Funny how a one-hour session can completely upend your perception of what’s really important. Case in point: A hybrid session I attended virtually last week put on by the Professional Convention Management Association’s Convening Leaders, which was happening live in Chicago. The session, called “Meeting Menaces—Block-Busters, Conference Crashers, Hackers, and More,” was the first of a two-part series, which at first had me feeling a little bait-and-switched, since they were just outlining what the top five menaces are; solutions were reserved for part two, which you had to buy a package to see. But I figured I’d stick with it anyway, and I’m so glad I did!
So here's where we started off: Moderator Stuart Ruff, CMP, director, meetings, exhibitions, and events with the Risk and Insurance Management Society, Inc., polled the audience to find out what people thought the biggest threats to their meetings were. The results went like this:
1. Room block poachers and pirates
2. Changing attendee behaviors
3. Lobby crashers, outboarders, suitcasers
4. Sharing economy (Airbnb, Uber, et al)
5. Cyber security risks
Little did we know that these rankings would undergo a sea change within the hour!
Familiarity Does In Fact Breed Contempt, or at Least Worry
While we’re supposed to fear the unknown, sometimes we tend to put the most weight on the problems we already are struggling with—if this other thing were to be a problem, we'd already know about it, right?
Three of the other four menaces they tackled at the session have to do with maintaining room block integrity, something with which many associations have been contending for quite a while. As Lisa Boyd, CMP, senior manager, event services with IAEE, said, “Our crystal ball is broken. How can we project anymore? Do we even do room blocks?”
Then there are the poachers and pirates, who, alas, also are nothing new. Those nasty room-night thieves who approach your attendees pretending to represent your organization’s housing service and all-too-often lure them into the pirates’ own room blocks, are definitely a all-too-familiar ongoing problem, albeit one that a good cease-and-desist letter can help mitigate.
As are the suitcasers and lobbyconners, those who try to sneak into your sessions and receptions, or try to sell on your show floor without buying a booth. I doubt there are many shows who have not had to deal with these types—and the way they can impact revenues, diminish the credibility of your event, and make both exhibitors and attendees unhappy, as Dale Shuter, CMP, with the Electronic Apparatus Service Association, pointed out.
And, while people may be a little less familiar with “sharing economy” companies—PCMA’s magazine editor-in-chief Michelle Russell cited a survey her magazine did last summer that found only 11 percent thinking Airbnb was a threat to their room block, while 61 percent had no idea if it was or not—it’s at least something people are starting to talk about. And now Amazon is launching its own hotel booking tool, which could make Airbnb’s threat to room blocks seem miniscule. The sharing economy is “a sweeping trend, a disruptor,” she said. This is “not a trend we can ignore or fight.”
Enter the Cyber Threat
But cyber security? Isn’t that more something giant companies like Walmart, Target, and Sony have to deal with, not something that could affect your little (or not so little) conference? Au contraire, said Michael Robinson, program coordinator and adjunct professor for Stevenson University’s Master of Science in Cyber Forensics, an adjunct professor at George Mason University, and a serious cyber-security eye-opener.
As he spoke, it became abundantly clear that your event is probably not safe from hack attacks (and did you know 2014 was a record year for data breaches?). He did outline three main areas of vulnerability, and gave us some questions to ask that will help make meetings more cyber secure (I summarized them here), but I’m pretty sure I speak for everyone when I say we suddenly felt awfully vulnerable in ways we had never even thought about before.
Sure enough, when Stuart polled the audience again at the end of the session, now that we knew more about cyber risk and meetings, we were a whole lot more worried about it.
Interesting how a little knowledge, bolstered by fear, can jump something that you hadn’t even been thinking about to the top of your risk-mitigation list, isn’t it?
It's funny (in the peculiar sense, not the ha ha one) that the PCMA next hybrid session I participated in was called "Produce Powerful Emotional Experiences To Make Your Events Matter." While they did not dwell on—or even touch on, really—negative emotions like fear, it too can be a powerful learning motivator, if one that should be used very carefully.