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Thinking Things


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A Walk You Need To Take

Posted on 8 April, 2013 at 6:01 Comments comments (3)

Between associations pounding the drums in Washington, advocacy experts spreading the word in forums near and far, and social media threads offering diverse opinions on what’s right, wrong, what could and should be done when it comes to elevating the stature of the meetings industry, there’s only one thing for corporate meetings professionals to do to take the issue beyond mere words: get a voice in the executive suite.
Some gaudy numbers have been attached to our industry to confirm its relevance. But the people you work for care more about an effective product launch than the 1.7 million jobs our industry creates; more about a sales meeting that delivers information and motivation than the industry’s $458 billion contribution to the GDP; and more about a good turnout at a trade show than the $64 billion in tax revenue provided by meetings.
The work of associations and advocacy experts is a key piece to the puzzle and highly valued. But executives don’t necessarily need to be told the economic impact of what their planners do. They need to understand, for example, that membership in trade organizations ostensibly to make meetings professionals better at their jobs should be supported, not curtailed. When incoming MPI Tampa Bay Chapter President Margaret Williams tells me many of her members’ companies won’t subsidize their memberships, either something is wrong with MPI or something is wrong with an infrastructure in which professionals are not encouraged to refine their craft, grow and learn. The executives are either much smarter than we are, or are totally missing the boat – which could highlight our inability to prove our worth.
In the plethora of social media discussion this past week, one planner took the stance: “My role is to find the best venue, ensure meeting rooms are set in the best configuration to accomplish their goals, and manage all logistics to ensure the meeting runs smoothly. I seldom get involved in the strategic side. When a manager contacts me, they already have a clear idea of why they are having the meeting. I read all the stories about how planners need a seat at the table. I believe that if I were asked to do that, I'd be unprepared and wouldn’t have the time or resources. I don’t know the intricacies of our business and don’t need to know them to be a great meeting planner.”
My response to this was mixed. On the one hand, if a person aspires to be a great planner and nothing more, and loves doing it, more power to her. However, the problem is that she runs the danger within the organization of being viewed in a certain light -- not necessarily a bad one, but at a level at which she loses the chance to elevate her role, to assert more control over her position, and runs the risk of being labeled non-essential or replaceable when cutbacks are mandated. I've seen HR people and financial people lose value in their organizations because they didn't truly understand the markets of their companies, so not knowing “the intricacies of our business” is not acceptable.
What that entire conversation brings home is that we as an industry have more at stake than the professional interest levels of some. In order to ensure the continued ability of this planner to do her meeting planning work harmoniously and rewardingly, we as a community need to stay close to those above us in the executive hierarchy and try to engage in Bigger Picture conversations, whether the top brass and/or the planner herself wants to take advantage or not.
It behooves every meetings professional to figure out how to get a foot in the door of the executive suite. What do you get involved in – and when? What do executives want to hear and what are they not concerned with? In what language do you speak to them? Time is of the essence – no sharing of weekend stories or family photos here. If executives understand value in the form of statistics, results, ROI and new business prospects, then stop claiming a lack of time to evaluate return and figure it out!
Just like seeing so many great technologies available for meetings but understanding the practicality of using only a few, so too is the situation when it comes to promoting the value of the meetings industry. Don’t worry about lofty facts and figures on our economic impact; no marching on the nation’s capital. Within the confines of your day-to-day roles, know that the best, and perhaps only, march you need to make, with orchestrated strategy and intelligence, is the one right down the hall to the corner office.

Wall Street Wake-Up Call - The Sequel

Posted on 2 April, 2013 at 21:29 Comments comments (0)
It was an inadvertent   wake-up call, initiated by a Wall Street Journal commentary ripping the meetings industry to shreds. And you know what? It woke us up!
After Holly Finn’s column referred to meetings as “Bordellos for the Brain,” we got mad. But we maintained our cool – for the most part. The outpouring of comments were heartening and on the money. My favorite was from the Convention Industry Council’s Karen Kotowski who noted in   her letter to the WSJ   that they chose not to print, “The editors of The Wall Street Journal host invitation-only conferences throughout the year with the world’s most influential and powerful leaders. Their own publication recognizes the value of bringing together leaders, face-to-face to discuss and provide solutions to pressing problems.”
Thanks to everyone who weighed in on the issue of speaking up for our industry and preaching the value of face-to-face meetings. But comments, of course, are just comments. We mustn’t stop here. Check out this random compilation of what was said over the last two weeks by industry professionals, and help spread the word:

“With 1.7 million of us who are part of the meetings industry, one would think we could get the message out to the world. The problem is that outside of the planners, hoteliers, and DMOs, too few of us who contribute to making this industry spectacular sing the praises of the business. We need to all be loud and proud to be part of this important industry.”
–Thom Singer, NYP Speakers

