Last spring, I knew that what my company manufactures — magazines — and the hard-working staff that produces them, needed rejuvenation. We faced the stiffest competition I had seen in my 20 years of print journalism and publishing experience: the Internet.
How would trade — now called business-to-business — magazines fare in the brave new world of 24/7 resources and information? How could we offer compelling content in monthly and bi-monthly magazines (six, in total) when our meeting planner readers were getting answers to their most urgent questions, plus chat and community, online?
I knew then that in five years' time the major meeting industry magazines as we knew them would not exist. How could we count ourselves among the survivors?
I did what I always do when I need to make a shift in company policy or staffing or introduce major change (this was before I read Who Moved My Cheese?): I called a meeting.
I gathered the best brains, my staff of editors, artists, and marketing people, to help chart our course for the future, at the same time knowing that they would more likely buy into an idea or process that they helped conceive.
I wanted this gathering to be different. Major change calls for a major change in venue. Rather than lock ourselves for a half day in the office conference room, I decided to plan a retreat, an off-site retreat, a visioning retreat, of all things.
That's when, having some experience writing and editing articles about small meetings, I searched for a site online (on MeetingPath, a regional New England search venue). Many properties would have worked, but for us, the MIT Endicott House in Dedham, Mass., a dedicated conference center just miles from Boston but eons away in terms of offering a retreat-like setting, proved perfect.
The next step was to find an external facilitator. With the type of visioning and change I wanted to elicit, I knew we needed an outsider to help us. A number of phone interviews led me to our local facilitator, Patrick Parker-Roach of ThoughtRoads, Groton, Mass., who helped us craft our group's first-ever visioning statement.
I think we all gained much from that meeting. One corporate owner later, we still grapple with how to best fashion our visioning statement among continuing change, not just from competition but within our own internal operations. But, hey, we're lucky: as writers and editors, we're able to write about our experiences! And thus, I measure ourfrom that particular off-site meeting, through the editorials that appeared in our magazines. Here are some excerpts:
from barbara scofidio, editor corporate meetings & Incentives
The lights are dimmed, our eyes gently closed, our breathing deep and purposeful. From the front of the meeting room, a voice softly suggests: “Picture yourselves in your jobs six months from now. You're making changes that are having a tremendous impact.”
Flash forward to five small groups of three or four pretty psyched-up people, armed with index cards and red Sharpies in hand. Huddled around coffee tables in a conference center lobby, they're charged with deciding how their jobs need to evolve — and what they want their company to become in the next couple of years.
This was the scene at a visioning retreat I attended with my colleagues. With the help of our facilitator, we succeeded in synthesizing the essence of 15 individual's views of the future into one cohesive corporate vision.
I learned something else: Companies that don't hold brainstorming meetings like this might be missing one of the biggest opportunities they have to effect change. The people on our team had often considered what we discussed those two days, but never before had we a forum for sharing our thoughts. Even more than the vision statement, the energy that emerged from the sharing of ideas that have been simmering beneath the surface is the most powerful change agent of all.
from regina mcgee, editor
Recently, our company held an editorial retreat. It was fun and productive, and it also reminded me of a fundamental truth about meetings — one that, in all the brouhaha over the rise of new electronic media, is easy to lose sight of.
Simply, using electronic media is an excellent choice when the goal is information exchange, research, or a straighforward transaction: for example, ordering 1,000 widgets from an exhibitor. But if the goal is to inspire, to build relationships, or to encourage creativity, no form of electronic communication can hold a match to the in-person gathering.
Without the energy and the chemistry of a live group interaction, the results would be far less satisfying and the follow-through much more problematic, I believe.
Moreover, I found the opportunity to have dinner with some colleagues and to meander with others through the gardens afterward to be equally important in contributing to an end result that left us not only with a rough outline of where we were going as a group, but a new feeling about our journey.
All of which is to say: The Internet presents exciting new possibilities for event organizers. But for some purposes, there is still nothing better than an old-fashioned meeting of minds — and bodies.