Joan Eisenstodt From the Road: Observations about facilities, meetings and travel

From the road: Observations about facilities, meetings and travel


November 07, 2007

By Joan Eisenstodt

Observations: Meetings
Meetings happen.  Meeting planners are becoming savvier about program design and content, integrating the two with the space that can be used at the facility.  Facilities have been housing meetings for a long time and surely along the way, those who work in facilities - sales, convention services, set up staff, audio visual personnel - and speakers who provide some content for our meetings - have noticed there that there has been a change in how meetings are configured.

Is it possible that while we were honing our adult learning skills, working with training or program or sales departments to ensure that content was delivered successfully, facilities forgot to keep up? Is it possible that while we worked harder to provide a greater educational return on investment, facilities just kept setting meetings the same way?  Is it possible that AV personnel, who know the equipment is far superior to the old overheads and 35mm slide projectors, forgot that we don't need lights out in a room for an effective presentation?  Could speakers (professional and subject matter experts - SMEs - didn't realize that good adult learning, in many cases, involves interaction and using space differently?

Recently at meetings at which I was a learning facilitator (a term I prefer to 'speaker' or 'trainer'), it was interesting to see that although crescent rounds were used for all sessions, they were set in rows so that there was one neat aisle down the middle.  In almost every case, when AV was tested, the AV techs turned out the lights before it was strongly recommended that the presentation on the screen was also in the handout and it was okay if the screen were a bit washed out; that the visual learners would still be able to see and grasp the information; and that any slides on the screen that were not in the handouts would be easily seen.

Lessons Learned/Actions Possible and Taken:
I've integrated some of the actions possible and taken in the section on observations. Since we have a long way to go, I offer more:
Facilities, AV folks, and speakers: c'mon - brush up on good adult learning models.  The Foundation of Meeting Professionals International (MPI - www.mpiweb.org) long ago did studies on what makes meetings work and why people attend association annual meetings.  The information gleaned in these studies, available on the web site, still hold true and will provide insights into what meeting participants want at meetings.  The Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA - www.pcma.org) has published a textbook with good learning models.  Look at web sites for the TED conference, read what Jeffrey Cufaude has written, google adult learning and see what is written.
Observe how people congregate in your facility.  Do they use the lobby and the lounge areas to meet others and have conversations?  At a group's refreshment breaks, are people hungry for more than food? Do they meet with others and talk about what they are learning or what they want to learn?  Do you provide soft or other seating in those places to enhance those experiences?

Have you talked with the fire department to see what is possible for room sets that may not be what you've always done?  Are there conversations among sales, convention services, banquet set up, revenue managers to see how to provide more space when it might enhance the learning atmosphere?
It's not one sided. There are still planners who are not familiar with good education models, preferring to set all rooms the same, not taking advantage of smaller group settings or alternative spaces.
My observations from the road, as a learning facilitator and meeting participant, tell me that we can 'get there' if we work harder.  Are you willing to join me to make the changes?

Observation: Facilities


November 06, 2007

Many people kvetch about meetings, facilities, airlines, and other related travel and meeting topics.  After kvetching, few seem to do more to ‘make it better.’  As a road warrior, meetings consultant, and frequent traveler, I thought we could get the conversation moving about how things can be better.  Then once we’ve discussed, we can select and contract with properties more intelligently.  We can write to the companies that own, manage and brand the properties, and write to the meeting sponsors, and make recommendations. 

I decided to stick with meetings and facilities and some related issues v. tackling the airlines – they have been ‘tackled’ so often!  If you are a frequent traveler or plan travel for those who are, subscribe to “Joe Sent Me” – the great e-news from Joe Brancatelli: www.joesentme.com.  It is worth the money to subscribe and the time to read what he and others write.

Observation: Facilities
Hotels, convention centers, and conference centers, used for business travel and meetings, can be the cause of delight or heartache.  Often the cause of heartache can be because there is insufficient care taken with guest safety and security.  Case in point:  on a recent trip to a major convention hotel, my entrance to the property was less than grand:  luggage given to the doorman, backpack on my shoulder, I began going up the two flights of steps, without handrails, to the lobby.  (The elevator was at another entrance, I learned, after the fact.  The other entrance is not the one at which transportation providers drop off passengers and the doorman never recommended the other entrance.)  On the fourth step, I slipped and with nothing to grab on to, fell down, hard, to the marble floor, landing with a ‘thunk’ and much pain coursing through my body.  Two people appeared – I knew they were with the hotel because they were wearing badges with the hotel logo and their first names – who never said who they were.  (I later learned one was with security.)  The upshot:  little was done for my safety or health at that time or subsequently during my 6 night stay.  (I learned later that they had filed an incident report but they did not ask me many questions and said only that if I needed anything, I should pick up any phone and ask – no direction about who to call. During my stay, no one from security called although a few people from convention services and from guest services did.  The hotel did provide transportation to a clinic.

