday many of the links to articles about changing taxes and policies in U.S. cities and states that impact what and how we spend money and where we decide to meet.

In this article about the Texas Legislature’s actions before departing there is reference to issues for our industry. Holding a meeting there? Give it a read!

Food & Beverage Trends: A number of food/F&B related articles pulled me in, all of them relevant because F&B is integral to hospitality. Two are about the experiences and experiences, we are told, are what travelers including meeting-goers, desire most.

What will make the experience of a destination notable and not cookie-cutter—what I call an “any convention city” experience—if those quintessential experiences are gone?

The F&B articles I found most interesting include:

  • Carrot “hot dogs” because so many vegans and others with dietary requests want to have a similarly looking/tasting experience at our events and these “dogs” may be the way to have the picnic or ballpark experience look, taste and feel more inclusive.
  • The final straw on how England will ban plastic beginning in 2020 and what that means to tourists, planners and others for planning ahead.
  • One Last Cup of Coffee to Go, My Friend, authored by Stefanos Chen, about how New York’s diners are disappearing. Broke my heart and when we think about experiences, aren’t they part of why we take meetings to New York?
  • The search for “authentic” ethnic food is a dead end,” was another one that made me also think about what we have and don’t have or want and what participants ask planners, concierge staff and DMOs when they want an “experience” in a city.

    I did chuckle at the descriptions of what makes many think a restaurant is authentic. (Hint: more about the ambience than the food). I’m grateful that John Paul Brammer stepped aside from his work at The Trevor Project to write this.

  • In The Age of Seamless, Is the ‘Regular’ A Dying Breed? by Helene Stapinski made me think of the dying breed of local restaurants that, if you’re a frequent business traveler to a city, you want to “make yours.”

    In the print edition of The New York Times in which this appeared is a short follow up story with quotes from individuals who have had to change restaurants when “their favorites” closed. It’s well-worth considering when selecting a destination and for hotels with their own special restaurants to think about when training staff to recognize regulars … and well, even semi-regulars.

  • ICYMI – Washington Post food critic, Tom Sietsema wrote that now he’ll “Add accessibility to his restaurant reviews” to which I say BRAVO! After noodging Tom via email after each awful experience in DC restaurants when using my mobility scooter, he’s asking for us all to advise him of challenges for anyone with a disability.

    I strongly recommend you sentd this to your DMO to suggest they too add accessibility in guides for their local restaurants (You too, @DestinationDC).

Travel Is Just Not Fun: We’re all watching and waiting with bated breath to see if the 737 Max planes will fly again and watching to see how many flights and passengers will be impacted until they do. Check out the latest on the situation as reported by CNN.

Heading to DC?: If you’re coming to the Washington, DC Metro area, you really want to read this. Metro, the main way many get around, is shutting down six Blue and Yellow line stations for the summer in 2019. Expect more traffic on the roads whether you work in the area or are visiting for meetings or business. Be sure put on your “patience hat.”

So there you have it, a fraction of what I’ve been reading.

There is a stack of many more articles and online bookmarks for another time. Tell us all about articles you’ve read or why you can’t keep up and need others of us to help you keep abreast of the news that may impact your life and your work. We’ll help.

Stay Tuned for More Recommended Reads

Upcoming this summer: books we’re reading. If you’d like to participate in an interview, email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com only with “Books” in the subject line.

Add Elements of Theatre to Make Meetings That Inspire

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Add Elements of Theatre to Make Meetings That Inspire

For years, I’ve tried to understand why going to live theatre and experiencing a performance, usually not an interactive one, is more invigorating than going to a meeting or session at a conference.

Meetings and live theatre have so much in common:

  • Seating
  • Delivery
  • Duration

Seating: Oddly, what I rail against for many meetings is the seating styles. For meetings, straight theatre seating (rows and rows of chairs facing forward) makes me cringe.

When deciding what session to attend at a conference, even if the topic sounds worthwhile, if I peer into a meeting room set with straight rows of chairs—or, worse, one set schoolroom-style (straight rows of tables facing forward with little room to maneuver—and a stage with a lectern), I don’t want to walk in.

Experience tells me the lights will be lowered and someone will speak from the stage with no opportunities to discuss the content throughout. Rather there will be, especially if I see aisle mics [shudder], “Q&A at the end” of the session.

Yet, when I go to live theatre, seating is … theatre-style, albeit in usually more comfortable-than-banquet-chair seating (thank you, Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. for finally getting better seating), and I don’t question it.

One exception of seating is when we attend theatre-in-the-round such as at Arena Stage’s Fichandler Stage (take a virtual tour). I love the Kogod Cradle for its intimacy.

In what is fondly known as “The Fich,” part of my enjoyment, in addition to the production (most recently Anything Goes) is watching audience reactions.

It is a bonding experience just like in a meeting making eye contact with someone and sharing a smile or a nod of recognition of shared enjoyment or agreement, or yes, even the agony of a miserable presentation!

It brings an emotion and a community experience to the enjoyment.

Delivery: While researching for this newsletter and blog, I came across this marvelous article that explains why acting and theatre are so vital. Speakers often tell their stories and too often in the same words and manner that they’ve told the same so many times, simply inserting the profession or group’s name to whom they are speaking.

(Confession: I was, years ago, honored by the National Speakers Association (NSA) as a “planner partner,” an honor of which I am proud. Still, I find many “motivational speakers” to be ho-hum, delivering stories of hardship suffered and overcome that make me feel guilty on days I just don’t want to get out of bed.

It’s not all speakers—some do an outstanding job of telling their stories to suit the particular audience to which they’ve delivered—it’s just too many who could deliver a story as if they were part of a stage production and don’t).

Even TED Talks, which I learned are rehearsed and rehearsed, sometimes feel so stiff that, though I’ve only experienced them virtually, seem almost as if delivered by robots.

TED Talks, like the old model of “talk shows,” once very popular in changing how content was delivered at meetings, have become the “go to” model in our industry and others for supposed different delivery. The mechanical performances feel less improvisational than if someone in a theatre production forgot their lines and filled in with spontaneity that made the audience feel delight … and relief.

Then there’s this decry: if you have ever watched The Rachel Maddow Show [take her political POV out of the equation if it is not yours; look only at delivery], you know that Rachel talks, right at the camera often reading from words that are shown on the screen.

The graphics used are often documents out of which words are highlighted. She’s doing what most decry: in essence, reading her slides!

What is it then that draws so many to TED Talks? To Rachel Maddow whose show has been judged to be more popular today than ever in this acknowledgement from Forbes?

It must be the manner in which stories are delivered—with passion, in many cases with Maddow; with comfort when the TED Talks are not so rehearsed that there is nothing spontaneous in the delivery.

