The engine that moves the world needs your help
How can you tell policymakers, C-suite decision makers and even your family that isn’t quite clear about what you do all day that meetings production is powerful without saying it? You could default to an argument based on pure numbers.
The meetings and events industry generated more than $1.07 trillion worldwide ($130 billion in the U.S.) annually pre-pandemic. That is larger than the consumer electronics or automotive industries. A total of 1.5 billion people from 180 countries traveling for meetings, conferences, conventions, exhibitions and incentive trips supported 10.3 million direct jobs and generated another $26 million indirectly.
The world learned in the absence of meetings what it was missing. Surveys found that in-person meetings are more than twice as likely to convert prospects to customers as Zoom calls.
That is some real economic flexing.
But those are big, nebulous numbers. Meetings Mean Business goes beyond the positive business outcomes to make the case at the human level. The coalition of united industry voices recently merged with U.S. Travel Association to better advocate for the needs of a vital sector of the economy that was devastated during the Covid crisis.
It offers toolkits to help members talking to elected officials highlight the personal connections and networking made possible by handshakes. Talking points also reference the strong communities created by conventions, events, exhibitions and trade shows. “When meetings come to town, everybody benefits,” is the convincing argument.
Let’s Count the Ways
Michael Massari, chief sales officer with Caesars Entertainment and Meetings Mean Business co-chair, traces the timeless transformational strength of coming together to pre-historic gatherings. “This whole notion of assembly and public square is an important one,” he says. “If history is an accurate predictor, 20, 30 or 40 years from now, meeting face-to-face will still be important,” he predicts.
Need more proof points? How about the political, social, medical, scientific and emotional catalyst provided by human interfaces?
Massari likes to say that nothing good ever happened without a meeting. That includes constitutional conventions, peace talks, medical and scientific developments.
“20, 30 or 40 years from now, meeting face-to-face will still be important.” – Michael Massari, Caesars Entertainment
And all that meeting is good for our well-being. Social interaction has been shown to lower risk of dementia. It is a brain health booster in a ballroom. We have evolved to crave community so being around our peers promotes a sense of safety, belonging and security no Zoom screen can replicate.
Julie Coker, president and CEO of San Diego Tourism Authority, and former Meetings Mean Business co-chair, pointed to the innovative energy produced at a meeting during a presentation at Visit California Outlook Forum 2022 in February.
“Meetings lead the way for creativity and inspire change,” she said. “Beyond economic impact, meetings drive social change, human connection and mental health. The importance of meetings is vast,” she stressed.
Michelle Mason, president and CEO of ASAE, the Center for Association Leadership, seconded the argument for social good at that same conference. “There is power in assembly, power in community and power in association,” she said. “We need to tell our story and work together as a collective to do that,” she said.
“Meetings drive social change, human connection and mental health.”
-Julie Coker, San Diego Tourism Authority
Then she explained who needs to hear the story. “We have to quantify that impact not just to each other, but also to policy makers so we can be at the table when important conversations are happening.”
Mason is also adamant that the message also has to be delivered to the next generation of attendees and meeting professionals entering the industry in a way that they can appreciate. “We need to think about what Gen Z wants and put relationships at the core of what we deliver because that is what they care about,” she said.
The best way for the meetings industry to deliver more valuable meetings? Mason was blunt. “We need to have diverse voices around the table so we can think innovatively about how to deliver powerful meetings.”
Mason shared that she sees some hopeful signs. “The resiliency, agility and comfort with being uncomfortable thought processes that happened over the last few years proved that when we work collaboratively, we can accomplish anything,” she concluded.
Paul Van Deventer, president and CEO of Meeting Professionals International (MPI) was also hopeful that a new wave of ideas can elevate the entire industry to deliver even more of what a post-pandemic world wants. He quoted the association tagline, “When we meet, we change the world” and said, “We have to help the incoming generation change the industry so the industry can save the world.”
There is power in assembly, power in community and power in
-Michelle Mason, ASAE
Change really does happen in convention centers. Sherrif Karamat, CEO of Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) sat on the same panel and shared the story of when a
conference revolutionized social and medical change in a dramatic way. Back in 2009, another epidemic was raging in the world and Melbourne, Australia, was bidding to host the 2014 International AIDS Conference.
At the time, the country wasn’t allowing anyone with the HIV into the country. The host committee embarked on a campaign to change sentiment, particularly around the LGBTQ community that was experiencing high levels of discrimination.
Not only did they win the conference, but in the process, they opened minds and budgets to invest in research in prevention, treatment and support. On July 20, 2014, the day the conference opened at Melbourne Convention Center, red ribbons were proudly flying all over the city. The delegation vowed to eliminate the epidemic by 2030, a timeline that was achieved way ahead of schedule. “That is the power to make real legal change, medical and social change,” said Karamat.
“We are here to solve human issues.”
-Sherrif Karamat, PCMA
He encouraged meeting professionals to look for those meaningful wins by focusing on “outcomes” rather than “output”. “If we aren’t purposeful about what we are doing, why are we doing it. It has to go beyond making money,” he said.
“We aren’t here for the sake of technology or ballrooms,” he added. “This is the most important industry in the world, bar none. We are here to solve human issues.”
Martha Sheridan, CEO of Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau and new co-chair of the Meetings Mean Business coalition, offered a mic-drop explanation for the value of face-to-face.
“When we’ve finally gotten together, [the absence of face-to-face meetings due to Covid shutdowns] made our gatherings more meaningful. Now, when I see my colleagues, it is with so much
gratitude. There is no question at all to me that we’re stronger and much more resilient than we’ve ever been as a sector,” she said.
Then she paused and added, “We can’t go backwards now. We can only go forward into life.”
We can’t go backwards now. We can only go forward into life.”
-Martha Sheridan, Boston CVB
This article appears in the April 2022 issue.