Who speaks for our industry?

Meetings and attendance at conferences are under continuous attack by the US Congress, by state and provincial governments, and by co-workers who think traveling is glamorous and staying at a hotel is a perk. They are also being threatened by the very people who want others to attend their meetings, but won't fund professional development for their own staff.

"The media" take up the cry especially when it comes to "taxpayer dollars" funding travel to and participation in education and learning in a destination perceived to be frivolous. This criticism has been leveled for years; it was elevated when AIG's meetings were seen as junkets and it has not let up. This while others write about how boring meetings are and how to combat boredom while attending those dreaded meetings. There are even quotes about boring meetings!

"Junkets" or boring. Glamorous or mundane. We can't win! How can the value of meetings be conveyed and to whom? Why is there so much conflicting information?  Who speaks for our industry?

The industrysometimes referred to as "hospitality", sometimes as "MICE"has mainly focused on "economic impact" or economic significance. The studies CIC has done, with the financial support of the member organizations [I don't want to assume that everyone even in the industry knows that CIC's members are organizations not individuals] and various hotel and hospitality companies have shown what the broader industry contributes to the health of counties, cities, towns. 

These studies, including one that lead to the Meetings Mean Business Coalition, have focused little if at all on the human knowledge and productivity impact of MEETINGS [caps intended], conventions, seminars, conferences, and trade shows. In order to speak out, we have to have data to back up what those of us involved in planning, housing, supplying and executing meetings know, in our guts, about the value.

Oh there was this, in 2012, that should have spurred organizations and companies to look at the value of their meetings. It was on the heels of similar tools, created years ago, to help organizations measure their meetings' ROI. 

The MPI Foundation did two studies, in the '90s, one entitled "What Makes Meetings Work" (about the value of corporate meetings) and "Who Attends Association Annual Meetings and Why"both of which were superb and useful. I have hard copies of those studies somewhere in my stored files; finding electronic copies has been impossible. Maybe they weren't seen by others as important as I think they were and are and would now be.

During the US Congressional hearings about the GSA meeting, and more recently about an IRS meeting, I received numerous emails and tweets to "run up to the Hill" [I live and work across in DCa quick cab ride to the Hill] and run into the hearings and SAY SOMETHINGexplain how meetings are planned, budgeted and conducted; explain the value of convening face-to-face; use figure much like Michael Dominguez does so well to teach meeting planners how hotels make and spend money; explain that dancing at a meeting is energizing and worthwhile; show how team building really does help people work better together.  

I wanted to explain the value of my SGMP colleagues, especially those who work in agencies under rules and regulations that tie their hands to put on smart meetings. I did not want to, nor would I ever defend, some of the unprofessional actions of those who took advantage of their positions for the very perks our industry ethics policies guide against.

But one can't simply run into a Congressional hearing and do a "meeting planning 101" class for a House Committee. So I wrote letters to editors of newspapers and responded to articles online that criticized meetings. And like Roger Rickard who has worked hard in the industry to give us a voice, I encouraged others to do the same. 

Just as Deborah Sexton, President and CEO of PCMA did at PCMA Education Foundation dinners, I spoke up to everyone in and outside the industry and explained the value of meetings. My passion for our work was the incentive to be a spokesperson for our industry.

So who speaks for our industry? We all do. We cannot depend on the CIC or each of the CIC member organizations to talk about meetings and the process of planning them, the value of holding them. We each have an obligation to learn our industry's history (one resource), to understand its complexity, to learn the value of face to face meetings and to speak out.

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