Fun with Some of 2020’s Most Unprecedented Vocabulary Words

So the English major in me wanted to have some fun as we close out this year. (And yes, this is what passes as fun for English majors these days!) Here are a few of the words that have entered our general lexicon in 2020 — what I think they sound like, and what they actually mean. What words would you add to this list?

COVID-19
What it sounds like: A super-secret military operation.
What it is: An illness caused by the coronavirus that has upended the world — and hopefully soon will be brought under control by the new vaccines currently being approved and disseminated.

Asymptomatic
What it sounds like: Something that’s supposed to function completely without supervision but doesn’t, perhaps like some who ended up WFH?
What it is: The state of those who are infected with COVID-19 but are not displaying any overt signs of disease — and yet still can spread it to others. (See “super-spreader event.”)

Social Distancing
What it sounds like: What everyone does when Uncle Joe makes that terribly inappropriate joke at Thanksgiving.
What it is: The most inappropriate name for keeping physical distance between people to avoid spreading COVID-19 — it should be anti-social distancing, shouldn’t it?

Flattening the Curve
What it sounds like: What most of us vow to do on January 1, but usually stop trying to do when our one-month gym pass runs out on February 1.
What it is: Staying home, wearing face masks, washing our hands, and doing everything we can to minimize disease and keep from overwhelming our healthcare system.

Superspreader Event
What it sounds like: A convention of butter, lard, and margarine manufacturers.
What it is: Unfortunately, something that happened too many times this year — a gathering of people where COVID-19 infections were passed around like trade show candy.

Blursday
What it sounds like: The day before you get those new glasses you’ve been needing for a while.
What it is: That weird pandemic-induced effect where every day seems like every other day until you honestly have no idea what day it is.

Zooming 
What it sounds like: What some lucky people used to do on the Concorde when they could fly from New York to Paris in less than half the time it took on a regular flight. 
What it is: Like I have to tell you? 

Related words:
Zoombombing
What it sounds like: Something that fortunately never happened to Concorde flights. 
What it is: Something I can’t believe people still haven’t figured out how to stop — when a troll crashes your Zoom meeting and begins to spew horrible chat messages and usually pornographic images.

Zoom fatigue 
What it sounds like: Jet lag caused by Zooming across the pond.
What it is: Again, like I have to tell you? That sense of ennui caused by too many Zoom meetings that go on too long. 

Mute
What it sounds like: The word “moot,” which it most definitely is not!
What it is: The button more people moderating Zoom calls need to learn how to use more effectively to keep the meetings from causing Zoom fatigue.

WFH
What it sounds like: Some radio station way down on the AM dial.
What it is: What those of us lucky enough to be able to do it have been doing since March — working from home.

Asynchronous
What it sounds like: What the mechanic says your car’s engine has become when the noise it makes has gotten too loud to drown out by turning up the radio (oh, like you don’t do that?!).
What it is: Unlinking an event from the time in which it happens, as all too many #EventProfs had to do when they did a last-minute pivot from in-person meetings to digital this year.

Unprecedented
What it sounds like: What bad little boys and girls were on Christmas morning when they woke to find Santa had passed them by (like any kid was ever actually that bad).
What it is: Possibly the word we are all most tired of as we ring out 2020 — something with which we have no prior experience.

Quaranteam/Quarantini
What they sound like: Something you need to have a quorum to make happen.
What they are: Trying to keep some sort of “together yet apart” thing going as we WFH and social distance, from virtual teams to virtual drinks.

Pivot
What it sounds like: What some golfers kick up when they swing a little too aggressively, or the doodad that you use to fasten something to something else if you lived in an alternate universe.
What it is: Just behind “unprecedented” as the most-despised word of 2020, what we all had to do when the pandemic struck.

OK, your turn!

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9 Things I Didn’t Hate About 2020

So long, 2020!

There isn’t much good to be said about a year in which even the word “positive” took on a negative connotation, but here we are. From the mega occurrences — the pandemic, the economic meltdown, the killing of innocent people at the hands of those in authority and the resultant protests, the weather catastrophes, and on and on — to the very personal repercussions of lost lives, livelihoods, and simple human-to-human contact, everything turned inside out and upside down this year. 

I have to admit that I let it get to me. I didn’t learn a new language, earn a new degree, or become a master baker. I barely made it through the red tape to get access to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which saved my bacon earlier this year by providing an economic backstop to those of us who, as contractors, ordinarily would have been left out in the cold.

