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

Originally published Meetings Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of Questions and Thoughts; Few Answers

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

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

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

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

Why Meet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Am I alone in this view?”

My edited response to Michael’s post:

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

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

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

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

Add these issues in considering whether to meet:

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

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

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

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

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

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

What About Travel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What About Hotels?

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

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

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

Colleague 1:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colleagues 2 and 3:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript

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

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

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

COVID-19: Trust, Information, Solidarity and Change

Originally Published Meetings Today

COVID-19: Trust, Information, Solidarity and Change

One of my favorites was posted by my friend, and sometimes quoted source for Meetings Today, Bob Witeck, on Facebook:

Overheard in someone’s kitchen: “My husband purchased a world map and gave me a dart. ‘Throw this and wherever it lands, I’m taking you for a holiday when this pandemic is over.'”

“Turns out we’re spending two weeks behind the fridge.”

If only that were the most difficult choice to make….

Some topics about which I write are easy and joyful. Last month’s praise of CSMs/Event Managers was pure joy. Even writing about the option for sabbaticals was interesting research and those now on “forced sabbaticals” (aka furloughs) may find ideas to use.

I’ve delayed writing this blog as long as possible. My notes from WHO press briefings and articles and emails fill pages. By the time you read this, the information that changes hourly on who is impacted, where COVID-19 has reached new levels, and what is being done to protect healthcare providers, emergency responders and the public will have changed dramatically. [I updated the blog draft on Monday, March 30, after the governor of Virginia, issued a Stay at Home Order until June 10. Maryland and Washington, D.C., are doing similarly. CapitalPRIDE in DC has been postponed. Nothing is what or when it was.]

This is far worse in scope than anything most of us have experienced, even our on and post-9/11 time when many of us were away from home and others, like I, couldn’t get home for a week. COVID-19 remains under study and while it is, it is spreading.

Most importantly: Stay informed from your local government and trusted sources like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or agencies in your country or in the countries to which you would like to travel, have family or may hold meetings.

I like knowing what WHO says because we live in a global society, connected by business, travel, trade and interests. We depend on each other, and in a crisis, stopping COVID-19 in one place helps stop it in another.

Many friends and acquaintances, colleagues and strangers who populate our industry are furloughed with “indefinite” dates of return. When I saw the March 26 PBS NewsHour segment (at about 12:21—though watching the entire show is edifying and critical, including a segment on potential family and other abuse while people are staying at home), I gasped: I had talked with one of those whose story appears not long ago when hopes were high. Then, learning friends’ mother-in-law and aunt had died, one in Jamaica and one in England, and of course no one can travel, hurt me more.

There are the “crystal ball predictions” clients and others want me to make—and which, again, on WHO’s press briefing, the doctors reiterated they do not know when this will end or when even the curve will flatten and not rise again. I can’t predict.

When Did We Know and How Did We Know It?

On January 12 of this year, WHO first reported information about this virus, now referred to as “novel [meaning new] coronavirus,” or COVID-19.

At the time, it was thought to be confined to one area of China.

In an early WHO press briefing, in which I participate regularly for Meetings TodayDr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s executive director of health emergencies, was asked if the smart phone tradeshow scheduled in Barcelona should be held. He said groups should add this new virus to contingency plans as we would an outbreak of food poisoning, etc. I smiled, sadly, thinking, “If only all events had contingency plans.”

That show? It was canceled on February 12, the first of many meeting and show cancellations around the U.S. and world.

It was then I began posting on social media about the risk this virus posed. It was then I was countered by those who said, “Still meet,” “It’s confined,” “It only hits people older than 80,” which was then revised by posters to “over 65.”

Now we know that as this has moved around the world, those who are younger than 40, even teens and children, are contracting COVID-19—some cases are mild, others require hospitalization. This virus doesn’t seem to understand it’s not to discriminate based on age and borders, income or circumstances.

Even earlier than January 12, and quoted from the Charleston, SC, Post & Courier: “Mike Schmidt, an epidemiologist in Charleston, had seen it coming. On New Year’s Day, he was at home, going through emails when a report caught his eye: an outbreak in China. Probably a new coronavirus. That could be bad, he thought.”

With such easy access to news, many more could have been aware. Those who create contingency plans would have looked for what might impact them or their events.

Facts = Knowledge; Our Responses Are Tested

As I posted facts, I was accused by some of “causing fear”. Some who said “keep meeting” were praised for their posts of encouragement. I am a fact-based person and someone who looks broadly at the “what-ifs.” Others seemed to want to say, as my sweet maternal grandmother (z”l) in a saying oft quoted, “See the pretty birdie,” meaning: “Let’s not look at what is painful or bad; just smile and move on”.

How can we responsibly plan without information and forward-thinking?

I posted data gleaned from pages of notes taken during the press briefings and from websites and articles read. It was scientific and medical data presented by those who are in the middle of fighting this new, and currently unreliably treatable, virus.

We know trials on treatments and vaccines are being tested around the world. Scientists and doctors are cooperating to try to find how to stop this. We as an industry are hit horribly—in every single country—and want to stop this. We can’t if we ignore data.

Strangely, in an industry that relies on data for how hotels make money, how those in revenue management determine the value of meetings and how ROI is measured for meetings, this was a cause to put one’s fingers in one’s ears and say, “Nah-nah-nah.”

A Personal/Professional Decision

I was long-ago contracted to fly to Oregon on March 7 to speak at an industry conference. In consultation with many, and discouragement by family, I still chose to honor my commitment.

