Episode three of the Better Meetings Podcast take us in a different direction than originally envisioned. Still to come will be the delayed interview with Paul VanDeventer of MPI. That will hopefully be along next week along with some additional episodes recorded in September at IMEX America.
This episode is the most personal one thatI have ever done, but I think it's a topic that many of us hide from and are unwilling to discuss because it's uncomfortable and can be misunderstood. I have been dealing with some depression over the past year to a point that it inhibited my ability to create this podcast, something that I take great joy in doing. There's a terrible cycle of guilt when you promise something that normally would be an easy task and you're unable to follow through.
My usual reaction is to stay behind a wall and pretend nothing was wrong. But, as time passed and I was unable to face the simple task of posting a few episodes I reached out for help. To some friends, to a mentor...even to a celebrity that I'm lucky enough to have corresponded with. I spoke with my doctor, I worked with him on medication...and I did some research to try and better understand what I was dealing with.
I found that in a given year 7.1% of American's are dealing with some form of depression or anxiety. I spoke to someone in the industry privately and learned of the challenges they had had. I began to realize that in a business where we have huge expectations placed on yes, where you have to be completely in control and never showing weakness, where a high number are type A and high performing people...I knew I can't be alone in the struggle. This podcast is my soapbox, my platform and the place where I have a voice. So I decided the conversation should start here.
That's the reason I've recorded this episode, and the conversation that I hope people might begin to take away from it. Realize that someone you know or work with may be struggling inside. That's the reason I've recorded this episode, and the conversation that I hope people might begin to take away from it. Realize that someone you know or work with may be struggling inside. Be there for them to support and help.
Open up if you are struggling and trust your friends, family and co-workers to support you. Don't feel that you're alone, you're not.
Our jobs allow us to bring people together to create wonderful experiences and events. But as good as we are at doing those jobs, we are also still human and we need to be there to lift each other when someone beside us falters.
Here are a few places I did research with information and help for those in need.
And this most important one:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
Everyone deserves better meetings. So, we created the better meetings podcast is a place where meetings and events industry professionals can gather to discuss, analyze and report on the latest trends, challenges and news from within the meetings industry.
Welcome back to the better meetings podcast.
This is not going to be the third episode that I had planned for the better meetings podcast. That episode, which will hopefully be posted eventually and hopefully soon, is a very interesting and informative interview with Paul Van Deventer of MPI. It's also not going to be the 4th to about the 12th one, which we're all done in IMAX America back in September. They discuss a wide range of topics with a really fascinating group of industry suppliers and thought leaders on what this is…it's going to be a pretty serious topic that I never really expected to talk about or cover, especially in relation to my job or to the meetings and events industry. But sometimes things appear in life and they need to be addressed and especially when they stretch out for a long enough time that they kind of derail your, your plans and your agenda for moving forward.
So, wrapped up in this show. This third episode is going to be a step one of an apology to a number of people who I sort of ghosted over the past few months while I was struggling with some challenges. The problem with that, is it adds to your guilt and that feeds the distress and frustration that you're dealing with. So, it keeps pushing you down into a state which is really not like anything I've experienced before. But at the same time, I believe in a lot of honesty and transparency in our business and with myself and the people that I know and have a relationship with. So, I want be upfront about things. And I just want to be honest about it because I think that often we hide behind walls and masks and don't really let people in to know, maybe some of the challenges that each one of us is facing. Because one of the things that I figured out through this past few months is that everybody has a certain level of mask that they're wearing. And if we can drop those once in a while and have honest communication, it could help all of us, because as I realized when I was dealing with things on if I am, then there are others. And when you start looking at numbers, which I have a couple to throw in here in a minute. Um, it's really quite staggering the number of people who in a given year maybe on dealing with some sort of anxiety or depression.
So, there's a lot of fear you hide behind because you don't talk to people about your mental state how you're feeling. You don't talk about being depressed or anxiety. Because there's a real stigma to admitting these things that it's a weakness and you need to keep it hidden. What that does is it helps keeps isolating yourself and you spend more time listening to the voices in your head that are dwelling on the failures, the shortcomings, on the things you haven't gotten done, and minimizing the successes. And so, you pull yourself back inside and lose that outside perspective, even from the people around you friends and family. Um, honestly, we're a business made up of a lot of people who are really hard driving go getter type a people. And as a part of that they also can't really admit to those weaknesses or flaws that they might feel because it opens a crack. that somebody might step past you for that next job, or event, or promotion.
So, let's just take MPI, which is an organization very near and dear to me on and say they have around 16,000 members. Well, one of the fascinating things that came out of this research for me was that about 7.1% of Americans suffer from anxiety or depressive episodes within a year. So, what that means in specifics of 16,000 people, that's about 1200 people within MPI in a given year, who may be suffering at one time with depression, anxiety or other issues that they may never show to anyone else outside.
