Tag Archives: ExhibitorLive

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.

Travel Packing Tips for Meeting and Event Planners

Originally published Meetings Today 

 Travel Packing Tips for Meeting and Event Planners

Travel is exhausting; it didn’t used to be.

My first flight was in the late ’40s, which means I’ve been a frequent flyer for more than 70 years albeit not earning frequent flyer points until the start of the programs in the ’80s, with my Dad on a prop plane from Ohio to New Jersey.

I only remember it from photos commemorating my first flight.

That first flight took place during the days when we walked on the tarmac and up steps to board planes and when we arrived, those greeting us came to the tarmac as well.

For that first trip, I didn’t have to pack and I’m sure what was in Dad’s suitcases for both of us was far different than what I later needed as an adult for my travels!

Being a prepared and well-packed traveler allows us to make one part of the experience less stressful. After months of writing about critical industry issues, this April 2018 edition of Friday With Joan is taking a break from issues that impact our industry to issues that impact us and our sanity as individual business travelers.

For those among us who are experienced; for those still acquiring business travel experience; and for the hospitality and meetings students that are in this to travel, here are some travel and packing tips.

The Basics

My esteemed colleague, Marlys Arnold, has written and prepared an interactive CD-ROM entitled “Pack Your Bags: Tips and Tools for Savvy Travelers”—and it’s currently on sale!

She provides lots of information for non-business travelers as well including a reminder of “3-1-1”, the TSA travel rule for liquids and gels where each passenger is limited to one quart-size bag of 3.4-ounce containers.

Keep in mind that you may know how to travel but for your meetings and shows there will always be a first time traveler for whom basic information is useful. Note too that the rules do keep changing especially for international flights.

Keep up to date by following @TSA or @AskTSA on Twitter.

1. Buy good luggage: Though the initial investment may be greater and sturdy luggage may be a bit tough for all to afford, if you plan to travel more than a few times a year, it’s worth every penny.

Frequent travelers have learned that luggage takes a beating whether it’s checked or carried on. Ensure what you buy meets the carrier’s requirements and can be locked with a TSA-approved lock.

Sometimes gate-checking is required when a plane is full and your hoped-to-carry-on bag has to go below. You want to make sure your valuables (which for me includes medications, makeup, clothing, emergency radio and files) are as safe as you can make them if you cannot carry them with you.

When you consider a wheeled bag, if possible, test it first. Handles are of varying length and depending on your height, may be awkward to pull through an airport. And there are different types of wheels, too.

And if you think a bag over your shoulder is a good idea, take it from me: the damage to your neck and shoulders from years of schlepping shoulder bags is now terribly painful.

Roll, don’t carry.

The most useful device I recently acquired is a Bag Bungee. It has allowed me to attach my backpack with laptop inside to my rolling bag far more easily than I had before with the hook on the suitcase or sliding it over the suitcase handle.

2. Ticketing: Whether traveling by air or rail, booking through discount websites may be a great way to save money. I don’t. I’ve heard and read too many stories of those denied boarding or not having the seats they thought they had when doing so.

Or if a flight is canceled or changed, the inability to then change other legs of trips, including changing carriers, may not be as easy as booking elsewhere.

I prefer booking using a travel agent or directly with the airline.

For train travel, I book directly with Amtrak on their websites or by phone.

Note: some airlines charge an additional fee to book using their reservations agents. Decide if it’s worth it by checking the airline’s website or asking when you call if there is an additional fee. Amtrak now too has fare rules similar to airlines regarding cancellation or changes.

Check before you commit.

Like many business travelers, I’m very picky about seat location. The sooner a ticket is booked (on most airlines) the more options one has for flights and seats.

Caution: there are now as many classes of seats and fees for specific seats including seats allowing you to sit with traveling companions as there are airfares. Check frequently. Aircraft changes for your flights may cause seat reconfigurations.

If you are flying on a commuter jet or smaller plane, find out the ability to take carry-on luggage on board. This will also help you decide which luggage to purchase and use.

Additionally, it will help you decide what to pack.

3. Boarding: If you are in a “priority” boarding class, arrive in time to do so. This is more likely to ensure space overhead for luggage.

And if you are traveling by rail, most Amtrak stations have great Red Caps who can board you early especially if you want an Amtrak Quiet Car seat which quickly fill.

Do remember to tip those who assist you.

What’s in your suitcase?