I knew the facts: Four airports, one for a total of 16 hours on the roundtrip because of layovers; four planes; time at a conference with people from a state that at the time was hardest hit. I knew how to physically distance (social connections are encouraged through safe means) and I knew that groups had not yet decided to put room between participants in sessions.

With a compromised immune system, I weighed my risk. If I’d been advising a client, I’d have said, “Don’t go.” I chose to go.

Was I afraid? I don’t know. I was cautious with hospital-grade wipes, latex gloves and distancing. I came home and self-quarantined for 14 days. So far, kinehora—the Yiddish equivalent of “knock wood”—I’m ok. I am grateful that ExhibitorLive, a show at which I’ve spoken for years, postponed from late March to August although I am guessing that too may be in flux.

The choice to fear came because so many were countering facts and echoing some that were bogus from heads of state. In a number of recent WHO press briefings came questions from Brazil about their country’s leader’s calling for mass demonstrations—that is, not physically distancing. WHO is careful not to take positions that appear political. Instead on this and like gatherings, they “just say no”.

When I first drafted this, the U.S. president wanted to partially reopen the U.S. economy by April 12. That changed, before this will be live, to April 30, and by the time you read this, it may have changed again.

The D.C. Metro area (which includes the states of Virginia and Maryland) where I live is on stay-at-home until June 10. The curve is not flattening and the numbers of confirmed cases in the U.S. and around most of the world are rising. We don’t know how many cases there are or were; too many can’t be tested because there are not enough test kits nor labs to process them.

We’re not ready to reopen. Even in China’s Wuhan province the government is prohibiting outside people from coming in and reinfecting the population.

Industry’s Mixed Messages

Somewhere, the industry organizations must be having conversations about a concerted effort to rethink how we do business and meet.  I’ve tried to find more words of caution and all I can find are words reflecting a positive outcome—that we’ll come through this, that we are resilient.

We are and we will. We just don’t know when. Until then, we must make contingency plans for meeting and for trade shows.

One of the worst emails sent was this one: “As safe as riding a bus,” because riding a bus apparently wasn’t and isn’t safe, let alone meeting in groups of more than…well, the numbers kept changing: in D.C., first 1,000, then 250, then 10. I like Germany’s 2.

On March 20, I was glad MPI published this article from The Atlantic. It was much more clear about what should be done.

I’m Ok. Our Industry Could Do Better

Here’s what we need and can’t seem to find. I thank the colleague who first suggested some of these on ASAE’s Collaborate, to which I added: “Let’s come up with more. We now have time, working at home, or sadly furloughed.” [In the comments please share your stories, and if you know of organizations to which we can donate to help colleagues, please post the information.]

From DMOs, on your web pages we need accurate information on the policies for “stay at home” business operations (especially for hotels and food service, updated as changes are made). (I did find that the US National Governor’s Association has a great matrix.) We still need DMOs’ help on their sites.

For example: (date, time, cause/claim/grounds and references the source):

  • March 12, 1:00 p.m.: The mayor claimed a state of emergency.
  • March 14, 1:00 p.m.: Governor declares no gathering of people larger than 1,000.
  • March 16, 1:00 p.m.: Governor declares no gathering of people larger than 25.
  • April 27, 1:00 p.m.: Governor declares you can now gather up to 1,000 people.
  • Dates when the orders were first issued by states, cities and countries, and changed as updated.
  • Hotels open and hotels closed, with their current projected reopening dates, again, updated as changes occur.
  • Plans for convention centers and hotels that are being or may be used to house those who are either housing insecure, first responders, medical personnel and mild or quarantined COVID-19 cases.
  • Capacity of local hospitals and health care to test, quarantine/isolate and treat the local population and an influx of visitors. (I think Austin, Texas, made a great decision to cancel SXSW. Sure, it’s a pain in the tush. What if an outbreak of COVID-19 occurred?)

From hotel owners, management companies and brands, we need:

  • How owners, management companies and brands are determining which hotels to close and for how long.
  • Hotel closings and current projected reopening dates or permanent closures.
  • The process to notify clients with meetings between closing and their events, especially for those to be held between now and August 31, 2020.
  • Which staff positions are furloughed and expected date of return.
  • Staff positions eliminated and process to refill.
  • Process to reopen hotels and timing including bringing staffing back to contracted or site-inspection levels.
  • How are you factoring physical distancing for staffing? Room sets? F&B? Trade shows—booths and foot traffic?
  • If renovations were in progress, what the new projections are for completion.

These are my starter lists. I’ve not even posted questions for AV, production, decorating, exhibit design, etc., companies. Add your questions in the comments. I’d like the industry to speak to us and us to join in with a voice of concern for our colleagues who are, like many planners, furloughed, and some who will lose everything during this time.

In researching more for this, I am also grateful to David Eisenstadt, of Jerusalem, Israel, a tour executive, who provided insights, though not written here, about the state of tourism in their country at a time – Passover, Easter, and the beginning of Ramadan – when it would be flooded with tourists.

5 Ways We All Can Help

1. Stay at home if you are able. Community transmission is the greatest danger. You may be or think you are healthy, but you may also carry COVID-19 to others.

2. Read even if you feel afraid of what you will learn. Information is power and until we know more about COVID-19 and what our industry partners are doing, it is tough for us to make decisions.

