Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What Our Task Force Wants to Change

The December 2009 issue of Convene is just out, and the cover story — “Meetamorphosis” — puts (what we hope is) a new spin on a frequently inert topic: change. How? By punting the question of how to change the meetings forever to an all-star assortment of experts inside and outside the industry. That includes members of the Convene Task Force, whose insightful responses we’re featuring here, as a continuation of the discussion begun in the pages of the magazine:


Founder, Imagination+ Meeting Planners / www.imaginationmeetings.com

I’d like meetings to change to ensure that every person there gets their objectives met. How can we do that? Ask ahead, what are your objectives for coming to this meeting and how can we meet them? Then determine the agenda. I’d like to see more fun stuff that really packs a punch. Some of the stuff happening in Dallas has that experiential stuff in it. I’d like to see more world cafes, more open space, more facilitating than a lecture that is disguised as interactive when the person asks a couple of questions. I’d like to see some more input after the session. So, a report that goes to all who attended each session. I’d like to see some threads that continue for more than one conference. (Encourage people to come for part two.) I’d like, if possible, to see variety in actual venues. So, not always a convention center or a hotel meeting room. How about office space as it relates to the topic? Or how about in a hospital for medical events?

Why? Because all this leads to more input from those actually in the room as opposed to the person presenting, and they will learn more. I’m tired of PowerPoint that says not much. Let’s have “meeting rooms” with lounges in them. Think about environments that do a ton of brainstorming (PR firms?) and what their meeting rooms look like. And what do the people attending actually take with them? And how do they use it? Why not some follow-up on that information?


Meeting professional, Chicago, Ill.

As a meeting professional who finished graduate school in 2008 and is finding it challenging to find a job, I would say that mentors are a wonderful thing and I have enjoyed doing internships — but, still, I wish there were a better way to break into the industry.

My ongoing job search has led me to wonder if getting a CMP is still necessary and relevant. I see a lot of jobs posted on the PCMA job board that are asking for the CMP designation. Are there still organizations that will not hire you unless you have a CMP, even though you have the work experience? I do plan to get my CMP, but as a former student, I wonder if students should be encouraged to fulfill some of the requirements for the CMP while working on their studies, attend conferences to get CEU credits, etc.

Another thing I would like to change is that I would love to see more associations partner on their conferences — only when the situation fits, of course. For example, instead of just an IBM or a Dell conference, have a technology conference. That isn’t the best example, but my point is that joint conferences are a good idea for a number of reasons, including better attendance for both groups (because attendees don’t have to choose one conference over the other), economies of scale (because two organizations working together have a better chance of getting better speakers for a more economical price), and less environmental waste.


Chief strategist, CMM Advisors / www.cmmadvisors.com

It would be nice if hotels used the same software as most planners do. For years now, many planners would use Word or Excel to provide the hotel their meeting specifications or resume. However, hotels continue to use incompatible software so that the information a planner provides has to be re-entered into the hotel’s programming. It’s not only wasteful of time and money, but it allows for errors to occur. In addition, when it comes time for the pre-conference, the planner and the hotel staff end up either looking at different documents or having to compare two or more documents at the same time, allowing for more errors to occur.


Program manager, American Dental Association / www.ada.org

The key to the future of our profession can be summed up in one word: education. That means educating the public, students looking to enter the profession, and our employers. The path leading to the future of meetings management depends on our ability to ensure its acceptance as a true business discipline similar to accounting and human resources. This can only be obtained through a sustained effort to create more standardized college curriculums, measurements of professional standards, and the certification of professionals in the use of standardized practices.

We already do this to some extent, but we have to work harder. In effect, this is what we must continue to change about our industry, because through these efforts, we will not only gain professional respect from our employers, we also will attract higher numbers of students looking for a rewarding professional career. These efforts will also pave the way for changing public awareness of both meetings management and the value of face-to-face meetings.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

@DMAI: 'Believing Is Seeing'

And now for some self-promotion: Convene sponsored the opening keynote speaker at the DMAI 95th Annual Convention yesterday. The reason this isn't "shameless" self-promotion is because the speaker in question -- Erik Weihenmayer -- was tremendous.

Weihenmayer has been blind since he was 13, but that hasn't stopped him from climbing the Seven Summits (the highest mountains on each of the seven continents), including Mt. Everest -- which he's the only blind person to have scaled. During his talk yesterday, Weihenmayer was funny, thought-provoking, and -- yes, we have to say it -- inspirational. He admitted that "blind mountain climber" isn't a term that makes a whole lot of sense; related a climbing buddy's philosophy of "positive pessimism" (example: "Sure is cold out here. But at least it's windy."); and explained why you need to look beyond your individual goals: "A vision is like an internal compass. It guides us through good weather, but more importantly through bad weather; and tells us where we're going."