So I don’t have any inspiring, uplifting lessons learned from this year. What I do have is so much gratitude for all I do have. Such as…

• The kids are all right. And the parents. And us. While I know many people who got the coronavirus thus far, all but two appear to have recovered with minimal lasting deficits. This is an amazing blessing. My heart goes out to all who have not been as fortunate.

• I have a home to live in, plenty of food to eat, heat, electricity, and, of course, Netflix. As a solidly middle-class white, middle-aged American, it can be all too easy to take this for granted most years, but not this one.

• Did I mention the PUA? That safety net was extended just when I needed it most. As someone who has never had to collect unemployment before, it was not something I wanted to have to do, but that it was there now, when after decades of working in-house I am on my own, is crazy good — and one of the things that came out of this mess we need to think about extending for the future. And better access to healthcare that’s not tied to employment, but that’s a topic for another day.

• Toilet paper. I never in a million years would have guessed something so prosaic would become such a hot commodity. I guess it’s the little things that mean the most sometimes, weirdly enough. Man, 2020 was strange.

• Connections that count. I knew I knew a lot of people from all my years covering the meetings and events industry, but what I didn’t know was that the platitude that it’s all about relationships isn’t a platitude at all. When my main source of income dropped off a cliff early on, people I hadn’t heard from in ages got in touch to offer me projects, some of which have turned into great opportunities for ongoing work. Thank you, thank you, thank you! PUA was great, but being able to put whatever skills I have to help you do your jobs better is infinitely more gratifying.

• Learning just who is really essential. I just hope as we move onto the next phase of recovery, we find ways to better appreciate and support those who worked in public throughout the pandemic to keep us healthy, fed, clothed, taught, and warm. The signs and pot-banging were great, but let’s find more substantial ways to show our support for their support once this is over.

• All those who kicked it into high gear to develop rapid COVID tests, and vaccines, and treatments, and health and safety policies and procedures — and enforced them, even in the face of pretty virulent objections. 

• The natural world, which continues to restore and rejuvenate my soul. Whatever mess we humans contrive, the woods, the sea, the mountains, and the meadows are there to bring us back to what’s important and connect us to the earth and, through her, each other.

• The first-ever hug I got from my new baby granddaughter. While I hope it was just the first of a lifetime full of hugs from our darling little Izzie who just turned one, that snuggle of her chubby baby arms around my neck was a moment I will hold onto forever.

• The wildly inventive and resilient people who make up this always inventive industry. You pivoted. You pirouetted. You pounced on every opportunity to keep your constituents informed, educated, and inspired, no matter what obstacles got thrown in your path. You are amazing.

And this doesn’t even scratch the surface. So yeah, there is a lot to be grateful for, even in an abjectly awful year like this one. And even more to look forward to as we round the corner to a new year — though I know we still have some more tough times ahead. But I remain optimistic that 2021 will be better. It kind of has to be, right? 

So let’s celebrate all we’ve learned — and blow off all the bad — with a virtual bonfire. Let’s fuel it with our 2020 day planners, our binders for the meetings that didn’t happen, all of that stuff we don’t want to keep dragging us down with regrets and sorrow should-have-beens. 

But as we burn it all down to ashes, let’s also watch for the sparks that rise up — and let’s ride those sparks of love, friendship, camaraderie, and joy and let them light our way through whatever the next year may bring.

Here’s to a happier, healthier, all-around better 2021!

Just How Creative Can You Get with Work from Home Expenses?

Talk about whack-a-doodle — some people got seriously creative with the expenses they tried to get covered while working from home in 2020. Even crazier is that some of them actually got them approved, including a $1,895 Peloton Bike that a WFH employee needed for “health and wellness.” Also see: $79 for a dog crate so a WFH employee could crate train a “COVID puppy to not run into Zoom meetings.” You can’t make this stuff up!

Someone even tried to get a facelift expensed under a “repairs and maintenance” category because, you know, you have to look good for those Zoom meetings, right? (That one was turned down.) Also getting the thumbs down was a $389 case of wine submitted as necessary for online networking events.

