As a former legislative staffer and politician, meetings industry consultant Roger Rickard knows how government works. He knows firsthand how citizens can have an impact by making their voices heard, and he is sharing that information with meeting professionals in his new book, coming out in late February, Voices in Advocacy: Seven Actions of Highly Effective Advocates.

The meetings industry has come a long way since the financial meltdown of 2008 when meetings were singled out as boondoggles and canceled in droves. “We did a great job a few years ago advocating for our industry, but we can’t put it out of sight, out of mind,” said Rickard, partner at Revent LLC, speaking at the Professional Convention Management Association’s Convening Leaders meeting on January 10. “Something could happen tomorrow that puts us on the defensive again,” he said. “We need to be in position when the storm comes at us.” Before a packed crowd at PCMA, Rickard outlined seven ways meeting professionals can be advocates for the industry.

1. Stay informed. “We’re at a game-changing point in the meetings industry,” said Rickard. New technologies, strategies, roles, regulations, and research are affecting the industry. Planners should keep up on the trends by reading industry publications and attending meetings.

2. Discuss the issues. “This isn’t politics; this is advocacy,” said Rickard. Talk with friends and family, start discussion groups, let people know about the value of the meetings industry. There are two big talking points from the Convention Industry Council’s Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy study, he said. One is that the meetings industry is bigger than the U.S. auto manufacturing industry. The other is that every meeting supports three jobs.

3. Get on the record. Write letters to the editor, pen opinion pieces for industry or local publications, use social media, and send letters to elected officials to let them know the economic significance of meetings. “Tell them about the tax dollars meetings generate at the local level.”

4. Vote. People should make themselves heard at the ballot box, whether it’s a national or local election, voting for candidates who support the issues they care about. Every vote counts, as was the case in the Republican Iowa Caucuses where the outcome was determined by only a few votes. “We have to demonstrate to our elected officials that we are a force,” Rickard said.

5. Gift your time. Join industry associations. The more members, the stronger the association and the louder the voice. Stronger industry associations elevate the industry. Get involved in local chapters or sit on committees to expand your influence. Both the U.S. Travel Association and the American Hotel and Lodging Association lobby for the meetings and hospitality industries in Washington, D.C., while the American Society of Association Executives organizes meetings with congressional representatives on American Associations Day.

6. Contribute. Donate money to industry foundations, such as the PCMA Foundation, which develop research like the CIC Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy study.

7. Believe. “No one’s voice is more important than yours,” said Rickard. “You have to believe that you can make a difference.”

For more information, go to Rickard’s Web site. Or download an advocacy tool kit, with templates for letters to the editor, advice on how to meet with elected officials, and meetings industry talking points, at the CIC’s Web site.