The meeting industry’s sound of silence

It’s time for a “sound of silence” roundup of meetings industry pet peeves.

“…the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence”
—Simon & Garfunkel – Sound Of Silence (1965)

Venue air quality is still a secret

How many venues have upgraded their HVAC systems in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Unfortunately, only The Shadow knows! I’ve never seen a venue website that features air quality upgrades, though the information is sometimes available on an obscure page. These days, I’ve found that if I call a venue, they will usually tell me what they’ve done. If anything.

Meanwhile, news of outbreaks at meetings continues. Just last week, an outbreak of several dozen COVID-19 cases occurred at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual three-day Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) conference. If the CDC can’t prevent an outbreak at its own meeting, who can? (Answer, anyone who still takes COVID-19 seriously.)

It’s true that COVID-19 is not quite as serious an illness as it was in the earlier stages of the pandemic for most people. Death rates in the U.S. are now down to around a mere 1,000 a week. It’s still one of the top ten reasons people die. But with elderly and immunocompromised people at high risk, and the unknown chance of contracting Long COVID, the meeting industry is still largely shirking its duty of care.

A hat tip to the Javits Center and The Venetian for having done the work! Who else has upgraded their air filtration systems to MERV 13 or better? Share in the comments!

The meeting industry’s dirtiest secret

Sadly, the meeting industry makes no meaningful attempt to discover (let alone evaluate) the long-term value of a meeting to attendees!

If you think about it, this is shocking. We spend vast sums of money and devote countless person-hours to holding a meeting. Yet we have no idea whether it made any significant long-term difference to the people who attended it!

Check out the above link for three tools you can use to explore the long-term impact of an event.

But I’m not holding my breath that any of them will be routinely deployed at meetings soon.

The continuing takeover of meeting industry education by suppliers with deep pockets

In my opinion (and many other event professionals with whom I’ve spoken) the educational content at the national meeting industry events these days is sub-par. I suspect it’s because the processes for choosing it are seriously flawed and completely opaque. Educational programs remain dominated by representatives of suppliers and sponsors who provide significant income to the industry association.

I’m not saying supplier and sponsor employees are incapable of providing good education, but there are a host of independent educators (yes, like myself) who have been relegated to the sound of silence over the last fifteen years. This is largely due to our unwillingness to share our valuable experience and experience at our own expense (no fee, no coverage of travel, meals, or accommodation.)

Don’t pay presenters unless they’re big names

Following up on the previous peeve. I’ve written a couple of posts (12) about the reluctance of the meeting industry to pay presenters unless they are household names and are seen as “inspirational”.

Nothing has changed in the last ten years.

Fighting the sound of silence

sound of silence

“Hello, darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again…
…People hearing without listening”

I’m going to close with a short tribute to someone in our industry who personifies the opposite of the sound of silence.

Her name is Joan Eisenstodt. Anyone who is truly listening will hear her. For decades she has spoken out about a myriad of often-overlooked issues in the meeting industry—the lack of care for the safety and wellbeing of the venue and hospitality employees that make our meetings possible, the lip service paid to DEI, ableism, the underrepresentation of minorities and women in positions of power, and the dire consequences of political decisions made at both the Federal and State level—to name just a few.

I think many would agree with me that she has been and remains the voice of conscience of our industry.

It’s a hard road to travel. I know I sometimes feel discouraged that some of the ideas I have shared have not become as widely accepted as I would like. So I wrote this to her recently:

“Dear Joan,
Sometimes it feels as though no one is listening and our efforts are fruitless. But, Joan, I hope you know that you do make a difference. Many people listen to you. Many are influenced in ways you’ll never know. In my case, you have inspired me over the years to speak out more about important issues. You have influenced me, and I am grateful for it. And so are many in our industry. You fight the good fight and make good trouble. Bless you for it.”

Let’s dispel the sound of silence as Joan does. Our industry will be a better place when we do.

One thought on “The meeting industry’s sound of silence

  1. Thank you, Adrian, for speaking out too on issues too often pushed aside. Thank you for the kind words, in public. Long ago, Jim Trombino, when he served as MPI President and I on the Board, said at a meeting that I was the conscience of the industry. It is a difficult place to be – a responsibility. Yet, how can one ignore issues that impact health, safety, reputation? How do we call ourselves “professionals” if we ignore what can be better? I am grateful to you for many things. This is the loveliest gift of all.

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