Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

May 2013

One on One With Alan Webber

Susan Sarfati, CAE

to include: design thinking, ecology systems thinking (how everything connects), technology, and mindset of our world community.

If meeting professionals see themselves as “editors of meetings,” they need to identify lenses that are the key drivers for events and ask what is the broader agenda. To change the future, change what people talk about, how they talk about it, what they think is possible. They must wander outside of their own realm of experience and comfort zone.

How is technology changing how people learn?

Technology transforms everything it touches. Regarding learning, it rewards curiosity. There is nothing you can't discover. People still yearn to gather face-to-face. The act of conversation and connection is an act of creativity — we are social animals. Sometimes it is not possible; distance learning works then.

Anything that rewards curiosity is positive. In general, people are visual learners. Offering multiple ways of learning is essential and powerful. In general, we are much less doctrinaire and are in an age of experimentation. Technology opens new opportunities for people to try new things.

You speak at conferences globally. What do you observe that is critical?

The most successful events rapidly build community among attendees and push them to let go of their comfort zone. There is a cookie-cutter approach to most events that must change. Change the venues and the experiences; work extra hard to help people connect quickly and on a personal level. Technology allows you to establish sub-groups.

Ask what are the three things attendees are coming to find out. Set up clusters of people according to issues. Serve as switchboards and connectors. A lot in the meetings industry has to do with control issues. Planners think it is their job to be in control, which is exactly the opposite. Meeting professionals need to relinquish control to the attendees so they can create their own learning.

Organizations need to let go and to lead the change by loosening up, trusting the audiences, and changing the conversation. Bring together interesting people who have curious minds and let them go. You will be delighted with the outcome, and so will they.

Susan Sarfati, CAE, is CEO of High Performance Strategies LLC, which focuses on organizational assessments, innovative thinking in organizational strategy, leadership and management, moving from ideas to execution, and building a human-focused learning culture. She served as CEO of The Greater Washington Society of Association Executives. She can be reached at susan@sarfati.com.

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