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

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!

Click here to view additional content in the 02.01.19 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Posted by Joan L. Eisenstodt

Joan Eisenstodt Headshot

Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt

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