“We need to extend the dialogue to the kind of business leaders who read the Wall Street Journal. But it's not about how many folks we employ or how much spending we generate. We're in the performance improvement business. The real value proposition of meetings and events is how much better off someone or some organization is as a result of meeting face-to-face. The answer to the question, 'What's the business value of your meeting?' can easily be answered. What's most interesting to me is why more meeting professionals or other stakeholders don't even bother.”
–John Nawn, The Perfect Meeting

“We needed to be reminded how important our role as meeting professionals is to business in general. I have been a planner 30+ years and many people think we are party planners. I'm proud to be part of this amazing industry and to be considered one of the best jobs! We need to say it often and loud how important meetings are and our roles we play in those meetings.”
–Vanessa Kane, CMP, CMM, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States
“We need to constantly promote the value of what we provide. If we do not, we risk being seen as simply a commodity throwaway service.”
–Richter Elser, industry operations professional
“The only way our industry will survive as part of this continued negative press is by continuing to respond with meetings that showcase the positives of our industry and then educating the public how we have taken these past experiences and used them in order to service them better.”
–Charlotte Davis, CMP, Event Source Professionals

“What our industry needs is a good kick in the pants. The time for advice has passed; now is the time to engage everyone you have contact with about the power of face to face. Advocacy means doing what you say! Roger Rickard and Roger Dow know what we mean. So make the effort to get off of your duff and be an advocate for our industry.”
–Chris Meyer, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority
“Are we in the business of creating jobs and generating tax revenue? We are in the business of advancing society, whether through performance improvement in business, or engagement and education. We create the stories that advance society. We must be able to answer that our face-to-face meeting helps someone, some organization, some cause, or some industry.”
–Roger Rickard, advocacy expert
“For those of us who have been at this for a while, this is a familiar battle and obviously one that we have not yet conquered. We are making progress but need to continue to make it a priority.”
–Rebecca Coons, Nalu Creative
“This unfortunate perception remains. But as an industry we are sometimes guilty of not making the very best of meetings. Meetings are likely one of the few occasions where an organization has their best people or best clients captively in attendance. We need to take advantage of and capture that diverse experience and knowledge, and put it to use beyond the event itself. We should see events not just as a ‘kick-off’ at the beginning of, or a ‘celebration/reward’ at the end of a business strategy, but more a fundamental piece of the ongoing execution of that strategy. Meetings have the capability to generate more and better focused results in three days than a costly six-month exercise with a management consultant. That’s when business leaders will take notice and value the wisdom of their crowd.”
–Simon Bryan, Lumi Mobile
“Building relationships is a primary reason for a meeting. Networking within your company, industry, profession, community, etc. is vital to creating shared visions and the strategies and results that spring from those visions. So for someone to claim that meetings are boondoggles shows a lack of understanding, not only of the role of meetings, but in the biological make-up of humans as social animals.”
–Michael Humphrey, American Program Bureau
“The industry as a whole has to be stronger in advocating for meetings as a way to achieve - measurably - certain business objectives. But I would imagine there are lots of individual planners who aren't going to have the capacity nor the analytical approach to implement an ROI or objectives-driven approach. The huge challenge for meetings in this context, though, is that marketing is becoming more and more digital, with all the analytics capabilities that go along with that. So essentially the meetings category is competing with other marketing choices that are going to be better at quantifying ROI. I'm not sure if it's reasonable to expect every individual planner to become a strategist - in fact, I'm sure it's not. It may, however, be reasonable to make sure planners can at least speak the language of marketing. That's also going to be helpful in marketing their own businesses, and in understanding the motivations of sponsors/exhibitors.”
--Meredith Low, Meredith Low Consulting
“From my experience, planners are extremely overworked, frazzled, and focused on logistics. They know ROI is important but who has time? Bringing in consultants is one option, but I don't think they're in a strategic enough position to build the case, and maybe don't even understand how to build the case. Unless higher-level marketing and sales managers get involved, I think ROI will continue to be a topic all of us say should be measured but never effectively will be.”
–Eva Montgomery, The Content Strategy Group
“That's why it's imperative for meeting planners to show meeting results and prove ROI beyond meeting evaluations (did you like the speaker, did you like the food, did you like the venue). Many planners know what they need to do to make a meeting happen, but we need to do a better job as an industry demonstrating why we hold a meeting in the first place and how that meeting drives better business decisions. We need to educate our community that we must prove the results of the meeting -- what was discussed, what challenges where uncovered, what solutions were discovered, what is the path forward. These are powerful questions often missed at meetings. There are ways to provide tangible, reportable proof of success.”
–Susan Abrams, IML Worldwide
“I think the planners understand everything Jim points out about the dangers of just being good at what they are good at -- and are comfortable with that. The challenge for the industry/community is to figure out how to spot, groom and support those that want to take it to the next level. There is a place between the CEO and the meeting planner for the strategist. As a community we just have to keep educating the planners that this move needs to happen and teaching those that want to make the leap how to get there. So my thought is: is the time ripe to create a new job -- something not called Meeting Professional -- that blends the marketing, financial, ROI and meetings world into one. So where does this new person come from? I'm sure there are planners dying to make the leap up, but I think the masses want to be planners. So how do we move into this new world?”
--Sharon Fisher, Play with a Purpose