Duration: Theatre productions are of many lengths, some performed without intermission. Indecent, which was performed this past fall 2018 at D.C.’s Arena Stage, was a shorter, no-intermission play. It was riveting in words, story, set, music and acting.

In one of two accompanying articles within the Friday With Joan newsletter, you’ll see a comment from LeAnne Grillo about getting out of the head and into the heart.

Indecent was in both my heart and head. I longed, as I do after some conference sessions, to carry on the conversation and not rush off to something else.

At meetings, we often don’t allow time for reflection after sessions—either quiet personal reflection as one would do with Open Space, if you were the only person interested in the topic or in conversation with others after sessions.

So rushed are we to move to a bio- or food break or another session (woe unto those who attend conferences with back-to-back-to-back activities and nary a minute between activities) that reflection or conversations about what we’ve experienced or learned are either hurried or non-existent, limiting the staying power of the learning.

Some plays and musicals are 2 to 3 hours in length, sometimes with an intermission of 15 minutes. And for some that’s too long to sit; for me, when I’m engaged, it is perfect and with an intermission and an opportunity to chat with others, even better.

Why then are meetings cutting session length, even to 15 or fewer minutes?

I know it’s difficult to vary the length of sessions although I think if we provided guidance for participants about how to reflect and consider what they’ve learned versus running off to yet another activity, perhaps we could do better with the duration and delivery of sessions and the use of what was learned and its retention.

I asked Daniel Mayer, currently the executive director of The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, North Carolina who has worked at a number of arts organizations and theaters including Book-It Repertory Theatre and The Empty Space Theatre, both in Seattle, what he saw as the elements of theatre that are not now being incorporated into meetings and why.

(Mayer is also someone who has attended many meetings in his professional life).

Dan responded: “I think that theater is very conscious of something called ‘the fourth wall,’ the space between the stage and the audience and there is an engagement in a performance that is missing in meetings. There is never a moment that you ‘get lost’ in a meeting … unless you fall asleep and dream of something more interesting than the meeting.

Both meetings and theater can engage but theater creates a world and invites you to enter that world; meetings are more static than that.

I understand that there are meetings that are exceptions to the rule (and there is plenty of theater that is boring) but the definition of success for a meeting and for theater can be very different. And, the answer is not for facilitators to be theatrical…”

Experiential or Experience? Making Meetings ‘Sing’

You’ve heard talk of experiential learning or experiences for people to have at meetings and in general. Even hotels are being designed to be “experiential.

I asked colleague, Jeffrey Cufaude of Idea Architects, to help me understand the difference between experiential learning and experiences.

“If you asked this question to 10 meeting planners, I am fairly confident you would receive a wide range of answers given the lack of clarity with which the term is applied,” Cufaude said. “A common thread among their responses would likely be [something similar to the differences between being] ‘hands-on or interactive.’

“That’s fine, but achieving better results requires a more precise use of the term, one that specifies a deeper intention that can shape the meeting or session design,” he added.

Here are three desirable possibilities to better engage participants:

1. First, think about David Kolb’s experiential learning framework.

In it learners:

  1. have a concrete experience;
  2. observe and reflect on their (and others’) involvement;
  3. form some generalizations and hypotheses based on the experience;
  4. and then experiment and test them in new settings.

Meeting designers and session presenters can include interactive elements that move participants through this cycle.

2. Using deeply experiential formats that involve little formal presentation such as simulations, team exercises such as a ropes course, mock trials or debates, or case studies with role plays.

In such highly experiential formats, the learning comes from the doing, and it is surfaced and cemented in reflection, debriefing and discussion after the experience:

  • What just happened?
  • What might it mean?
  • How, when and where might you apply these insights?

3. Attending more to the overall experience design as explored by B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore in their book The Experience Economy: Work is Theater and Every Business a Stage.

After identifying core values or attributes they want associated with their conference, meeting designers would do a deep dive into identifying how to infuse them into every choice made for every element of the meeting experience. I often frame this as “clarifying the macro intention that should inform micro attention and choices.”

[See Ken Fischer’s example in one of two accompanying Friday With Joan newsletter articles that provides guidelines for creating a theatrical experience].

I also asked Jeffrey what makes a session “interactive” and/or “engaging”?

He responded: “Simply put, an interactive session intentionally shifts participants from passive consumers of the content and community to active participants in their co-creation.

“Speakers move from talking at participants and presenting information to facilitating learning through use of session elements that effectively blend their ideas and insights with participants’ knowledge and experiences,” Cufaude said.

“A common mistake is to equate interaction or engagement with verbal participation,” he added. “Smart presenters diversify their teaching techniques and learning formats to engage both introverted and extroverted learners, helping deepen and enrich participants’ interactions with themselves, the content and the session community.

“I wrote about these considerations in a three-part blog series starting with You Need to Make Your Presentation Interactive,” Cufaude said.

“Many variables influence what interaction and engagement elements to incorporate, including: content suitability; general participant preferences; session length, scheduling, and room set; number of participants; and presenter competence and confidence.

“Conference designers should help presenters become better facilitators of learning overall, as well as provide coaches who can help them adapt their specific session content and formats,” he concluded.

Experiential or Experience Part II: It’s All About Feeling

At this point after emails and conversations and reading, I felt in need of a psychotherapist and a couch to sort this all out!

Instead I turned to Cricket Park (aka The Rev. C.B. Park, Rector of The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Bethesda, Maryland, a former association executive and meeting professional best known for her expertise on the ADA).

Her background in meetings, associations, creating engaging religious services, tap dance, and a love of theatre, I knew would help in my journey to differentiate experiential and experience.

The common element, she said, was that the experiences that made a difference were the ones that were felt.

In this article from Psychology Today titled “Live Theater: Do We Need It?” it says “Live theater is thus a way of being together that nourishes in each individual the resilience, the hope, the joy, the courage, the focus, and the determination that we each need in order to keep creating the worlds in which we want to live—on stage and off.”

Isn’t that what we want from a meeting?

Isn’t this what we want as a result of attending meetings and conferences?

How will we achieve it? How will we bring our partners, including hotels, convention centers, even conference centers; AV providers; speakers; everyone who touches a meeting—including those who attend—along on this journey to better meetings?

6 Suggested Actions to Help Add Elements of Theatre to Your Meeting:

1. Pay attention to what you see, experience, and feel when you attend a live theatre event or concert. If you don’t usually attend theatre, find a local production and go. Think of it as being a “first-timer” at a meeting. Make notes of the experience.

2. From that experience, consider what elements could enhance your meetings and how you can use them.

3. Talk with those who plan the content and delivery for your meetings—trainers, executives, planning committees—and those who service and support your meetings.