And Weihenmayer talked about how you can't have growth or innovation without adversity. Look no further than some of his climbing buddies, who include a paraplegic who invented a pull-up device that's allowed him to continue climbing, and a double-leg amputee who's developed prosthetic legs that have made him an even better climber. Weihenmayer calls these types of people "alchemists," because "they're able to take all the lead life piles onto them and turn it into gold."

Leaders in any field must do the same. "There will always be people who believe in your vision and people who don't," Weihenmayer said, but you can't worry about that. He said: "They say seeing is believing. I think they're dead wrong. Believing is seeing."

Monday, July 27, 2009

History Repeating

The Continuing Education column in this month's issue of Convene is about the history of trade shows -- a subject that seems to pop up even when you're not looking for it. Even when you're minding your own business, reading an interesting new book called Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line, which is about the double life of Clarence King, the first director of the U.S. Geological Survey. More or less apropos of nothing, author Martha A. Sandweiss drops in this nugget:

"On July 12, 1893, a young historian from the University of Wisconsin named Frederick Jackson Turner delivered an after-dinner talk on 'The Significance of the Frontier in American History' to the scholars gathered in Chicago for the annual meeting of the American Historical Association. Across town at the great Columbian Exposition, Buffalo Bill Cody staged his own version of American frontier history to considerably larger crowds."

It's not that the history of the trade show (or meeting, or convention) is the history of America. But sometimes it sure seems that way.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Spy Who Friended Us

And to think that I fretted that a colleague might see the Thanksgiving video my niece posted on Facebook -- the one with me in the kitchen, loudly singing along with my boisterous extended family.  

It recently came to light that Sir John Sawers, chief of the British intelligence agency M16, was outed by his wife on Facebook. Sawers' wife enabled zero privacy settings on her account, giving 200 million Facebook viewers access to Sawers' secret code name, along with other sensitive information, including photos of the agent cavorting in a brief bathing suit.

It's hard not to commiserate. On July 1, Facebook announced that it was changing its privacy controls, which Facebook's Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly admitted are currently way too complex.  The controls, which are now scattered across in multiple pages, will be simplified and consolidated into one page in the future.

So far, I've been fairly scrupulous about keeping my professional and personal lives corralled in separate social networking sites -- Facebook for friends, LinkedIn for work. I think that's common for all but the youngest generations of users. 

But if  keeping my professional and personal life separate on one Web site were to get a lot easier, that could change the game.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Transformative Research

I am just about to head home after a packed — and wonderful — five days in Puerto Rico, where I attended a PCMA Town Hall in San Juan on June 25, followed by the PCMA Partnership Summit at the breathtaking El Conquistador Resort and Conference Center. 

I was scanning the resort's New York Times digest over coffee this morning and was struck by an article titled "Playing It Safe in Funding Cancer Research." The article describes how the National Cancer Institute has spent $105 billion since President Richard M. Nixon "declared war on the disease in 1971," yet many of its grants involve biological research unlikely to break new ground. Why? Because of the grant system itself. "It has become a sort of jobs program," New York Times reporter Gina Kolata writes, "a way to keep research laboratories going year after year with the understanding that the focus will be on small projects unlikely to take significant steps toward curing cancer."

It got me thinking that, just as we as an industry are undertaking major research initiatives to demonstrate our value, we can't be focused only on how we benefit the economy. It's something PCMA Chairman of the Board John Folks and I have talked about a few times. Yes, our economic value is critical, but we have to dig up research that gets to the psychological benefit of face-to-face meetings. We shared the same key takeaway after we attended the Partnership Summit's Friday General Session, presented by Michael McCauley, ProActive's vice president, creative development. We spend 2/3 less time in face-to-face interactions than we did 20 years ago, he said. And during that time, the incidence of depression and heart disease has risen.

We need to prove the correlation: that face-to-face interactions make for healthier people. That is truly the kind of research that would be transformative. 

Friday, June 26, 2009

The things you really care about

I came across this intriguing comment about combining work and values, by Gil Friend, author of The Truth About Green Business, in an interview by Joel Makower, of greenbiz.com.

Friend said: "Well, the biggest piece of misinformation is this assumption that you have to choose between making money and making sense. That you go to work and it's just your job and it's just business, that you're going to ... go home and do the things that you really care about it. And I think that dichotomy is a false one and I think the evidence demonstrates that it's a false one."

Read more here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Keeping track of politics and medicine

In the June issue, Executive Editor Chris Durso wrote about a terrific new resource for medical meeting planners: HCEA's (members-only) application tracking state regulations governing pharmaceutical and medical-device company marketing.

Another must-read is Policy and Medicine, where Thomas Sullivan keeps a sharp eye on the lively and often contentious intersection of public policy and medicine.  The president and founder of Rockpointe, a medical education company, Sullivan began the blog a year ago as resource for "those of us in the medical education, communications, and manufacturing sectors of medicine to understand what is happening in the world around us, especially in the era of healthcare reform," he told Convene.

