Is technology going to end up supplanting the face-to-face meeting business, as so many pundits have mournfully intoned? Not if you take the MIMlist as an example. This online community of 3,000-plus meeting planners, industry consultants, lawyers, and suppliers of all stripes generates hundreds of e-mails daily about everything from good restaurants in Dallas to stickysituations and -busting advice. What started strictly online quickly spawned numerous face-to-face meetings, with local MIMlisters holding regular gatherings, and MIM dinners arranged around industry conventions.
And this week, the MIMlisters took the face-to-face component to a new level by holding the first national MIMlist Summit. More than 30 people participated in the event, held July 8 in conjunction with the Meeting World convention at the Marriott Marquis in New York City.
It’s hard to explain the appeal of this particular meeting, but I would have climbed mountains and crossed seas to get there (fortunately all I had to do was brave a little rush-hour traffic to get there in time for a pre-meeting dinner on Monday.) Maybe it’s because MIMlisters support each other through bad times, offer ideas and solutions to work problems, and even swap funny stories, recipes, and other things that don’t have a lot to do with meeting planning. It’s gotten to the point where I can recognize many of the frequent posters just by their writing style, before I even look at what they have to say. Even though I’ve never met most of these people, I consider many of them to be friends, albeit email@example.com. I couldn’t wait to actually meet some of these folks in the flesh.
Well, there still was one potentially huge hurdle to my going to this event: Both the convention and the MIMlist are owned by VNU Business Publications, which publishes two magazines that compete directly with The Meetings Group magazines. But, in the true cooperative spirit of the MIMlist, VNU's Meeting News editor-in-chief, David McCann, quickly put my mind to rest on that account and invited me to join the group. Instead of feeling like I was a spy in an enemy camp, McCann, his staff, and their colleagues at Successful Meetings made me feel like a welcome contributor to the overall process. That, more than anything, encapsulates for me what the MIMlist is all about.
When we gathered for dinner Monday night, we put faces with the e-mail addresses and talked about some of the posts we had sent each other. But mostly we just got to know each other a little better and say things that we wouldn’t necessarily want to broadcast to the world via e-mail. The frank discussion intensified during the Summit itself the next day—but the meeting was far from somber.
The tables in the Broadway Lounge area of the Marriott Marquis were heaped with multiple-hued marking pens, modeling clay, sculpture sticks, and assorted other toys and craft items when we walked in. We may all be adults, but we got awfully excited about jazzing our creative juices by fashioning sunglasses-wearing snails, colorful 3-D name badges, surfer dudes on clay waves, necklaces, tiaras, and other things any third-grader could be proud of. During an ice-breaker exercise, we learned that we had in our midst a former Playboy bunny, a stockcar racer, and someone whose relatives had started a leper colony. This MIMlist subgroup, like the MIMlist itself, was nothing if not eclectic.
After lunch and playtime, we dove into how some of the larger societal trends are impacting meetings. And because the meeting was facilitated by MIMlistmistress Joan Eisenstodt, president of independent planning company Eisenstodt Associates LLC in Washington, D.C., the format was designed for maximum interaction. Eisenstodt taped to the walls papers outlining some of the top 25 societal trends, as identified by Workforce Management magazine. She then asked us to pick the four that seemed most interesting to work on. We broke up into four small groups and really got our teeth into issues like spirituality’s place in meetings, security vs. privacy in the Internet age,and attrition, and the impact of office design and teleworking on meeting planners.
Then we went back to the wall to pick the next four trends, which we both discussed on their own merit and tried to tie into how they related to the first issue we tackled. At the end, we shared our conclusions, and took a few minutes to quietly digest what we’d learned and figure out what we’d do with the information when we got back to our offices. We shared some of these plans and ideas, and then formed an action plan on how to keep the discussion going into the future, both on and off the MIMlist.
The four-hour meeting flew by, and before we knew it, it was time to go. But we kept seeking each other out at the exhibition and the reception that evening, looking for ways to help each other out, sharing some more laughs, and generally deepening the bonds that began—and will continue—in the online community.
All I can say to those who say technology is leaching the human element out of our working lives is: The MIMlist is one example of how technology can actually generate more humanity in our work, both online and in real life. Not to mention, more face-to-face meetings.
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