Tag Archives: National Speakers Association

Add Elements of Theatre to Make Meetings That Inspire

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Add Elements of Theatre to Make Meetings That Inspire

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

Meetings and live theatre have so much in common:

  • Seating
  • Delivery
  • Duration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experiential or Experience? Making Meetings ‘Sing’

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

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

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

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

Here are three desirable possibilities to better engage participants:

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

In it learners:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t that what we want from a meeting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Reading From the January 2019 Edition of Friday With Joan

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

‘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.

Q&A: Sexual Harassment in the Meetings Industry

Originally posted Meetings Today and Friday’s with Joan

         

Jessica Pettitt, Speaker and Consultant                 Sherry Marts, CEO, S*Marts Consulting

“Sexual harassment” as a term was not coined until 1975, as documented by Lin Farley in this Op-Ed piece for The New York Times. It was years later that the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) added guidelines on sexual harassment.

For those of you who live in other parts of the world, I encourage you to comment on this article with more information (and links) about the protections against sexual harassment and other workplace bullying. Our goal is to ensure greater protection and knowledge for all that are in and related to our industry.

In selecting those to interview, I turned to Sherry Marts and Jessica Pettitt, both of whom have written extensively on issues of equality, inclusion and harassment. Their views are their own based on research and experience. They may not reflect all my views or those of the publisher of this blog and newsletter.

My gratitude for their time and sharing of experiences. If we’ve accidentally edited responses in a way that changes the meaning, forgive us and add please to the comments to correct our errors. In some cases, their words have been emphasized either in bold or italics or both by this author to call attention to certain concepts.

Q1. Those interviewed:

Sherry A. Marts (SM), Ph.D., CEO of S*Marts Consulting LLC, is a former association CEO with a wide-ranging background in biomedical research, regulatory affairs, nonprofit management, public education and research advocacy. She provides expert consulting and training services to nonprofits and academic institutions on diversity and inclusion, harassment and bullying, and interpersonal communication. She also offers executive and career coaching with an emphasis on career and leadership development for women.

Dr. Marts is a skilled workshop leader, facilitator, writer and speaker with a lively personality and a keen sense of humor. Her interest in the issue of harassment and bullying lies at the intersection of her professional life as a woman in science, and her previous experience as a women’s self-defense instructor.

Her most recent publications include:

Dr. Marts received her B.Sc. (Hons.) in Applied Biology from the University of Hertfordshire, and her Ph.D. in Physiology from Duke University.

You can connect with her at her website, www.smartsconsulting.com,

or via email at sherry@smartsconsulting.com.

Jessica Pettitt (JP), M.Ed., CSP™, pulls together her stand-up comedy years with 15-plus years of diversity trainings–about which she says on her website, “WARNING: Not your typical diversity trainer!”–in a wide range of organizations to serve groups to move from abstract fears to actionable habits that lead teams to want to work together. With a sense of belonging and understanding, colleagues take more risks with their ideation, converse precious resources through collaboration, and maintain real connections with clients over time.

You can read her full resume here, including the extensive list of publications, training and work she does. Jessica Pettitt can be contacted at jess@goodenoughnow.com, or text her about anything to 202.670.4262.

A personal note: I am grateful that Jess wrote Good Enough Now, about which you can read more about here and purchase copies of via the link provided on that page, if you so choose.

Q2. What is “sexual harassment?” What is non-sexual bullying or harassment? How are they alike and how do they differ? Why is it important to differentiate, especially since the current conversations are about sexual vs. general harassment?

SM: I hate the term “sexual harassment” and I don’t use it. I talk about gender-based harassment and bullying.

The term “sexual harassment” puts the focus on the content of the harassing behavior, rather than on the effects of that behavior. When you look at the effect of gender-based harassment on targets and bystanders you can clearly see that this is not about sex, sexuality or human intimacy–even when the harasser’s goal is some kind of sexual contact or activity. Harassment is all about power.

Whether we’re talking about gender-based harassment or harassment on the basis of any other personal characteristics (race, religion, age, ability, size, etc.), we’re talking about behavior that emerges from the difference in power between the harasser and the target. Harassment is all about who controls the space, and who is or is not safe in that space. Street harassment conveys the clear message that the target is not safe from unwelcome attention in public spaces simply because they are female, or transgender, or a person of color, or wearing a hijab, and so on. Workplace harassment conveys the message that the target is not safe and not welcome in that workplace, or in a particular role in that workplace.

