The importance of music in our lives

Adrian’s iPod

My ancient iPod now has only one job: storing my music library of 765 tracks. Some of these performances bring me to tears when I listen to them. Many are bound to experiences in my life, and hearing them connects me to those powerful memories in a way that no other sense — save perhaps smell — can equal.

You probably have this kind of relationship with music. Your taste may vary dramatically from mine, the intensity of your connection may be different, but there’s no argument that music is an important ingredient in most human lives.

Long ago, my father played drums in a dance band, Billy Merrin and His Commanders, on the weekends. A few years before he died, I tracked down a collection of old recordings of his band. I vividly remember his delight and animation when he began listening once again to music he had helped to create sixty years earlier.

“People haven’t always been there for me but music always has.”
—Taylor Swift

If/when I am old and feeble, unable to do much, I want to have my music at hand. (On shuffle, please.) I hope I will still able to listen and recall and remember. I want to sing along when the spirit moves me, and feel the intense wondrous emotions that music has the power to grant.

Something is rotten in the state of meeting industry education

Over the last five years I’ve heard increasing concern from the meeting professionals community about the deterioration of the quality of our national industry conferences. A recent thread on the MECO community (a great resource for meeting professionals since 2006) describes numerous recent basic logistical failings, and points to what I see as symptoms of fundamental problems with meeting industry associations at the national level.

In a nutshell, I think that our industry associations have become too focused on justifying their continued existence financially, and are neglecting their core mission of supporting and representing their members and association meeting attendees.

I’ll illustrate with the area where I have most experience: providing education at these meetings. In my opinion (and many other event professionals with whom I’ve spoken) the “educational” content at the national meetings these days is sub-par, perhaps because the processes for choosing it are seriously flawed and completely opaque.

I’ve lost count of the conference session proposals I’ve made to meeting industry associations that have wound through multiple months-long steps only to be rejected at the last possible moment with no explanation and a boilerplate request to submit more next year. Meanwhile, it’s clear from a review of industry conference programs that large numbers of presentations are accepted from employees of sponsors or trade show exhibitors. Also solicited/accepted are keynote/motivational speakers who get paid large fees and provide exciting presentations with, in my experience, little or no content of long-term value to the meeting attendees. (Think back to the big-name speakers you’ve listened to in the past and — be honest now — how many of them have changed your professional life in any significant way?) But their inclusion looks good on the promotional materials.

In my case, the demand for the meeting design and facilitation services I provide has been exploding. (In the first quarter of 2018, I’ve booked more business than all of 2017.) Since most clients and meeting industry professionals have yet to experience how effective participant-driven and participation-rich design and facilitation can radically improve their meetings for participants and stakeholders alike, there’s plenty of work yet to do, and not enough people experienced enough to do it.

Our industry conferences are the obvious places to provide this education.

My contributions to meeting education are Participate! workshops I design and lead which provide experiences that significantly improve how the participants design their meetings. They are, in my opinion, fundamental education; certainly on a par with the sessions we see at the annual conferences every year on “hot event items”, F&B trends, and meeting management. Yet experiential meeting design is not acknowledged at meeting industry conferences as an overlooked fundamental competency that needs to be offered on a regular basis. Rather, it’s seen as a “hot topic” that can be covered once and subsequently ignored.

In addition, industry associations have essentially given up paying for professional education at their events, preferring, it seems, to spend money on the big name players I mentioned above. These days, someone like me is lucky to be offered event registration and expense reimbursement, let alone any kind of token fee for the hours it takes to design and prepare a great session. This further biases session submissions in favor of sponsors and corporations who are attending the event anyway for marketing purposes.

Many other independent meeting professionals I know who love our industry, are great presenters, and have unparalleled expertise on important perennial meeting education areas have told me about being rejected in the same ways I’ve described. Most of us have pretty much given up submitting sessions as a result.

Some may see what I’ve written as sour grapes. I’ll only add that I’ve been an educator of one kind or another for forty years, there’s a large unmet need for what I and other experts do, and I’m frustrated that our offers to share it with our fellow professionals are stymied by the meeting associations whose purported mission is to serve our industry.

The Next Best Thing

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“Best” is context-specifica matter of opinion, and transitory.

When we use “best” dishonestly, we ignore one or more of these realities. We appeal to status, implying that our “best” thing is absolutely best, transcending environment, viewpoint, and the passage of time.

Claiming the highest status for our “best” thing preys on our audience’s fears by offering a simplistic solution. “Believe us, buy this, and Bingo! You can stop worrying that you might have made a mistake!”

Sure, when aware of environmental and personal context, it’s fine to make an in-the-moment judgment that some thing or course of action is the best of multiple alternatives (be sure there are at least three!) We do this all the time.

But when we simply slap on a “Best” label we are selling comforting feelings disguised as our product or service.

In addition, believing that we have or are the best does ourselves a disservice. We will focus on “best” practices instead of next practices. Consequently, we may maintain the status quo, but with the danger that at any time a competitor could make our “best” second best.