Ask them what they gain from a live non-meeting event. Then discover together what you can incorporate into your meetings to heighten the experiences.

4. Observe audiences at theatres (movies too) and concerts and at your meetings. See where you can, as noted in the Psychology Today article referenced above, nourish each individual at your meetings.

5. Once you decide to make changes—perhaps using theatre-in-the-round seating or involving the participants in smaller group problem solving—explain to those attending why and how to take advantage of the changes.

With guidance, we can ensure that audiences will accept how we move changes along.

6. Reread this blog from 2016 with some additional ideas to change up your next meeting. Subscribe to Jeffrey Cufaude’s Idea Architects blog to gain even more insights.

To close out this blog post: My thanks to the following people, in no particular order, who provided input for this blog post and newsletter.

Even if I didn’t use your words, you informed me with your thinking about what you felt and learned from theatre, concerts, and from meetings:

Jeffrey Cufaude, Charlotte St. Martin, Harold Marcus, Laura Daigle Porter, Gail Mutnik, LeAnne Grillo, Quiana Tyson, Tim Barrett, Allison Dossett, Deborah Breiter Terry, Steven Marchese, Niesa Silzer, Staci Blue, Shannon Henson, Jon Trask, Annette Suriani.

If I forgot to add your name, it was my error. I read every single response with respect and interest and am grateful for your input.

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

Related Reading From the January 2019 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 01.04.19 Friday With Joan newsletter.

3 Professional Development Obstacles (And Ways to Work Around Them)

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

In June 2018, I had the privilege of going to Duke University to speak at the Duke Special Events Planner Council’s Education Day. Those in attendance included people who plan meetings and events across the Duke system—for the medical and law schools, museums, hospitals and more.

Accompanying all of the planners in attendance at the event were local vendors who were showing their wares as well as learning with the planners. I so appreciated their participation in the education!

I had been asked to present a program on professional development. I began with this wonderful quote from the late author, Doris Lessing: “That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way.”

As they arrived that morning each person was given a box of crayons. To set up the day, I had asked that Sunni Brown’s TED Talk on doodling and learning be viewed ahead of time. My initial gift was that of permission to doodle and thus retain more of what was learned.

As I began, after lunch, I asked those in attendance to reflect on what they had learned so far and what they hoped to get out of the afternoon. It was gratifying to hear that both the Sunni Brown video and the programs that morning had made an impression. And, as I do, especially for after lunch programs, I brought Peppermint Smencils™ to wake up brains and spinners on which it is printed “more than brain surgery.”

The messages were to ensure that a) you need to continue to stimulate your brain and b) what we do is more than brain surgery!

What I talked about there stimulated the thinking for this blog. There are so many professional development needs and so many obstacles that we face:

  1. Time – There’s never enough time to keep up on “real” work and continuing education. Although professional development should be considered a regular part of each day by one’s employer, we know that’s not the case, especially when there are deadlines.
  2. Resources – Even though we have access to the world via the internet, there are competing priorities and the time it may take to find those resources can be a hardship. In many cases, budgets (personal and academic or company/employer) may not support professional development. Attending conferences is expensive*.
  3. “Circuit” Overload – Although we may make time and have resources, we all have other obligations; all of us are overloaded. Keeping up, let alone getting ahead, is not easy.

*[The Duke Planners are fortunate to have colleagues who care enough to continue to find and present ways for them to meet and learn].

And still I think that we can do better. I suggested then these action steps to help overcome the professional development obstacles and offer them to all reading this:

  • Make time to learn.
  • Ask more questions, request resources.
  • Lurk or participate in online groups and activities.
  • Take an improv class to open yourself up to new avenues of thinking!
  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Pat yourself and each other on the back.

Among the resources I provided were two great local-to-Duke ones: Daniel Mayer at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, N.C.—a place of wonderful programs and art to stimulate brains a la Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind” (see resources on the accompanying portion of the newsletter), and inviting Gentleman Cartoonist Keith Knight of the Keef Chronicles and (th)ink™, located near Duke, as a guest speaker to talk about the intersection of art, policy and social justice. In each of our communities—and accessible online—are so many resources we forget can help us think differently.

(Both Dan, a long-time friend, and Keith, a friend of newer acquaintance, and I had dinner together while I was in Durham. Stimulating conversation and superb food and ambience and service at Gocciolina where we each paid our own checks. The conversation was stimulating and far-ranging. It in itself was education!).

So why this blog and the not usual interview sidebar to the blog? It’s summer.

It’s a time when many say they are going to read more. Magazines and books suggest “summer” or “beach” reading. Not all of us get that opportunity.

So I offer some reading and viewing suggestions to help you think, make you laugh and to help you achieve professional development, despite the obstacles.

I welcome your input below or on the reading suggestions page, or if you’d prefer to email me directly for my eyes only or for me to post anonymously, do so to FridayWithJoan@aol.com.

Good reading and thinking!

9 Universal Truths About Our Industry

Originally posted on Meetings Today Blog.  Sidebar refers to that publication

Universal Truth 1: “Der mentsh trakht un got lakht.”

This Yiddish saying is widely translated as “Man plans and God laughs,” or further considered to mean, “Humans plan and the universe laughs.” Sounds like a universal truth about what we do for a living as meeting and event planners, doesn’t it?!

Most of us in the meetings industry consider ourselves to be so detail-oriented and precise. How could anything ever go wrong after countless hours of preparation, right?

I’ve always wondered about the influence of the universe on meetings and events. I mean, really—what about the storms that pop up when you’ve planned the perfect outdoor event? Or the client who, after you’ve done so much work on selecting a site for their meeting, changes the whole program? And I wonder if there are “universal truths” for what we do in an industry* we all refer to differently.

First, I had to gain a better understanding of what a “universal truth” is.

Truth is considered to be universal if it is valid in all times and places. In this case, it is seen as eternal or as absolute. The relativist conception denies the existence of some or all universal truths, particularly ethical ones (through moral relativism).”

— Quoted from the “Universality (philosophy)” Wikipedia entry.

My reading about “universal truths” was extensive and you, I hope, will search more and consider what the term means for and to you and in your life. Through this blog, I’ll share my personal and professional universal truths; in this month’s Friday With Joan sidebar, you’ll read how many more “universal truths”—from here, often abbreviated “UT”—there may be for our industry, including what our industry is called*!

For most Friday With Joan newsletters, interviewing others is pure delight. Especially for this one, interviewing many of whom I’ve known and learned from and with for many years, gaining their perspectives of our UTs from a broad industry* was even more eye-opening, and allows us all to see possibilities that might not have occurred to us before.

This interview provides background and thoughts that you might not have known about me and may be of interest whether you’ve been in the industry for years, are new to the industry or are just starting to consider it.