Harassment is a form of bullying, one that focuses on a personal characteristic of the target. The bully’s message is “I can make your life hell and you can’t do anything about it.” The harasser’s message is “I can make your life hell and you can’t do anything about it. You don’t belong here, and I can get away with treating you this way because you are a ____.”

I have heard from many women whose initial harassment experiences fit the legal and HR definitions of sexual harassment, and whose harasser shifted tactics after the woman complained. The harasser then turned bully–belittling her in meetings, sending all-caps email rants that he cc’d to everyone in the department, excluding her from important meetings or conversations about her work, and so on. Her further complaints to HR were dismissed because this was no longer “sexual” harassment. That’s one of the problems with segregating harassment and bullying with sexual content from other forms of harassment and bullying.

JP: I didn’t know the words bullying or harassment until I had been on the speaking circuit for a decade or so and they were suddenly topic areas of speakers. Similarly, I didn’t know the word lesbian until graduate school. Interestingly, to me at least, I was personally impacted and/or targeted by bullies, harassers and homophobes, long before I had access to the language that described me and the experiences.

As a diversity and inclusion speaker, author and consultant, I have always gravitated to the incongruences of oppression and work daily to bring light to those silenced and marginalized, even if I don’t know the right words. Most recently, I have learned that airlines don’t have a policy to deal with unwanted and/or unsolicited touching while in flight. They claim no responsibility, have no response protocol, and no criminal action is taken to prevent the perpetrator from leaving the plane. I don’t know anything about this–and this is my newest area of mind-blowing WTF moments where I, too, don’t have the language.

I don’t know that I agree that it is important to separate out sexual vs. general harassment. This is about power and not a sexual fetish or conquest of sorts. The feeling of being entitled to someone else’s space, body or a specific response can be problematic, and that is if the other person feels this as a use of power over their sense of agency or in exchange for something that feels limiting. This is a subjective definition and why this area is tricky. Sometimes, the motivation can be solved through education and sometimes it can’t be.

I draw a parallel between “in group” and “out group” language to some degree. There are stories, words and actions that are permitted (rightly or wrongly) within sub groups or communities to which you belong that are not promised to be permitted in other settings. One must learn each setting and follow often unwritten rules about what is permitted, and over time, these rules may change. An individual can also write their own rules about what is and isn’t permitted, and these rules apply to their own behavior–not others necessarily. I should mention, I am not a lawyer, I was a ceramics major so take my legal advice with that in mind.

Lastly, it is never appropriate to say or do anything without someone’s consent and yet we do this all the time, and most of the time it even seems to work out okay. We are not entitled to feedback, education, training or a conversation with someone that we have offended or hurt. It is our responsibility to listen to those that do give us feedback and assume that we don’t know everything.

Imagine what would happen if we entered a conversation prepared to be wrong–this isn’t at all about overpowering the other, but actually listening and connecting with them if they want to.

Q3. Our readers are in hospitality–as meeting professionals (aka planners or designers of content and delivery), sales for AV companies, hotels, convention centers, cities, conference centers and related services, and others. A friend once said to me that at hospitality gatherings it “feels like Hollywood” with all the hugging and kissing. If that’s the culture,

  • How is it contributing to potential harassment and the ability to say no to even a general greeting from a business contact that could involve a hug or kiss?
  • How do we turn it around to change the culture of the industry? Do we need to and why? And are industry associations (MPI, PCMA, IAEE, ASAE, etc.) responsible to help do so?

SM: Whether or not this kind of social behavior contributes to harassment, it is behavior that needs to be reconsidered because it is troubling and can be exclusionary. There are myriad reasons why someone doesn’t want to be hugged or kissed. Maybe they have a cold and don’t want to spread it. Maybe they are on the autism spectrum and physical contact is excruciating for them. Maybe they have severe germ phobia. Maybe they come from a cultural background in which that kind of touch is restricted to family members and spouses.