Ultimately, what’s important is to continuously strive to be the best, not for the sake of being best, but from a genuine desire to provide the best value / outcomes / opportunities for one’s organization or clients. Rather than feeling proud under the illusion that you are the “best”, work to be proud of your own efforts and achievements (including the learning that occurs when things don’t go according to plan or you take a risk that doesn’t pan out.)

Live with the knowledge that “best”, while well worth pursuing, is a moving fluid target. Remember, there will always be a next best thing.

Photo attribution Flickr user thomashawk

Why don’t meeting conferences pay speakers?

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“All I want is not to be insulted by the people I’m serving by them paying me less than they pay their kids’ piano teachers or their own hair stylists. They can say all the nice things they want when I’m finished. But when they hand me a paltry check, what are they really saying? What do they expect me to conclude about how much they value my work?”
John G. Stackhouse, Jr

I like going to event industry conferences. I enjoy meeting old friends, making new ones, and learning new things. I love presenting on all kinds of topics that revolve around making conferences fundamentally better for participants and organizers.

But there’s one thing that really bothers me about these events.

The pitiful reality that few meeting conferences offer to pay speakers.

Traci Browne wrote about this miserable state of affairs three years ago. Sadly, nothing has changed, so I’m raising the topic again.

The default offer, often considered generous, is to cover expenses, though you’d be surprised at how many invitations to present I receive that don’t even mention that. Sometimes organizers have tried to get me to pay full registration too!

When you ask whether a fee will be paid, a common response is “well, we don’t have a budget for that.” Sometimes this is preceded by an embarrassed pause, sometimes not. Hmm, you have an F&B budget, a venue budget, and an administrative budget, but you don’t have a budget for the people who you’ve invited to fill your event with educational goodness and value? Why not?

One answer, of course, is “it’s always been done this way.” This is a rationalization for a lot of bad things in this world.

Another is “you’ll get exposure.” Listen up guys: good speakers for your sessions already have exposure—they aren’t relying on free speaking engagements. Yes, I have had presentation opportunities lead to client work, but not to the extent that they’ve even come close to paying the time and monetary costs to a) create a session proposal, b) prepare a presentation (typically five to ten times the presentation’s duration), c) travel to and from the venue, and d) give the presentation.

Finally, we have the “don’t you want to give to your community?” angle. Yes, I do. Yes, I speak for free or at a reduced rate probably more than I should. I also look for other ways to receive benefit that the conference organizer can provide, e.g. a professional video of my session or a couple of extra hotel nights at a really nice conference location. But, unfortunately, supporting your professional community doesn’t pay the bills.

The next time you (yes, you, you know who I’m talking to) are planning an event, build some money into your budget to pay speakers. When you ask someone to present, offer them up front specific compensation for their expenses and their time and expertise. The message that you value their presence at your event, rather than taking them for granted, will speak volumes.

Photo attribution: Flickr user danmoyle

A letter to event technology companies trying to sell me stuff

Dear event technology vendor,

I’m sure I’m not the only event professional who is bombarded with email from event technology companies. I receive solicitations from multiple companies each week, asking me to check out/review their latest mobile app/conference management software/social-networking tool etc.

Guys, I don’t want to be crass here, but could you give me some idea upfront how much your products/services cost?

If cost was no object I would be a customer for much of the stuff you are pitching.

But cost is not no object. For me to evaluate the value proposition you’re offering I have to know the value of what you provide and what it costs me. The former is my job. The latter is yours.

I read your patter about your product or service, decide to find out more and click on your embedded link. So far so good. I jump to your elaborate website where it’s obvious you have spared no expense creating great material designed to turn me into a customer. Overviews, feature lists, videos—it’s all there.

Except for any kind of price information.

You don’t share your pricing model! Is this is a $299-for-unlimited-use, a $5/seat, or a $10,000/event deal? Are there packages of services available at clear price points? If customization is an option, what ballpark costs are we talking about?

About the only thing I’m sure of, once I’ve wasted my time searching for this information on your oh-so-pretty website, is that you don’t use a freemium model. You would have told me about that.

I’m sorry, but I don’t have the time to enter into your next sales step—the “contact us to discuss your requirements” dance—on the off chance that your actual pricing model represents real value for me.

So next time—if there is a next time—please consider giving me all the basic information I need so I’ll be compelled to check out your possibly awesome creation further. I can handle talking about money upfront. And so can you.

Sincerely,

A lost potential customer

Photo attribution: Flickr user dswilliams

I and thou: blogging as if a person was actually there

All actual life is encounter.
—Martin Buber, I and Thou (1923)

I finally realized why certain bloggers irritate me.

A lot.

Even if I agree with much of what they say.

It’s simple.

They never write as if they were there.

These bloggers always present themselves as authorities. The way they write implies they speak THE TRUTH.

Personal stories do not appear in their posts.