"81 percent of communication is non-verbal, so just think about the amount of lost ideas, innovation, and collaboration never created if we only met virtually."
--Janet Sperstad, CMP, Madison Area Technical College

The Inadvertent Wall Street Wake-Up Call

Posted on 20 March, 2013 at 6:29 Comments comments (104)

Thanks for reminding us what we’re up against and how far we have to go.
In the days since reading Holly Finn’s cynical and scathing assessment of the meetings and conventions industry in  The Wall Street Journal, my mood has changed from outrage to anger to frustration to hunger (it was dinner time) to concern and then to excitement and exhilaration. Ms. Finn basically tore apart our industry, painting us as a bunch of Good Time Charlies who like to spend lavishly, party endlessly, and think, learn and network less than occasionally.
But it was a wake-up call to action and to opportunity, for which I am grateful. Let me explain.
What Ms. Finn’s misinformed diatribe reminded me was that we are most effective only at talking among ourselves. Years ago, I used to attend regularly the Travel Industry Unity Dinner, an annual black-tie Pat on the Back to remind us how important we are. And we are important, even by today’s standards: the meetings industry generates 1.7 million U.S. jobs, $263 billion in direct spending, and makes a $106 billion contribution to the GDP, according to landmark research conducted two years ago by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.
Yet we are not so effective communicating our message to Ms. Finn’s world – the one outside the meetings industry, including the author herself. So disadvantaged are we that The Wall Street Journal wouldn’t even acknowledge or publish the intelligent and eloquent response to Ms. Finn crafted by Convention Industry Council CEO Karen Kotowski. Probably would have spoiled their fun  -- facts tend to have that effect. Regardless, the CIC’s actions speak louder than any words – they are the overseers of the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) program, helping to send 14,000 highly qualified “ambassadors” into the field elevating the status of our profession, serving as liaisons with executives, and ensuring outcomes and ROI for stakeholders.
Roger Rickard and Roger Dow are two major league advocates who come to mind for pounding the DC pavement and industry circuit tirelessly declaring meetings as an industry onto itself and as essential business and marketing tools when developed and implemented properly. To the meetings delegates in Ms. Finn’s “party-now” universe, if you or your approving managers can’t validate the relevance, expense and potential return of going to a meeting, do us a favor and don’t go. Similarly, if organizations can’t validate the relevance, expense and potential return of holding a conference in the first place, then for goodness sake don’t hold it!
Ms. Finn’s article is an unscheduled but important wake-up call reminding us that we need to work harder to get people to understand the value of what we do. I, for one, plan to support the efforts of our industry leaders by keeping the conversation going on social media and joining “extended” industry groups both live and online (marketing executives, C-suite, procurement managers) to initiate dialogue beyond our traditional borders. As VP of Education for MPI’s Greater New York Chapter, I will do all I can to establish forums that help meetings professionals understand how to be heard in executive offices, thus taking their perceived and real value beyond logistics and into the realm of strategy and goals.
Has progress already been made? Sure. A General Services Administration scandal that uncovered excessive spending of taxpayer dollars at a meeting is only two years in the past. Yet, as Ms. Finn points out, there were 750 government-held conferences this year. What she doesn’t point out is that maybe, just maybe, the business reasons for those meetings outweighed any concern over the perceptions they would arouse – so much so that, even after the GSA mess, those groups held their events anyway knowing the scrutiny they would face.
We have an enormous task at hand but also an enormous opportunity. We need the trade press to sound the trumpets. We need to penetrate the general business media. We must continue the dialogue, spread the word, extend our professional comfort zones, and implore our peers to take part. Then and only then will we be able to raise the bar of awareness, silence the critics, and educate important voices like Holly Finn. Being able some day to refer to her as an advocate for our business would be a sweet victory indeed.

Too Many Awards -- Or Not Enough?