Who knows how many members, attendees, employees, even business contacts have stayed away from events just to avoid the unpleasantness of putting up with, or trying to avoid, unwanted touch? [Author note: I’m reading the book The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People and learning so much about myself and others. What Sherry says plays into lessons in this book as well.]

[On-site meetings] staff can help by modeling behavior that discourages this kind of contact without permission or consent. They can be the ones who ask first: “May I give you a hug?” which doesn’t take long and is a perfectly polite and reasonable question.

“Please don’t hug me without asking” is a perfectly polite and reasonable response to being forced into a hug. If this truly has become part of the culture, then work that as the association has become aware that this is a barrier to all members feeling safe at the meeting, everyone should ask before hugging–something like a gentler version of the DC Metro [mass transit] campaign, “If it is unwanted, it’s harassment.”

I know lots of people who proclaim, “But I’m a hugger, I hug everyone!” I really doubt that all of these folks are incapable of resisting the urge to wrap their arms around someone in public. Always, always, always ask before your grab and then wait for a positive response before you move in. Don’t assume that because this is someone you’ve hugged before, they are okay with being hugged again.

Consent is active, not passive, and past consent does not imply current consent.

And yes, I am fully aware of cultural differences in how people greet each other. Japanese bowing etiquette is a great example. It is amazing how much information (respect, dominance, deference, fondness) can be exchanged in the process of simply bowing from the waist, and physical contact is not required.

The custom in some cultures of cheek-kissing is one that comes up in discussions about “to hug or not to hug,” and I have a couple of thoughts on that. The first is that if cheek kissing is NOT part of your culture, it is perfectly okay to decline to participate. You may have to let the cheek-kisser know that on first encounter, but there is no reason why you have to conform to their custom if that custom makes you uncomfortable.

The second is that, having experienced cheek-kissing rituals when doing business in Europe, I found them somewhat less invasive than some U.S. customs. They are certainly less invasive and less prone to “accidental” unwanted touching of body parts than hugs; they are even less invasive than the U.S. “handshake-elbow grab-pull in for a pat on the back” maneuver.

JP: I just spoke at a conference that was VERY huggy. When I say huggy, I mean deep long-lost friend hugs that genuinely seemed honest and loving with nothing but a “welcome to the community” intention. I am not a touchy, huggy person, and when at conferences, I know that the hugs will happen so I brace myself and enjoy being part of the community norm. I still get VERY uncomfortable when someone hugs me or approaches me from behind, and the depth, length and tightness of the hugs at the conference I just returned home from was a new level of discomfort. I simultaneously felt welcomed and emotionally drained until the last day of the conference, I was literally out of juice in a way I can’t really describe.

I don’t have direct answers or solutions. I also don’t want a world or meeting culture where people, specifically men, are terrified to emotionally connect, show respectful affection, etc. I don’t know that it is the meeting industry’s role to mediate what is an intention of a touch and the impact of that touch–I would like to think that our cultural norms can set these standards. I also would like to see people more confident that they have more to offer than a sexual object or are valued by society by how attractive or sexually active one is. This is a larger issue about respecting one another and ourselves differently and without connection to another person.

We all have work to do.

It is also true that someone can learn and behave differently than they did in the past. This can be both a positive progressive movement as well as a decline in rational choices and personal decisions. To make it even more complicated, though always about power, sexual harassment and bullying can be considered comedy, entertainment and harmless, and the next second it has gone too far.

At another conference I spoke at recently, a comedian introduced me following the [immediate past] Secretary of Education’s speech. [The person introducing me] talked about how young and attractive the Secretary of Education was while he was serving himself breakfast in the back of the room post-speech. He turned red and the audience laughed. The introducer continued and suddenly, it was too much. She kept going and as she walked off the stage she stated her phone number and said, “Most marriages don’t last–call me.”

This turned abhorrent. As I took the stage, and began my keynote, I named what had happened by saying, “With all that is going on in the world, that is an excellent example of sexual harassment and what not to do.” [During the] conference, [participants], men and women, thanked me for naming it as sexual harassment. It took almost nothing on my part to name it, and collectively, we in the industry could do this, too.

Q4. Much of what’s in the news is about sexual harassment by men toward women, except for the cover story in Time naming the #MeToo movement as “persons of the year” where men were included, and in the case of some celebrities and the spouse of a politician in Massachusetts. Is this what’s prevalent vs. same-gender harassment? Toward LGBTQ people? Toward transgender people?