Lessons Learned/Actions Possible and Taken:
Safety and security are overlooked as critical elements of site inspections.  Those who plan meetings, and facilities that host meetings, would rather talk about rates, dates, space and the amenities or beauty of a property.  In this property at which the accident happened, I observed how many loose railings there were when railings existed and wondered why no one had previously pointed these out.  I observed the number of security staff walking about the hotel’s lobby (their earpieces were the give away!) and yet, not seeming to really know what to do when there was in fact an emergency.  At meals, which were excellent, I saw ingredients listed on the meals and not the cooking oils or broths used, leaving the participants, hotel and meeting sponsor vulnerable. 

My room, with its ever present ‘privacy’ sign on the door [I prefer to not have my room serviced while staying in a property, supposedly guaranteeing more privacy and security], was entered at least twice by room service bearing fruit and water, gifts which were intended to help me heal, or at least to feel better.  I was grateful for the water – however, fresh cut fruit for someone who is out of the room for a minimum of 12 hours/day is impractical.  More, security checking on me would have been preferred. In the case of my fall, the group’s meeting planner immediately called a meeting of the security, front office, and convention services staff to reiterate what she had expressed in the pre-con: any injuries should be immediately reported to her.  That message was reiterated to others in the hotel.  After the fact, I have written to the hotel and will follow up with their ‘brand’ regarding actions (including installing handrails at the main entrance, securing handrails that already exist, and training door and bell staff to ask guests if they need assistance; working with room service to not enter a room that has a “DND” on the door; labeling food for all the ingredients and cooking products) they can take to ensure that guests are safer.  My recommendations will include customer service skills and safety training for their security staff.   

Footnote: A week later, I am still terribly sore and uncomfortable and back on the road.

Asking the Right Questions


April 04, 2007

By Joan Eisenstodt

Years ago, our MPI Chapter (the Potomac chapter) did a great skit for a monthly program.  In it, meeting planners called hotel sales people to book meetings.  The planners would start with “I want to book a meeting.”  The sales person would ask “For how many?” and the planner would respond “I don’t know – maybe 50 – maybe 500.”  The sales person would ask “When do you want to have the meeting?” and the planner would respond “My boss said sometime this year.” 

Finally, after the sales person asked more questions for which the planner had broad or no answers, the sales person would put the call on hold and pretend to check – but check what? 

In the very first case in which I testified as an expert witness, I was stunned that a corporate planner booked and canceled the same meeting three times – really! – because the planner kept forgetting to ask if the CEO’s schedule would accommodate participation at the meeting! 

How can anyone plan and book a meeting without specific information?  If your organization has not asked the right questions, how can you develop the information and provide the answers to the facility? to the participants? for the marketing pieces? to secure the speakers?  How can meetings be planned without getting to the deeper answers which can only come from asking all the questions?

For many of you, answers would be easier to develop than questions.  You want to get moving – you have deadlines to meet!  You’re used to the short answers.  When you ask “why are you considering holding a face to face meeting?” or “why are we having this meeting at all?”, you may be told “because” or “my boss said to plan this meeting” or my favorite, “because we’ve always had one at this time of year.”

Taking it the next step, you might then ask “Where do you want to hold the meeting?” and be told “Somewhere warm.”  Ah yes, that helps!  “Warm” narrows it down to … many places.  Without coming up with more questions, you won’t even be able to narrow it down to parts of the world or even to areas of one country.

If asked about the budget, the answer, before Q-storming™ may be “Don’t overspend.”  Overspend over what?  You have no numbers on which to base a preliminary budget!   

Your turn again.  Begin to think of questions that might impact meeting logistics –the when, where and budget and see how many you can generate – here, in the Miguru comments, or on your computer in a list, or if you think best with pen or pencil and paper, have at it.  Think about all the experiences you’ve had that would have had different outcomes if you’d just have asked the questions first.

Developing Goals and Objectives


April 03, 2007

By Joan Eisenstodt

Yesterday, Q-storming™ was explored a bit more in depth and a look at some of the questions that could be asked about speakers/learning facilitators were developed.  Today let’s go back and look at developing goals and objectives for meetings by asking better questions.

The first obvious question: Why are we considering holding this face to face meeting?

Oh there will be obvious answers! For now, continue with questions and watch how they begin to group.

Is our meeting held primarily for networking? What is networking to our organization? How have we successfully provided networking experiences in the past? What do our participants want to accomplish by networking? Is the atmosphere for all networking events conducive to the participants’ and organization’s needs? 