3. DONATE to help others. A list follows with a few suggestions. Add your own in the comments. The more we can help others, the better we will all be.

4. Call it what it is: COVID-19 or Novel Coronavirus. It is not Chinese flu. Period. This is stressed by WHO and others. Please read what my friend, and frequent Meetings Today contributor, John Chen, of Geoteaming has provided in part 2 of this blog. For all the industry organizations that have stressed inclusion and diversity, we need your help in being explicit about this virus and taking away the hate some have inserted in naming it or blaming the spread of it. Note that Italy and now the U.S. have more cases than China did. Viruses know no borders. Stop the hate.

5. Relook at sponsorships for national, international and chapter industry meetings. Hotels have furloughed people who need jobs. Asking for money for booze and food or to sponsor entertainment or to provide rebates for anything by our own industry seems incredibly selfish. Let’s learn to have self-reliant industry meetings and help our partners recover.

I close with thoughts first of wellness and safety for each of you, for all who are part of our broad industry including restaurants, and entertainment venues, and all around the world. We are interconnected and must remain so, selflessly and safely. This is to help you via the UNWTO and its Global Crisis Committee:

#TRAVELTOMORROW: By staying home today, we can travel tomorrow.

“Coordination is paramount. Tourism has proven in the past to be a reliable partner to lead recovery for societies and communities, but only if the economic policies of governments and the support packages of donor and financing agencies reflect how the sector touches on every part of society.”

Postscript

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

Vote in upcoming primaries and national electionsThere are ballot issues and people running for office who will impact what we do in this industry. On Twitter at @meetingstoday, we post links to issues in upcoming elections that impact our industry. Voting is a precious right fought for by many. It is a responsibility of us all. Because of COVID-19, many US states and territories have changed their primary dates and/or have added special elections. Please check your state’s or territory’s dates at their board of elections.

Planners: Get the Respect You Deserve!

Originally published Meetings Focus.

Planners: Get the Respect You Deserve!

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

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

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

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

Stuck in the ‘Cost of Coffee’ Loop

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

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

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

…and b) too many factors impact costs.

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

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

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

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

Meeting Planning Is More Than Rocket Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was followed by responses including this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting to the Root of the Problem

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

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

[Related Content: Defining the Meeting Professional]

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Respected Meeting Planner Shares Her Secret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It was extremely satisfying to document my accomplishments.”

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

Other Ways to Track Your Accomplishments

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

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

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

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

6 Steps to Get the Respect You Deserve!

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

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

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

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

Showing ROI will promote you and the activities.

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

Then post the links so others see you.

6. Toot—nah, BLOW—your own horn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Additional Strength to The Bahamas

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

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

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

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

 

‘Tis the Season: Ethics of Gifting & Entertaining

Originally published Meeting Today Blog

'Tis the Season: Ethics of Gifting & Entertaining

Prologue: Picture this … it’s the season of gift giving and of year-end hotel contract deadlines. I’m working feverishly to finish a number of complex hotel contracts for clients before everyone takes time off for the Christmas holidays. My spouse brings a box from our mail room to my home office.

I ask, as I continue to write contract provisions, from whom the box was sent, thinking it must be from a family member or friend. When the sender is mentioned—a salesperson with whom we are in difficult (politely said!) negotiations—I loudly say “DROP IT!”*

In one of my favorite films, Defending Your Life, we see that after death, one’s ‘first stop” is a place that looks remarkably like Epcot Center. There, we are tasked with watching videos of our lives and “defending” our every action. It has a wonderfully funny tie-in to our industry with scenes about who gets the “better” hotels with the “better” turn-down amenities as a result of what appears from our lives. Chuckling as I write this—thinking not unlike who gets the upgrades in real life, huh?

The film is amusing, down-right funny (think whether you want to be seen by important people as you slurp your linguini in a restaurant) thoughtful and insightful.

Differently staged and with similar intent, is The Good Life, a TV production that so fascinated me, I now have a desire to recommend viewing episodes in preparation for ethics discussions in classes I teach and programs I facilitate. Is there a “good” place or a “bad” place after we die? Is it like Epcot Center? I don’t know. I do know that my actions after receiving the box would have to be defended.

The point? Many of you will give or receive gifts or entertain or be entertained by those with whom you are doing business, have done business, referred business or one day may do business. What goes into your thinking as you chose to whom to give or entertain, and for the recipients, to accept a gift or invitation or not?

How much would the potential of “defending” your actions—now, to an ethics committee or an HR or other officials in your company or professional organization—play in your choice of what and how much you gift to, or accept from, someone?

Research: In preparation to write the initial blog post in the October 2018 newsletter and for this post you’re reading, I did extensive new research: conversations with current and former hotel executives, industry attorneys, and EIC and EIC-member organizations’ representatives; reading articles about our industry’s and others’ ethics practices; reading hotel companies’ ethics policies [highly recommend and easily found with a search**]; and asking, via social media for those interested in responding to questions about industry ethics to contact me. A compilation of those responses can be found here.

I also asked questions of three industry recruiters—MeetingJobs, Searchwide, and Vetted Solutions. The responses from their CEOs are in this section of the December 2018 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Preview: I was … well, read it and you might figure out my response after reading on.

And once read, please answer the Friday With Joan poll questions.

Analysis: EIC, our industry’s umbrella organization, was unable to tell me which of its members has an enforceable code of ethics and/or conduct. In my research I learned that of those who do, two are NSA and NACE. I know that MPI, PCMA, and ASAE do not have enforceable codes, although MPI did at one time. ASAE has a separate, enforceable code for those who have achieved their CAE—Certified Association Executive—designation; the code for all other members is aspirational.