SP: “Wait, what about me?!? I’m oppressed, too, you know!!” The age-old cry of those in power (i.e. white, straight, cis-gender men) whenever the rest of us object to being treated as less than human.

The vast majority of incidents in professional settings are men harassing women, and most often older men harassing younger women, or men higher in rank or power harassing women lower in rank or power. Yes, men do harass men, although it often takes the form of bullying rather than “sexual” harassment. And there is a lot of intersectional harassment and bullying–targets are selected and bullied because of their gender or gender identity AND their race, religion, appearance, age, etc.

Hair-splitting over who is more harassed than whom, and exactly what kind of harassment they experience, is a distraction from the real problem. The real problem is the steady and unrelenting abuse of the power dynamics in organization.

The goal of all this is pretty simple. Behave like an adult. Treat people like the human beings that they are. Don’t be an asshole.

JP: All harassment is about power. The harassment of trans folks, specifically transwomen of color, is significantly more likely to result in death or life long injury and disability. The indecipherable “femininity” of a person perceived to be a man, therefore assumed to be gay, and a person of color is a deadly combination of assumptions almost always resulting in acts of violence that are often supported by local, state and federal laws. LGBQ people, as long as they are white, upper class and conform to binary standards, they are less likely to be harassed or bullied, and yet are consistently starting in elementary school. Similarly, to show up as one’s full self, they (we) must come out to every person we come in contact with and every day of our lives. This alone can compound and feel like an act of violence, then add on bias or hate incidents where folks are targeted by others. Again, it is all about power. It is important to mention that a woman of color started the #MeToo campaign and was left off of the Time cover as well as the narrative of the hashtag that was eventually picked up by a straight white cis actress–then it got attention.

Q5. What do we all need to know and watch for? How do we, for ourselves and for our friends, colleagues, co-workers and families, help those who may be afraid to speak out for fear of retribution, including fear of job loss? What are the bullet points people can use to fend off unwanted touch, or more?

SM: Targets, and many witnesses, recognize bullying and harassment for what it is. If nothing else, that little gut clench when you hear a comment or see a behavior, so easily dismissed or overridden, is a sure sign that yes, that was unwelcome, unwanted, inappropriate and downright wrong.

It takes a lot of forethought and practice to speak up. The most effective responses follow a simple formula:

“You just did/said ____.

“I don’t like it.” Or “That violates our code of conduct.” Or “I don’t want to hear things like that.”

“Stop doing/saying _____.”

Say it with a straight face, neutral body language, no apology, no smiles, no being “nice” about it. Use volume and tone of voice to reflect the intensity of your upset over what they did or said.

If you want to intervene and you aren’t the target, don’t speak for the target; make it about you: “I find that extremely offensive.” “I don’t want to hear things like that at work.” “That violates our code of conduct.” “We don’t do that here.”

Self-defense classes usually include practicing this kind of response, which is generally effective and does not escalate the encounter. I recommend that anyone and everyone take a good empowerment self-defense class. (In the D.C. area, Defend Yourself http://defendyourself.org/ and Collective Action for Safe Spaces http://www.collectiveactiondc.org/ offer classes on harassment resistance and empowerment self-defense.)

[Author’s note: check if these organizations or in your location and, in the comments please, add names of other resources in other cities and countries of which you are aware].

JP: I suggest that trying to help and support others to do something may be frustrating as it varies person to person what is the right thing to do. The best thing to do is to take responsibility for yourself. Who and how we show up is our responsibility. When do you want to take power from someone else? If you answer “never” then you have work to do.

Stand up to those taking power away from others, especially if it really doesn’t cost you anything or feel like a risk. When you think something isn’t a big deal–this means there isn’t much of a risk for you. Say something. Notice who and how you are regarding power with and over others. Notice your own touch patterns as well as language you shift using with one person or group but not another and ask yourself why. If your own behaviors and language choices stand up to your own questioning process you can keep them or change them. Either way, if they survive your questioning processes, you can justify or explain them to others.

Q6. What have I not asked that you want to tell readers about sexual or other workplace and meeting harassment?