If our meeting is held primarily to disseminate information, in what way might we do so? Must information  always be disseminated at a f2f [face to face] meeting? Who will provide the information?  Who best delivers the information? Is there anyone who has been a better deliverer than others?  Who do the participants most trust? (The last question is a good one to ask if there is information that may be difficult to deliver and receive, such as about layoffs – or downsizing or rightsizing – or other issues not comfortable for anyone.) If we deliver the information via email or other written method, must be meet f2f?  If a virtual meeting were held, how would that impact the receipt of the information?  Is attendance at the meeting mandatory?  If attendance is not mandatory, how might they otherwise participate?

As you begin to look at who may attend, consider the influences of the audience and their needs as you develop a meeting’s goals and objectives:
How often has this group met? Who among the participants is or is likely to be new to the group?  What are the demographics of the group – age ranges? gender mix? abilities? length of time in the profession and/or with the organization? interests?  For how many participants should we plan? What implications are there to developing the agenda and the goals and objectives based on the demographics?  From where will they travel? How will travel times impact our schedule of events and thus the goals and objectives?

Continue to think about the goals and objectives based on the stakeholders: Are our stakeholders owners? management? employees and/or members? boards of directors and sponsors or vendors?  What outcomes will satisfy each stakeholder group? In what way will these needs impact our outcomes? Our agenda?

Time consuming, isn’t it?  It sometimes is brain-taxing as well to think of all the questions.  Once you get in the habit of asking questions from the start, your brain develops in to a ‘question-thinking brain’ and anticipates what next.

For now, build on these questions.  Ask questions to the questions – see what happens as you begin to think differently.  Give yourself time to do this – don’t rush to the answers.  Post some of your questions here on the MiGuru section.  Let’s see how large a list of questions we can develop and from which we all can learn.  And yes, you may add some fun ones – like ‘why is this knight different from all other knights?’  which is a bit of a play on words for this season of Pesach!

Better Meetings Through Better Questions


April 02, 2007

By Joan Eisenstodt

Q-storming™ is a facilitation technique I find to be most useful especially when dealing with people in decision-making capacity.  Q-storming™ is the opposite of brainstorming.  Most people are familiar with brainstorming and the ‘rules’ –  no idea is a bad idea,   all ideas should be offered equally, the quantity of generated ideas will prove best, and so on.  (For more, a good place to learn more about it, if you have participated in brainstorming sessions and not really known what they are about is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brainstorming)

Q-storming™ - or “question thinking” –a term coined by Marilee Adams, Ph.D., author of, among other publications, “Change Your Questions, Change Your Life” - on the other hand is about questions – lots and lots of questions.  I also wrote a bit about the technique back in June (http://vnutravel.typepad.com/migurus/2006/06/how_will_you_no.html) as part of another guru section about how we can look differently at meetings.  Today, I want to discuss more about the why of Q-storming™ v. brainstorming as a technique you will be able to use.

When we brainstorm, many ideas are generated and even in the best brainstorming session, eyes are often rolled, someone else says “We can’t do that; we tried it before” and others simply refuse to participate.  It’s not a bad technique – and perhaps combined with Q-storming™ makes for an even stronger process.

Say, for example, your organization is trying to determine who your keynote speaker should be.  Names will be brainstormed – that is, thrown out as possibilities.  Some of those names will be eliminated just because someone doesn’t like them or they perceive they are too expensive.  Better would be to Q-storm™ each name – to ask questions such as “About what do they speak? How can their general or specific message help us meet our meeting goals and objectives? What else do they offer to the meeting other than a presence? Who has any contacts to them – either through a speakers bureau or individually? Will they arrive early to schmooze and get to know our participants, or stay on to sign books? How else can we use them other than a key or cap note program?  If we changed our format – say to an “Inside the Actor’s Studio”-type program – would they be more effective for our audience? What do we know about this speaker and her or his delivery and style?  Are stories that this speaker might tell appropriate for our audience? How will the audience relate to what is said? ”

The entire group can Q-storm™ each speaker or the list of possible speakers can be divided up and smaller groups can Q-storm™ individuals.  By so doing, better questions will be asked before conclusions are drawn.

To conduct Q-storming™ effectively, give each person a stack of small paper (that can be recycled after the fact) and some bold, broad color pens or markers.  Each small paper (about 3”x3”) should have one question marked.  These can be tacked to wall when the time is up and then grouped into like questions – on which to build more questions.  Once as many questions as possible have been asked and posted and additional questions asked on top of those questions, the answers can be sought.

Why bother?  Using key- or cap- note speakers as an example for a Q-storming™ exercise, one begins to learn, before there is a mismatch and the speaker is on the platform offending one’s audience, how to go for more than a name speaker and rather, to ask questions leading to the appropriate match for the meeting, its goals and objectives and the audience.

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