Posted on 9 January, 2013 at 17:22 Comments comments (2)
The principal of my daughter’s elementary school many years ago went on and on at an assembly praising staff members and volunteer parents for a variety of contributions. “I know we tend to thank a lot of people around here and it’s taking a long time,” she said in a friendly, unapologetic tone. “But that’s too bad!” She had an instant fan.
Leadership gurus preach the value and necessity of appropriate praise as a cornerstone to generating intended results. Like pistachio nuts, investments and extra golf balls, it’s one of those things you can’t have enough of.
The same can be said for professional award programs – even though there are so many of them. The Top 25 This. The Top 25 That. For innovators. For up-and-comers. For lifetime achievers. For being good. For being nice. For being generous. For just being!
Yet I keep coming up with the same reaction: Bring ‘em on!
I’m currently helping the Convention Industry Council stir up interest and nominees for its Hall of Leaders. One of the most respected recognition programs in the meetings and conventions business, we like to think of it as our industry's equivalent to baseball’s Hall of Fame (which made some news of its own today). Along with the Hall, the CIC last year added the Pacesetter Awards for innovative and younger professionals -- a necessary and intelligent strategy by CIC to create a program that relates to today’s stars in context with yesterday’s icons. We’ve even coined the tagline, “By Celebrating Our History, We Are Inspired To Make It.”
Yet people and organizations can be territorial. “We already have too many award programs honoring rising stars,” they say. In fact, several of them are called exactly that – the Rising Star awards. No doubt, you could find award programs at each of CIC’s 31 member organizations, to say nothing of each of their regional chapters as well.
Say, have you won an award recently? What did you do with it? Where did you put it? Is it on your desk? In your bookcase? Included in your email signature? On your website? Did you issue a press release? Did you tell your friends? Was your mother thrilled?
Ever enter a hotel, better yet a hotel sales office, or a restaurant and see a dozen plaques recognizing the venue for outstanding something, often from local or trade media? In my publishing days, we’d give laminated awards to meetings venues, but not before checking their Wall of Fame to make sure ours was bigger than our competitors.’
People love to be recognized – and the meeting and conventions industry loves to recognize them. For my two cents, that’s a wonderful thing. There are thousands and thousands of people in our industry – enough for every association to issue a weekly award in 20 categories and still not cover everyone. I mean, what do supermarkets do after every employee has been named Employee of the Week? Does anyone get hurt?
Cindy D’Aoust, COO and Interim CEO of Meeting Professionals International (a CIC member), said the industry has to think and act like a collaborative whole, as partners, with the greater good the primary objective – in this case, honoring the doers and achievers as often and as shamelessly as possible. In fact, her latest column in MPI’s One+ magazine focuses on just that – the need for industry groups to work together, which to my way of thinking includes collectively celebrating the good. Let’s not fret if too many people are being honored and not enough people are buying sponsorships.
Not long ago I came across -- and have them in a little frame in my office -- the “Five Laws of Stratospheric Success.” One of them, the Law of Influence, states, “Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people’s interests first.” Want to feel good about yourself? Nominate a colleague for recognition today. It doesn’t have to be the Hall of Leaders or the Pacesetters (although that would be nice -- deadline is Feb. 1, if you’re wondering), but let’s take an inordinate amount of time to praise and thank as many people as we can. It’s a noble undertaking -- and if you ever think we’re devoting too much time to it, well, uh…..that’s too bad!

What is an Endorsement Worth?

Posted on 12 December, 2012 at 8:49 Comments comments (2)
With elation, curiosity and confusion, I was notified that my daughter had endorsed me for Advertising, Social Media Marketing and Events using  LinkedIn’s Endorsement mechanism. It was awkward getting her stamp of approval for professional prowess -- I could see perhaps Love and Understanding, Financial Support and Always Being There.
I was unfamiliar with the feature at the time. Then I started getting endorsements from people with whom I’ve worked, touting me in areas that often drew their ire and criticism. I sent emails thanking them. Then realizing a gift rather than a card was more appropriate, I turned around and endorsed them for a skill that brought back fond memories.
Is the thinking that anyone looking to do business with me will peruse my endorsements and think I’m popular and proficient? (Hopefully they’ll miss the genetic resemblance in my daughter’s picture.) Will more endorsements boost my standing on search engines? Or is LinkedIn seeking a new means to entertain loyal users tired of collecting more connections than they actually know or know what to do with?
You can identify on LinkedIn up to 50 areas of skill and expertise for which you can be endorsed.  I have received about 100 endorsements – where does that rate on the Endorsement Meter? I have categories for which no one has endorsed me. Is that as bad as an endorsement is good? Should I eliminate them? I added three categories this morning to see if I could stimulate some action – Neatness, Ping Pong and Breakfast Science, which I used to replace Account Management, B2B and Conferences. Anyone who has ever witnessed the order in my office or my closets, come on, let’s hear from you!
I don’t believe recruitment managers will take this feature seriously any time soon to help size up job applicants. I concur with the others who have blogged on the topic and created discussion threads that LinkedIn’s Recommendation feature is more sincere and meaningful, and serves as a much niftier reference than a collection of happy faces.
What if LinkedIn limited the number of endorsements one could make? That way, a recruiter would know that of the 25 endorsements Barack Obama was allotted, he chose me as one of them. That suddenly has relevance. Or what if LinkedIn rolled the Recommendation feature into the Endorsements? A special icon next to an Endorsement picture, for example, means there is amplification provided by the endorser with more elaborate insights and perspectives.
If social media is designed to stimulate relationships and reengage people with dormant contacts, then I can buy into LinkedIn Endorsements on some level. Much as I try to make it my business to send a direct message to anyone with whom I connect, I also can use a received endorsement as a reason to reach out directly to the endorser rather than simply extend automatic endorsement reciprocity. Isn’t that what networking is all about? Let’s keep an eye on this interesting tool, for which the jury is still out. And while it is far from perfect, with just a little tinkering it is not that far away from becoming worthy of my endorsement.

