Behind the Scenes

Getting an Earful

Whenever the consumer or business media covers the meetings industry, I’m sure you sit up and take notice. Me too.

The article elevates face-to-face meetings “as a powerful catalyst,” the authors write in the introduction, “to align leaders, develop solutions to problems, introduce new strategies, and fuel collaboration across the organization.”

I read on, expecting the meeting professional’s role likewise would be raised — only to find the authors had relegated it to “a midlevel event planning or HR” person who “coordinates scheduling, travel, and lodging, handles venue logistics, and coordinates with speakers and other outside vendors.” When it came to actual meeting design (i.e., shaping the agenda), the planner was described as “lacking any real authority.”

Exactly where a planner’s job responsibilities begin and end is something we think a lot about.

Both of the article’s authors are partners with a consulting firm, and perhaps in their experience that’s the rung that planners occupy on most companies’ organizational ladder. At Convene, we think that even those planners who are content executing on logistics should at least be included in conversations about a meeting’s strategic objectives.

Exactly where a planner’s job responsibilities begin and end is something we think a lot about. Of course, it depends on each planner and his or her organization, but for us, any aspect of the attendee experience that it falls within the meeting professional’s power to influence is something we consider relevant for our magazine.

Which brings us to this month’s cover story and CMP Series article on sound design. It could be argued that ensuring that attendees can hear presenters at sessions and each other at networking events is best left to a planner’s AV and venue partners. But we’ve all attended our share of deafening networking receptions, and sat in enough ballrooms whose airwalls bleed laughter and applause from concurrent sessions — situations that make our heads ache and ears bleed.

How much control do planners have over this? More than you might think. We don’t expect you to become an expert in architectural acoustics as a result of reading our cover package, but we have come up with solutions that are well within your reach. When I chatted with Amanda Rushing, CMP, director of conferences and meeting services at the American Society of Civil Engineers, during a PCMA networking reception last month, she shared one such example. She had written into a contract with a band that she hired that they would forfeit payment if they exceeded a certain decibel level. Then she stood in the back of the room with a sound-level meter to monitor their performance, and because they went well over their limit, they didn’t get paid. It seems Amanda isn’t one of those planners lacking any real authority.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.