Undervaluing meetings knowledge and experience is one of the quickest ways to drive anyone in our industry from zero to 60. We react immediately and loudly when we hear meeting professionals written off as “party planners,” “coffee cup counters,” or with any other descriptor that understates the skills a planner brings to the table.
That reaction is entirely justified. But meeting planning isn’t the only expertise that is often sold short. There is a lesson to be learned from another pursuit that is routinely dismissed and diminished by people who like the end result but can’t begin to understand the effort and time behind it.
When she isn’t busy slamming raw text into finished pearls as our managing editor, my wife Karen is an avid knitter and spinner. Hand-knit socks, sweaters, shawls, scarves, and mitts fly off her needles, and the pace seems to pick up each year as the Canadian winter approaches. You might be forgiven for thinking that Karen thrives on services that are destined to be misunderstood: For every planner who thinks a complex, nuanced conference report can be produced by volunteers or adequately replaced with verbatim video, there’s a cousin or friend who equates a gorgeous pair of hand-knit wool socks with manufactured polyester from the nearest big-box store.
Which is why that cousin or friend may be surprised at the reaction when they casually ask a knitter to drop everything and make them a scarf or a pair of mitts. Karen has always found that request incredibly presumptuous. But one knit blogger (yes, there are many, many knit bloggers) came up with an answer that might be easily adapted to meetings and events.
“When she isn’t knitting, this blogger works as a mathematician,” Karen told me. “So when someone just casually asked her for a pair of socks, she sat down and calculated what it would take to get her to say yes. In the end, she said she would barter the 30 hours that go into the socks for equivalent services, like weeding her garden or cooking her meals. I don’t know if anyone has taken her up on the offer.”
The brilliance in the story is that the blogger expressed the value of the socks in hours, rather than dollars. Charging for our services is what we do to pay the bills, but the fee we can command also attaches a value to our skills and knowledge (arbitrarily or not), relative to other practitioners in our industry and all the other jobs in the economy. By calculating the hours it would take her to knit the socks, she answered an unintended slight with a loud, clear expression of value.
Any of us can do the same the next time anyone asks, “How hard could it really be to organize a meeting?”
Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.