Those who have achieved their CMP—Certified Meeting Professional—are bound by this code, which is worded much like the codes of many of the EIC organizations that have codes of conduct or ethics.

(Use this link to EIC members; go to their sites to read the codes. Even if you are not a member of one of these organizations, it is likely you will do business with someone who is).

I verified with colleagues with whom I served on the then-CLC Board some years ago that our umbrella organization formerly required an enforceable code of ethics to be an EIC member. Now, it is asked that a code be submitted with the membership application, but it is not required for membership.

I confirmed that HSMAI, for example, does not have a code of conduct or ethics.

I imagine others do not as well.

Of those with enforceable codes, I was told the main charge of an ethics violation is the use of a certification when it has not been earned or renewed.

This was believed, by those with whom I spoke, to be a belief that few are violating the codes.

And now, ‘tis the season of gifts and entertainment. Many feel valued if they receive a gift or an invitation. Those on the receiving end believe it is perhaps their due for the hard work they have performed. Perhaps the invitation to an event is viewed as an opportunity to network even if they have no business to offer; the receipt of a gift, seen as one of friendship beyond the business relationship.

How do we decide when it’s appropriate to offer and accept gifts or invitations? And more, when is it appropriate to flaunt these gifts and entertainment on social media for all to see and perhaps question if a code of ethics—that of an employer or industry association—has been violated?

During this season of giving, it is also the season of year-end business and for some independent meeting planners and others who work for commissions, a season of meeting a deadline before commissions are lowered by some hotel companies. To that, many are posting that they are going around the “system” and finding ways to receive what they believe is their “due”—a commission amount that is greater than that announced by hotel companies. More details here and here.

In my research again, I was told by many current and former hoteliers and others that this practice will face consequences. This was stated to me, and I’ve agreed to, as I do with many, keep the confidence of the person who provided this input:

“By encouraging hotels to breach the requirement that they adhere to brand standards, or to hide the payment in some fashion to deceive, planners need to evaluate whether they could potentially be liable for interfering with the contract or if they are perpetrating some kind of fraud. Even more disturbing however is that this takes the profession back not just a step, but a mile.

“It seems a lot like the concepts that planners finally overcame when some were asking for blind commissions. If the planners are handling the commission in this fashion, they need to be mindful that are acting on behalf of the group [for whom they are doing business].

“They need to be concerned about this being a potential violation of the group’s code of ethics.”

And as noted above, it may also be a violation of the brand’s code of ethics.

From everything I see and hear, from the justifications in classes and other conversations and those in social media, and from the many reports in the news and the investigation of us by the U.S. Congress, I think we are moving into even more dangerous territory in and outside of our industry. Many find ways to justify their actions in the request for and acceptance of gifts, perks, and entertainment: we’re underpaid, under-appreciated, work long hours, need to network to find a new job, etc.

Suggested Actions to Help Avoid Unethical Gifting Situations:

  1. Read your employer’s or client’s or business partners’ code of ethics.
  2. Share your code with those with whom you are doing business.
  3. Agree at the start of a business relationship, even one that has a long-friendship behind it or becomes a friendship, by what ethics you will together abide.
  4. Determine how your codes guide you for tradeshow drawings, invitations to events, giving and receiving gifts and attending hosted-buyer events. If the codes are not that specific, discuss how they can be.
  5. Provide examples in the comments or to me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com for posting without attribution examples of how we, as an industry, are ethical or how we can be more so. Share the ways we can improve together.

May the light of this season and the hope of the new year bring our industry and us individually to new thinking about how we do business and how we want to be seen.

*You wanted to know what happened, right? I called the client immediately and was told that they too had received a box.

Neither of us had opened it. I asked what we should do.

It was agreed I’d call the salesperson and say that we could not accept the gifts.

I was told that these were not practical to return. The client agreed that they would use them in an office gifting event and that I could dispose of the gift by donating it. 

**You will find, in your search, codes for how hotel companies deal with their own vendors, customers and staff. The codes are enlightening.

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 December 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 12.07.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Safety and Inclusion Tips for Meetings in Troubling Times

The last few weeks have been especially difficult.

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

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

Stay with me, please. I’ll show you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safety and Inclusion Tips for Meetings and Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inclusion Tips When Convening and Educating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Reading From the November 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

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

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

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relaxing Standards in the Meetings Industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s Enforcing Our Industry’s Ethics Policies?

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

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

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

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

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

Why write now—again—about these issues?

Why I Choose to Write About Ethics

There are multiple reasons:

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

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

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

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

Real-Life Examples of Questionable Behavior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advancing Integrity in Our Industry

Where do we go from here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Just One More Very Important Thing!

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

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

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

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

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

Related Reading From the October 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

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

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be … Planners!

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be ... Planners!

Did you know early in life that you wanted to work in the hospitality industry? Maybe you did—depending on your age and family or other influences in your life.

As the school year begins, and for some of us, a new year with Rosh Hashanah, it is a time of reflection or even, for some, declaring a major. It is a time of renewal as the leaves turn. And many are considering what now or what’s next in their careers.

And I, having discovered yet another parent-child duo both in hospitality, began thinking about that song: “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To be Cowboys.”*

Although I’d never heard the song in its entirety, the title always made me smile. Then I read the lyrics and thought how apropos for our industry! (Do note that clearly some part of me wanted to be a cowgirl … and perhaps a detective—thus the garb in the main photo for this blog post from my early years!).

