Alcohol: Complement to or distraction from learning?

But first:

On the way to San Diego for ESPA’s (formerly ACOM) Annual Meeting and PCMA’s Convening Leaders, Susan Katz, Chair of PCMA’s Board (and the woman with the best hair other than Rachel Maddow! ..but I digress), and Stuart Ruff, a great tweeter and industry friend, and I had some short but great interactions on the plane.

Then at the hotel while waiting for my room to be ready, three friends and I had lots of conversation and laughs about meetings, the industry, sustainability, “green”, bargain hunting, politics, finding treasures (like ship wrecks and old cars) and so much more. It was pure serendipity and delightful. You know who you are - thank you for a lovely afternoon after a long day of travel.

I’ll write more from the meetings at meetingstodayforum and tweet under my name and @FocusForum during both meetings and my stay in San Diego. Join me and also follow #PCMA12 and #ESPA2012 for more.

On to the topic at hand:

Earlier in the week, I received an e-invitation from a DMO (destination marketing organization – formerly known as a CVB) to join them for (specifically named) alcoholic beverages at a time coinciding with an afternoon break during PCMA’s Convening Leaders (aka the Annual Meeting.)

I know that alcohol is consumed in great quantities during industry (and other) meetings. It is usually “after hours” – by groups of friends who “go out on the town” or at official events or those sponsored by vendor companies.  To receive an invitation for an event serving alcohol during education/professional hours seemed inappropriate. More so, perhaps, because this year’s Convening Leaders has lots of elements about how our brains learn and function, including a session with chefs on Tuesday afternoon about how to use food for better brain function. (Funny: that session is just after this break-with-alcohol.)

I forwarded the invitation to a colleague at PCMA saying I was pretty stunned that a) this was happening and b) that the invitation implied that alcohol stimulated fun and fun was needed for learning ... ergo, come drink with us, have fun, and learn better.  My colleague sent it on to “higher-ups” at PCMA who evidently contacted the CVB.

(Coincidentally, in an ASAE executive management section discussion, there was a conversation about alcohol reimbursement policies for association staff and Board members. Those who posted said they do not reimburse for alcohol and they do expect staff to “behave professionally.”)

This blog is not intended to embarrass PCMA or the CVB. It is to raise some serious issues about how we treat alcohol and its consumption, and what we view as "professional" at industry (and other) meetings. (If you respond to this, please do not name the CVB or others who have provided alcohol at exhibits or during education at professional conferences.)

Here is the exchange between the CVB and me after the CVB was contacted by PCMA:

From the CVB:

>> Joan, hope all is well! I wanted to reach out to you as I understand you had concern regarding our invitation to the [CVB city name] reception during PCMA. I want to assure that we in no way wanted to offend anyone with the language with invitation.

I really appreciate your insight and thoughts. I really hope you can stop by or we can touch base at PCMA. <<

My response, copied to PCMA, and to which I’ve not received any additional response/s:

>> Thank you for your note.

The concern is not the language. It is about:

1) Alcohol being served in the middle of the day at a professional conference.

2) Equating alcohol and fun. If perhaps these are alcohol-free drinks, perhaps that should have been stated.

3) Suggesting that learning is better with alcohol. (I agree that learning is better with fun but not fun that is alcohol-related.)

4) There are students under the age of 21 who will attend Convening Leaders. Nothing said an ID would be checked before alcohol is served.

5) The potential liability for the CVB and for PCMA is great.

At the MPI meetings (and perhaps at PCMA tho' I've not seen it posted) there are "Friends of Bill" events. Anecdotally, alcoholism is a serious problem in our industry. I've seen it become a serious issue for far too many industry friends.  

I realize that the invitation and plans can't be withdrawn. I hope that the CVB and PCMA will consider helping people have fun in other ways.

Thanks for writing.<<

Is this just “Joan being Joan” (about liability? about professionalism?) or are there others who think we need to relook at what we consider “fun” and how we manage alcohol at events?

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