Q1Why write this now?

Joan’s (JE’s) response: If you’re reading this on May 5, 2017, publication day, I’m just days away from a “major” (to me) birthday … which means either a “0”, a “5” or a “9”. With this blog post and a Friday With Joan newsletter coinciding with the occasion, and knowing I’ve lived certainly more than half my life and that of that life, more than 45 years have been spent in the meetings industry*, the editors and I thought a bit of Q&A, with sources unidentified, would make for a fun sidebar—if you can put names to each of the categories and send to me, I’ll award a prize for whomever gets them all right or at least the highest percentage overall!—and here with me might show the diversity of paths as a guideline to others.

More, I see our broad industry changing in many ways, such as with the growing belief that technology will solve all of our problems. Tech advancements impact everything from how we communicate and meet to the ways we deliver information, allowing connections we never imagined, except for in our “Buck Rogers-admiration days.”

Instead of paying travel costs for our speakers or to better accommodate conflicts in schedule, we might choose to bring them in via hologram. And it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to think that robots might one day staff the front desks at most, if not all, major hotels, resulting in the loss of an important entry-level role in hospitality. See the sidebar for more on the importance of the front desk to many careers.

Despite all of these “advancements” in hospitality and meetings, there are still a number of UTs that I believe will continue to hold true in our industry, regardless of technology.

Q2: In considering what a UT might be, it occurred the reasons given to the question “Why do you want to be a meeting planner?” might contain an answer. What is said and has been for years among those asked: “I love people. I’m great at details. I love to travel.” Are those then the universal truths of our industry?

JE2: I didn’t want to be a meeting planner and I tend to be uncomfortable in large groups of people. I’m good at word details but not all meeting details (I can do it but don’t love it), and travel? Feh! Born in Dayton, Ohio, to working-class and working outside-the-home-parents (now both of blessed memory) and into a neighborhood first economically and religiously diverse, and later, partly through my parents’ efforts, racially diverse, I am the proud product of public schools. A curious child who loved to read, an empathetic child and teen who wanted to fix the world, the options that I thought were open to me professionally were teacher, nurse, secretary, wife and mom.

Pictured below: One of my favorite pictures of myself back in the early days.

Q3: What do you think set you on the path—or destiny—to meetings and events?

JE3: I first organized events in the ’50s, creating street fairs to raise money for polio research when a neighbor, one of us who were in the test group for polio vaccines, contracted the disease. In high school, my activities included YWCA Y-Teens and statewide conferences of other young women, and the Dayton Junior Human Resource Council.

Later, stints as a volunteer for public television, where I was responsible for coordinating solicitation of items for on-air auctions, and at an art museum where we held museum-wide visual and performance art events, clearly put me on this still-unknown-to-me path.

Q4: What about formal education after high school?

JE4: It was expected I would go to college. I applied to only two schools. Accepted at both, I chose Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, because (beloved to this day!) James Payne, my high school speech teacher recommended it. He wanted me to go into theatre and Drake had a great drama department. Financially it was impossible: I typed papers and did others’ laundry to earn money to pay tuition. More, educationally, at Colonel White High School in Dayton, I’d been spoiled by Mr. Payne in speech who pushed me to be a better teacher and trainer; by Lenore Clippinger (now of blessed memory) who allowed me and others to sit on the floor of her English Literature class—my first exposure to learning in a different setting; to the still amazing and beloved Civics teacher, Stanley Blum, who put our chairs in a circle in class and invited us to his home to talk about current events; and to the artist, Bing Davis who allowed me to sit in his art room instead of the boring-row-on-row study halls. I thought college learning would be interactive and involving, experiential … not memorizing facts to spit back for tests.

It was not a good fit. I quickly learned that I was a life-long learner—that my curiosity and love of reading would ensure I was educated more if it were not in a school setting.

I learned later, of course, that meetings were one more form of “classroom” setting and decided I’d work to change those settings. For his work in this area, I’m grateful forever to Paul Radde, PhD, for his research and the book “Seating Matters”.

Universal Truth 2: The influences of your day-to-day life will give you clues about your passions and how you can use them.

Q5: Then what?

JE5: I moved back to Dayton to work at the local newspaper in advertising, at my old elementary school as a teacher’s aide, and volunteering for a nationwide organization as a spokesperson for optional parenthood on radio and TV and in organizing conferences with the likes of Hugh Downs, Isaac Asimov, Stewart Mott, Ellen Peck and others as guests. Exposed to a bigger world, I decided to leave Dayton and move to D.C. after just one visit to our nation’s capital. I’d interviewed for and didn’t get a job as a volunteer coordinator prior to moving. I moved to D.C. July 1, 1978, with no job and no apartment but a place to stay for a short period of time.

While interviewing for jobs (hearing “you have too much experience” for this entry level position; “you have too little experience” for this senior level position) I volunteered at the association at which I wasn’t hired. I spent time in the newly designed by I.M. Pei [who just celebrated his 100th birthday] East Wing of the National Gallery to cool off and to, just as I did in Bing Davis’ class, gain inspiration from art.

One day, the executive director at the association where I’d not been hired as a volunteer coordinator, called me in and suggested I was a “meeting planner,” a term I’d never heard, and offered me an opportunity to help them design and execute their 10th anniversary with an expanded annual meeting. I said yes.

Universal Truth 3: Read and learn. Resting on one’s educational laurels is not enough especially in a world and an industry* that changes and is changed minute by minute by internal and external factors.

Universal Truth 4: Listen to what others see in you. They are often right and will provide opportunities.

I eagerly embraced this opportunity and discovered, through a colleague from earlier volunteer experiences, the existence of MPI—then “Meeting Planners International,” oddly headquartered in Ohio just miles from where I’d left for D.C.

At my second Chapter [PMPI] meeting, me, a strong MBTI Introvert (an INFP), hugged the walls until the late and dear, Bill Myles, chair of the membership committee greeted me with “Hi! You’re new here. Want to join my committee?”

Universal Truth 5: Say yes to opportunities to volunteer to expand your network of people, ideas and learning. Take advantage of all that there is in the industry and your community to do to meet and expand skills in a safe environment.

During the next years, I joined other committees, was elected to the Chapter Board, to the Chapter Presidency, to the International Board and became involved in PCMA and GWSAE (once our local affiliate of ASAE).

Yes, it was hard work. Remember: this was still when we used typewriters, telephones and answering machines! (Isn’t it fun to make oneself sound ancient?!).

Oh, and I started my own consulting company in 1981, in the corner of my studio apartment, with an IBM Self-Correcting Selectric Typewriter, a filing cabinet, desk, phone and answering machine.

