This is my last regular column for MeetingsNet. It’s been a privilege having an outlet for my occasionally wonky views on meetings and events.
It’s been nearly three-and-a-half turbulent years since we launched the column. In that time, the business of meetings has been reshaped, and my own work has been in constant flux, in ways that bring me back to the interests and skills I originally brought to the industry.
• Last fall, I became part-time deputy director of a project that is mapping an 80 percent reduction in Canada’s energy-related greenhouse gases by 2050. The work is exciting, scary, challenging, inspiring … and it’s a constant window on everything we aren’t doing in meetings and events.
• I’ve realized that conferences are just one of many sources for the content that associations and corporations need to push out to their communities. In September, when my company, The Conference Publishers, launched its affiliate Smarter Shift, we expected a gradual transition that would take six to 18 months. The response has been so fast that we’re scrambling to keep up. My focus now is much more on broader content and social media strategy, and much less on events.communications service,
As my attention shifts, it’s tougher to come up with column topics of interest to the meetings mainstream. Looking ahead, I see three problems that sap the industry's relevance and credibility, and just might erode its viability.
• The need to recognize that it is the quality of session content and its integration with an organization's wider strategy—not the choice of glitzy destination or seat covers at the gala—that brings most participants on site and persuades their bosses to pay their way
• The almost zero likelihood that meetings will move beyond the most minimal sustainability measures to take a deep, integrated approach to saving energy, carbon, water, waste, and money
• The fundamental misalignment between the product our participants expect on site and our sponsors' reasons for funding our programs (and our inevitable financial imperative to side with the sponsors).
Each if these points could be fodder for several more columns. But I've lost faith that it's doing any good, and I really knew I'd passed my best-before date in this role when one of my editors interpreted my impatience and despair for meetings and events as contempt. I promise, except for a very few, notably bad actors I've encountered in the meetings world, this isn't contempt. But I’ve always thought it important for any of us to recognize our shelf life in a job, and I’m certainly no exception.
If you’ve found this column useful, you can get much of the same information by:
Getting out of the bubble. The meetings industry is great at professional networking, but that can become a liability when we mostly talk among ourselves. Stepping outside the bubble is an exercise in seeing events in a different light. It isn’t always comfortable. I recommend daily doses.
Reading widely. Apart from daily newspapers online, my column sources over the years have included The Economist, Wired, Inc., Joe Romm’s Climate Progress blog, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., among many others. Planners always talk about air travel as their opportunity to catch up on meetings industry publications. Make those the start of your reading journey, not the end.
Looking for unexpected connections.The world is interdisciplinary, and our most interesting and pressing problems are complex. You’ll come up with different solutions if you ask a wider set of questions.
I’m determined to maintain contact and keep faith with the dozens of colleagues who’ve become friends and allies in the industry. I’ve hugely appreciated working with Sue Hatch and Betsy Bair, two of the gifted, dedicated professionals behind MeetingsNet, and I hope to be back from time to time with the occasional bit of commentary. I wish everyone well, and if you’ve been a regular or occasional reader, I thank you.