A Simple Holiday Wish

Posted on 6 December, 2012 at 10:22 Comments comments (3)
So there was Dad out of nowhere standing in our yard – totally unexpected. Didn’t even see the car. He looks great, good shape, that perpetual smile I was lucky to inherit, hair blowing gently in the wind as early winter leaves take their final toss. When did he get the dog – so cute, and frisky pulling at his leash? What a nice surprise.
Thing is, Dad died 51 years ago.
At a recent gathering of friends, we went around the room answering the question of whom we would have dinner with if we could choose any one person living or dead. World leaders, famous athletes, superstar musicians? For me, the answer was simple – give me back a couple of hours with the old man.
So you found our house in Connecticut. Most of my adult life has been in the New York area. Married a girl from Queens – never met her father, a fervent Knicks fan, can you imagine? Think we would have gotten along? I don’t know what you hear up there, but the Red Sox won two championships (if the dead could have a second heart attack, this would be the moment) and the Patriots won three. The Patriots? They were in that league that formed right around the time you, well, you know.
You noticed that huge tree leaning on the fence right behind you? That was from the most severe storm to hit these parts in decades. Believe it or not, we were luckier than most.
My life? Again, I’ve been more fortunate than many. I followed my childhood passion and went into journalism – but not the journalism you’d expect. I’m not a sportswriter for the Boston Globe. In fact, if I told you my first job was with a weekly electronics magazine, you’d have to chuckle. Me? Electronics? A business writer at first? Go figure.
You’d really love Ellen – I wish you could have met her. I would have loved to see the two of you in the same room, each with your unique infectious laughs. Those are sounds that follow me through my days. And we kept the tradition of “J” in the family and named our daughter Julia. I have visions of the two of you getting to know each other.
You never met Jack’s first wife Carole, although maybe you have – you would have loved her too. As she was dying, Jack and I spent some of our closest time together in the hospital, talking about things you might expect brothers to talk about all the time. We talked about you. We both knew sports were important to you, and even years after you left and Jack became captain of the high school wrestling team, I think he might have carried with him the belief that he never satisfied your hopes and dreams on the ball field. But he was heartened by a story I shared with him about when you were a coach on my Little League team. I was playing left field; the batter slashed a single right in front on me. I casually got down on my knees, barely stopped the ball, and gingerly tossed it back into the infield. And there you were on the bench screaming with joy, “Hey, that’s my boy! That’s the play of the game!” It’s incredible the little things you remember. It was more incredible how much that story meant to Jack at the time – just knowing that in some crazy way, you were living out your dream and had your moment of watching one of your kids on the ball field, star or no star. I think it warmed his heart at a time when it needed warming.
While life has been good to me, I constantly wonder whether I’ve been good to life. I wish I could be a better husband, better father, better son, better brother, and better friend. Am I giving back in equal share to what I have received? What if you and I got to know each other a whole lot better than an eight-year-old could get to know his father? Even though I think about you every day, I know so little about who you were, what you thought, what was important to you. Did you know that your birthday on Sept. 11 has come to mean something far, far greater than it meant when we were blowing out the candles on your cake?
So what brings you here, Dad? Say, your presence after all these years doesn’t mean it’s my time, does it? This probably won’t register with you, but I can google “what it’s like to die,” get 1.5 billion entries, and have no idea if your sudden appearance or something like it is the way it happens. If so, sign me up – um, but just not today.
So tell me – is this no more than a friendly visit around the holidays? Just another dream of mine that comes along now and then? Come on inside, how about a quick cup of coffee? Gosh, I don’t even know how you take it. What’s that? Can't stay? No, I understand.
If I could have dinner with any one person living or dead, Dad, it would be you. I can dream about that dinner. I can imagine it. I can write about it. And in this world so dependent on the spirit, and during this spirit-ladden time of year, we can almost say a dinner really happened if we want to. Can’t we?
Thanks for coming by, Dad. Take care.
“Remember how I signed your autograph book when you were a child: ‘To Jimmy, who will some day be an All-Star Ball Player and an All-Star Piano Player.’ We all have dreams for our children. Often they are unrealistic. My real wishes for you were much simpler – and I’m at peace knowing so many of them have come true.”
“Great seeing you, son. Come on, Brady, good boy, better be on our way.”
Happy holidays.