Universal Truth 6: If you come from an entrepreneurial family, which I did, or seek out entrepreneurs, learn from them and their experiences.

Understand how you work best—with others or alone? Collaboratively sometimes and at other times, quietly alone? Being a consultant—the term “independent planner” is still used by some; “third party planner” by others but not a term I favor—and working on one’s own is not for everyone. And it’s not necessarily the answer to what to do between jobs.

It should be a commitment to you and your clients.

I have always worked hard at learning more and becoming stronger in specific areas. As an example—in 1984, a client, my company, and I, individually, were sued because the client canceled a meeting. During this experience, I learned more (thank you, Jeff King, Esq., at the time the attorney for the CLC now EIC) about legal issues. That led to opportunities to testify in the industry as an expert witness which I continue to do.

Universal Truth 7: Our industry and the contractual issues with which we deal are complex. It is best to learn more and have an attorney on call to assist. This truth is not going away.

Q6: We know you as a trainer/teacher/writer/mentor as well as consultant. How did that happen?

JE6: Opportunities presented themselves to write, teach, facilitate process, and work in ways that I never considered when I first fell into—or was predestined to be in—this industry*. With each opportunity came a fast-beating heart and uncertainty that I could really do what was asked. I’m not sure what drove me though as I look at my Strengths, I think they show clearly who I am and why I do what I do. Were it not for Bob Dolibois, Tony Rutiggliano, and Dave McCann, Tyler Davidson, Mary Parish, and Eric Andersen, I’m not sure I’d have moved so deeply into the areas that clearly fit me. Thank you all.

Q7: You’ve been recognized by many with awards and other honors. Did that propel you to keep doing more?

JE7: I’m smiling—one of my first national honors was from MPI as “Planner of the Year.” On the night I received that, an industry veteran came over to me and said “Well, I guess you won’t volunteer more now that you’ve gotten the honor” implying I did what I did for recognition. Nope, that was in 1990 and 27 years later, I’ve not stopped!

The honors have been appreciated—CIC (now EIC) inducted me into the Hall of Leaders; PCMA as Teacher of the Year and, much later, PCMA’s Foundation recognized me for lifetime achievement recognition as an educator, to date the only non- full-time academic to be so honored. The International Association of Conference Centers (IACC) honored me twice—first with the Pyramid Award for contributions to education and then with the Mel Hosansky Award, an honor I treasure because Mel was such a mensch and great industry writer and publisher. And HSMAI included me in the first class—with Jim Daggett, Keith Sexton-Patrick, and the late and wonderful, Doris Sklar of Pacesetters. There have been others and yet, I don’t work for honors. I work because I believe in ability to bring people together to solve problems, learn and enhance their lives.

Universal Truth 8: If you volunteer only for resume credit or a potential honor, think again. Consider what you can contribute back to strengthen our industry and how we are seen and what meetings do to strengthen the world.

Q8: So now what? You’re at an age when many—in other fields—retire. In fact, a friend of yours, a CPA, was required by what was once one of the “Big 8” accounting firms to retire at 62. Why haven’t you and will you soon?

JE8: Oh there are days on which I’d like to “retire”—to read and discuss what others are reading; to stay in bed a bit later and not have deadlines for contracts and presentations; to not travel with all the ensuing hassles now that I have some health issues that make it all a bit harder. But why retire when there is still so much to do in this industry and the world? Why retire until we stop setting chairs in straight rows and while there are still all male panels at industry events? Why retire when there are laws (like in North Carolina, Texas, and elsewhere) that impact the rights of those who come to meetings and work in our industry and communities? When climate change must be fought because some of our favorite cities for meetings are sinking?

As I looked at those who I randomly chose to interview for the sidebar, I was surprised at the ages and the lack of full retirement of only a few, even the oldest who is nearly 90! We need history to not repeat and we need future thinking to move us ahead. Perhaps, then…

Universal Truth 9: Together we can change the world through gatherings of people and to do so we must have those who are committed to coordinating the content, technology, venues, and all aspects of those gatherings be they meetings, marches, rallies, special events, tradeshows, or just a meeting of two over coffee.

*You’ll see that some call this the “hospitality industry,” others “the meetings industry,” and depending on the segment in which they work, tradeshows or exhibitions.  My preference is “meetings and hospitality” because that’s where I am and what’s understood. I wonder if we need a new term that encompasses some universal truths!

What’s your Universal Truth about your work and our industry?

Click here to view additional content in the 05.05.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.

 

Meetings in the Clouds

Originally posted Meeting Today Blog

Meetings in the Clouds

I love clouds. The different formations, how they cast shadows and make it cooler to be outside on a hot summer day. I love how they look when a storm is approaching, though I confess to preferring that on the ground rather than when in the air!

“Slowing down to appreciate clouds enriched his life and sharpened his ability to appreciate other pockets of beauty hiding in plain sight,” wrote Jon Mooallem in a May 4 New York Times Magazine article titled “Head in the Clouds.”

I suggest you take the time to read the article about Gavin Pretor-Pinney’s decision to take a sabbatical after feeling burnt out at work (he ran a graphic design business and edited a magazine called The Idler), and how he developed a fascination for clouds and formed the Cloud Appreciation Society. If you make it to the final section of the article, you will learn about the first major conference for the group, held on the Cloud Appreciation Society’s 10th Anniversary.

Oh wait, did you think “cloud” in the title was to do with the digital cloud? Where we store our data? And perhaps I’d write about how we could hold meetings in those clouds?

Naw. In the blog accompanying the August 2016 Friday with Joan newsletter (all about hotel contracts) I said it was August and yet, I was going to make you think. This may do that but what I really hope it does is help you become more observant and to see that meetings can be oh-so-different and about, well, clouds and observation.

Before you read on, I suggest you click here and listen to Judi Collins.

Reading about this one day cloud conference reminded me of the film “Wordplay” (IMDB info and video) about the Will Shortz crossword puzzle tournament. While watching “Wordplay” (more than once), I realized how complicated we sometimes make meetings when this—a crossword puzzle tournament—was so simple and joyful.

OK, maybe not the same kind of joyful as for those who seriously competed in the competition until they won! Both gatherings (cloud and crossword) seemed to be about what we know people want from most meetings: connections with others with the same or similar interests.

Watching the “Wordplay” film, I remember the marvel of the evening talent shows. I wondered why, at industry events and other meetings, rather than producing over-the-top, overly expensive receptions with inaccessible food and way-too abundant alcohol and noise, can’t we simply enjoy what we say we are there for, which in most cases its “networking” and is really peer-to-peer interaction. If that was the goal, why don’t we hold simpler events like these?