It was delightful to learn what colleagues pack for business trips. Each has different priorities. Of those queried, none noted required medical devices such as a CPAP machine, which is not included in the two-bag maximum for most carry-on luggage on U.S. flights. It may mean you have to schlep a bit more and you should plan accordingly.

I try to limit what I take with me. The ability to do so goes back to my dad, of blessed memory, who traveled by car as a salesperson.

Dad limited his wardrobe to easy, interchangeable items.

Like him, I have a “uniform.” His was khaki slacks or, in winter, gray flannel, button-down collar shirts and navy blazers of different weights for different seasons. Mine? A black jumper dress, good T-shirts, and shawls along with jewelry, the latter two the equivalent of Dad’s tie changes to create different looks.

Make a list

I’ve learned that without a list, something is forgotten. And even with an always-packed-with-essentials suitcase, items (shampoo and soap* for example) need to be replenished.

For me, writing the list helps me think versus using a pre-printed list to check things off. I think from head to toe, literally, and what I’ll need, always planning at least one extra of most items “just in case” a connecting flight is canceled and I need to spend a night.

In addition to the usual for some (laptop, iPhone, chargers, medications, makeup, underwear, something to wear to sleep, and clothing accessories—for me, jewelry, for others, belts or ties), I take:

  • Unscented or scents-I-can-tolerate toiletries*: hotels if you’re reading this, please have an option for unscented products! Some of us have chemical sensitivities and cannot use the soaps (or shampoos, conditioners, lotions) in the rooms.
  • An emergency radio for its many components (There are other brands and places to purchase).
  • A travel-size white noise device. Yes, there are apps for that and sometimes no convenient electrical outlets. Having this makes a difference for a good night’s sleep.
  • Traveling duct tape. It comes in rolls or flat packs and can be your best friend for anything that needs to be fixed from hems to tacking down electrical cords in your guest or meeting room.
  • Multiple small flashlights (in my luggage and purse), extra batteries and two battery-operated alarm clocks, one of which has a flashlight built in.
  • An extra pair of eyeglasses, or when I wore them, contact lenses plus eyeglasses.
  • Antiseptic wipes to wipe down armrests, tray tables, hair dryers, TV remotes and other items where germs flourish.
  • “Emergency” (Mylar) blanket(s) like a shawl or sweater, this is great for flights, delayed flights sitting on cold tarmac, or cold meeting rooms.
  • A small personal fan for flights delayed without air conditioning on or in over-heated meeting rooms, or, well, you know, women of a certain age!
  • A collapsible wind-resistant umbrella and a hat that repels rain.
  • Face masks especially during flu season.
  • My passport, D.C. ID [I don’t drive so it’s a non-driver ID] and TSA Pre-Check card because even though my boarding pass shows I’m Pre-Check, it always pays to have, as Timothy Lam notes, extra ID.

What about packing clothing?

Above I noted that my dad was very simple in what he packed.

I’m fascinated by those who take many multiple outfits and shoes while I travel with minimal clean clothes that can be mixed and matched and try to get away with one pair of shoes that can look fine for business or casual wear.

If I worked out, I’d ship the extra items that I would need. As Reiko Tate said, a large shawl is great as an accessory and an airplane blanket or warmth in a cold meeting room.

Like others have noted and Marlys Arnold stresses, roll your clothes.

They are neater and take up less space. Use the inside of shoes, if you take extra, for smaller items like sox, jewelry, belts, and scarves.

What about checked luggage?

Only when absolutely necessary.

Waiting for checked luggage is for me a colossal waste of time. Years ago, on a trip to the neighborhood dry cleaners, I ran in to a colleague who was picking up her clean clothes to be put in a box to ship to her next meeting.

I began doing the same.

There are now luggage services that ship and some airlines provide that service.

I put clothes and other items that may be too bulky for a carry-on, like a small battery operated table fan for stuffy rooms, neatly in plastic bags and directly in a box and send them by overnight or two-day service.

If you do this, check ahead to ensure the availability at hotels for accessing your box if you arrive late or on a weekend and the handling charge for their receiving (and reshipping) the box (with dirty clothes and other items not needed) for the next stop.

Hotels with in-house UPS and FedEx outlets can, even when you have an account with the service, charge a significant fee for handling and delivering the box to your room.

As a number of those interviewed said, check to see if you can do your own laundry at the hotel [for that I have to send unscented detergent and softener or dryer sheets] or the cost of dry cleaning. It may be worth it to take fewer clothes.