Thinking About the Way You Think

Posted on 30 November, 2012 at 13:03 Comments comments (1)

As I entered the dry cleaner this morning, my friend behind the counter was serving another customer and, while doing so, told me to drop my clothes on a side table. We’re pretty informal around here – I don’t need a ticket, and only now and then does he lose something. Rather than just leave my clothes and run, I had to alert him to a special request on a torn sweater. But my reply was cut off by the other customer being served, who looked me straight in the eye and shouted, “Why don’t you shut up and wait your turn. He’s waiting on me now. The whole world doesn’t revolve around you.” Deep breath. Okay, what just happened? As I sized up this comment and my adversary, and contemplated who might win an old-fashioned saloon brawl at the dry cleaner, I summoned the Inner Jim and replied, “Good morning, how are you today?”
He kept at it. I tossed any thoughts of sharing the honest explanation, which was that I was merely responding to the cleaner’s directive to me. Surely the other customer heard that -- I mean, he was more than cognizant of everything I was saying. I continued to ponder whether a single-leg drop from my old high school wrestling days might be the soundest strategy should I be assaulted from up high. As my heart beat faster and the man returned to the matter of his filthy shirts, I kept my head down and waited. Tempted to ask when he thought he might come back to pick up his shirts so that I could mentally schedule a different time for myself, I leveled my parting shot, “Have a great day.”
Whether true or not, I recently suggested that people skills in the business world often are more important than any professional, technical or academic training one brings to a job. This proclamation was made in the context of my role as Board Member of Meeting Professionals International’s Greater New York Chapter and my efforts to promote our November education program, “The Power of Understanding People,” presented by Dave Mitchell of the Leadership Difference.
I never guessed I’d have the chance to apply so quickly what I learned in Dave’s session, which was the night before my dry cleaner caper. Teachers used to say about a word, “Use it in a sentence and you own it.” I was still processing the wit and wisdom of Dave and hardly had time to use it in a sentence.
Dave encourages people to understand their personal communications styles and recognize how those may or may not sit with others with whom they are communicating. Then, make the necessary adjustments.
He segments people into four categories:
·      Romantics – who in general value relationships
·      Warriors – who value results
·      Experts – who value reliability
·      Masterminds – who value innovation
To understand the difference using one of Dave’s examples, Romantics might value world peace, while Warriors might consider whom they need to obliterate to achieve it.
It’s fascinating to examine some of the behavioral cues Dave discusses, and the adjustments he recommends once they are identified. For example:
Behavioral Cue               Recommended Adjustment
-Easy smile                    -Smile
-Engages in small talk     -Use their name
-Personable                    -Don’t rush to transaction
Behavioral Cue               Recommended Adjustment
-Direct                           -Show value quickly
-Offers short answers      -Get to the point
-May display evidence     -Cite example of success
 of status                          
Behavioral Cue               Recommended Adjustment
-Detailed and thorough    -Know your stuff
-Conservative                 -Expect long sales cycle, don’t give up
-Respects procedures      -Be thorough
Behavioral Cue               Recommended Adjustment
-Creative                        -Be enthusiastic
-Bore easily                    -Expand them beyond stated interest
-Impulsive but elusive     -Indulge them while they weigh options
Naturally, I'm providing only a snapshot of what could have been a daylong seminar. So back at the dry cleaner, let’s call a spade a spade – I’m a Romantic. My charming fellow customer could only be a Warrior, but I’m hesitant to give him any label that suggests he has human characteristics and fits into one of Dave’s four entirely human categories. Would my newly acquired knowledge about understanding people have helped? It certainly wouldn’t have hurt.
This post began last night as a simple tribute to a great presenter and educator, Dave Mitchell. My expectations for him were high, and he exceeded them. But then commotion at the dry cleaner gave me the chance to think about the way I think, and also draw a connection between Dave’s remarks and the traits of some great leaders I’ve known in my own business experience. As it turns out, I've had extensive dealings and special admiration for those who possessed the people skills to motivate others and realize continued success, and didn't necessarily exhibit off-the-charts intelligence, instinct, acumen or creativity. (Of course, I'm not referring to anyone for whom I've ever worked directly -- all my former bosses who might be reading this certainly realize that, don't they?) (Sweat.) Rather than frown upon what you might see as these leaders’ shortcomings, I have to applaud their strengths and achievements.
Thanks, Dave, for bringing home my theory on the importance of people skills relative to more professional and technical skills, and the practicality of applying them to everyday life. It's already forced me to take an extra hard look at the way I think, process and react. And all is well -- that is, as long as I have enough clean shirts in the closet to last me for an extended period.