The science geek in me loved learning about clouds and seeing the exquisite photographs in the The New York Times Magazine article. I loved reading about the one day conference, Escape to the Cloudsnamed and executed in a way that could only cause one to gasp at the wonder of it all. “The program … was a little highbrow but fun”; they gave away “artisanal Cloud-Nine Marshmallows” in gift bags. And they worried about the environment of the meeting as we do: “…the London sky was impeccably blue. Not a single cloud. It was terrible.”

About Lisa Knapp singing the song most associated with Judi Collins (linked above), the author wrote: “The performance moved me. But it was more than that, and weirder. Maybe, somewhere in this story about clouds and cloud lovers, I’d found a compelling argument for staying open to varieties of beauty that we can’t quite categorize and, by extension, for respecting the human capacity to feel, as much as our ability to scrutinize the sources of those feelings.”

Isn’t that the reason why we go to meetings? To be “awed” and enchanted? To leave feeling better than when we arrived? Maybe we can learn something from this very simple gathering that was about … clouds.

Read of the Month – Frank: A Life in Politics

Originally published Meetings Today

When it debuted, I didn’t see Schoolhouse Rock’s How a Bill Becomes a Law. And this great site was not yet available.

It was through direct experience that I learned about government. From civics classes in a public Ohio high school to my own reading. Through all my work in an association and as a consultant to many organizations, my professional activities and colleagues, I learned more about how the U.S. government operates. And I do still read and watch the news!

But nothing was like reading Frank: A Life in Politics From The Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage, Frank_BookCovera book that is instructive, funny, amusing and downright smart.

Okay, wait a second before you accuse me of being partisan and liking it for the political party of the author, former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank. It helps that I had met Barney Frank once and found his personality at once abrasive and warm. And my political activism warmed to the subjects for which he fought.

But what I really learned is the inside view of the complicated process of governing and the importance of forming alliances “across the aisle,” of building networks of people in and outside government, and how to manage the process. That for me spoke volumes to what I blogged about in my last Friday With Joan e-newsletter. Barney Frank had strong support from Republicans as well as Democrats during his career, in politics in Massachusetts, and in Washington, where former Sen. Alan Simpson, a Republican, was one of his greatest allies.

I knew that Barney Frank was a well-respected lawmaker, especially for his knowledge of Robert’s Rules of Order, the Constitution and the rules of the House of Representatives. I remember when, after hearing he was going to retire, feeling there would be void in the House.

In his book he says, “My sense of humor, which I am glad to have, and which I cannot think of anything I did to earn, was also a great polemical weapon. The force of an argument is greatly magnified when it can be phrased as a quip. …When Reagan paired his opposition to abortion with a budget cut for funds for pregnant women and poor children, I jibed that he ‘apparently believes that from the standpoint of the federal government, life beings at conception and ends at birth.’ …a leader of an anti-abortion drive in the House even cited it in support of better funding for mothers and children.” I take life so seriously and literally that I envy Mr. Frank’s sense of humor and easy quip. He’s a natural at improve(isation) … and I guess I need more classes with meetings industry improvisation facilitator Izzy Gesell to get it right!

The book is worth reading and pairing with this week’s blog because our industry really hasn’t found its voice or a way to fuel passion among those who work on the planning side of the industry. [Note: The unions have organized in many segments—F&B, airline mechanics, flight attendants and pilots, housekeepers—of our industry. We planners and sales and convention services people haven’t yet individually (much) and certainly not collectively, shown Congress and the public why meetings are of such great value.]

“In matters pertaining to finance, the real power to influence Congress rests not with the big banks but with a group of organized interests with genuine grassroots memberships throughout the country.” (emphasis mine)

What Barney Frank wrote about was what grassroots campaigns have done for movements and people. There are lots of other examples:

  • Donald Trump’s Super Fans.
  • The Tea Party movement.
  • Many more examples exist, “right” and “left” viewpoints on civil rights, and especially this one, abrochure from the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, where information—like the history we are missing in our industry—is laid out.

Even if you are staunchly anti-Democrat or staunchly-anti Barney Frank, read the book anyway. The lessons that we can apply in our own industry to make meetings really matter are too great to miss.

If you haven’t read it yet, check out my blog post on standing up for our industry.

Q&A with Roger Dow and Roger Rickard

Originally published at Meetings Today

I recently interviewed Roger Dow and Roger Rickard on industry advocacy.


My thanks to both for taking time to respond to my questions. Their answers have been lightly edited.

Roger Dow: President & CEO, U.S. Travel Association. For many years, Roger was with Marriott and has served on many boards for industry associations.

Roger Rickard: Founder, Voices In Advocacy, where he works with organizations who want to create more influence, drive engagement and avoid costly mistakes through advocacy.

Joan Eisenstodt (EQ): Both of you have been at this thing to get our industry recognized—in a good way!—by Congress and others, for a long time. What got you started?

Roger Rickard (RR): My professional life has evolved around two areas of interest. One, being in the meetings/tourism/hospitality industry. The second is my love for advocacy. Focusing on advocacy: I have been an advocate for citizen involvement since the age of 13. I ran for public office at 18, was elected twice as a young man, later served as a legislative staffer in the Pennsylvania Senate, and have worked on many local, regional and state political campaigns as well as numerous presidential campaigns.

My two areas of interest came together in the early 1990s when there was a meetings and events boycott in Arizona over statements made by the governor regarding the Martin Luther King holiday. I quickly learned that the meetings industry was not prepared for such direct backlash over political events that had nothing directly to do with actions within the meetings industry. We in Arizona learned the hard way. While everyone blamed the boycott on the governor (and rightly so), I began to think that it’s not only shame on the governor, it’s shame on us (the meetings industry) for not being prepared to tell and sell our story of the value of meetings. From this time forward I have fought to educate and engage all stakeholders, whether they are elected officials, media, business, and importantly internal meetings industry stakeholders, as to the values meetings drive in shaping and changing society. The meetings industry has too often found itself used as a political pawn and we must work hard to not let this happen over and over again.

Roger Dow (RD):  When I joined U.S. Travel in 2005 (It was TIA, Travel Industry Association, at the time), I asked our research team to tell me how much inbound international travel to the U.S. had grown over the past decade compared to the rest of the world.

I was stunned to learn that inbound travel to the U.S. had only increased by a scant 1.5 percent (450,000 travelers), while the rest of the world had increased inbound long-haul travel by 40 percent (50 million travelers). We had lost a whopping 37 percent of our global country-to-country market share.

I couldn’t believe this, yet as I made the rounds to introduce myself to our elected officials, I was greeted by “Ho-hum–guess that’s the way it is.” I realized that our industry was not seen as a serious contributor to the nation’s economy and employment, leading me to begin calling our industry the “Rodney Dangerfield of industries.”

