Tag Archives: Tyra Hilliard

Meeting Trends: We’ve Only Come This Far?!

Original post Meetings Today

Meeting Trends: We’ve Only Come This Far?!

I’m frustrated with the meetings industry.

If I had written the final version of this blog in December 2018*, before my cousin Gayle** sent me the book Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott, my written frustration and anger toward OUR industry—that can’t seem to change—might have “burned your eye.”

As I thought about the state of the meetings industry and read Ms. Lamott’s book, I calmed a bit. “Stop the anger,” I thought. “Be nice” and write calmly. And as a colleague said to me years ago and others have said more recently, “be patient—it takes time to change.”

This was all before the 2019 Meetings Today Trends Survey results were released.

I read the numbers in print and digitally and was even more livid, especially at the question asking if planners had a written security and disaster plan in place for their event(s).

28% of respondents said they were “working on it,” which really is a “no.” And those planners who actually responded with a “no” totaled 44%.

That’s 72% of planners who said “no”!

Then I read the summation of some comments Tyler Davidson, Meetings Today’s chief content director, compiled. My cranky anger rose again.

Should I write a cranky blog or a “nice” blog?

I chose to focus on trends where the numbers and some comments were to me most troubling. I then reached out to industry and industry-related or former industry colleagues to respond to a few questions to check my own levels of exasperation and get their input.

[Side note: I’m a Myers-Briggs “P” if that helps you better understand my position].

These colleagues read the numbers and the comments on specific topic areas and responded. Their comments are the sidebar (or “Part 2”) of this Friday With Joan blog post.

If in editing their remarks, we’ve changed their intentions, we apologize and hope they’ll add to the comments here or there. I insist you go and read through those responses.

[Editor’s Note: Scroll down to the section of this blog post labeled “Join the Discussion and Move Meetings Forward” for links to all of the responses].

A Startling Lack of Risk and Contingency Preparation at Meetings and Events

My greatest frustration was around risk and contingency preparation. The numbers tell me that about 70% of those responding have no plans because “working on it” is still a “no.”

In preparation to deliver a short awareness of risk and contingency planning program for an industry association recently, I heard what I always hear from clients and colleagues:

a) we don’t have time or money to develop a plan; b) the hotel (or convention center or other venue) will take care of any risks; c) our security team has it well in hand; and my all time favorite, d) nothing bad has ever happened at our meetings so why bother?

These and other excuses for not planning to protect people, property and reputation astound me. Not an expert in security, I am a long-time practitioner of developing plans and enacting those plans for risks that include threats to people, property and finances.

If even the following issues—not going back as far as 9/11 or 2005’s Hurricane Katrina—are not in the collective front-of-mind thinking, what sort of tragedy or disaster will actually inspire others to stop, process what is going on and make change?

Could it be:

  • Shootings in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, Mother Emanuel Church and Pulse Nightclub?
  • Mass murder at a Las Vegas concert for which the FBI has found no known motive and about which there’s been no answer about how a room service cart could have been left long enough in a hotel hallway to install a camera to see who was approaching.
  • #MeToo acts of sexual assault or harassment about which I’ve written and spoken, repeatedly quoting and linking to the website of Sherry Marts for procedures.
  • Alcohol served liberally at meetings—at industry meetings—seeing no harm in the contribution it makes to potential illness, violence and death.

Brad Goldberg, Tyra Hilliard and Ken Wheatley concluded that developing common language, using those trained in security, and rethinking and planning are the best ways to be prepared.

While I agree with those strategies, they are far beyond what most in our industry consider.