SM: Whether you’re the target or a bystander, effectively responding to harassment in the moment is a learned skill and takes practice. The more people learn and apply these skills, the faster we’ll see changes in behavior. That said, responding on an individual level does entail risks, from social sanctions (“Don’t talk to her, she’ll ream you out for harassment.”) to job loss and career derailment.

Harassment resistance and intervention by individuals is a start, but bigger changes are needed to eliminate this behavior in professional settings. Leaders in organizations, professions and workplaces have to make this a priority, and have to be willing to take rapid and effective action to eliminate harassers and bullies from every professional setting.

Until organizations and employers are willing to shoulder the risk of actually enforcing policies against harassment and bullying, cultures won’t change. As long as HR offices and Title IX offices are told their jobs are risk reduction and liability avoidance, complaints will continue to be investigated unto death and then dismissed as “unproven,” and this behavior will continue.

Until targets are listened to, believed, EFFECTIVELY protected from retaliation, and rewarded for their courage in coming forward, organizations will continue to lose talented, creative and productive people. As long as harassment and bullying are tolerated and even rewarded, harassers will harass and bullies will bully.

JP: Just know that harassment isn’t like the chicken pox. If you hear of someone’s experience(s), believe them and know that there are more experiences in their past and more to come in their future. This doesn’t happen just once and you are done. This is a lifelong experience. I think this has been the most shocking part for those new to this conversation.

I am a 43-year-old woman and I don’t know another woman that doesn’t experience sexualized violence, harassment and/or bullying throughout their lives. Let that sink in. It doesn’t have to be a problem for you to be a problem for others. Now, let’s do something about it.

Click here to view additional content in the 01.05.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.​

#MeToo in Meetings and Hospitality: What’s Next?

Originally posted Meetings Today Blog    Friday’s with Joan

#MeToo in Meetings and Hospitality: What's Next?

I remember receiving a call years ago from someone important in our industry threatening me and my business if I were to dare speak of something about which I knew nothing about until the call. This person was threatening me based on an incident about which it was believed I’d spoken.

I remember the appointment with a new doctor whose exam of me seemed “not right” and the looks on the nurses’ faces but I didn’t know what to expect, so I said nothing. And I remember so many other incidents as do you—as someone who experienced them or as someone who was the perpetrator.

The current wave of accusations of sexual and other harassment in the workplace and at meetings are not new. This research paper from 1998, titled Sexual Harassment Issues in the Hospitality Industry by David Gilbert, Yvonne Guerrier and Jonathan Guy, may very well verify what the informal poll numbers, and, separately Meetings Today—through the January 2018 Friday With Joan newsletter poll—will find.

Yet we begin the new year where we left the old: discussing harassment and bullying with the daily breaking stories including this one—Companies Hit by Sex Misconduct Target the Dreaded Holiday Party—published at the end of the last year, from Bloomberg, about the impact on holiday parties amid fear of allegations of harassment, stating that if alcohol were limited, it would cut down on harassment.

And then there’s some of you who may have even considered, while planning “holiday” gatherings, whether to play “Baby It’s Cold Outside” in light of the #MeToo era, as discussed in this recent Washington Post article.

While alcohol and song lyrics may contribute to thoughts of harassment, they do not cause it. Power is what spurs people to harass others. I asked, among those in hospitality social media groups, for their stories.

These are (edited for length and to eliminate identifiers) some of the stories I received.

From a meeting planner: WOW! As I read [other articles] it is so reminiscent of what our team went through. The entire staff complained to the Board about our supervisor’s verbal abuse.

We were sent to what might be called “team therapy.” At the end of the session, the facilitator announced who the person—in attendance!—who caused the harassment was and about whom the complaint was made. The verbal abuse grew much worse. Jobs at my level were hard to find so I kept working even when others left.

I was finally fired with no reason given.

From a meeting vendor: I had a boss sexually harass me in front of several people at a job retreat at which there had been lots of drinking all day and I was clad only in a swimsuit. I was asked to sign a paper saying I would not discuss the incident.

I don’t think it was really a sexual thing with him. Much like [many of the more famous people accused], it was a power play. Hookers can be hired for sexual desires, but power is real the driver. They can do what they want to their employees.