Meeting professionals take note: There also were some pretty crazy expenses submitted for travel, such as an expense claim for a $20,000 private jet charter that was deemed “required to limit COVID-19 exposure for international shoots.” The $2,500 helicopter ride? Not so much. However, someone get reimbursed for $9,387 for virtual meeting resources they needed to conduct remote meetings which, while the number sounds high, isn’t too outrageous, though $1,250 that was approved for branded coffee mugs to boost morale during weekly coffee chats may be a bit much, especially since another request for reimbursement for several hundred dollars worth of tea was turned down.

I’ve always been pretty conservative in what I claim for IRS deductions, but these are making me think I should push the envelope a bit more (or not!). Thanks to expense management software company Emburse for compiling this infographic of some of the wildest expenses it has seen submitted in 2020 — enjoy!

emburse-craziest-expenses-2020-image

Hotels Behaving Badly

Karma may not always be instant, but, as John Lennon once said, nonetheless, “It’s gonna get you.” Something to keep in mind as we go through hard times and have to make even harder decisions about what to do with employees we can’t actually employ right now. An article in the Boston Globe takes a look at one local hotel that is facing that tune now as it cuts the promised severance packages for its once-furloughed, now laid-off workers from one week of pay per year of work up to 26 weeks now are just getting 10 weeks of pay max. Other hotels are laying people off and making them reapply as new hires when business comes back.

Meeting organizers do take notice of these things, folks. The article cites several who are threatening to take their future events elsewhere, saying how a hotel treats its employees in tough times will factor into their decision=making moving forward.

Yes, the hotel business is hurting. We all get that. But not as much as their front-line banquet servers, concierge attendants, bartenders, and front desk workers — all of whom have much shallower pockets to dig into until times get better.

I have had so many discussions the past several months with hoteliers and meeting products and services providers who are dedicating this down time to nourishing their relationships with their meetings and events clients rather than trying to hard-sell them to make commitments for future bookings. I wonder how many of these clients are asking them how their business is handling furloughed and laid-off employees — and how important their answers will be when the time comes to start booking again.

As Boston Globe columnist Shirley Leung says, “Money talks.” In fact, another Boston area hotel tried something similar earlier this year, only to walk it back when its most lucrative clientele objected and threatened to take their business somewhere with more humane policies. Will this one do something similar if the outcry is loud and potentially damaging enough to its future event business? Time will tell.

Is a pandemic a good enough excuse to go back on contractual agreements with employees? I know many people, myself included, who are willing to let those they work with break their contracts with no legal repercussions in hopes that, when things improve, they’ll remember and treat us in kind when they are on a more even keel financially. But we have that choice — these hotel workers have been given no choice, and not much hope that their long-term employers will ultimately do the right thing by them.

If this is important to you, and I hope it is, ask the question, listen to the response, and don’t forget what you learn when good times return. Yes, the bottom line is important. But so is our humanity, and we need to show it now more than ever.

The Least Consequential Effect Yet of COVID-19

Just a few of this week’s toss-aways

I don’t want to talk about how the coronavirus has upended (in all too many cases, just ended) our lives, our livelihoods, our meetings and events, our holiday plans, etc., etc., etc. We all know the big disruptions to life as we knew it, and there’s no point in harping on all we have lost. Except this one stupid, weird and very inconsequential fallout from COVID-19 that just started happening last week, and I can’t stop obsessing about it.

I am running out of cheap ballpoint pens.

You know, the branded ones you pick up in your hotel room, at booths in the expo, in the breakout session rooms — everywhere I went at a meeting back in the good old days less than a year ago, those pens would jump into my pocket, my bag, my backpack. I am always just drowning in giveaway pens.

Until this week, when in what appears to be a coordinated effort, they all are running out of ink at once. First to go was the Marriott pen, then one from the Mirage. Then two show organizer-branded pens went dry — poof and poof. Then a Hyatt pen, and then one from an obscure budget hotel I stayed at in Toronto… I had to dig into my backpack stash, but even the multitude I picked up at PCMA last January — was that really just last January? — are starting to go dry, not matter how hard I shake them.

I’m not one to fall for conspiracy theories, but what are the chances these pens would all give up the ghost at once?

Maybe the ink is really some kind of magical elixir that sops up the coronavirus and then, through some miracle of alchemy, both ink and virus cancel each other out, leaving just the empty plastic shell to tell the tale? Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of a vaccine shot, all we needed to do was stick a bunch of cheap pens in our pockets whenever we ventured out of the house? Yeah, I know, dream on.