And That’s Not at All Where My Frustration With OUR Industry Ends

The other issues and responses I found puzzling in the survey were those about:

  • What worries industry colleagues: yes, we still get no respect and we are doing little as an industry to change that by hosting Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID) events that include and thus visually represent the same issues criticized by the non-industry media and governments: people drinking and having a good time versus conducting education and teaching industry colleagues how to lobby government segments;
  • Whether there will be a CSR component to your meeting when individuals and organizations, including many DMOs, have encouraged and supported us to make these parts of every gathering to support awareness and to give back;
  • Events and activities that you’ll conduct, which clearly didn’t include a CSR component and, really … golf is still a big part? (See what John Chen has to say).
  • Sustainable meetings where there is still a belief that digital versus printed materials are the most they can do even when that takes away from education (people learn better when they write versus type) and doesn’t take into account the energy used to charge devices and the electronic waste from those who continue to upgrade their devices. When sustainability is far greater when it comes to people and the environment.

In the week before I wrote the final version of this blog, I met with a retired hotel colleague and his husband, who asked me if I still loved what I did. I hesitated.

As we talked, it was clear that I felt—feel—great passion for the work I do. That includes this industry and the changes I believe that meetings can make in the world and the changes that can be made and made-to-stick in this industry. My frustration increases with the lack of overall change in how we operate and deliver content.

And as it is said, “nevertheless, she persisted.”

To people who tell me to have patience…

I wonder how many years it takes of actively working in an industry where others, including those who provided responses for this month’s newsletter, continue to work hard, speak and teach to impact change—for change to stick.

You Can Get Angry and Maintain a Strong Voice

I wrote this blog post in a way that was a combination of “nice” and cranky because of inspiration from Cindi Leive.

Her “Brief But Spectacular Take” on PBS Newshour on 1.28.19, crystalized it: I’m angry and I’m tired of “making nice,” equivocating about how angry I am.

So, to you, Cindi Leive, I add another dedication for the ability to express the anger I have expressed in the past only to be chastised because “angry women” just aren’t OK in our world. I have learned I can express my anger and still maintain a strong voice.

Join the Discussion and Move Meetings Forward

These are the colleagues who responded to my questions:

I invite you to join us here, in the blog comments, in a discussion about what you think we can do to make change stick. That way in 2019 or 2020 the responses to the Meetings Today Trends Survey questions will reflect that we’ve actually made a difference.

And please don’t still be “working on” your written disaster plan when that time comes!

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.

*At lunch in December with colleagues who asked me how I was, I used a “not-for-a-family-publication” word to say I was THAT ANGRY at how the industry just doesn’t change or keeps reinventing the wheel around diversity, inclusion, women’s empowerment, meeting design, risk and contingency planning, negotiations and contracts, ethics and on and on.

I was cranky, angry and frustrated to think so many of us had spent so much time working hard to move things along and they did and then BOOM, full stop until the issues are raised again and VOILA! It’s all fresh again and history is not considered or built upon.

And then … we are stuck.

**This blog post is dedicated to my cousin Gayle. And Cindi Leive mentioned later in the post. And, my editor, Eric Andersen, who is truly remarkable and “gets” me!

Participant Safety Above All Else: On Water, Land or in the Air

Originally published Meetings Today blog

Participant Safety Above All Else: On Water, Land or in the Air

Immediately upon hearing about the Branson, Missouri, duck boat catastrophe, in addition to feeling a profound sadness for the families, my risk management thinking went into high gear.

Tyler Davidson, content director with Meetings Today, and I agreed that something must be written to help us all grasp the responsibilities in what we review—for our individual leisure plans, and for the activities often enthusiastically suggested to us by a hotel concierge or convention services staff.

Not to mention additional recommendations from DMOs, DMCs, colleagues or salespeople.

An additional note: if any of the quotes transcribed within this blog post are in fact or concept incorrect, I take responsibility.

Mr. Loebl also suggested the following:

“The most useful resource I’ve found to determine a specific state’s boating requirements is the U.S. Coast Guard Mobile App. [See the website for a] description and links to download to your phone.”

Although mainly geared to recreational boating, the information is still useful.

“The website that belongs to the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) has a page with links to a [boating laws] reference guide for each state with a number of questions related to boating safety public laws,” Loebl continued. “There is also a breakdown by topic area.”