Then, in late fall 2008, the media began vilifying financial institutions who had received TARP, as a result of the financial crisis, for holding meetings. The media piled on, as did members of Congress, followed by newly elected President Obama, saying in February 2009 at a town hall meeting, “You can’t go to Las Vegas or the Super Bowl on the taxpayers’ dime.”

We formed the Meetings Mean Business Coalition, made up of the “alphabet soup” meetings industry associations, to fight back. Again, the tremendous loss of business–$2 billion in cancellations in January/February 2009–was virtually a non-event to our elected officials. They and the media took joy in attacking meetings as frivolous and wastes of money.

I would say these two happenings really got us started and fueled our industry to come together with one voice.

EQ: I remember when I served on Convention Liaison Council’s (CLC) Board as an MPI delegate, learning why the CIC (Convention Industry Council) was formed. I fear too many in the industry don’t know the history! What were the earliest efforts by CLC (now CIC) in the early ‘50s, after they were founded in ’49, that helped get the industry known as a, well, as an industry, and our impact for individuals?

RR: I can’t speak for the CIC. Regarding the early efforts of the CIC, I was not involved back then, thus I can’t speak to that as well. However, in my opinion, everything CIC does has at its core, advocacy. Advocacy is defined as public support or recommendation of a particular cause or policy. CIC supports the causes of meeting professionals in everything it does.

CIC has an AdvocacyHub where members of the meetings industry can register to get updates on issues that affect the industry, as well as calls to action when action is needed. Readers can register with the AdvocacyHub.

CIC is assisting the Meetings Mean Business Coalition again this year by managing the logistics of the Global Meeting Industry Day, which will be held Thursday, April 14, 2016. GMID is the natural growth of the North American Meetings Industry Day, which was a huge success [in 2015]. This event is dedicated to defining and shaping the meetings and events profession for the future, raising the industry’s profile and discussing the economic impact of meetings with people outside the industry, who are impacted by it every day.

EQ: I’ve been involved in grassroots campaigns from the time I was a little girl in the ‘50s and continue to be. What can our industry borrow from various movements?

RR: Coalesce, engage, educate, activate and influence. We need to continue to unite the meetings industry. The Meetings Mean Business Coalition has done a great job of bringing all the major parties to the table to work together to grow the influence of the industry. We need to engage all stakeholders, but most importantly we need to engage the very people we are trying to support, the people who earn a living in the meetings and event industry. We need to educate so that the message of the many values of meetings are heard. We need to activate supporters to stand up and speak out. All of these activities will help the industry achieve the impact necessary to influence elected officials, media and businesses. The grassroots of this industry need to participate. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead.

RD: We have to have our facts, based on data to demonstrate that there is a “problem.” We have to communicate in a way that rallies many and gets them engaged to take action. We have to provide tool kits and talking points to give constituents a way to share the message.

We can learn from other movements that are able to state a problem in a concise/clear way that makes those involved say, “This is a real problem and I’ve got to help do something about it.”

Successful movements identify spokespeople, tell their story in multiple media and feedback small successes to their constituents to motivate them to act and believe that they are making a difference.

EQ: Why is it that those of us who work in the industry still have a hell of a time getting our families to understand what it is we do?

RR: This is the greatest mystery to me. If we can’t get the people who know, love and understand us the most to understand what we do, how are we ever going to get others to understand? Meeting professionals deliver the strategic messages and core objectives for their organization. They manage how people receive these messages through the vehicles of meetings and events. When asked “What do you do?” why not begin by saying, “I manage the delivery of our organizations strategic messages and core objectives.” Then explain that it’s through meetings and events. If you ask a doctor what she does, she doesn’t begin by explaining all the consultations and tests. She begins by saying, “I help people get better.”

RD: The industry is soooo big that it’s hard to define and a relatively small percentage of our non-meeting industry friends actually participate in meetings. So, we end up talking to ourselves and feel good about it, while the discussion doesn’t go far beyond our industry.  We haven’t found the words that concisely tell our story.  I think we should be saying that we are the industry that moves business forward, brings people together to solve big problems, aligns people and IS adult education.

EQ: Any last words on how to move the industry toward a grassroots organizing model?

RR: For long-term success in advocacy efforts it is incumbent upon us to grow a large and diverse grassroots model to engage and activate meeting professionals. There needs to be a greater interest among meeting professionals to become engaged. Currently, most people are not thinking about any advocacy challenges due to the fact that most are currently and successfully busy. But now is the time to build the army of meetings supporters for the day and time that the industry needs their voice. That day will come and we must prepare now.

RD: We have to tell our story in many ways in media beyond our “talking to ourselves” industry trade. We need to recruit spokespeople (CEOs) to share the benefits that occur when people come together face-to-face.

A Closing Note From Joan: If you haven’t read it yet, check out my blog post on standing up for our industry.

Is There Such a Thing as Work-Life Balance?

Originally published on Meetings Focus Blog

For all the years I’ve had my business (34 this past June), I’ve never worked fewer than 6 days a week. Oh sure, I’ve taken vacation days and some sick days, but generally, I work.

I come from a family like that: my paternal grandfather worked for one company for more than 60 years, retired and then got another job. He died on his lunch hour from that one.

My maternal great-grandfather founded a retail and wholesale poultry company in which all of us worked at one time which meant, for me, school five days a week, working after school and on weekends most days when I didn’t have extracurricular activities or wasn’t at the library.

Some of my cousins, in their 70s, still work at least part time. I’m not bragging or suggesting this is the best way to live. It’s an “is” in my life and my family’s history.

When people talk about “work-life balance” I don’t really understand, though. I mean, I hear what they say and I am guessing they mean they want to make/take more time for friends, family, activities that are not work related, exercise, play.

But what if work has those elements and it provides what is desired in life?

I have written about being a life-long learner which allows me to explore ideas alone and with others. I teach which gives me great joy in helping others learn and though it’s classified as work, it’s more than that because I too learn when teaching.

So when I read this article about work-life balance with insight from George Mason University researcher, Beth Cabrera, I was pretty excited to see that at least in one person’s view, I wasn’t totally off base! Cabrera basically says that finding a work-life balance is impossible, but you can work to better align your time with your goals. Yes, this is more specifically about women because of the (usually) added responsibilities at home. Can it apply to everyone?

Oh and I know that saying about “when you die would you say you wanted more hours at work?” to which you’re supposed to say no. And then again, what if there is joy in what you do and so you would actually want more hours?

Is there such a thing as work-life balance for you? Is there something for which you strive?

If you had it, what would work-life balance look like? Will the future of work—especially for those who work at home or telecommute—provide more or less “balance”? Is it different for men and for women? Does it differ by age and where one is in life’s journey? What do you think?