Hot shipping tip

Although I love USPS Priority Mail flat rate box service, I learned the hard way (is there any other?) that not all mail addressed to a hotel goes to the hotel itself. Rather it may go to a post office to be picked up by the hotel … and never seen again!

Ask before you mail or ship what the services are.

Ensure your box or luggage has additional labels (to the shipping label) inside and on the outside with your name and arrival, hotel name and address (An inside label is smart for inside your checked and carry-on luggage too).

If you’ve read my blogs and comments long enough you probably wonder if I’m worried someone will see that information and have more than I want them to about my whereabouts.

Yes, I do think about it and yes, I still ship.

Lastly, as others noted, take less than you think you want. Overpacking is easy and causes overstuffed or too heavy bags. No one is going to care if you wear the same outfit with different accessories (ties, jewelry, scarves or shawls) daily.

Pack in a way that allows you some flexibility.

Now, tell us your travel, and especially packing, tips in the comments below.

We all learn from each other.

Safe travels!

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.

Any products or services noted are for reference and do not constitute an endorsement.

Related Reading From the April 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Can Meetings Help Alleviate a Major Healthcare Epidemic?

Originally posted Meetings Today Blog

Can Meetings Help Alleviate a Major Healthcare Epidemic?

Vivek Murthy, MD, who served as the 19th U.S. Surgeon General, and someone whose life and work have made a great impression on me, wrote, in this Harvard Business Review article, about his family’s experience after Hurricane Andrew: “Looking today at so many other places around the world ravaged by disasters of all kinds, I think about how often tragedy brings us together—and how fleeting that connection often is. …

“There is good reason to be concerned about social connection in our current world. Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that the real number may well be higher. Additionally, the number of people who report having a close confidante in their lives has been declining over the past few decades. In the workplace, many employees—and half of CEOs—report feeling lonely in their roles.

“During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness. The elderly man who came to our hospital every few weeks seeking relief from chronic pain was also looking for human connection: He was lonely. The middle-aged woman battling advanced HIV who had no one to call to inform that she was sick: She was lonely too. I found that loneliness was often in the background of clinical illness, contributing to disease and making it harder for patients to cope and heal.”

As I read Murthy’s article on “the loneliness epidemic,” my thoughts turned to meetings—conferences, seminars, conventions—some with a few people where it’s easier to feel lonely if one is new or has less in common with others, or is an “other” than the majority attending—an “outsider.” And then there are those large-scale meetings of hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands where you’ve come with colleagues you may or may not know well or with whom you may not feel comfortable around in a different setting. Or you may have only had a virtual connection to them—as many of us in the hospitality and meetings industry do when we attend a meeting—and you may still feel lonely.

I thought about the desire for connection during the first months of the MIMList (the first meetings industry virtual discussion group founded by Rod Marymor as part of the MIM – Meetings Industry Mall) that I moderated and how many wrote asking “Is anyone attending [fill in the blank name of an industry meeting] so we can all meet face to face?” All because no one likes being alone or lonely at a meeting or event.

Yes, there are many of us Introverts who “want to be alone” because that’s how we recharge, but we don’t want to feel lonely. Meetings are designed specifically for connections: years ago, MPI’s Foundation conducted ground-breaking studies about why people attend corporate and association meetings. The studies indicated that one of the main reasons people attended meetings was “networking” or as I came to call it, “peer to peer interaction and learning” (Sadly, the studies are out of print; I do have PDFs that we will get to you if requested—email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com).

As I read Dr. Murthy’s comments and as I thought about my own experiences with organizations and at meetings, as a first-timer and as a “veteran,” I remembered:

  • My first MPI Chapter (PMPI) meeting in D.C. when Bill Myles (now of blessed memory) came up to me as I hugged a wall, introduced himself, and invited me to serve on the Membership Committee!
  • Then my first national MPI meeting in 1984 when, though I was president of PMPI, I didn’t know others. Weldon Webb and Beverly Kinkade, both from the St. Louis Chapter (SLAMPI), took me under their wings. Oh how much easier it was to participate and meet others and to commit to greater involvement!
  • At my first International Association of Facilitators (IAF) when I walked into breakfast of 1,200 and thought I’d find a table in a corner until, when walking by three people deep in conversation, they invited me into their conversation and to a seat at their table. Included, I felt less lonely and became involved.
  • Patti Shock and Ed Polivka (he now too of blessed memory) who, at my first PCMAmeeting, welcomed me with smiles and conversation ensuring I was included.
  • And at my first meeting as an MPI delegate (thank you Doug Heath for appointment me) to the (then) Convention Liaison Council (now the EIC) Board meeting when Bill Gehron representing HSMAI, Keith Sexton-Patrick representing ACOM (now ESPA), and Sandi Lynn representing SGMP, all included me in conversations and my loneliness disappeared and my involvement grew. The two often seem to be related!