After he did what he did to me, a co-worker sitting next to me said. “Don’t be mad. It is like a dog humping your leg.” I will never forget that comment. Like he does this to everyone and he is the boss. Like what they said about Charlie Rose.

“That is Charlie being Charlie.”

The other owner of the company came to my office, and closed the door and [asked], “How much money do you want to make this go away?” I told him I didn’t want money.

This company [then went] through my emails to try to find something on me and fired me. I then got a lawyer who said it was a moot point (to try to argue [against] this).

From a (now) third-party contractor: My first experience [with harassment] happened when I was very young and starting out in the industry. I was physically attacked on an elevator at a major convention hotel in the city I represented. The attacker was a prominent person with an association that was considering our city for their meeting. What was so shocking is after it happened was that my boss at the time required me to continue working with this group. I was young and naïve; I did as I was told.

I eventually left that job and returned to the same organization years later. This was all before computer records. The paper files of the incident were gone.

No actions were taken against the attacker.

From a third party: A couple years ago I was sexually harassed and because I’m an independent contractor, I was told there was nothing I could do legally even though I told the company to whom I contracted about it. The client was a big one and important to the company [for the revenue it produced]. The complaint resulted in the client leaving the company and because there was no contract with the client, there was nothing that could be done to support me or to bring in the revenue from which I’d also benefit.

After a few days of discussing what happened with my family and friends, a decision was made to inform [the harasser’s] supervisors. There was never a response from them; he continues to work there. I still enjoy working independently but having more support would be nice.

From a meeting planner: I unfortunately have a story to tell. Mine is slightly different: my boss harassed me in front of colleagues for being a nursing mother.

We were on site at our annual meeting and the boss made various comments regarding me nursing my child while at the meeting. Because of this, I no longer felt I could trust this person and was uncomfortable in other situations. I explained it to this person and nothing changed. I told HR and nothing happened. So I quit.

This issue of bullying touches on hot topics: breastfeeding, working mothers, mom-shaming. I’ve been trying to figure out how else I can share my story and help support other working mothers because our industry is unique with the amount of travel we have to do.

From a corporate planner: In a new job in a small company, one of the bosses, while we were alone in the office, asked me into his office. He asked me to sit on his knee. He said if I didn’t, he’d fire me. I didn’t [sit on his knee] and he did [fire me].

I was still new and needed the job and no, I didn’t take further action and wish I had.

From a planner: I was in a large North American city about to begin a two-day conference. The night before the start of the conference, as was the company’s practice, there was a private dinner for speakers. When the dinner concluded, I went to my room, did some work, and got ready for bed. The phone in my room rang. I answered to hear one of the speakers say he wanted to give me his presentation so that it was off his plate before the morning presentations. He asked me to come to his room. Not thinking this was deceitful, I groaned to myself because I had to get dressed respectfully. I slipped into my usual conference “uniform”—a business suit I’d worn for dinner—even putting on pantyhose. I knocked on the speaker’s door. I was greeted by this person holding an open bottle of wine covering his genitals and wearing nothing except a smile on his face.

He invited me in.

As I turned to quickly get back away, he shouted “if you don’t come in and ‘come across,’ I’m not speaking tomorrow.” Obviously I left, yelling back that I was going to tell my boss. I got to my room, quite shaken and eventually fell into a restless sleep.

The next day, I wasn’t as full of self-confidence as I hoped I looked. Once my boss got there, I explained the situation.  He was obviously (imagine if he wasn’t?) on my side. We put a panel in place in case this speaker didn’t show. The speaker did show up but never apologized to me. He never spoke for the organization again.

If this were to happen today, I’d immediate advise security [of the incident that occurred] and ask them to keep an eye on my room. I’d complete an incident report for the hotel and for my employer.

I’d call a meeting very quickly with my boss and ensure security was around the event.

This marks the final story presented here sharing real examples of sexual harassment.

What constitutes harassment was a question on my mind when I traveled, in December, to visit a hospitalized family member. After “one of those days” of awful travel (via O’Hare International Airport, instead of my canceled non-stop flight), I arrived at the hospital, exhausted, during a snow storm, and walked slowly toward the entrance. The valet parking attendant offered a wheelchair. I readily agreed.