The first thing I want to do before I go any further is, and I will say absolutely up front because it's a question that was asked of me by a couple people that I did discuss this with and that were a part of helping me begin to kind of claw my way back up to the surface of where I feel is more my normal state of mind and state of work. But there, there always needs to be the question of how are you feeling. And if anybody is feeling any sort of self-harm, or danger or issues or you're worried about someone, there's a National Suicide Prevention hotline, the number is 1-800-273-8255. Anybody who's struggling can reach out to that number and they've got trained people to try and help you. So keep that in the forefront of your mind that there are answers no matter how challenging things seem. And remember that number is 800-273-8255. That's the National Suicide Prevention hotline.
Basically I’ll kind of a give a little bit of my story because this is stretched out really not just the past few months, but a bit over this year. And as I've talked about freely in the past, I've had some health issues, I was dealing with some back surgeries and such. And one of the fascinating things to me about how this occurred in my life was I actually finished my physical therapy. I was actually at a point where one would say, I was getting better and I was back on the road to being healthier physically, to be able to do more physical jobs and work. And somehow, I just went the whole other direction. It's not something that I've ever experienced in that way or at all in the past. And yet, I found myself pulling inside I found myself not reaching out to both contacts within the industry, but certainly to friends. I found myself staying inside not going out, cutting myself off from normal things that that I would do; attending concerts or going to a movie or things like that. And sleeping a lot, spending a lot of time just in bed and kind of hiding with the covers over my head from the world. I got out to IMAX, and I did all these interviews and I felt pretty normal. Back to myself, I felt like I was making progress. And then when I got home it, it became the strangest sort of wall that I couldn't climb over and making a podcast for me a second nature. I've done this for many years. And it's really not a challenging process. I can do one in a relatively short amount of time and feel very good about the product that I'm putting out. But for some reason, it became just like a mental block just like a symbol of something that I couldn't get past. So, I would try and just not be able to make any progress on doing things in the way that I wanted to…to my standards. And in turn, then people are contacting me to ask when things will be posted. There are deadlines that I've blown by, there are promises I've made to do other interviews.
And all of that began to just snowball into this huge issue that went along with everything else. And it was challenging some days to simply accomplish one thing to do an hour at the desk. And I don't really know how that happened. And I don't really know how to describe it to anybody. But um, it just paralyzed me for a while. And the strange thing is, I've talked to some people since and they really on most of them had no idea unless I told them. So again, this is what made me think about the idea that there are a lot of people who may be struggling with these sorts of things and not telling you not admitting it. They've got their walls up. They're doing what they can. They're trying to keep things moving forward in a normal way, but they're struggling inside. And so that's, that's why I'm doing this podcast because again on it hit me on just like I've talked about ADA issues from having to get around with a cane while dealing with my back issues. This is something that I've personally now been dealing with over the past few months. I spoke with medical doctors, I've gotten prescriptions and use some medications. And quite honestly, I feel like a different person even today than I did yesterday and the day before it's not a linear process. It's not a quick process to get back to where your mind wants you to be. But at the same time there is progress. I look back at where I was two months ago, and I'm, I'm doing better
So that's another part of this message is there are, there's hope there are things to do, you can work through these things. And again, I don't know exactly how anybody else's would experience this, I can only speak from my personal experiences and what I've been doing. But, um, yesterday was probably the most productive day of work that I had had in in months. And I just started to feel like myself again. And I'm holding on to that feeling today and seeing how I can continue that for the next day and the next day. And so again, I looked up a lot of information about this, it may not even squeeze into this particular podcast, but I just think we need a conversation about it.
There is a help guide that I came up with online that heads Some interesting tips for dealing with depression. And I'm going to read a little bit of it verbatim here because this is kind of a good overview. It says depression drains, your energy, your hope and your drive, making it difficult to take the steps that will help you to feel better. Sometimes just thinking about the things you should do to feel better, like exercising or spending time with friends seems exhausting or impossible to put into action. That is a very accurate description of how I felt some days. The catch 22 of depression recovery is the things that will help the most are the most difficult to do. And so that's where we get into some of these tips.
The first one is reach out and stay connected. It says getting support plays an essential role in overcoming depression. And I can tell you that there was a moment back in October, when I reached out privately to someone who I respect greatly in the industry and who I consider one of my mentors, somebody who, if I could model my career on what they've done, I would feel like I had been an incredible success in the business. And I talked to them privately about what I was dealing with and found out just a lot of information from them. And you know, people will sometimes talk about some of the struggles that they may have had in the past and things that they've had to work through. And I can't tell you how much that started to help. It was it was just a huge thing and there were a couple of those (things) that happened in right around the same time. And you know, maybe it was the medication kicking in, but reaching out to that person and reaching to someone else who I will touch upon in a moment on. And getting such support and love and friendship and help coming back on really gave me something kind of like a line to hold on to and start pulling myself back up. And so, stay connected, reach out to people, look for people who will make you feel safe and cared for.