What is the obligation for those in the hospitality industry (see definition adefinition b) to help people feel less lonely? How can meetings help alleviate the loneliness epidemic and contribute to better health, just as we’ve added healthier foods, yoga, fun runs, policies to combat sexual harassment and to ensure diversity and inclusion?

How do we do it? Here are some ideas.

1. Understand the roots of loneliness. Dr. Murthy in Harvard Business Review (HBR)wrote: “Loneliness is the subjective feeling of having inadequate social connections.”

He went on to say “Happy hours, coffee breaks, and team-building exercises are designed to build connections between colleagues, but do they really help people develop deep relationships? On average, we spend more waking hours with our coworkers than we do with our families. But do they know what we really care about? Do they understand our values? Do they share in our triumphs and pains? This isn’t just bad for our health; it’s also bad for business. Researchers for Gallup found that having strong social connections at work makes employees more likely to be engaged with their jobs and produce higher-quality work…”

“Connection can also help indirectly by enhancing self-esteem and self-efficacy while also shifting our experience toward positive emotions—all of which can buffer an individual during stressful situations and have positive effects on health. Indeed, studies have found that companies whose workers feel they have high-stress jobs have markedly higher health care expenditures than their counterparts with low-stress employees. … My experience has been that people bring the most to their work when they feel connected to the mission and the people around them.”

No kidding! Because of all those who invited me into conversation and allowed us to get to know each other as individuals as well as colleagues, I immersed myself in our hospitality industry. Where would I (or you) be today if someone hadn’t taken time to include you? And I’m sure we can all think of times where we weren’t included.

2. Create opportunities for deeper connections.

Dr. Murthy, as Surgeon General wrote about his work with staff, new to him and he to them: “To bring us closer, we developed “Inside Scoop,” an exercise in which team members were asked to share something about themselves through pictures for five minutes during weekly staff meetings. Presenting was an opportunity for each of us to share more of who we were; listening was an opportunity to recognize our colleagues in the way they wished to be seen. I share what my office did not as the antidote to loneliness but as proof that small steps can make a difference [emphasis by Joan]. And because small actions like this one are vital to improving our health and the health of our economy.”

I asked in a number of social media groups about how people felt as first-timers or if they felt lonely at meetings, especially if they were at a meeting at which they knew few, if any, others. The responses reflected the sense of isolation many felt, some believing that “first-timer” designations made them stand out and they were only approached by those who were told (often board members or executive staff) to do so.

This response, slightly edited, is from colleague and friend, Elizabeth Engel. In this narrative, she is describing who makes what efforts at meetings and events:

“My first time at a [association related to hospitality and meetings] event in 2000. I’d only been in the profession for a few years, and I didn’t know anyone outside the confines of my own association employer and the staff members of our three ‘sister’ associations.

“The conference was in the city in which I live and work, and being my first conference with this organization, I didn’t realize that I should clear my evening schedule for the receptions and parties that would take place in conjunction with the event.

“So I went to sessions, sat in the back of the room all by myself, didn’t really talk to anyone, and scurried off at the end of the educational program each day to keep my evening commitments. In short, I was the attendee with no friends.

“I did learn a lot, but I kind of missed the point of an in-person event: I didn’t expand my network at all.

“I didn’t attend another large association conference for another two years. [When I did return to this conference] I still didn’t really know anyone outside my (still the same) employer and (still the same) ‘sister’ associations.

“But in the interim, I’d learned two key things: keep my evenings free, and make the first move. I knew it was on me to create a better outcome, and I did. This time, I pushed myself outside my comfort zone to look for the other person in each room who didn’t seem to have any friends, go over to her, and ask her a question about herself, which is the easiest way for introverts [and others!] to get conversations with strangers going.

“That was the start of building the professional network that has sustained me for the past twenty years, through multiple job changes and launching my own business five years ago.”

3. “Make strengthening social connections a strategic priority in your organization” said Dr. Murthy, and to which I add, and in and at your meetings.