“Not every [boating law administrator] regulates commercial vessels on its state waters, so it is a mixed bag,” he added. “If more specific info is needed about a particular state, [it’s] probably best to go directly to that state [boating law administrator], which is easily done using the USCG mobile app.”

An additional note: if any of the quotes transcribed within this blog post are in fact or concept incorrect, I take responsibility.

Mr. Loebl also suggested the following:

“The most useful resource I’ve found to determine a specific state’s boating requirements is the U.S. Coast Guard Mobile App. [See the website for a] description and links to download to your phone.”

Although mainly geared to recreational boating, the information is still useful.

“The website that belongs to the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) has a page with links to a [boating laws] reference guide for each state with a number of questions related to boating safety public laws,” Loebl continued. “There is also a breakdown by topic area.”

“Not every [boating law administrator] regulates commercial vessels on its state waters, so it is a mixed bag,” he added. “If more specific info is needed about a particular state, [it’s] probably best to go directly to that state [boating law administrator], which is easily done using the USCG mobile app.”

I’m also grateful to a duck boat franchise that provided answers to questions I had about safety and operations. Respecting its privacy, I am not including the contact’s name or the location of operations.

“I certainly understand the hesitation [about riding duck boats after the accident]. What happened in Branson was so unfortunate and has sent shockwaves throughout all of the duck companies nationwide.

“[In response to your query about the photos on the website] the reason you don’t see anyone wearing life jackets … is not because we don’t have them. At any time during the tour you are welcome to put one on. If you want to put one on, you can. The pictures on the website are from a photo shoot last year. And no one [among the passengers at that time] wanted to put their [life jacket] on.

“I cannot speak for what the Branson ducks did, but here’s what we do and what we have done for the past 15+ plus years [that I’ve been associated with this company, although it has been in business longer].

“Every morning, the captains come in at 7:00 a.m. The first thing they do is pull up the weather.

“In my opinion before Branson and after Branson, our master captains (all of them have a masters’ captain license) are better meteorologists than those you see on TV.

“Weather is what our captains deal with every day. There is ALWAYS a captain set aside to watch the weather. That’s all they do that day. No tours, just weather watching.

“They have two computers, one TV and four phones. They are obsessed with the weather.

“The other captains scheduled on that day then do two pre-trip inspections. One that is DOT required and one that is Coast Guard required. Any discrepancy, the duck doesn’t go out. Any issue, the duck doesn’t go out.

“We don’t go out when the wind is high. We don’t go out when the tide is high. We don’t go out when the tide is low. We don’t go out when there is lightning and thunder.

“And no captain works for more than 12 hours per DOT rules.”

Use the above responses, in addition to the checklist questions that accompany this blog post as a separate article, to ask about the duck boat or other like operations for a personal or group activity.

Given this information and what was said in interviews with the survivor, Tia Coleman (that the passengers didn’t have to wear life jackets), and from emails and posts on social media from friends and colleagues who have been on duck boats, and in looking at photos on websites of different cities’ duck boat operations … I am not confident that it is suggested that one wear life vests aboard all duck boats.

Pay attention to the follow-up articles and read what the investigator from the NTSB said about the storm that was predicted. Note the mention of another duck boat that went out about the same time and returned before the storm worsened.

And here’s a former NTSB Chair calling for a duck boat ban.

Read the list that Tyra Hilliard, who shares my passion about risk and contingency planning, and I compiled of questions to ask before taking part in any sort of boating or other water-based transportation activity. Think how these or like questions apply to any form of transportation or venues you book.

Consider that what happened in Branson could have happened to you or your family while on vacation or to those attending your meetings whether as a sponsored activity or as one recommended by you. If not recommended by you, maybe by your supplier partners with DMOs or hotels or DMCs.