Liz Erikson Marnul, an industry icon and someone I’ve known for more than 35 years said “You should really tell people how you got into this industry.”

I was surprised somehow that she didn’t know.

Other than the very early years of wearing clothing that seemed to reflect two possible professions, I thought I wanted to teach—I loved “playing school”—and then I considered social work. If I had had “school smarts” rather than being a life-long learner who learns by reading, observing, discussing and practicing a craft, I might have been a social anthropologist or, because I love words and how they fit together, a lawyer.

As a meeting professional, and in the areas in which I’m involved now in our profession, I think that I have been able to incorporate some of my passion for those areas.

As a child in the ‘50s, I put on street fairs to raise money for polio research when the boy next door was diagnosed with polio. In grade and high school, I helped organize events. Later, I helped plan and run city-wide ones and national events for a museum and then for an organization.

After dropping out of full-time college after a year—even working while in school didn’t provide the financial resources, and the learning by sitting and absorbing lectures and spitting back information was not my learning style—I worked a variety of jobs: ad sales at a newspaper, bookstore sales, in the family poultry business, and as a teacher’s aide. Until I moved to Washington, D.C. in 1978, I didn’t know there was a profession for what I was doing.

What influenced me? Did I truly fall into this profession—this industry? Was it pre-destined? Was I, in a past life (if you’ve followed me for any time, you know one of my favorite films is “Defending Your Life” on which John Chen and I based a discussion) was I one of “those” meeting participants who, at a bad meeting, said “Sheesh, I can do this better”?

My parents, of blessed memory, worked in various professions including sales; some cousins were lawyers; others teachers. One branch of the family founded a successful chain of restaurants and though I visited that part of the family, I don’t remember that they influenced my choice of profession. Unlike those interviewed there was no one to guide me into a hospitality career.

In conversations with many who choose to go into our industry, I hear the influencers are still the love of people, travel and details.

Those already in the industry are seeking more fulfillment, whether it’s moving away from logistics only or putting a spin on logistics or finding a way to better serve customers.

If love of people, travel and details were the main reasons to be a planner, I’d not be in this industry. An introvert, I like people in small doses; a mobility disability has made travel a greater challenge, and details? If it’s contracts and words, yes. If it’s meeting logistics, not so much anymore.

When I read the articles linked in the additional reading, none of them applied.

There are studies to show why being an entrepreneur may run in families. The number of self-employed people in various professions—lawyers, doctors, small business owners—prevalent in my family is evidence. And there are lots of teachers among my first cousins and a niece. There was also a rabbi—a profession I once considered and as Rod Abraham, an MPI Founder, said about me when he introduced me when I received an award, I was a “rabbi”—a teacher.

I’m grateful to have learned how those interviewed—parents and children, sisters, and a granddaughter—were influenced to go into and stay in the hospitality industry. There are others not interviewed (Steve and Adam Ferran, Patti Shock, Vanessa Vlay and Michele Koch Hansen among them) who I hope will share their stories in the comments section below this blog post.

I hope, as you consider what now and what next, you will think about your Strengths[yes, capital “S” because it refers to a specific tool], and read Barbara Sher’s marvelous books (in particular, “Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want” and “I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was”) to learn more about yourself.

I think this industry has opportunities (careers in eldercare for example) galore that we are only beginning to discover and certainly one where there aren’t enough people (hospitality law); and areas of privacy and technology for use in learning and serving customers. The sky isn’t even the limit, is it? Some will need to be the pioneers to plan the hotels and meetings in space!

Keep this story in mind too: an actor who has had great roles also needed income to keep going. He took a job bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s. The story is inspiring. If you want to start in a position or as a volunteer that others think are “below” you, do it anyway.

Experience is what gets us where we need to be. And the more broad our experience is, the more we show our desire to work, the better our chances are, regardless of lineage, to find the job or next job that is best for you.

As you read these stories of careers intentional and unintentional that brought people to our industry, I hope you’ll reflect on the influences and influencers and then share yours.

This is an industry that can make a difference in how people learn, work and serve others.

What’s next in your future?

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 September 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 09.07.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Why Diversity and Inclusion Matter to and for Hospitality, Tourism and Meetings

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Why Diversity and Inclusion Matter to and for Hospitality, Tourism and Meetings

“Diversity fatigue is real,” said Greg DeShields, CEO of PHLDiversity.

And it’s true. People groan when they hear the words “diversity and inclusion.”

They’ve been through training at work, in their spiritual homes, in their communities. Yet, the fear of those “not like us” is great and the lessons learned are not sticking.

The following was posted to the Meetings Today Twitter account from a presentation on storytelling at the MPI Northern California Chapter’s Annual Conference & Exhibition:

“The story always came first. Without a great story, everything would unravel.” The quote is attributed to Matthew Luhn, who worked with Pixar on the Toy Story films and others.

Because the subject is not sexy—a bit like ethics or contingency planning, as I was once told by an industry association staff person—diversity and inclusion at meetings often gets overlooked or, perhaps even worse, we assume that it’s no longer an issue.

I began to write this blog post with the intention of identifying the many things you can do to ensure your meetings, conferences and events are more inclusive.