I have no explanation, but the truth is out there, and someday, I will figure it out.

In the meantime, all those pens, pads, and other silly, germ-collecting collateral we all took for granted has been stripped away for safety’s sake, so even if I was to venture out to an in-person meeting in the near future, which I have no plans to do, this one dumb little perk I have depended on all my adult life without even thinking about it is likely not to reappear any time soon.

It’s anathema to me, but for the first time since back-to-school shopping as a kid, I find myself thinking about buying pens next time I go to CVS. Oh, the humanity!

Is there any similarly super dumb inconsequential thing that has come out of the last nine months that you’ve been noticing? Inquiring minds want to know!

Why Wouldn’t You Make Your Online Events Engaging?

“Everybody wins when everybody has the opportunity to interact.” That sentence from a recent conversation with facilitator, author, and all-around brilliant thinker Adrian Segar really rang my bell. As becomes all-too-readily apparent to anyone who has had to sit through a one-way, PowerPoint-heavy webinar lately (and haven’t we all?!), this is even more true for online events than it is for the in-person variety. And yet, we still seem to think that people will be willing to sit through these boring digital sessions, at least from my experience over the past seven months or so since everything went online.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! Adrian ran me through just a few ways that we can use online platforms to incorporate some of the interactivity that he outlines in his books, Conferences That Work, The Power of Participation, and Event Crowdsourcing: Creating Meetings People Actually Want and Need. I had the opportunity to actually see some of his strategies in action a few years ago, and the energy in the room throughout the conference was light years ahead of that I’ve experienced at most other events. But does that really translate to the online environment?

Turns out the answer is yes, and in some ways, the engagement and interactivity can actually be better online than in person, believe it or not.

A few examples he gave me:

• Go fish! The fishbowl is a basic technique event organizers can use to keep a conversation under control — even harder to do online when everyone on the Zoom call starts talking at once than in a room where they at least have to go to a mic! In the offline version, you have a facilitator, maybe an expert, and chairs for a couple of people who want to contribute on a stage. People can come up and sit in the chairs to speak their piece, then relinquish their chair for the next person who wants to contribute. “It works really well in person, it’s very fluid and gives everyone an opportunity to speak,” Adrian said.

To make it work online, even with something as simple and ubiquitous as Zoom, just substitute people’s individual cameras for the chairs on stage. Ask everyone to first turn their cameras and mics off, then when they have something to say, turn their camera and mic on. If you’re in the gallery view, their video feed will float to the top. As would be the case for an in-person meeting, the facilitator guides the discussion. If you have more people who want to speak than is practical (or participants who are phone-in-only), have them line up via the chat function. Adrian has used this technique with online meetings of a hundred people on Zoom and it worked just fine. Just be sure to explain the rules ahead of time so people know how to proceed.

 On the spectrum. There’s also the spectrogram, which I experienced both at the conference Adrian led and at IMEX a few years ago, where the facilitator asks people to line up according to where they stand on a specific question. It’s a great way to break the ice, help people connect with others who they have something in common with, and move around to get energy flowing. And it works just fine online. Again, using cameras and mics, the facilitator can ask people to mute/turn off their cameras, then unmute and turn their cameras back on when what the facilitator proposed applies to them. For example, Adrian used it for a recent online “wake” he held for a local college that had to shut down its local campus. The participants all were alumni or otherwise had a connection to the college, so he had people do a digital version of the spectrogram based on things like their class year and geographical location.

Participants loved being able to easily find people they hadn’t seen in a donkey’s age, and to connect with others who share a connection to the school who live in their geographical area, he said.

• Facilitate deeper connections. You know when you go to an in-person event with a list of people you want to connect with, but can never manage to be in the same room at the same time with them? This is actually easier to do online, says Adrian. You can use simple breakout rooms with platforms like Zoom, where people can find others with similar topical interests.

Adrian also likes Gatherly, which enables participants to enter a virtual room as a dot with a name, full of other named dots. With a simple click, you can join a pubic video chat, or you can ask to have a private conversation. Then you can jump to another room and start joining public or private chats with people there. Short of teleportation, that’s pretty hard to do in a big convention center.