To what Elizabeth learned and did and what Dr. Murthy suggests and the MPI Foundation studies indicate, and what we know from our own experiences and observations, when our noses are in our electronic devices at meetings, peer to peer interaction and learning can’t easily happen. If we set participation examples and explain why we are doing so, we may be able to turn around the current usual behavior and help people create better connections that can lead to more involved members.

More involved members become informed and active participants in our professions, which leads to more commitment to buying and selling from those we know.

4. Change tradeshow interactions.

It’s not just the brief hello on the tradeshow floor for buyers to obtain tchotchkes or a chance to be entered into a drawing [oh … ethics, a discussion for yet another time!] or for sales and marketing professionals to get a name to add to the database. Deeper connections can be made with real conversations like one I had with colleague Marlys Arnold at ExhibitorLive with an exhibitor in a wheelchair about shows and the ADA.

As Dr. Murthy wrote we need to “Encourage coworkers [and in our world, meeting participants and tradeshow exhibitors] to reach out and help others—and accept help when it is offered.” Read on to the sidebar to the interview with Dr. Vivek Murthy to see more of what he has to say about how meetings can help people feel less lonely.

5. Encourage interactive education.

Many of us connect best when we are talking about meaningful ways to solve problems or sharing anecdotes about our latest success or problem.

We need to help “speakers” become, and treat them more like, trainers or facilitators to encourage interaction in sessions. We also need to encourage the use of appropriate seating outside session rooms where, during breaks or at times desired, people can share what they learned and make different connections over a shared raised eyebrow in a session. In both instances we have enabled learning and encouraged less loneliness.

What are your experiences and what have you observed at your meetings—or in your hotels and convention or conference centers—that have encouraged connections and less loneliness for travelers and meeting participants?

  • When you were a first-timer at a meeting especially when you knew no one or few people, what made you feel welcome?
  • What’s your reaction—or that of those who attend your meetings—to “first-timer” designations—stickers or ribbons on badges?
  • In what ways do you encourage interaction in sessions and at social events? In what ways does it succeed and how is it measured?
  • If you’ve measured the return to future meetings (or joining or renewing membership) of first-timers or their buying habits based on meaningful versus brief interactions at tradeshows, what did you learn?
  • And what makes you feel “lonely” at a meeting and in what ways could our industry and especially our industry associations help alleviate what could lead to a greater health epidemic?

Our industry has an opportunity to help people feel less lonely and isolated. Maybe it was “bold” to suggest we can “cure” a health crisis but I think we can go a long way to alleviating it in one of aspect of society that touches many.

And so … On October 29, many of us observed the yahrzeit—anniversary death—of Rosie Ledesma-Bernaducci, a colleague and friend. Those of you who knew her and the circumstances of her death may believe as I do that loneliness contributed to her suicide. It’s that deep loneliness that though one has a smile on their face, and is well-connected and respected, masks a deeper sense of not being connected, truly connected, to others. To her, I dedicate this blog and newsletter in hopes that we can create better connections to solve the issue of loneliness in some way through meetings.

For those who would like to respond privately with a comment to be posted anonymously, please email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and I’ll post it for you.

Click here to view additional content in the 11.03.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.​

5 Ways to Improve Intergenerational Interaction

5 Ways to Improve Intergenerational Interaction

“Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.”

~~ George Orwell, in a review for Poetry Quarterly, Winter 1945

It wasn’t until much later in life that I learned my generation (baby boomer) was the “center of the universe”! I’m sure in my formative years it was said how much influence we had and yet the research was far less sophisticated than it has become.

The first workshop on generations I attended was at the Nevada Governor’s Conference on Tourism in the mid-’90s where, after I’d presented a session, I sat in on one given by Ann Fishman on generational targeted marketing. I was smitten by what I learned, seeing applications for meetings in every way, and by Ann’s research and ability to present it in a way that made it relevant to us all.

It is said that a generation is a hybrid of both the birth dates identified by demographers and the major socio-historical events that occurred during that time period. This article from The Atlantic looks a bit differently at it; you will see that “Generation Z” is, as of 2014, still not defined!

Before you read further on here or on the interview with Jüv Consulting and in 140 or fewer characters (because Generation Z looks to social media for solutions and answers) write or think about what your greatest intergenerational frustration is.

Done? Please share in the comments section of this Friday With Joan blog post you’re reading now and respond to the poll question here. Now read on please.