In the initial Meetings Today article, we shared five key areas to consider when assessing transportation risk (with questions). Those are now expanded in the accompanying checklist presented in the Friday With Joan newsletter. Please add your safety precautions for any of these areas in the comments. We all are safer because of the experiences of others and by sharing information.

Be safe. If you are out on the water, wear a life vest or jacket. If you are on land and riding a bicycle or motorcycle, wear a helmet. If you are planning to be in or hire land vehicles—car (private or contracted) or bus—ask if they have a seat belt, then tell your participants to do what you do: wear seatbelts. When you are on a plane or a train, no matter how many trips you’ve taken, put down your reading materials and listen to the information about safety. In a hotel or other meeting facility? Count the steps from your guest room to the nearest evacuation area; look for evacuation and shelter-in-place areas.

Pay attention to all that will keep you and your participants safe.

As you inspect the car services and other companies with whom you contract, channel me! Each time I ask and want to contract safety issues, I’m told “no one has ever asked that before.” It is high time others did ask! In talking with industry attorneys, it was said that yes, those who hold designations such as CMP are likely to be held to a higher standard in the due diligence they perform in their recommendations.

CMP or not, make it safe for everyone.

I offer my continued condolences to those so horribly impacted by this tragedy—the families, their friends, the employees of the franchise and all others. How can we help but feel for them?

As I reflect on all the life-ending events suffered in our world and in our industry in particular, I ask as I have for years: How can we not put safety first in all we do as professionals on any side of this industry?

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 August 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 08.03.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Insurance: How Covered Are You and Your Meetings?

Original published Meeting Today Blog 

Insurance: How Covered Are You and Your Meetings?

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

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

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

Also consider these “what ifs”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Ethical Negotiation’ – An Oxymoron?

Original published Meeting Today Blog 

'Ethical Negotiation' - An Oxymoron?

Psst… did you hear the one about the hotel salesperson and the customer who didn’t disclose their policies and history? OK, maybe that’s not a common setup for a punchline.

But everyone says it: there must be “hidden charges” that involve a financial risk to meetings that hotels never disclose, seemingly in order to protect themselves from major catastrophe. This causes meeting organizers to believe they’ve been “caught” by someone unscrupulous because if they were really our partners, wouldn’t all the information be disclosed at the start of the relationship?

Conversely, hoteliers and other vendors, working with a wide range of customers say they are frustrated that RFPs (Requests for Proposals)—whether written, electronically completed or phoned in—don’t describe an entire meeting, its needs or its history.

Those with many years of planning, sometimes for the same organization, where year-to-year meetings are pretty much the same; those with little experience; or the well-meaning person who, based on a social media group’s interest, wants to convene face-to-face gatherings, all sometimes take short cuts.

Without all the facts, hotels and other vendors may take for granted that what they get is enough and the person from whom it is received knows enough to ask the right questions. Neither party wants to lose money. In fact, the expectation for each side is that a profit be made, or for the group, at least a break-even financial outcome. Each party wants to believe the other is not withholding information.

I’ve written and taught about contracts*, ethics, and negotiations for years, most recently in the August 2016 edition of Friday With Joan and again in the article “7 Keys to Hotel Contract Success” and spoke on a webinar about contracts for Meetings Today, and for UNCC in a class (for which you can enroll for the spring semester). I’ve spoken at chapter programs for MPI, PCMA, SGMP and others. Yet, emails and calls tell me that disclosure and transparency are still not how we operate as an industry.

I speculated that it’s perhaps because:

  • Hospitality is still a “relationship industry” and with that is implied there is a belief in the honesty and integrity of those with who we partner on meetings and events.
  • It is also implied there is sufficient experience to be able to know the lingocontract terms and when to say “I don’t know” and then find out versus bluffing one’s way through a negotiation to a contract that may not make sense to you or that you may not even be able to defend if need be.
  • We want to believe in the honesty of the party with whom we are working and we don’t want to “play our hand”—that is, show what we may not know so, we believe, we can avoid being taken advantage of.
  • We don’t know what we don’t know.
  • We’re busy and don’t want to take time to ask questions or questions are discouraged, or when asked, a standard “it’s out corporate contract” (or addendum) is the response, without digging deeper.
  • Sellers put pressure on buyers to “sign now” or lose the deal, partly because many sellers and some third-parties are incented on the number of room nights booked by quarter or year-end and have quotas they must reach.