He put his hand on my shoulder, squeezed it, and said “You’ll be OK.” I was comforted and appreciative and only later thought “should I be? Is this a type of not asking if it were OK to touch me?” Really! In that setting, when I was in need of the comfort of touch, which is considered healing, I questioned it.

All because of the endless allegations of sexual harassment.

Despite statements from industry associations such as this one from MPI, shared by Meetings Today, and this article, from PCMA Convene, our industry has been remarkably quiet about these issues, until recently.

Update: Here’s another related article published by PCMA Convene.

And then there’s also this, from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), a statement sent to me with permission to publish after I reached out to them on the issue: “The hotel and lodging industry has made the safety of both employees and guests a top priority. For this reason, our properties have in place safety standards, our employees receive comprehensive and ongoing trainings, and AHLA has partnered with nationally recognized non-profits and developed tailored trainings for the industry.

“As headlines over recent weeks have shown, no industry is immune to dealing with sexual harassment. Our industry has in place procedures and protocols for employees around reporting and prevention, and these are continuously reviewed and updated. As an industry, we will continue our work, day in and day out, with a focus on ensuring America’s hotels are secure places for all those who work and visit them.”

Sexual and other forms of harassment and bullying have been whispered about for as many years as I’ve been in this industry and from what I hear from those older than I, for much longer. More prevalent is sexual and other harassment in the broader hospitality industry of which meetings are a part.

It hadn’t escaped me when, in October, I interviewed Dr. Vivek H. Murthy—the immediate past U.S. Surgeon General—and wrote about the importance of creating welcoming environments at meetings to help curb the loneliness epidemic that clearly, those welcoming environments should be appropriate.

I think the stories I received from a variety of people are the tip of the iceberg. Like with politics, media, and entertainment, and with the publication of allegations against one DMO (aka CVB) CEO [for which we’ve not found updated information since this was published, outside of a refusal by participants of a closed door meeting to comment], one wonders if more allegations will come forth. Or will the fear of job loss, like what the women at Ford Motor Company experienced, keep people from speaking out?

What should happen next? Will your organization, if it hasn’t yet done so, create a code of enforceable conduct in the workplace and for meetings and conferences? Will you report or intervene when you see harassment happening to someone else?

If it happens to you, what will you do—especially if you know your job could be on the line and you can’t afford to lose it? Will there be a demand that such conduct will not be tolerated and if so, what would the consequences be? Will groups ask in their site and vendor selection RFPs about sexual harassment suits or allegations and their settlement and policies, and determine not to book meetings in potentially hostile environments? Will members, staff, or customers who act against policy be terminated?

I know that too few of us were aware of the lawsuit by employees of The Plaza in New York or the housekeeper at the resort in California, both of which were featured, with the women who spoke out, in Time magazine’s “Person of the Year 2017: The Silence Breakers” issue, even though we knew the actions of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and tut-tutted but there was no general outcry then as there is now for people who work in hotels or those of us who plan meeting or market and sell space and services.

Two colleagues, Ben Yalow and Sherry Marts, have offered examples of policies their organizations offer on handling bullying and harassment.

As I finished writing this blog, there are more important developments to note, in particular the @TIMESUPNOW movement because it says its aim is to help those who, like Ford’s line workers and hotel housekeepers, may not have the financial and other resources to support their reporting of abuses.

Read more on the Time’s Up movement in this article from NPR. This article from Harvard Business Review is about why harassment persists and how to stop it. This is about the impact on black women of harassment and reporting it.  And this from the Washington Post’s Michelle Singletary about the fear of job loss in reporting harassment is insightful.

Even U.S. Supreme Court Justice Roberts said courts will examine protections against sexual harassment. There is much to consider when one decides the next steps.

Allegations without actions will change nothing. Read what Sherry Marts and Jessica Pettitt have to say in the January 2018 Friday With Joan sidebar.

Share your story below or if you’d prefer, I promise confidentiality, and I will, if you write to me at FridaywithJoan@aol.com, change any identifiers and post here for others to learn. If your employer or clients have policies to combat harassment in the workplace and especially at meetings or events, please, if permitted, share the links.

We can change the culture if we speak up and act.

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

Click here to view additional content in the 01.05.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.​

 

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.​