by Padraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
The inaugural North America Meetings Industry Day (NAMID) on Thursday 16 April was an opportunity to put our industry in the spotlight and, in particular, to underline the considerable economic benefit that we bring to the venues, locations and destinations where meetings and events take place. The NAMID initiative (I hate the acronym, by the way, it sounds like some type of insect!) was a natural development from the work undertaken by the excellent Meetings Mean Business alliance which, in turn, was set up to counteract the negative outcomes from certain events of 2008 and 2009 notably the so-called AIG effect and President Obama’s damaging statements about business meetings in Las Vegas.
Meetings Mean Business has done a superb done to defend the value of meetings and its web site today is an impressive repository of compelling content and convincing talking points around the economic impact of meetings and the long-tail value they bring. Thanks to this initiative, we now have incontrovertible data from Oxford Economics that values the industry in the US at a staggering $280 billion, proving it to be more economically impactful than many other more high profile sectors such as the entertainment industry. Following its successful inaugural outing this week, NAMID will certainly help draw attention to meetings as an actual industry. If NAMID happens annually, it’ll be a perfect vehicle for telling our evolving story and communicating our own certain belief that meetings really do matter.
Selling ourselves short
In focusing attention on the economic impact of meetings, however, great PR initiatives like Meetings Mean Business and NAMID must be careful to avoid reductionism. Meetings don’t matter simply because they’re a “great little earner” making a much bigger contribution to the market economy than we actually realized. We’ve definitely been guilty of overlooking the economics of meetings in the past but now that we’ve started to tell this bit of the narrative let’s be careful not to make it the whole story. Let’s not forget the science of meetings, the art of meetings and, crucially, the philosophy of meetings.
IACC in Florida
I was reminded of this when I was rehearsing with Patrick for our presentation to the annual conference of the International Association of Conference Centres (IACC) which happened to take place on Meetings Industry Day. We were speaking about workplace culture (we borrowed our title from Drucker’s famous dictum “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”) and used an insight gleaned from the work of Simon Sinek to frame one of our points.
“Start with Why” (Simon Sinek)
Sinek points out that most companies know what they do (eg, they sell pencils), fewer know how they do it (eg, they sell pencils that are made from recycled materials) but very few indeed know why they do it (eg they sell pencils because they want to eradicate illiteracy). His contention is that this must be the starting place. Unless organisations and enterprises are constantly exploring the “why” and communicating this to their internal and external audiences, they’re going to lose traction and atrophy. Sinek is convinced that to be successful, businesses need to be built on belief and powered by purpose. And, as Davy Jones so perfectly intoned all those years ago, “I’m a believer”.
Sinek applied to Meetings
When you apply Sinek’s framework to the Meetings Industry the economic dimension is really no more than the what. What do we do? We run meetings to make money (and in so doing we create an immense economic trickle-down which amounts to a staggering $280b). If we move up a level to how we probably arrive at the science or the art of meetings. How do we do it? We use technology (science) and creativity (art) to make these meetings meaningful, memorable and motivational.
However, the why we do it represents the higher purpose or the philosophy of meetings and this, truly, is our most valuable contribution to the market place, to society and to humanity. We work in the meetings industry because, ultimately, we’re convinced that meetings bring people together to discuss, debate, and dialogue and this alone has extraordinary, irreplaceable value. This is the piece about which we need to be most proud.
Meetings: the higher purpose
Meetings foster trust because when we’re face-to-face, when we can look each other in the eye our internal wiring is given the data it needs to process that highly complex risk analysis that allows us to trust another human being and believe that he or she is trustworthy.
Meetings foster dialogue because when we’re face-to-face the defences of distance are removed, we’re got nowhere to hide and, in our vulnerability, we’re obliged to reach out, listen, be more open than we might otherwise be.
Meetings foster understanding because in the dynamic of a face-to-face encounter we’re obliged to hear the other’s point of view and, no matter how closed or obstinate we may be, something gets transmitted and plants that seed of understanding.
Meetings foster unity because even when we approach each other in disunity, when we look at each other across that river of discord, the fact itself of meeting is a bridge across the river that opens the doors of dialogue.
It’s a high ideal
As meeting planners and MICE professionals it’s imperative that we know the economic contribution our activities make to the communities in which we work and live. We need to celebrate this and be proud of it and NAMID is a great way of doing this. However, we should never sell ourselves short. We should also be aware of and celebrate the philosophical contribution that our work makes to these communities. We are masters of science, of arts and of philosophy and the true and lasting impact of the work that we do extends way beyond the money.
With his business partner Patrick Delaney, Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a boutique management and marketing consultancy working with destinations, venues and hotels on their strategy for MICE. On North America Meetings Industry Day they delivered a keynote address to the wonderful delegates at the International Association of Conference Centres.
They would both like to thank Mark Cooper, Executive Director at IACC, Tim and Mitch Chudley of SunDial Group, UK, Rachael and Clive from Warwick Conferences, the Executive Board of the Americas Chapter of IACC and so many others for their kindness, warm welcome and some riveting conversation