Just as I hear from colleagues, friends and strangers about ethics issues, I receive questions about contracts, often when there is a potential crisis. A recent incident led me to write this blog and to invite comments** from others in the industry.

One request for help was from a non-industry social media group moderator who, with the encouragement of the group, agreed to organize a multi-day, face-to-face meeting. Based on the expression of interest—not a much different experience than that of a corporate planner whose CEO says “Let’s put on a show,” or an association planner whose Board says, “There’s a great need for a new program on this great new idea”—the person or “meeting convener”—found and booked a hotel.

The meeting convener (not a planner, professionally) signed a hotel contract that, if you read or listened to any of the above linked information or that of others like Tyra Hilliard, was not favorable at all to the individual or group.

The convener, even though it appears the hotel may be sold out by transient and other rooms over the dates booked, may still be on the hook for upwards of $40,000. Even for an association or corporation, $40k is a huge hit!

For an individual, it could be devastating.

Here’s what I think could have been done to prevent or mitigate the outcomes and what can be done going forward by us all. Add your suggestions in the comments section of other ideas for those whose knowledge of the industry is less than yours, or for those who may have never planned an event. (If you prefer to have a comment posted anonymously, email me and I promise to keep what you say confidential and post the comment anonymously. Just please identify yourself to me).

By the hotel

  • Ask more questions about why the convener thought the number of room nights contracted was accurate.
  • Check history … though for this group there was none but still, what happened to the practice of checking, which I’ve found has gone out the window for expediency? … but I digress slightly…
  • Explain how hotels operate, how they make money, and what the financial risks were to the convener of the number of guest rooms and other provisions.
  • Provide a sliding scale of guest rooms, and based on reservations and registrations, increase as needed at a negotiated group rate.
  • Be transparent in all you say and do.
  • Negotiate an audit clause so that those who made reservations outside the group block, perhaps at a greater discounted rate, would be counted toward group pick up.

By the convener

  • Research to learn more about how meetings are held and how hotels operate, what contract provisions will be fair to both parties and what risks may be involved.
  • Charge a non-refundable pre-registration fee.
  • Explain to the group—once research has been conducted and the hotel had explained to the convener—the risks for the individual so that the burden would be shared.
  • Ask more questions to understand the clauses, financial obligations and the risk.
  • Be transparent in the information you provide and the negotiations you conduct.

I want to believe our industry is ethical and honorable. I’ve always said there are no hidden fees, just fees that we planners forget to ask about and cover contractually.

I also want to believe these points from the CMP Standards of Ethical Conduct Statement and Policy—“Maintain exemplary standards of professional conduct at all times,” and “Actively model and encourage the integration of ethics into all aspects of the performance of my duties.”—guide even those who are not CMPs, and that we all want to conduct business transparently.

Although I cannot provide exact language, I recommend negotiating something like “all terms and conditions that impact the financial and operational aspects of the event have been disclosed in the Agreement or they will not be in effect” into your contracts.

But don’t take my word—talk with an industry attorney, preferably a member of AHIA – the Academy of Hospitality Industry Attorneys.

I really do believe that ethical negotiation is not an oxymoron. Tell me I’m not delusional!

*As always, my disclaimer in reference to any contract issues: Although I am an expert witness in industry disputes, these materials are provided with the understanding that the author is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or professional services through the distribution of the materials. If expert assistance is required, the services of a professional should be contracted.

**I’m grateful to those who were willing to respond—although I was surprised by some of the responses—and help further the conversation. I hope you’ll join in with your comments below.