MeetingsNet: Describe your early days as a meeting planner.
Joan Eisenstodt: When I started in this industry more than 40 years ago, I immediately saw how similar all meetings looked—there was little deviation from a “norm” or template for the schedule and the sets. I knew that couldn’t be the best we could do. That belief increased the more I worked—especially around meeting design, speaker delivery, risk preparation (including contracts), diversity and inclusion, and ethical behavior. I worked hard to learn more so I could move my clients in a better direction, and so I could teach others in the industry how meetings could be better.

MeetingsNet: What still needs to change?
JE: Meetings are not being customized for a particular group’s learning style and needs. I get that it’s hard to customize the experience for everyone, but we need to find ways to do it. We need to stimulate people’s brains in new ways, to get them to talk to each other, not just their devices.
Take AV as an example: We now use digital projectors instead of overhead and 35-millimeter projectors, but we still believe you have to shut the lights off to show anything. We also haven’t come a long way in the design of meeting spaces. We’re still setting chairs in the same straight, silly rows.
Overall, you still could walk into anyone’s meeting and see the same thing you’d see in anyone else’s meeting. I want our industry to be bolder, to take chances, to model for the rest of us. We can’t just focus on how much money our industry brings into communities and the federal budget and the world economy. We need to focus on how meetings help bring change in people’s lives and in the world. We need to not only showcase new ways of teaching and learning, but also help people scale and adapt those ideas to something they can use in their organizations.

MeetingsNet: Is it hard to create change in this industry?
JE: I’ve stuck my neck out often! Whether the issue is changing meeting delivery methods and room sets, ethics, or diversity and inclusion, it’s been easy to lead. What has sometimes been daunting is being singled out for challenging the status quo.