Site Selection: The Questions Continue

This article was originally published on Meeting Focus Blog.

In a recent blog on destination selection, I covered tips on what to look for in air and ground transportation and local activities were covered. In the April 30 webinar (scroll down to “On Demand” webinars and the one titled “Site Selection Best Practices”), destination and site safety and security (including destination infrastructure issues), labor conditions, sustainability (of people and the environment), CSR – corporate social responsibility, and accessibility for people with disabilities were discussed with tips about what to do when a group is seeking destinations and sites. (You can listen to the webinar at any time and send questions to me here as comments at the end of the blog.)

There are so many more considerations when selecting a site – some dependent on a group’s demographics, objectives, and program, and others more generic – that we want to present more to include in your RFP, your questions, and if possible, to see when you conduct a site inspection.

Guest Room Types and Locations

One of my favorite industry expressions: rooms described as having a “partial ocean view”! I’ve always thought those were the ones that, if one’s head and part of her or his body were stuck out a window turned to the side, you might see a bit of water! Knowing what you may be buying and what your meeting participants will receive is critical to the happiness of their stay and the success of the meeting even if participants are only in their rooms to sleep. Ask:

  • How many floors are in the hotel and on each floor, how many rooms? How many rooms have one bed and what type and how many have two beds and what type are those? Does the hotel own roll-away beds or cots (which) and how many for use for additional people per room? Asking the maximum number of people allowed per room is critical especially if your participants bring family members or if there is greater triple or quadruple occupancy.
  • Many hotels in the United States are non-smoking; don’t assume all are. Find out if there are any rooms in which smoking tobacco is allowed and how many there are, their location, and the ventilation system between floors if smoking is allowed. Ask for a full description of ADA-qualified rooms – if they have roll-in showers, different configurations for HVAC controls and controls to operate window treatments; if all ADA rooms are equipped with Deaf Kits or if those are separate, and how many ADA rooms have connectors.
  • Speaking of connecting rooms, it’s nice for those who want to be next to their children or a relative or friend. These are not so nice, because of lack of sound-proofing, for other guests. Find out how many connecting rooms exist and how informed the front desk is about room types to advise people when they check in.
  • That last bit of advice is also about distance from elevators. Some people want to be far away; others (like me) want to be closer for easy access. Distance, I’ve found is subjective! Ensure the front desk has maps and can show guests exactly where their rooms are and know if the room is a connector.
  • People with allergies want to be in rooms that are designated hypo-allergenic. That usually means there are no feather products and no scented amenities and the HVAC vents are cleaned more often than others, tho’ cleaning of vents is critical to everyone’s health. Determine how many are in the hotel or what can they do to make a room friendly for those with allergies and how much time it takes.

Guest Room Amenities  

Travelers take it for granted that guest rooms will have a flat screen TV, a “comfortable” (based on someone’s taste) bed, bathroom amenities of shampoo, soap and perhaps other items. Don’t assume it! Ask about those items and others:

  • Is there an in-room safe in each room? Is there a charge to use it and what is that charge? If there is a mini-bar and how is it operated? Is there a restocking charge if anything is used? If so, what is that charge and is there a service charge and tax applied to the cost of the item and restocking? Ask if the mini-bar refrigerator is a real refrigerator or a cooler: those who want to store their own food and/or medicine will need to know. And if refrigerators don’t come with the room, ask how many the hotel has and what the charge is to use them. (If you know many in your group need refrigerators ask how many the hotel can rent and if there is both a charge-back to the guest or group and a mark-up on that charge and the amounts.
  • We all want free Wi-Fi and as much as we want that, we want a good desk, with outlets above the floor and plenty of them. My favorite “amenity” are the bedside lamps with outlets in them – great at night for all kinds of devices – especially with my “outlet adder”.We also want an adjustable good desk chair. Many “lifestyle hotels” have cool and funky chairs at the desk or no desk at all. Consider your audience when looking at the business needs in a room.
  • Are there landline phones on the desk, bedside, and in the bathroom? Many hotels are eliminating one or more of those which can be inconvenient if one’s mobile device doesn’t work in the room or additional help is needed. Not everyone gives out their mobile number and in an emergency the hotel (and meeting planner) may need a method of reaching a guest. Ask too about the voice messaging system and if it’s accessible outside one’s guest room.
  • There are many people who do not travel with all the electronics that some of us expect they do. Ask about radios with or without a port for an MP3 player. Are there other electronics in the room for entertainment and/or business use? If a coffee maker is in the room, ask if coffee (tea? other beverage?) and condiments are complimentary, or if is there is a charge on the first use or on subsequent uses, and a restocking fee. If there are fees, what are those fees? Then there’s the ironing board and iron. Even we short people may have long clothing and some ironing boards are mini ones. Nothing more frustrating to learn that until after one is attempting to iron.

Guest Room Safety

There are some obvious areas that most planners consider when looking at guest room safety. Those include: internal or external (outside) access to guest rooms; location of exits, fire extinguishers, emergency exits. Many hotels have eliminated house phones in hallways or only have them near the elevators. Find out. If an emergency occurs near a guest’s room and one’s mobile device is not in hand, lack of house phones could add to the emergency.

Other areas to include in your questions:

  • Smoke and CO2 detectors in all guest rooms; in hallways
  • Audible or visual smoke detectors in ADA rooms; Deaf Kits for other rooms with those included
  • Sprinklers in all guest rooms; in hallways.
  • Fire extinguishers in hallways; how often tested
  • Automatic fire doors
  • Auto link to fire station
  • Auto recall elevators
  • Ventilated stairwells; stairwells with emergency lights
  • Visible emergency information in all guest rooms
  • Safety chain or bar on door and doors with viewports (“peep holes”)
  • Deadbolts on all guest room doors
  • Restricted access to guest floors
  • Secondary locks on guest room glass doors
  • Room balconies or patios accessible by adjoining rooms/patios/balconies (if applicable)
  • What are the SOPs for power outages? What is the power back up? How many generators are on property and what do they power?
  • If a guest has an emergency, should they call “911” or other local emergency number or the hotel front desk or help line? Is the front desk always staffed to answer the phone? How many rings does it take at noon? 6 pm? Midnight? 3 to 7 a.m.?

And our favorite: bedbugs. How are guest rooms checked and protected? How often? What does the property do to ensure elimination of bedbugs?

The items in this blog, the previous blog and the webinar are a fraction of what I include in the RFPs and the questions I ask when helping clients select meeting destinations and sites. It pays to be this thorough. If you were buying an electronic device, you’d want to know more than what’s on the outside, right? It’s even more important to have a complete picture and details of what you are ‘buying’ for a meeting.

Next time I’ll delve into on-property amenities and services. Those continue to change rapidly.