Perhaps this is a reaction to my years of lectured-to schooling, the fantasy I was encouraged to believe (only eventually dispelled by my experience) that everything had THE RIGHT ANSWER if I was only smart enough to hear and understand it.

I don’t care.

§——————————————§

When I feel even a splinter of the authentic self come through a blogger’s writing, even if I don’t agree with hir at all, something changes. The person appears to me by choosing to enter into relationship through hir writing; becomes vulnerable and appealing.

We become connected.

I like that.

When a person hides behind hir words, streaming out some truth as if it were divinely inspired, I feel a void.

§——————————————§

Bloggers—all writers for that matter—let us know who you are.

How to give your customers bad service the New York Times way

This morning, I logged on to the NY Times, credit card in hand, to renew my digital subscription which I knew would expire around the end of the year. I thought it would take a couple of minutes at most.

First I thought I’d find out the day my subscription expired. What? Apparently I have to call the NY Times! The expiration date is apparently a closely guarded secret—it isn’t shown on the account management page!

OK, well I’ll just renew my subscription anyway. I click Subscribe, and choose the plan I want.

Was the NY Times happy to take my money?

No!

The screenshot tells the story. My only options were to call or email them!

So I called.

Get this: the NY Times is unable to renew a digital subscription until it has expired! Apparently, I have to first call the NY Times to find out when my subscription expires and then renew exactly on the day my subscription expires if I want to maintain unbroken access!

A question to NY Times Management: are you trying to make it as inconvenient as possible for your existing customers to give you money?

A post about posting (on walls) at events – part 1

Recently I’ve been frustrated and baffled. No less than three venues (two hotels and a conference center) in the last month have informed me that I was not allowed to post anything on the walls of the room I was meeting in.

Nothing could be posted. No flip chart paper, no masking tape, no stick pins, no thumbtacks, no sticky notes, and no wall clips.

To add insult to injury, none of the venues apologized or offered any suggestions on alternative ways I could display materials on a vertical surface. None of them had any substitute surfaces, like large portable notice boards or whiteboards available.

One conference organizer wondered if I could use tables instead. Unfortunately, tables are not a comparable substitute for walls for two reasons:

  • On walls, notes or cards can be placed anywhere in a seven foot band between the floor and where people can reach, while on tables, human reach limits us to a three foot band.
  • Information placed on a wall can be easily seen by many more people than if it is displayed on a table.

Some of the most powerful techniques available for group problem-solving require ways to display multiple pieces of information to an entire group, whose members can then easily and publicly move items around to cluster, list, sort, and map relationships. Schools have used blackboards (aka chalkboards) for two hundred years to display information to students, thumbtacks (aka drawing pins) have been around for over one hundred years, masking tape was invented in 1925, and we’ve been using post-it notes for over thirty years. These are not new technologies, folks, why are they now being banned from the walls of venues where we meet?

I understand that venues are used for many different purposes, and wall damage, through incorrect use of attachment technology or marker bleed-through, costs money to repair. But “wall work” is an essential component of group problem solving, and for a venue to prohibit its use while offering no alternatives mean that many kinds of useful meetings will not be held there.

In the second part of this post I’ll cover some of the technologies now available for posting information on walls, including some that you may not know about. Stay tuned!

Have you had venues not allow you to post materials on their walls? What did you do?

Photo attribution: Flickr user pierrelaphoto

 

Next practices, not best practices!

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Photo attribution: Flickr user heygabe

Best Practices look backward, providing advice that worked in the past; Next Practices focus on what to do in the time ahead.
The Internet Time Alliance

I always felt irritated, but never knew why, when I heard someone talk about best practices as the business processes we should strive for. Reading the excerpt quoted above, taken from the Working Smarter Glossary of the Internet Time Alliance led to an aha! moment.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with learning about and comparing different approaches to solving problems or satisfying business requirements. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel or repeat mistakes that others have made.

But when we limit ourselves to the best that others are doing, two things happen.

First, we blind ourselves to the reality that our world is constantly changing, that the best practices of today may become quickly obsolete. As examples, we only need look at how the music & publishing industries continue to cling to outmoded business models as digital distribution becomes commonplace.

And second, we don’t think about next practices: ways we might come up with something better. Example? Unlike the rest of the airline industry, Southwest Airlines has been profitable for 37 consecutive years, not by implementing well-established best practices of the fiercely competitive air transportation business but by introducing new ways (flying out of smaller airports, standardizing airline fleets, employee profit-sharing etc.) to satisfy customers and grow their market.

Learning about best practices is fine for novices who need to get up to speed on what an industry currently does. And implementing next practices can be scary, because they may require us to do things that we, and perhaps no one else, have ever done before.

But, if we restrict ourselves to best practices, then at best we’ll maintain the status quo, with the ever-present danger that at any time a competitor could make our industry’s best practices second best. Instead, focus on next practices. Doing this allows us to be open to reinventing our work, leading us to the potential of a profitable (and interesting) future.