The Cold Truth

Posted on 13 November, 2012 at 10:06 Comments comments (2)
For a recent assignment, I had to make 50 to 100 cold calls a week. That’s actual conversations. Here’s a composite of how I fared, using a moderate degree of industry expertise, strategic phone sense, and charm:
15% - No interest, goodbye
21% - Polite no-thanks in seconds, not long enough to hear my accent
15% - Will pass info on to someone else (who may or may not work for the same company and who may or may not be born yet)
30% - Tolerant listening but minimal interest, inviting me to send materials (no environmentalists, for sure)
13% - Some degree of interest and continuation of the dialogue with a follow-up plan
4%   - Serious interest, but the stars have to align for it to happen
2%   - Eventual buyers  (now part of my family, if they weren’t previously; there go my Giants season tickets)
An executive once told me make 100 cold sales calls and you’ll get two buyers. Judging from a recent Meetings & Conventions survey asking meeting planners their opinions on unsolicited sales pitches, I can only conclude our industry is a tolerant, reasonable, interested and understanding bunch. The story, headlined “Planners Peeved by Cold Calls,” indicates about one-third of the survey base felt unsolicited pitches from suppliers were “somewhat useful” and that the amount of unsolicited material is “just right.” Hitting .333 could win you the American League batting title – I’d take that in a heartbeat in the Cold Call Derby. No peeving there.
The M&C survey was followed by an interesting LinkedIn thread last week. Some people lamented the need and effectiveness of cold calls; some sympathized with decent, hard-working salespeople just doing their jobs and earning a living; some grimaced at salespeople “jumping right into their pitches” at networking events. While salespeople understand the preference to build trust, rapport and relationships, economic pressures and difficult managers asking to name names sometimes don’t allow time for the plusher and more politically attractive consultative sell.
Of course, there’s cold and ice cold. With cold, the caller has done his or her homework, understands the target, and hopes to engage via some thought-provoking intelligence that extends the typical 12-second abort by a minute or two. Ice cold means hiring interns to slice up the database from A to Z, deliver a scripted message, and sprinkle in the truth when convenient.
If all cold calls could be delivered to understanding people like Matt Judge of TRS LLC in Indianapolis, gauging from his LinkedIn comments, the concept wouldn’t get such a bum rap. “How can anyone choose to be offended by the normal conduct of business?” he asks. “One of our best business partners came from cold calling our company last year and me having enough sense to listen. We are both making more money because I didn’t get offended.
“I have made countless cold calls. If there is no match, I quickly thank them and move on. Conversely, if someone cold calls me and there is no match, I will say, ‘I’m going to help you out – we’re not a prospect so I’ll let you move on to something more productive.’ ”
Cold calling is the basest form of sales. At a time, perhaps around the Truman Administration, it was the best we knew to generate results – along with the three-martini lunch and, sadly, an inappropriate joke. Today, thought leadership, business “partnerships” and multiple stakeholders in decision-making have made the process less numbers-oriented but hardly numbers-irrelevant. Think of how many organizations still demand call reports in order to monitor their sales teams and apply statistical probability to how much business they can expect to write. (Side note: An editor once asked me, “Wouldn’t business be much better if all the time you spent writing reports, doing budgets, and figuring expectations was channeled into more time spent focusing on customers and doing actual sales?” Of course it would. We’d be doing a lot better, but there wouldn’t be anyone, let alone ourselves, to tell us if that’s good enough.)
Is it any less threatening to approach a stranger at an industry networking event and start a conversation? I would hope so -- you’re both there to network, even if suppliers outnumber buyers by 2 to 1. That’s why there are more industry networking events than days on the calendar, and why technology companies left and right are creating applications for event participants to break the ice and reach out to other attendees before the event ever takes place.
Meeting planners may complain about too many cold calls, as the M&C survey attests. But what if the cold-caller can hang around long enough to ask the question, “Are you happy with your current service or vendor?” Your answer may trigger an unplanned discussion or assessment that actually improves processes and helps your business. Now how cold would that be? Warms the heart to think about it.

A Misguided Assumption?

Posted on 9 November, 2012 at 16:19 Comments comments (0)
This week I discovered the answer to life’s burning question can be as close as your next lunch.