His strong suit is his deep knowledge of the workings of the legislative process -- Sullivan began his career working both in state legislatures and on Capitol Hill -- and his diligence in quickly pulling the relevant pieces together for readers as developments unfold.

Some recent additions: highlights of the House of Representatives discussion of proposed health care reform legislation, and coverage of resistance to ACCME's proposed fee increases to state medical societies. Stay tuned.



Wednesday, April 29, 2009

First, get good information

As global leaders continue to work to understand the exact nature and scope of the outbreak of swine flu, it's been noted that a flood of information -- helpful and otherwise -- has been circulating feverishly.

PCMA's President and CEO Deborah Sexton has joined with other meetings industry leaders in urging people to seek out expert advice when making health-related decisions about travel. Advisories issued by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and other government agencies about swine flu-related health issues can be found at http://pandemicflu.gov.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Texas Roadhouse Effect

Not only did executives at the Texas Roadhouse restaurant chain refuse to cancel an incentive trip to San Francisco for managing partners and others, they made sure the world knew about it. For starters, they installed a 20-foot-high inflatable red armadillo on the Ritz-Carlton on Nob hill. And then CEO G.J. Hart went on television to talk about it.

Holding the meeting was critical to the company's business -- and to their values, Hart said, emphasizing that the meeting brought together not just managers, but bartenders and meatcutters. "If we take care of our people, they'll take care of our customers," Hart said.

What threatened to get lost, amid footage of parties and talk of big-name entertainers, was the fact that a major percentage of the company's investment in the meeting was philanthropic. The company, a supporter of Habitat for Humanity in dozens of cities, invested $1 million in materials and labor to build homes in San Francisco.

There wasn't a lick of defensiveness in Hart's face or voice, as he described the meeting as a crucial investment in "the people who are running our restaurants day in and day out."

"I'm not sure it's enough," he added.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Tweet truth

Nearly half of the world's top conference organizers say that the demand for executive conferences is growing, even in the midst of recession. That's because executives increasingly value face-to-face networking, according to a survey by Weber Shandwick. The survey turned up some other interesting trends: 

Corporate conference organizers now allot more time for Q-and-A (72 percent); plan more interactive sessions (70 percent); and book fewer keynote speakers (30 percent).

And, if there was any doubt, blogging, Twittering, live videocasting, and podcasts have gone mainstream. More than half of survey respondents feature them in their events.

Read the full report here at Marketing Vox.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Treasury Department's proposals to require the CEOs of companies receiving TARP funds to sign off on conferences and events to ensure that they are note "excessive or luxury items," carries with them a real risk of overzealous application. Although "reasonable" expenditures for sales conferences, staff development, and performance incentives are not the intended targets of the regulations, it's not hard to imagine situations where a CEO's fear of negative public reaction could squelch any expenditures on meeting and travel that carry even a hint that they might be any fun.

And that would be a very bad thing -- and not just for the meetings industry and the 2.4 million Americans with industry-related jobs. Successful managers and business owners know that providing opportunities for social interaction and recreation is not a frill, but an investment in creativity and renewed energy and commitment.

In "The Serious Need for Play," in the February/March issue of Scientific American Mind, evolutionary biologists argue for more, not less, play. Unstructured playtime is crucial for the support of creativity, emotional wellbeing, and top cognitive functioning, of, not just children, but adults.

We all need to work smart in this economic climate, but it's critical that we play smart, too.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Peter Leyden, Uncut

The January 2009 issue of Convene will be hitting mailboxes any day now. As part of our coverage of "Megatrends: Why Big Ideas (and Bold Solutions) Still Matter," we re-interviewed futurist Peter Leyden -- whom we first talked to about the economy in June 2008. Peter had a lot of interesting and hopeful things to say about the state of the financial system and what it means for meeting professionals, not all of which we could fit into the print magazine.

So, here's a choice outtake from our latest interview with Peter Leyden that you can read only here, on the Convene blog:

"People have made a decision to elect a [president] who's talking very transformationally, who's been very clear about how central clean-tech and greening will be to his vision, and seeing it very clearly as a rebuilding of America. You've also got this Democratic Congress that's totally gung ho about it. And the zeitgeist in the public has changed in some really fundamental ways since a year or two ago.

"The other thing is, we went through that gas freakout. We've gone from $150-a-barrel oil to [less than] $50 now, which just goes to show how fickle our worries can be. But the fundamental piece about oil that everyone gets is, you have to be an idiot to think we can go build SUVs for another decade. The necessity for shifting off oil, the debate about climate change -- we've now passed over a threshold for that as a national discussion and I think are really at a different space. You've got this amazing moment in American history where you could actually do really big things and shift really big -- fast. And that's such a rare opening. Unfortunately, fundamental change and fundamental shifts in how we run the economy almost always come out of this. In that way, we're 'lucky' we're in crisis."