My initial advice included, but certainly is not limited to the following:

  • Destination and Site Selection: Don’t meet in destinations where laws are passed that discriminate against those who attend or want to attend your meetings. Don’t give business to places where people may be in danger because of who they are, what they look like or their abilities, such as states with “papers please” laws or anti-LGBT laws. Instead, seek out venues with facilities that don’t exclude people who are transgender and where accessibility goes beyond the minimal ADA standards.
  • Speakers: Enlist representative speakers versus the example making its way around the internet of the math-for-women poster showing a panel of four men. Present different points of view and make sure that those who speak are inclusive.
  • Room Sets, Lighting and Activities: Create environments and opportunities that are designed for different learning styles. Ensure you ask what people need to fully participate at your meeting or event and that you then provide for those needs. Some people may require Interpreters, including ASL Interpreters. Some people may need assistance in seeing or taking notes. Make sure to include seating that is appropriate for those using mobility devices. At networking events you should ensure that food is appropriate and labeled and that noise is low enough to allow conversation.

Possible additions to my list included the offering of printed handouts versus having everything web or cloud based because not everyone has a device capable of access.

We also know people learn better by writing than by “keyboarding.” And let’s not forget to ensure that images used in all levels and types of marketing are representative of different ethnicities, gender, attire, age and visible ability.

Then I thought: you know this. You get it.

You are a unique person who wants to be included versus excluded; you hate the pain you see in children and adults when they come to an event dressed differently than others because no one told them or showed them what was acceptable.

At some time in your life, you too were left out for being different. We all were.

I thought the examples shared by those I interviewed for the March 2018 edition of the Friday With Joan newsletter would help. And yet, only a few shared personal stories.

As noted earlier in this blog post, the “story comes first.”

Here are some of my own experiences that have instilled a desire to seek out and ensure inclusiveness and diversity in the world in which I live and work.

I am or was:

  • the child who was kept at school to be “babysat” by teachers when all the others who weren’t like me went off (public school) campus to Bible School.
  • the young person called a “Christ-killer” on the playground because of my religion.
  • pained when other children were bullied or left out because of their looks or income or weight or other circumstances that they most often could not control.
  • the child who saw her parents fight “redlining” and “blockbusting” [look them up; they continue today] and whose family hosted people from Kenya, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Greece, Norway and other countries and who realized, by the age of 16, how big the world really was and why it mattered and was grateful.
  • the younger-than-many representative on an industry board who was patted on the head and told “honey just wait until you’re older—you’ll know more.”
  • the industry professional who, in too many negotiations was told I was trying to “Jew down” the salesperson and “oh, don’t take offense—it’s just a saying.”
  • the industry professional who was tired of trying to explain why the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners existed and was needed in our industry.
  • the planner of LGBT events who had to explain to a Director of Catering why it was acceptable to have men dancing with men and women with women at a fundraiser.
  • the non-college degree holder who constantly hears that people without college degrees can’t make it anywhere and wouldn’t be hired even by my own clients who, still though, want my expertise, and who realize I have, by sheer will and lots of continuous learning, done pretty well.
  • the person dealing with a mobility disability and who, upon finally getting the white hair my great-grandmother had and that I had for years thought I wanted, is now experiencing age and ability discrimination and exclusion.
  • and the highly sensitive person who notices exclusion and wonders why it has to be hurtful—or why it even has to be in the first place.

You can check calendars for dates to avoid so that you don’t meet over holidays and you can delve into why some religious holidays are more important than others.

You can learn by talking with people who aren’t like you—that includes those who are your members or customers or who want to and could be if they were just asked. You can talk with your HR departments and those who conduct diversity training like Jessica Pettitt and learn more about the importance of diversity and inclusion for all.

You can read what people are posting about the “math for women” conference that showcased a panel of four men and realize your marketing isn’t showing who you want to attract—you too hotels and cities!

You can read the U.S. Department of Justice website to understand your obligations to help people with disabilities attend and participate in your meeting and you can stop asking why you have to provide sign language Interpreters because they’re expensive.

You can read what Tracy Stuckrath has written about food and beverage and shared elsewhere in our industry. Or why meeting the needs of those who “claim to be vegan” really means they need to eat what they need to eat so they feel valued.

It’s pretty easy to understand why people want to be included in all the activities at your conferences and in your facilities. And why it hurts so much when people are not.

We need to be hospitable and welcoming in all that we do.

It all matters because we live in a global society and we all need to support each other, no matter how much we or others might think or say otherwise. It all matters. It just does.

Related Reading From the March 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 03.02.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.​

4 Ways to Strengthen Your Negotiating Skills

Originally posted Meetings Today

“Unless you wake up in the morning with a script next to your bed and on that script is everything you’ll say and do and everything those with whom you will interact will say and do, you’re doing improv(isation).” – Izzy Gesell*

Hold that thought.

Because right now, December, it’s that most awful time of the year (sorry Mr. Pola and Mr. Wyle—you did it better), when groups and hotels, in particular, are champing at the bit to get year-end contracts signed.

Sadly, when negotiations are rushed—whether month or quarter-end or in particular, year-end—they are negatively impacted and we end up with a product (contract) that may or may not reflect the intentions and understanding of the parties to the contract(s). Ideal negotiations involve patient listening and responding that moves the discussion forward in a productive fashion.

Added to the complications of rushed negotiations are the phrases “It’s our policy” (or “It’s not our policy”), “No one’s ever asked us/wanted that,” “I have to have that or we can’t sign,” “You’ll have to talk with legal or procurement or revenue management [you know, the Great and Powerful Oz!] and we don’t have time” and “If you don’t sign by (date), you’ll lose the whole deal.”

