Behind the Scenes

‘Words Always Matter’

Are the words you use to describe your meeting stagnating. Here's how to think differently.

IKEA, the ready-to-assemble furniture retailer, knew that it had three negative perceptions to combat, Wharton professor Roch Parayre, Ph.D., told our group at the PCMA Partner Conference last month in Chicago. One, that their stores were located far away from most consumers (on average, a two-hour drive); two, that assembling their furniture was challenging and time-consuming; and three, that their products did not withstand the test of time.

So IKEA created a marketing campaign that ingeniously flipped those perceptions around, Parayre said. A visit to a store was positioned as a fun family trip. Putting together a bookcase was spun into a weekend family activity. And in a stressful world that required you to make many long-term commitments, IKEA ads asked, why should buying a couch be one of them?

Fast Company magazine co-founder Alan Webber, the subject of this issue’s One on One interview, proved that he’s equally adept at reframing what’s commonly accepted in the business world — and in the meetings industry. As it turns out, meetings were an essential part of the Fast Company (FC) enterprise in its early years. Because “words always matter,” Webber tells Convene, when he created an event that served as the test kitchen for the magazine, he called it an “advance” instead of the commonly used term “retreat.” “Retreat” means going backwards, he says, while “advance” looks forward.

Similarly, FC’s meetings were always referred to as “gatherings,” and they were carefully “designed” by his events team, who “cared about language and thinking differently,” Webber says. “Find bite, wind, and energy — this was our mantra. Energy is created by juxtaposition and not by bland language.”

In this issue’s cover story, we explore how many convention and visitor bureaus are juxtaposing their traditional nomenclature with verbs, to harness some of that action and energy. As brand advisor Duane Knapp told Convene, “the whole point of a strategy for a brand is how you want people to feel about you.” So if you want meeting planners and participants alike to choose/experience/go to/meet in/visit/ discover your destination, then why not say so upfront?

When you’re telling a story, the active form makes more of an impact than the passive form, so all of this makes perfect sense to those of us on the Convene editorial team. Our livelihood depends on choosing the right words, day in and day out. And — from the way you describe your role, and the terms you use for each aspect of your event, to conveying what participants will get out of it — so does yours.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.