And these are just a few example — if you want to build a participatory, collaborative agenda, instead of having people write topics they’d like to discuss on sticky notes and grouping them on a physical wall, you can have people contribute via Google Docs, then import those contributions into an e-whiteboard such as Miro to begin sorting and clustering the topics that will ultimately be the agenda and match them to those in the room who have expertise in each topic to facilitate the discussions.

Adrian also likes to begin conferences with The Three Questions: How did I get here? What do I want to have happen? What experience/expertise do I have that others might find helpful. To translate that to an online environment, break people up into small enough breakout rooms to allow a meaningful conversation to happen, then scribe their responses on a Google Doc that is viewable by all. As Adrian says in a post on how to make online conferences better, “From this data we built an inventory of the learning resources at the event.” Then participants went off into Gatherly rooms to share their learning and form deeper connections.

As Adrian pointed out in our discussion, all of this has been possible online for a while. But now that it’s the only possibility — until in-person events restart anyway — why not take advantage of the online tools we now have to bring more engagement and interactivity into online events?

Because, after all, everybody wins when everybody has the opportunity to interact.

Digital Events Don’t Have to Be Boring

Is there such a thing as KIMO (Know I Missed Out)? There must be, because that’s what I was feeling as I tuned into a recent rebroadcast of one of the most popular sessions from the 2020 ASAE Virtual Annual Meeting & Exposition. I’m a sucker for game-show formats, though they often are more fun than illuminating, but in this case the panelists used a game-show format that, other than a brief freeze in the middle, was just as much fun in the online environment as I imagine it would have been in person. 

It was quick and breezy, but surprisingly informative, as the panelists whizzed through an alphabet’s worth of virtual events tips — 26 in all — in less than an hour. In between buzzers buzzing, audience applause, and a lively live chat among the digital participants, the expert panelists answered questions from A — audiences — to Z, zeitgeist.

Some of my top takeaways from the panelists — Carol McGury, MPS, Executive Vice President, SmithBucklin (moderator); Beth Surmont, CMP, CAE, Director of Experience Design, 360 Live Media; Christine Peck, Senior Director, Education and Learning Services, SmithBucklin; and Sharon Newport, CAE, Chief Operating Officer:

• How do you get those who go to meetings strictly for the networking to buy into a digital event? Those serendipitous hallway meetings, those chance conversations in the buffet line, that opportunity to finally meet that person you’ve been tweeting with for years? Not so easy to pull off online, but that is one value proposition you don’t want to ignore when planning a digital event, they said. 

Carol said that it goes back to your number-one consideration: Know your audience. What type of networking are they looking for? How can you surprise and delight them in a way that will socially engage them and get them interacting? If you’re using Zoom, for example, you can create topical breakout rooms participants can stay in or move through once they’ve gotten what they need. Give people opportunities to problem-solve together in small groups, much as you would at an in-person event, they added. Gamification also can help people engage with content and each other. When you are training your speakers on how to be effective in a digital environment — you are, right? — also prompt them in how to make their presentations more engaging by using vignettes, small group discussions, etc.

A hub-and-spoke format — where you have a number of smaller groups gathering regionally in person, connected through online programming — also can amp up the networking both among those in the smaller groups and as a connected whole. 

And throw in some fun along with the serious stuff. While it’s probably not right for every group, I loved the idea of throwing in an animal attendee — and yes, there are companies that can do that for you! You can do digital selfie stations, with your organization’s branding or that of a sponsor, of course. Maybe a virtual talent show? A surprise guest or celebrity speaker? As Beth said, the pandemic has also affected celebrities, who may be more available and affordable than in pre-pandemic times. Again, it will all depend on your goals for the event and your audience, but definitely toss in a little fun and most groups will run with it — and interact with each other in some new ways too.

• Be inclusive. In addition to ensuring your speakers and content are representative of your audience, check your advertising and promotion to make sure that also reflects those you want to attend. Offer closed-captioning or subtitles — which the ASAE panel had running in real time at the bottom of the screen — for those who may not be able to hear it. If a portion of your audience doesn’t have access to high-bandwidth internet, can you forward handouts to them ahead of time so they don’t get left out? 

If you have participants coming from multiple time zones, schedule so they don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to participate. You can pre-record sessions and then let people chat with the speaker during a convenient time in their part of the world, for example. One cool idea was to start a conversation in the earliest time zone your participants will be in, then advance it across the globe as the day goes on. “By the conclusion of the day, you have a global conversation around the topic that could be very, very powerful,” said one of the panelists.