It’s as if everyone is scripted to say what they are told to say—the “Stepford Negotiations” perhaps we can call them!—and we do in fact revert to script versus listening and responding to what is being said. And as I learned from Izzy Gesell, none of us wake up with a script for who will say what and when.

*Gesell’s quote is paraphrased at the start of this blog.

I had one of those awful negotiations this past spring—one of the most miserable experiences ever … and in a 40+ year career, that’s saying something!

Sadly, because of the antagonistic attitude of the vendor parties (not my client but those with whom I was negotiating on their behalf), all my improvisation training and knowledge went out the door! Stress, because of critical issues and deadlines, can get the better of even the most experienced of planners.

This is the first December in years, kinehora, when I’m not faced with contract deadlines (Thank you, dear clients!). There are of course, other deadlines and the usual year-end workload when everyone else seems to be mentally or physically away (out of the office messages abound!), but no contracts … so far!

For many of you, the deadlines loom and it’s not really Dec. 31, is it? It’s more likely Dec. 20 before everyone leaves on vacation. Take a deep breath and read on. This blog can help you now and for future negotiations.

In numerous discussions on social media and elsewhere with colleagues, and in training I’ve conducted for classes in the industry and for a risk and contracts class for the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, the issues of how best and what to negotiate are always part of the conversation. How much can we get? What do we ask for? What are the hidden charges? (For this one, if you haven’t, tune in to the free webinar that Kelly Franklin Bagnall, Esq., and I presented for Meetings Today in October 2017).

What’s covered in force majeure protection? If concessions are first on our list of needs, are we getting enough? And on and on.

[If you are interested in receiving a checklist of items I think are critical to consider during negotiations or to include in a contract, email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and put “Negotiations and Contract Checklist” in the subject line. I’ll send you the checklist I use to develop contracts and for teaching others.]

What is usually taught in our industry about negotiations is to prioritize what is needed including the meeting content and delivery needs for the group and to present the group’s needs in an RFP, and for the vendor or facility to provide a proposal (often called a contract and, in my opinion, too often signed as is with no negotiation or counter-offer).

The how of doing so—negotiating—is written about in many books and online articles. For me, the best training I ever received was when I took my first improvisation class after, a few years prior, a dear friend (Librettist James Racheff) tried to teach me improv saying it was a tool that the business world needed. I confess to being too self-conscious to let go and really learn. But the improv bug had bitten. When another opportunity arose, I grabbed it and signed up for two improv classes at the International Association of Facilitators conference. I told everyone I’d signed up so that I wouldn’t back out!

I was still convinced that improvisation was “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” or Second City—as many still do—and I sure didn’t want to be on a stage no matter what my great high school speech teacher, Jim Payne, thought!

Facilitation and improv classes have taught me numerous lessons.

The two most important are to say:

  • “Tell me more,” a classic facilitation phrase that moves a conversation forward while getting the information needed.
  • “Yes, and…” versus “Yes, but…” Izzy Gesell and Bob Korin detail more about these in the Friday With Joan sidebar. “Yes, and…” carries the conversation forward and, in negotiations, acknowledges one’s own needs and wants while learning of and acknowledging the needs and wants of the person with whom you are negotiating.

When I think about successful negotiations, I realize how much the parties to the negotiations use improv to make them successful. And I know that the least successful of negotiations are the foot-stomping, my-way-or-the-highway ones where there is no give and take, all “Yes, but…” versus “Yes, and…”

Here then are four specific ways—and a bonus precursor—to better, more successful quality negotiations and ultimately, contracts:

  1. Determine what you need, want and must have and detail those in writing in an RFP.
  2. Ask those with whom you are negotiating for their needs, wants and must-haves.
  3. Acknowledge each other’s needs, wants and must-haves, whether it’s wording (not just because “legal said so” or “we’ve always done it that way”; more because it makes sense in the context of the business), terms and conditions (specific numbers and dates versus percentages and days out), and all the other specifics that the parties discuss and agree to.
  4. Move it all forward with “Yes, and…” and acknowledge at the start of the negotiations that those with whom you are working will help to keep the language in use.

Bonus Advice: take improvisation classes and practice the tools you learn. They work in all relationships and business dealings. And they allow you to laugh at yourself when you say something unintended so perhaps that’s a double bonus.

How to Network and Ethically Do Business in a Relationship Industry

Originally published Meetings Today blog

How to Network and Ethically Do Business in a Relationship Industry

My number one “strength” is “connectedness.” And though I dislike networking in the traditional sense (the kind that is done at big events with too much noise and no time for deeper conversation—check out this video podcast for more), connecting with others, and learning more about their ideas and opinions and experiences, matters greatly.

After all, I learned great networking skills from Susan RoAne, the “Mingling Maven,” years ago at an industry meeting and I still follow her work and the principles learned because she understands the value of it, and knows how to network, beyond the superficial.

Years ago, serving on the board and then as president of the MPI Potomac Chapter, I remember using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and other tools in a facilitated exercise to build a better board through our relationships. I confirmed that for me to work well with someone, I had to be connected in more than one way.

That is, I wanted to know who I was working with—and their specific interests—in order to be able to connect more than casually.

That has served me well in many years in the industry and business … until this summer. I recently was “taken in” during a critical negotiation when I thought someone really wanted to know me and have me know them. It turns out they didn’t. My involvement was merely a means to an end, and soon the honesty went straight out the window.