Each time I’ve presented or attended a workshop incorporating intergenerational issues, there are always those, in which I include myself, who say, “But I have lots of the qualities of other generations.” How could we not? We adapt out of necessity, curiosity or expedience (I was an early-for-boomers adapter to social media joining “chat rooms” on AOL in the early ’90s).

What is also said in conversations and in sessions—join me at ExhibitorLive on Wed., March 15, 2017, for “Why Can’t We Just Get Along?”—is that they (millennials and Generation Z) are lazy job-switchers and aren’t at all like we (baby boomers and Generation Y) are about work-ethic.

In my early social media experiences came my first major “AH-HA!” moment about generational preconceived ideas: in our writers’ group, we often, in the early evening, had students come in asking for help writing papers.

No one was very nice to them; after all, we were grown-ups and those “young whippersnappers” (did I really use that?!) were using us for what they should have been doing themselves.

Observing this, one member, who participated in the poetry workshops and other chats, who wrote beautifully, kept her identity and age quiet.

Once, while traveling, this young woman IMed (“instant messaged”) me: “Got a minute?” she asked. “Sure,” I replied. She said she wanted to come clean and told me she was 13 and afraid to disclose it for fear of being booted from the group.

My hands flew from my laptop’s keyboard, so stunned was I that a person so much younger than I, and most of those in the chat groups, could write such superb poetry. It changed my perception forever (And Aurora Lee, if you see this or someone you know does, I’d love to be back in touch!).

We are influenced by our age, experience, and the times of our formative years: The “Greatest Generation” by the Great Depression and World War II; the “Silent Generation” by the Cold War; boomers by JFK’s assassination and the civil rights and women’s movements; millennials by social media; Generation Y by 9/11; Generation Z, the first African-American U.S. president.

We can read about all of these experiences and if older, live through them too at different times of our lives. Yet, if we’ve not lived through the experience, how can we expect others to understand except by empathizing about the influence of it on their lives?

Adding to the hostility toward younger generations by baby boomers and Gen Yers is job loss fear.  We have seen people of a “certain age” fired and/or downsized (often because they make “too much money”) and those with less experience, hungry to learn and get their feet in the door and willing to work for less money, take jobs baby boomers and Generation Y once held. I too think there is envy of their ability to learn at one job and move on to something more fulfilling.

Boomers and Gen Yers talk about work-life balance; millennials and Gen Zers live it.

On top of the workplace issues, boomers (and many who are in the silent and greatest generation categories) see that businesses—hotels in particular—are designing and operating for millennials and Gen Zers: low furniture, low lighting (can you see the menus? Or even the room numbers on the guest room doors in the hallways?); casual attitudes and attire. Of course I think that even Generation Z, once they are spending their own money, will look differently at hotels and want a different experience.

For that, I’d look to Jüv for advice.

Here are some ways we can change the environment in which we live and work:

  1. Assume nothing. Treat each person as an individual and not just part of their generation. While doing so, learn about the influences on their generation and ask how they’ve been impacted (here’s one resource, among many).
  2. Use empathy. Put yourself in someone else’s place. This of course could be a great way to understand anyone and it should be. For this particular purpose and blog, use it generationally.
  3. Seek common ground. There’s a great exercise I learned from improv teacher and facilitator, Izzy Gesell—three things in common and one uniqueness—that works well in offices or departments or at meetings to discern our commonalities and develop greater camaraderie.
  4. Mentor up and down. Just as every article about how to use apps or new software or other electronics says to seek out a child or grandchild for assistance, in your workplace and at your meetings, pair up with someone of another generation and mentor. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu was a pioneer in doing this. Read more on the Deloitte website and within these survey results.
  5. Be proactive versus reactive. Seek out relationships with those of other generations. One of the reasons I was intrigued by and interviewed the three principals of Jüv Consulting was my interest in what they thought and experienced. Opportunities exist everywhere for these interactions.

As a baby boomer, I was graded as someone who “Plays well with others.” No wonder I want us to find common ground. Will you join me, please?

I’m especially grateful to the three principals of Jüv Consulting for their time. I reached out to them and they were willing to be interviewed with no payment. They’re smart and interesting, entrepreneurial and insightful with a wide base of people to provide more input. I hope hotel companies and others will work with them.

Make sure to read their responses on the related Friday With Joan Q&A.

And if you missed it, click here to access the March 2017 edition of the Friday With Joan newsletter for even more related content.