• Expect that things will get kinky. No, not that kind of kinky! But invariably, something will go awry, again, just like with in-person events, though the form the SNAFUs take likely will be different. The panelists suggested rehearsing, training speakers and preparing them for potential tech glitches, and do everything you can to work out the kinks before you go live. 

Christine suggested having workarounds for every conceivable issue that could come up. “Buy yourself a T1 line.” Assign two people to each session so someone can focus on the speaker while another person can monitor the chat or deal with tech issues.

• Build in some breathing room. This is so important, yet so often ignored, in both in-person and online events, but ignore it at your peril especially in the digital environment, where it is so easy to lose people that you’ll feel pressured to fill every second so they don’t have time to go check email. Except that totally doesn’t work. You’ll only end up driving them away with a too-packed agenda. “People need hang time to process what they learned,” said Christine.

“The tendency can be, because it’s virtual event, to pile things one on top of the other,” she said. Don’t do that, especially now when so many are working from home and may have kids, pets or who-knows-what demanding their attention.

Sharon added, “Sometimes the speakers, and the audience, feel the need to have things go fast and fill up space. For example, when you’re trying to start a discussion group and say, ‘OK, who would like to get us started?’ It can feel really uncomfortable to have that moment where people are trying to figure out who’s going to talk first. Just let it play out and trust that your audience will follow you. Learn to be OK with those awkward silent spaces.” 

How do you keep your online events from being snoozers?

Will We Still Care About Green Meetings Post-COVID?

Remember last spring, when TV ads were all tinkling pianos and “We’re all in this together, yet apart” and we still could stand the word “unprecedented”? I can’t find the link now, but I remember an article about how the worldwide shutdown was actually doing some good things for the environment getting slammed for being insensitive for pointing out that anything good could come from something so horrifying. 

Sure, I think we all got a lift by seeing animals taking advantage of human-free cities as we were all hunkered down at home, with reports of peacocks wandering the streets in Spain and coyotes padding the pavement in San Francisco, but at that point we weren’t ready to talk, for example, about how NASA found air quality rising as air traffic plummeted, and New York City’s carbon emissions fell almost by half as the city went into lockdown. It just was unseemly, given the death and destruction of our ways of life to even talk about any possible environmental benefits back then.

But now I think we’re in a different place emotionally, even though COVID-19 remains the evil anti-gift that keeps on giving, having killed more than a million people worldwide and more than 200,000 in the U.S. It’s still devastating the world economy with production slowdowns, supply-chain and market disruptions, business shutdowns, and unemployment levels not seen in the U.S. since the Depression. And, of course, the meetings and events industry has been hit harder than most. According to US Travel, more than half of the 15.8 million pre-pandemic, travel-supported jobs in the U.S. (51%) disappeared between March and May 1, and the U.S. economy is on pace to lose more than $505 billion in travel spending this year. 

But the environmental benefits of the shutdowns are beginning to wane as businesses begin to stir back to life. Air travel is coming back, albeit in dribs and drabs. Traffic is getting more congested as work-from-homers start venturing back into the office. Even some meetings are starting to take place in person again, albeit in mostly in small, socially distanced ways. Pollution levels are rising again, and we are still contending with rising garbage levels as grocery stores stopped allowing customers to bring in their own reusable bags, and I don’t know about you, but the level of discarded masks and gloves I see littering even the most remote hiking trails has been pretty disheartening, and all that take-out food and all those disposable containers have bumped up the trash level as well.

So is it too soon to talk about the greening of meetings that so many of us were passionate about just seven months ago? While the pandemic-induced plastic-wrapped, individually portioned everything is likely to be with us, even at meetings, for a long time to come, there’s no reason to believe we’ll backslide on things like digital handouts and brochures, and touchless electronic registration seems like an even better idea mid-pandemic. And, now that we know just how much going digital can extend the reach of an event around the world, will anyone not include a hybrid piece moving forward?

So here are my (cautiously optimistic) predictions/wish list for the eco-friendliness of future meetings and events ecosystem, in no particular order:

Venues

Hotels and convention centers have invested too much in new infrastructure, technology and practices to go back to where we were 10 or 20 years ago, so my prediction is that they will continue with projects already underway. Case in point: New York’s Javits Center’s adding solar arrays that will generate about 2.5 megawatts of electricity and its two megawatt battery storage unit that’s built into its new transformer building, which will allow it to both be more sustainable in terms of energy generation, and also enable it to go independent of the grid should the need arise.