Some of what a client and I went through will form a backdrop for this upcoming Meetings Today webinar on Oct. 25 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time, which Kelly Bagnall, Esq., a meetings industry attorney on the hotel side, and I will co-present. You’ll want to tune in for specific examples.

What happened this summer caused me to reflect back on more positive outcomes resulting from strong industry relationships. I thought about a dinner during a PCMA meeting, who was there and why, and what was said. At this dinner and at others, outside the bustle of the larger meeting and official (and invited) events, friends could catch up with each other, make connections and talk in a more intimate setting, my preferred way of networking and building relationships.

At one dinner of 30, it was suggested that introductions include “how I’m connected to Joan.” It was fascinating to hear: the planners said they’d learned from me in a class or from my writing; the suppliers said they’d experienced a tough but fair negotiation.

In another instance where connectedness paid off, I was working for a client at whose organization there had been some “irregular activity” [I can’t call it criminal because it was never prosecuted]: planners, including those at the most senior level, set up a side company (to their existing employment), and in the name of that company, inserted a commissionable page into contracts after the contracts were signed by their employer.

The planners then went further and booked bogus meetings using the insertion and the electronic signature of the CEO. All this was uncovered in an audit, they were fired, and I was brought in to fix the damage. A connection with an industry attorney—lawyers and hotel lawyers are not our enemies!—who represented the hotel owners knew enough about me and my integrity to know that I wanted to make the situation right for the client and for the hotel owner and management companies. Without the existing relationship and a reputation for ethical behavior, openness in dealing with the situation, and the connection made, the results for the association might have been very costly.

We don’t have to be “best” or even good friends. It simply helps for us to know about the other to understand what makes us tick and how we operate. Pretending you want to get to know each other when you are, instead, manipulating a situation, is not sincere and in the end, doesn’t enrich the trust that should be built in a complex negotiation.

In the sidebar you’ll see that more than one person mentions the ethics of how to work in this industry. There are varying guidelines at each of the industry association’s sites and none are exactly alike. For those who are CMPs, the Events Industry Council offers its own set of guidelines. Honor your employer’s or client’s code of conduct and others.

It all seems simple and yet, due to the bottom line- and date-focused nature of the industry, we tend to not play fairly. Below are some suggestions about how to build and keep relationships based on my own personal experience. Over the years I’ve worked and built relationships with people who work in sales, convention services and law.

Those relationships, and others this summer after the unpleasant one, allowed me to find solutions to sticky situations in which my clients’ dollars were at stake—situations where I would not benefit directly. (I am paid by fees from clients vs. commissions. That’s relevant because in each case where a relationship paid dividends, my pockets were not further enriched because of the relationships and work).

Here are five guidelines that I think we can all follow to ethically advance our work and build better relationships.

1. Play fairly. Groups should send full RFPs detailing all that’s important (including any non-negotiable items). Suppliers should send proposals that answer all the questions asked in the RFP and others anticipated based on research. Establish realistic deadlines and determine how you both can meet them.

2. Work honestly. Tell the truth in all aspects of your work. Don’t rush through a negotiation just to meet a deadline that involves bonuses for one party especially if it results in an incomplete contract or doesn’t allow time to re-read the contract to correct inconsistencies (See Tammi Runzler’s comments in the Friday With Joan sidebar).

3. Be sincere. Don’t fake interest in the other person if it’s not there. Still be polite and listen to what they have to say. You may be surprised at what you find in common that will enhance the relationship, even if you don’t become best friends, or friends at all.

4. Operate ethically. Become better acquainted with your company’s ethics policy and that of your clients and customers. Planners, stop expecting supplier partners to treat you with a gift or provide personal perks. Suppliers stop offering perks to planners to get a contract signed. In the end, it only furthers the perception about and actions of our industry that draw negative attention and can result in job losses—mostly for planners.

Planners, take a supplier to lunch instead of being expected to being treated (I confess to thinking about the brilliant late Stan Freberg and his “Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America.” One excerpt can be heard here, followed by the full recording).

5. Keep friendships and business relationships separate. If you’re negotiating with someone who has become a friend because you got to know each other through industry activities or you found something in common while doing business together, remember to take off your “friend hat” and put on your “business hat” and be explicit about doing so. It keeps the relationship and the outcomes cleaner.

And now here are some final words to consider.

A friend and cancer patient, Karen Francis, wrote the words quoted below as I was considering the content of this blog post. I share it with her permission:

“As I think about the value of the ‘seasoned nurse’ … I am reminded of the many ‘seasoned bankers’ that groomed my career and contributed to the tremendous success … We all knew how … to satisfy the client’s needs at any cost, and how to beg for forgiveness instead of asking for permission in bending the rules. We were ‘client driven’ not ‘sales [driven]’ and we were all ‘old school,’ trained and developed within by each other’s career experiences.”

To help us become better—and more ethical—negotiators and connectors, I asked people who currently or have been in industry sales and those who help hire for their take on doing business. I think you’ll find their responses helpful, no matter if you’re new to the industry or an old dog learning new tricks.

See the Friday With Joan companion article for these responses.

And please add your tips in the comments. It is complicated, at times, when we form these friendships that may last (or not) after the “deal” is over. We are potentially going to do business together again. It is best to ensure an honest relationship from the start.

Click here to view additional content in the 08.04.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt