Being a lightning rod gives one a heady, slightly edgy sensation. After last week’s column, I had an almost physical sense of the energy flowing through the MeetingsNet Web site, as colleagues debated the merits of a conference keynote who was long on substance but short on presentation skills.
Who knew that anyone could tap such a deep well of fact, argument, and emotion just by suggesting that a speaker’s first and highest duty is to know what he or she is talking about?
The notion of keynotes as entertainment got me thinking about other conventional wisdom that has driven our industry—driven us to new heights, driven us crazy, or driven us into the ground. Here are some these notions that, at different times in our history, might have generated the same intensity of debate, and a few that are still with us today.
- There’s no real difference between meeting planning, party planning, and wedding planning.
- A planner’s job is to arrive on site early enough to count the coffee cups and cut the pastries in half to keep catering costs within budget.
- Participants learn best when they attend a two-hour lecture, sitting in uncomfortable seats set in rows.
- If they can’t learn that way, they should just suck it up. Or go home.
- We’ve done a good enough job of documenting a session if we distribute the PowerPoint presentation after participants go home. After all, nobody needs more detail than the six words that can fit on each of the six lines on a slide.
- We’ve done a good enough job of documenting a session if we archive the verbatim video online. After all, everyone has time to sit through 90 minutes of content for every session they attended (and every session they missed) on site.
- Virtual and hybrid meetings are a passing fad.
- Face-to-face meetings are a passing fad.
- are a passing fad.
- We’ve done enough to measure return on investment if we’ve circulated “smile sheets” at the end of our meetings, with deep, probing questions about whether the room was cold enough and the coffee was hot enough.
- That’s because, as meetings specialists, it isn’t our job to worry about objectives, content, or outcomes.
I know two things about this debate over speaker substance and style.
The first is that, as an industry supplier, it may be a career-limiting move to make so many planners angry.
The second is that, after 25 years and more than 3,000 meetings, the overwhelming majority of our clients would be mystified by the idea that anything about a speaker is more important than his or her content. When that’s the starting point, I’m often the one left to argue that style and presentation are an important part of the package. But we share the assumption that most participants, live or virtual, are looking for knowledge and substance first, entertainment second.
Those in our industry who don’t understand that will be easy pickings the next time their CEO is looking for a way to cut costs.
Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president and CEO of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, Ontario, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog. Send comments, facts, arguments, or column ideas to email@example.com.