As Javits President and CEO Alan Steel said during a panel on advancing sustainability in events during the Nest Summit, held in conjunction with Climate Week NYC, September 21-25, “I think sustainability for us will only become more important because there is no doubt our customers are suddenly seeing this as something that their customers are expecting from them.” 

While I’d like to think that sentiment is widely held — and it may very well be — the reality is that, with meeting and event venues reeling from the economic fallout of COVID-19’s travel restrictions and the heebie-jeebies so many have about staying anywhere other than home or an RV, unfortunately I don’t think a lot of venues will be launching new eco-projects in the near future. The emphasis likely will be more on getting heads in beds again so their people can get back to work, at least for the next few years.

Airlines

If any industry is hurting worse than hotels right now, it may well be the airlines, which are predicting massive layoffs — more than 75,000 in the U.S. alone, as of now — if they don’t get more relief from the government, which already supplied $25 billion in payroll support earlier this year. Again, my guess is that they’re going to be more focused on survival than anything else for the next couple of years, given that they’re dealing with a 70% decline in capacity right now.

Still, they’ve done a lot of work in recent years to make planes lighter, more aerodynamic and fuel efficient, though air travel remains one of the biggest sources of CO2 emissions. There has been some movement in recent years, including a global market-based measure, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), adopted in 2016 by the countries of the International Civil Aviation Organization to limit carbon emissions of international flights between participating countries from 2021 to 2035. 

Will CORSIA be more fully implemented, or joined by other of these types of environmental programs? We’ll have to wait and see if these types of measures, and airlines’ voluntary efforts to make planes more efficient, reduce delays and use more efficient flightpaths, use more sustainable, lower carbon alternative fuels, and/or invest in emissions offsets, will take a backseat to raw survival until and unless air travel gets back to its pre-COVID levels (if in fact that does happen).

Business and Meetings Travel

Now that businesses of all stripes, including hospitality and meetings/events, have figured out that some workers can actually be productive working from home, that’s likely to continue, at least in greater numbers than before. As President of Global Workplace Analytics Kate Lister said, “Our best estimate is that 25-30% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.”

Part of that working from home entails, as we all are all-too-well-aware, so many Zoom meetings! I predict that smaller meetings, such as board meetings, will continue to stay in the digital realm now that we all have been forced to admit that, while not ideal, the benefits outweigh the costs (environmental, as well as time and expense) of flying people to meet face to face.

McKinsey is predicting a long road ahead for business travel — longer than for leisure travel — which will of course also impact recovery for hotels and airlines. Regional travel by car will come back first, they predict, which bodes well for smaller, more regional meetings. Domestic air and train travel will come back next, with international travel lagging.

Meetings and Events

For meetings, McKinsey predicts that vital in-person sales or client meetings will be the first to return, followed by internal meetings, training events, and other smaller gatherings. Larger events, such as trade shows, conferences and exhibitions, are going to take a bit longer, they think. But hybrid and hub-and-spoke models that don’t require much or any travel will be the rule, they say. However, big trade shows are already returning in areas where the coronavirus is at least somewhat in check at the moment, including China and South Korea, with mandatory health and safety requirements.

As for industry sectors, they predict that manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and construction will be the first to rebound, followed by tech, real estate, finance, and energy. Slower to recover will be meetings related to healthcare, education and professional services.

In addition to more hybrid and digital events, some lasting environmentally friendly changes I think/hope we’ll see as we eventually creep back towards normalcy include:

• More efficient meeting schedules. Could that five-day meeting be reduced to two or three, maybe with some flipped education to get the parts that don’t need to be done face-to-face accomplished ahead of time? 

• Smaller, better qualified attendance. While some mega shows will undoubtably bounce back eventually, I think there will be a greater emphasis on getting the right people to the show, not the largest number possible. This dovetails with what I think will be a continued reluctance on the part of Corporate America to send anyone and everyone possible to a show moving forward. The reduced carbon footprint of a reduced participant level could make a big difference. Of course, this means event organizers are going to have to be scrupulous in putting financial metrics around how their events generate value for their various constituents.

