What if we start a revolution to change meetings?

Why are industry association meetings pretty much the same, neither experimental or experiential, and why do we keep attending and supporting them?

Last year, after a session at one of the industry conventions, a number of us stayed in the room and talked. I said I wanted to get a bed sheet or tablecloth [for which I’d pay!] on which I’d write, in huge letters, that I was mad as hell and wasn’t gonna take it any more, and unfurl it at yet another ho-hum general session.Everyone laughed and said “Yeah, that would tell ‘em” and then we talked about whether it would accomplish anything and would it be rude to (insert:sponsor, group, speaker, etc.) I chose not to do the banner; I wish I had.

Last January, at PCMA, a group of us talked about what could be done differently. We were energized and enthused; we continued the conversation in a Facebook group. Then like so many things, we got busy and didn’t, collectively take it forward though some of us took it forward to the task forces on which we served for PCMA and in other work we do.

A similar conversation occurred last week after I facilitated learning for an industry organization’s chapter meeting. This time,there was agreement that the industry’s meetings are just “blah” in format and substance. A woman, new to the industry, asked why we kept supporting these meetings with our dollars and time.  We had answers (we need to be seen and we need to network with colleagues; we need CUEs.) None of what was said sounded like more than rationalizations.

We’ve seen some cool stuff: theatre-in-the-round (abandoned when too many of the speakers said they “couldn’t work that way”), informal learning (thanks Jeff Hurt and Dave Lutz), even different places for seating for general sessions (thanks ASAE for the foyer seating in Boston.)  Years ago, an industry attorney, a hotelier and I wanted to do legal sessions in a courtroom so participants could really get the feel for where they could end up as a result of their actions. We were told it was too complicated to move a session out of the convention venue.  

Bookclubs were done and done well in off-site venues – one with a tasting of regional foods described in the reviewed book.  Then, no more.

Technology is used – the way laser-light shows were used for general sessions for years – believing people will be wowed by it, forgetting that it’s “just” technology.  We think hosted buyer programs will attract planners because they want to learn about vendors and attend sessions too when they are really attracted for the free ride.

We are stuck in convention centers or hotels where the rooms and room sets rarely vary and other space is not created for informal conversations. We over program so that each minute is filled without time for reflection or peer-to-peer conversation. Networking events are held with music so loud, booze so available and seating non-existent that we discourage any kind of interaction.

Each time toes are dipped into the deep end of experimentation, unless 100% of participants and speakers love it and say so, it’s abandoned for the safety of the shallow end – that is, the same old and familiar formats and sets.  

Is it just a few of us who want something new? Did EventCamp,W2W and other experimental meetings develop from a need to try something new but only for a small group and not the majority? Is there no demand for new formats at industry meetings after which we can model our own meetings?

Will you write letters in addition to completing evaluations and say you are hungry for new formats played out in safe places where we can see and talk about what can be done differently?  Will you vote with your dollars and say “no more” to the same old stuff?

I’m thinking of packing my own banner for the next meeting.  Will you join me in unfurling it?


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