Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Conference Conundrums

Nearly 6 out of 10 business trips do not involve meetings.

Regular business travelers take about 18 trips a year on average.  Four to meet on-site with customers and another three for the sales and marketing of a business.

On average, five of these trips are for internal company meetings or internal training.  Only two of the 18 trips involve conferences and/or trade shows and two are given to the traveler as a reward.  For many regular business travelers the later would be a form of torture, not reward.

Travel for business can be mind-numbing and soul-sucking for even the most extroverted travelers, affectionately known by experts and their colleagues who are introverts and “omniverts” as “energy vampires” or “psychic parasites.”

For this group, travel, especially for conferences and meetings, provides a “fix,” a smorgasbord from which to fuel up by sucking energy from other people.

However, there is no evidence that I know of that extroverts are any more or less likely to be “engaged” with their jobs (30%) or “actively disengaged” (20%) than American workers overall.

The conferences and meetings may even serve as a welcome diversion from the demands of those seeking to engage them with their work.

Although in long term decline and a shrinking proportion of overall travel, meetings will never become entirely extinct.  Many who promote travel on business see a link to productivity and business revenues.

However, technological alternatives will continue to hasten the now long-term decline in the size and number of meetings, but most even more importantly these alternatives are proving to be most welcome by those for whom meetings are a drain on their engagement.

I’m an introvert/omnivert but I am often described as fully “engaged” especially by those with whom I still sit on boards or small advocacy teams.  Now in retirement, when they are few and far between, it is even more apparent the toll these events take.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always been sensitive to how technology will continue to rapidly change the paradigm for conventions and meetings from either/or to both/and or face inevitable extinction.

Engaged people such as me, attend a meeting to contribute as well as glean something useful, especially when problem-solving is at a holistic or strategic level.

We are an irritation for those who seem only interested in when the meeting or session will end, most often because they have other objectives for which the purpose of the meeting is only a required and inconvenient diversion or because they attended only to glean a few tactics regardless of whether they will solve the problem.

Maybe they are coming from or late for another meeting.  The National Statistics Council, according to consultant Deborah Grayson Riegel, “on average 37% of employee time is spent in meetings.”  She also cites that including a few the require travel “there are 11 million to 17 million business meetings each and every day.”

During my career, I had an agreement with those at work who teamed with me as an assistant.  Schedule only one meeting in the morning and one in the afternoon unless checking with me for an exception.  If the meeting was out of the office, then schedule only one a day and never back to back with internal meetings, which were kept to “stand-ups” as a rule.

That is because for omniverts or introverts, meetings are a drain, not a source of energy like they are for extroverts.

Small business owners are especially impatient with face-to-face meetings.  According to a 2012 study of Constant Contact business council members, small businesses now rank technologies such as email and websites are more effective as marketing activities (p. 14.)

At the same time, they are still most driven by in-person interactions, just less and less by meetings.

Those who fear the demise of travel-related conferences and meetings including many in my former profession of community destination marketing, are in denial, usually because they have failed to diversify into other travel segments or they are trapped in huge capital investments and facilities that will soon be stranded.

In my opinion, the best thing they can do is to much more urgently retool conferences and meetings as follows:

  • Make them increasingly shorter and leaner, heavy on content, light on social.  People will find a way to connect without dragging events out.


  • Integrate technological alternatives to attending in person as well as personal interaction.  Make it possible to immediately access “highlights” or graze content before committing time.


  • Customize different opportunities for both extraverts and interverts/omniverts.  Don’t mistake the latter with shyness or social awkwardness.  They are just impatient and sensitive to conserving personal energy.


  • Provide opportunities to contribute during meetings but segregate blowhards or people who like to hear themselves talk or those who assume everything they think or encounter is totally unique and never thought of before.


  • Create separate opportunities for people who are passive observers or who can’t listen or who are impatient with concepts or data or obsessed with schedules.

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