As Freeman Chair of the Board Carrie Freeman Parsons said during the Nest panel, “I think people are going to be more discriminate about what trips they choose to take, and companies are going to be considering what investments they want to make in order to market their product.”

• But don’t count out the big shows. The flip side of this is that there are economies of scale — including environmental economies — in large conventions and trade shows. While flying is not likely to go carbon-neutral any time soon, one trip to see 200 clients or vendors is a lot better for the environment than having to make a bunch of individual trips. I think this will become even more front and center moving forward.

• Digital partners will become even more important. As mentioned earlier, I think COVID-19 was a catalyst to push the industry full-force into the future of hybrid and digital events, and that will be having some sticking power. I also think we’ve discovered some cool tools along the way in terms of data capture, matchmaking, touchless registration, online networking and more that will only become more integrated into both in-person and digital events.

• We’ll start looking at all the products and services used by the industry on a supply-chain level, much like we’re starting to do with food and beverage with the farm-to-table movement. What are the environmental costs involved in producing pipe and drape, or show floor carpeting, or signage, from manufacturing through the life cycle of those products? I see it as something that can incorporated into the “design thinking” movement in events, not just what can we reduce, reuse, and recycle, though those are vital, but also how much energy went into making that product, and how much waste was generated during manufacturing, transport, etc.? Once we have all those facts in hand, we can better measure the environmental, and likely cost-saving, effects of putting environmental questions in all our RFPs.

So, to make what turned out to be a very long story short, I believe sustainable events are here to stay, and that we’ve learned a lot through this awful pandemic that can help catapult us into a greener future. Not that we don’t have some very real and intractable problems to face in the short term, but I believe the will is still there, perhaps even stronger than before, to play a greater role in the larger issues that affect our planet. 

Going paperless is just the start.

Ghosting: Not Just for Halloween (or Dating)

A few years ago, someone I know was set to meet her then-boyfriend for a drink before she took off for a trip early the next morning. He never showed. After numerous frantic calls/texts — none of which were answered — she started calling hospitals, thinking he may have been in an accident. But no, turns out he was posting on social media all along and was just fine. She had been ghosted.

She was devastated, of course, and I felt terrible as she went through all the, “What did I do wrong?” and “Why did he do this?” heartbreak, feeling glad that I was in a very long-term marriage and not in today’s dating scene, where apparently this happens all the time.

Then it happened to me. This summer, a person I had interviewed for years and thought I had a great working relationship cancelled our call, citing the need to take care of some personal issues. Cool, no problem. But then this person never returned my increasingly frantic calls and emails. As the summer wore on and my attempts at contacts continued to go unanswered, I started to get really worried. Given the current world situation, I was terrified that this person had been laid low by the coronavirus, but then a colleague at another publication told me they had just interviewed this person and all was fine. Thank goodness for that!

So what happened? Did I misquote this person? Somehow offend them without knowing it? I wish they’d let me know what happened. At this point, I’m guessing the relationship is irreparably damaged, but if I can’t rectify whatever wrong I did this person, I would at least like to know what happened so I can avoid doing it in the future.

As someone who avoids conflicts like the plague, I get why someone would want to sidestep having a difficult conversation, but please, I beg of you, do not do this to anyone, either personally or professionally. If you have a problem, talk about it. If it’s fixable, fix it. If not, at least let the other person know why they are suddenly persona non grata.

P.S. I was talking with my significant other (who is in a completely unrelated business) about this last night, and he said it happens to him all the time — he’ll send hours talking with a potential client, learning their challenges and coming up with ideas they may want to try, only to have them stop taking calls/emails and disappear into the mist. I hear this a lot too from independent planners and vendors, who have clients pump them for “free” ideas, then take them to others to implement. That’s a little different from what I experienced, but I would posit even more disrespectful and just wrong.

Or am I just being overly sensitive?

Transcription Tech Tip: Microsoft 365

If you offer transcriptions of your sessions for those who may have hearing impairment (of course you do!), there’s now a free tool that is an absolute godsend.

You all may already know this, but it was news to me: If you have a subscription to Microsoft 365, you can use the online version of Word to transcribe any audio or video recording. I had been using Rev.com, which is dirt-cheap for machine transcribing, but free is even better. You do have to go through and clean it up, as you would for any machine transcription, but it beats the other alternatives I’ve tried by a mile.

Here’s a quick tutorial. You’re welcome!