Despite being wicked good at stretching a budget, meeting planners are not generally known as a stingy crew, and they tend to be “people people” too, with hardly a tinge of misanthrope to be found in the bunch. However, I do see a resemblance to Dickens’ classic character, Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, in some planners who hear about—and sometimes even experience, and see the benefit of—interactive, peer-driven meetings, and yet they still come up with a meetings-speak equivalent of “Bah, humbug!” when it comes to applying some proven adult learning principles to their own events.
But in the spirit of the season, perhaps there are some things we can learn by walking a few miles in those Scroogely boots...
(Cue the whistling wind and clanking chains)
Oh look, it’s the pale shade of your old meeting planner colleague, Jacob Meetingsly, who is now doomed for all eternity to sit in an uncomfortable chair set theater style, chained to all the other chairs in the row, listening to a speaker read his overladen PowerPoints aloud to a darkened room. “You may suffer the same fate if you don’t change your ways,” he wails. “It’s too late for me, but you still have a chance at redemption if you learn from what tonight’s visitors—Meetings Past, Present, and Yet to Come—show you.”
You wake up with a start and stare wildly around your room—phew, it was just an eggnog-inspired nightmare! But wait, who is that sweeping toward your bedside? A white-robed, flame-headed creature that carries a candle-snuffer. The Ghost of Meetings Past! It takes your hand and you fly back in time.
Oh look, your old elementary school, where you spent innumerable hours memorizing spelling words and math equations and listening to teachers lecture and watching movies that proclaimed, “And you were there.” Which, of course, you weren’t. But there were those classes, those glimmers of opportunity, where you learned by doing, with the teacher as your guide who urged you to question everything, and soak everything in, and get your hands on and your head in what you were learning. And later, remember that conference you went to where you got to brainstorm real solutions to real problems with your peers? To put what you learned into action right there and then? Oh, that was a heady time. But the urge to do what had been done to you was too strong, and when your first boss said, “Because we’ve always done it that way,” you went along with it, only to see your most loyal meeting attendees begin to drift away and find a new life with another meeting that enabled true learning and peer-to-peer networking.
“These are the shadows of things that have been. That they are what they are, do not blame me!” it intoned.
“No, spirit, no more,” you cry as you grab the extinguisher and snuff out the flame and return to your bed to find that not a minute has passed.
Then in bounces a jolly sort, dressed in green finery and bearing some mighty fine F&B. The Ghost of Meetings Present has arrived! He takes you to PCMA’s Convene 2014, where the Learning Lounge is hopping with short, interactive opportunities to learn however you like, be it in its Playroom, Illumination Zone, or Connections Corner. You cruise over the Incentive Research Foundation’s Invitational, where people are all abuzz playing the Happiness Game on their apps and interacting with speakers in the host hotel’s pools during the Pool Ponderings sessions. You pop into the EdAccess conference, where people are laughing and voices ratchet up as they set the agenda on site.
But along with the celebrations of meetings done well, he also shows you the darker side, the conferences where the only signs of excitement arise around the break’s buffet table. And you see signs of people at work doing things that just aren’t working when they return to their desks, having learned nothing but which booths were giving out the best tchotchkes. The ghost then points to two experience-starved attendees, a scrawny, dangerous-looking cuss named Ignorance, and a loathsome woman named Want.
“Have these poor souls no resource, no refuge?” You ask. Meetings Present replies, dripping with irony, “Are there no meetings? Are there no conferences?” before he disappears at the stroke of midnight.
And now a creeping mist seeps into the room, coalescing into a dark shroud extending one skeletal hand to toward you as you shrink back in dread. The Ghost of Meetings Future is a scary dude indeed! As it takes you on its rounds, you begin to hear voices. What’s that they’re saying?
“Oh, I used to go to that conference, but when budgets were cut, that was the first to go since we never were able to demonstrate any real outcomes from attending.”
“Now that we can find all the data and info we need on the Internet, meetings like that one became pretty irrelevant. We haven’t gone in years.”
“That conference? I heard then ended up canceling it for lack of attendance. I think it was replaced with a webinar—just not worth the expense and time out of office to go.”
“Is there nothing good to say?” you beg of the specter. He reveals one last voice, which rejoices in now having the money in her travel budget that used to be spent on that conference available so she can attend a more productive event. Noooo, you cry as you fall to your knees.
You awaken still shivering from the experience. But then you realize that it’s not too late! Even if your meeting has been Scrooged for years, you can fight the good fight with the forces that be and serve the meetings version of the fatted goose that your attendees need to feed their need for learning that carries over into post-event life, that can transform their work just as you can transform your meeting.
This is a cautionary tale, and one that I doubt applies to you, Good Reader. But I'll bet you know someone, have attended a meeting or two, that need to learn that in order to have attendees care about your event, your event has to care about them. And that means putting their needs first.
Merry meetings to all, and a happy new era in planning!