Okay, so I wasn’t asking what reality is, whether God exists, or which candidate will carry Florida. I just wanted to know whether corporate meeting planners hire independent meeting planners.
You’re disappointed, I can tell. But I’m not taking on God in this post.
Humor me for a moment. Tell me you find it the least bit interesting that the very morning an independent meeting planner says she doesn’t want to waste time networking with corporate meeting planners because their companies don't hire independents, a noteworthy corporate planner says at a luncheon that her company hires independent meeting planners. I thought it was a nice coincidence. If you disagree or are not amused, the Internet has about 56 million bloggers so you do have choices.
Speaking at MPI’s Westfield Chapter meeting in Stamford, CT, industry icon Margaret Moynihan of Deloitte Touche made the statement. She said there was a time when she managed a department chock full of professional planners and she couldn’t have imagined ever having the need to use independents.
Yet she watched the industry change. She saw slowdowns, cutbacks, layoffs without replacements. Others got ill. They were out for extended periods. Some left the company on their own. Some left the industry. “I found the best way to fill the void was to bring in some independent planners,” she said.
This is not an isolated example. You see it every day. Job sites are looking for planners to fill short- and long-term voids. And there’s nothing like showcasing your ability in a temporary assignment as the perfect audition for a longer stream of work. In the changing makeup of corporate America in general and the meeting planning role in particular, outsourced functionality is the norm rather than the exception (strike me with lightning for even thinking about saying “new normal”).
But before you dash off in search of Margaret’s contact information, understand that she always turns to planners she has cultivated through good old-fashioned blocking and tackling – namely, networking throughout the industry and building relationships with people she can trust. It sounds so simple that it has to be true.
The problem for many third-party planners is that while they are great at creating events, they are not so great at networking or selling themselves. But selling comes with the territory. Put together a mission statement. Know in a flash why you are unique. Better off going after a niche rather than being all things to all people. But above all, be ready to answer the question: Why you?
If you don’t know the answer, perhaps it’s as close as your next dinner.

Using Passion as a Prerequisite, Size Matters

Posted on 24 June, 2012 at 8:38 Comments comments (1)
Would you rather belong to a club of 800 with 20 percent engaged members or a club of 200 with 100 percent passionate ones?

I thought about this at a recent gathering of Meeting Professional International  Greater New York’s Board of Directors. I am entering my second term on the Board’s Executive Committee – first as VP of Marketing and now as VP of Education. In both roles, my job is to help figure out how to engage members, present chapter happenings in an interesting manner, and create programs that will draw people from their computer screens into the real world of networking and participation.

Judging from the numbers and the results, one could argue, I have failed.

Has execution been flawed? Have expectations been unrealistic? Or are we living in an age in which trade association participation is slipping on the professional priority list – no time, no interest, no urgency, no energy.

Here’s an idea: The New York chapter cuts its membership from 800 to 200, institutes a qualification process whereby applicants have to be evaluated and accepted, and starts fresh with a smaller, more focused, more inspired membership eager to learn, share, participate, influence and contribute. Programs could be tailored to a smaller demographic, initiatives could include white papers and causes of relevance, pressure on “making the numbers” would ease, and energy levels would rise. How vibrant a group this could be!

Right now our chapter is preparing a member assessment survey to figure out what is needed to drive seemingly disinterested or too-busy members to participate more. Outside of working and thinking very hard to make our programs and value proposition appealing, we can’t drag them kicking and screaming to events. And why should we?

However, if their non-involvement causes the chapter to fall short on budgeted attendance goals (based on that larger membership), satisfaction scores and overall survey results, then those members who do care and do participate would be penalized under the current MPI structure with reduced funding and fewer benefits that could have been used to enhance member value.

I heard a compelling presentation at a recent MPI/HSMAI joint education session by Rohit Bhargava, author of Likeonomics and believer that likeability and relationships are as important to business success as products and employee skill sets. He referred to a Towers Perrin survey of 90,000 employees at mid- to large-size corporations that found only 21 percent were “engaged” at their jobs, 38 percent were disenchanted or disengaged, and the rest fell somewhere in between. That’s not a high passion quotient for corporations. The association market no doubt is in a similar boat.

If you’ll accept the current skepticism about the value of trade associations, it stands to reason a new structure and dynamic might be worth considering in hope of resuscitating a lethargic membership and membership pool. Certainly, there’s easy money to be made from the many “non-participants” who blindly mail in renewals then are hardly seen or heard. It’s a nice source to boost revenue, but is it hurting the greater good in the long run?

I’m not an expert on the trade association business – just a member of many through the years (with my own wavering spurts of passion and apathy) and now a volunteer officer of one with an obligation and accountability. I appreciate the efforts of MPI at all levels in looking to serve a marketplace. But it seems to me a smaller, more passionate constituency might be the model of tomorrow, with priorities tied to member value -- focusing on improving careers and the profession -- for those who truly want it and are willing to contribute to make it happen.