The words we use for meetings matter

words we use for meetingsThe words we use for meetings matter. Unfortunately, familiar terms often perpetuate conventional meeting thinking. By changing the words we use we can change how we think about events. Here are three examples of better words to use when talking about meetings.

online rather than virtual

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, in-person meetings vanished overnight. Suddenly Zoom became a household word. If we couldn’t safely meet face-to-face we’d sit in front of screens.

But what should we call these internet-mediated meetings?

In July 2020 I suggested that we not call them virtual meetings. Instead, I made the case to use the word online. In essence, I pointed out that virtual has the connotations of “not quite as good” and unreal, while online is a neutral and well-established description of the meeting medium. Read the post for the detailed argument.

Though I don’t claim any credit, I’m happy to observe that meeting industry professionals and trade journals currently tend to prefer “online meeting” to “virtual meeting”, though there are some notable exceptions. Google also shows the same preference, with 5.0B search results for “online meeting” versus 1.3B for “virtual meeting”.

connection rather than networking

This is a big one, and a harder switch to make. The word networking has been used so often to describe what people do at meetings that it’s tough to supplant. But describing everything that happens outside event sessions as networking subtly directs attention away from what can be the most valuable outcome of well-designed meetings: connecting with others.

We’ve biased how we talk about connection at meetings by using a word that is much more focused on personal and organizational advantage than personal and professional mutual benefits.

I lightheartedly titled my recent post on this topic “Stop networking at meetings“. But it’s a serious suggestion. Having a mindset of encouraging and supporting connection around useful content plus a set of meeting process tools that can make it happen is a game-changer for meeting effectiveness.

peer conference rather than unconference

Sadly, I’m a voice in the wilderness on this one. 10 years ago, I wrote Why I don’t like unconferences. As I explained in my first book, Conferences That Work, what people call an unconference is what a good conference should actually be. At unconferences, far more conferring goes on than at traditional events. I coined the term peer conference as an attempt to remove the “un” from “unconference”.

I was ignored.

This linguistic problem became worse as people decided that calling traditional events “unconferences” made them sound cool. They ignored the central feature of an unconference; that sessions are chosen at the event rather than being scheduled in advance. These days I frequently see advance calls for speaker submissions at meetings advertised as “unconferences”! You even find traditional breakout sessions described as unconferences, presumably because more than one person might speak. I cover these depressing developments in These aren’t the unconferences you’re looking for.

Today, the term “peer conferencing” is principally used to describe an educational approach to writing in groups. So I’ve reluctantly given up trying to swim against the tide, and have been using the term unconference in my recent writing.

C’est la vie.

What do you think?

The words we use for meetings matter. My little campaigns to reframe some of the language the meeting industry uses have had mixed results. What do you think of my suggestions? Are there other examples of meeting industry language you’d like to see changed? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

P.S. Some meeting industry terms I like!

Apropos of nothing, here, in alphabetical order, are some meeting industry terms I like. Don’t ask me why.

  • Air wall
  • Banquet event order
  • Corkage
  • Drayage
  • Duty of care
  • Gobo
  • Pipe and drape
  • Rack rate
  • Stanchion

2 thoughts on “The words we use for meetings matter

  1. Agree. Virtual makes it sound less serious and therefore I am able to show up in my trackie bottoms and a hoodie. Can you do a meeting dictionary featuring those words please?

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