Try and spend time try and go to some of the social activities. Even if you don't really feel like it. I've pushed myself into that a few times to and it usually does help find ways to support others. I had a good friend of mine. When I was unhappy at a at a point in my life about some things that were going on. Tell me if you want to feel better, go down to you know the pediatric cancer ward and (then) help those kids there. And his point which is it was well taken was yes, you've got your problems; and yes, I acknowledge them. But there are a lot of people who are struggling and sometimes that effort of reaching out and supporting other people can actually really lift your own spirits and really help you sort of come back to being yourself. So, there are different ways to stay connected and they have some tips here. I'm going to put a link into the actual posting that goes with this podcast on the this is on a website called help guide.org. So, I'm not going to just read the whole thing to you.
But tip number two, do things that make you feel good. So, do things that you enjoy and you used to…For me, that's like going out to a concert or I've been taking music lessons, because I do like music so much and I found that even through the of the worst weeks, I would still show up for that music lesson. It's still got me out of the house. And it made me be active enough to do something that I found joy in and try and get enough sleep. There's certainly some sleep deprivation issues that can come alongside this. Practice some relaxation techniques.
The third tip is to get moving. That was something that I've had a big challenge with. I was very regularly going to the gym working on my back post-surgery. And when all of this really hit it just pulled me away from that and I've had a very hard time getting back to the gym and getting that physical exercise. So even if it's just going for a walk go out for a walk and do something physical for yourself and try and get the blood pumping and your fatigue will improve because if you stick with this it does help with fatigue and sleeplessness and it gives you, it gives your brain just a good workout tovbe out and doing something physical; it will give you a mental lift.
Number four is eat a healthy depression fighting diet. Don't skip meals, minimize sugar and carbs, boost your B vitamins. And that's something I had a big challenge with too; part of my the symptoms of me being depressed and unhappy was eating very badly. So, you combine that with not working out. It's definitely impacted me physically.
They suggest number five is to get a daily dose of sunlight getting outside taking a walk on your lunch break. Just having some way to, to get out and, and that was my phone ringing unfortunately right in the middle of this, but I'm just gonna let it go. I'm getting out to get some sunlight will help you and it also helps if you're dealing with what they call seasonal affective disorder. Because the reduced daylight hours of winter can affect some people negatively. And so getting out and getting some sunlight moving around getting that exercise, eating properly are all things that will help your mental state.
Number six is challenge the negative thinking. Don't do all or nothing. Don't look at black and white. Don't overgeneralize don't label things just go look at things the way they are and don't be overwhelmed by them because you can sort of spiral yourself in. And I know I did a major of that by being frustrated that I hadn't done one thing it would stretch on and on and on. And then it becomes a huge thing rather than having dealt with it three weeks previously, when I really needed to step up and do it, but I just wasn't able to.
And then the last thing is get professional help and as I said, I've been seeing my medical doctor and talking to him about it and worked on some medications and dosage and I do believe that that has helped get me back to a place where I'm much closer to what feels like where I should be. So again, I just I needed to put this out on the table for some reason it feels like a conversation that we don't have.
One of the one of the other people involved in this conversation is a singer who I particularly like a gentleman named Frank Turner. And I mentioned talking to someone else offline. And I've talked to some other friends and people. But I've been a fan of his music for a long time. I've actually communicated with him via email a few times because he's quite friendly and loves talking to folks, and is very interested in the people who listened to his music. And I hadn't talked to him in many years. Some of it being related to what I was dealing with this year. I wrote him a letter and we got in touch, he was coming on tour. And I thanked him for a number of things, including the music lessons that I'm taking, which he had a partial inspiration behind. And just to show you what a difference one person can make, I was already feeling improvement from talking to industry friends and personal friends. I went to his show in LA and when he came off the bus after the show to greet people and hang out, he came over gave me a big bear hug and said, “How are you doing?” And it wasn't a how are you doing? That was a perfunctory greeting. It was somebody who had known me for 10 years, you know, at least by email, and cared. And that caring really meant a lot. We talked for a few minutes, we caught up a little bit. We talked about music. He said, stay in touch, let me know how you're doing and I honestly believe that he meant that…and that gave a tremendous lift, just having a person who has that many obligations. And that many people who want a piece of him be willing to say, “You matter, you're important, and I care what happens to you.” And so, it's a huge appreciation to him. It doesn't diminish the fact of the other friends and other people who have all counseled me and helped me and stepped up and just said, you'll get through this and you'll be okay. And so, if you see anyone that you know who is struggling like this, talk to them, tell them they're going to be okay, and help them. However, they want to be helped. It's hard and sometimes they may not be willing to admit it. And it may take time, but, be there for each other because we're all in this business together.
And at any one time have a there's going to be some of us who have things that no one else can imagine. going on in their lives and behind the scenes, and we need to lift each other up, we need to help each other and we need to be there for each other. So, I'm going to give that phone number again, just because it is important, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255, and reach out on that number If you or anyone you know is in serious difficulty, know that, that resource is there, but also just help each other and be there for each other.
And to the people that I feel, maybe I've let down over the past few months. Again, this is a bit of an apology, and I will make more of those in more of a personal fashion. But realize that we've all got our challenges and we're all finding our way through things. And we can be kinder to each other and more helpful to each other and make our industry and our world a better place.
So, for the better meetings podcast, this is Jon Trask. And that's going to be all for today. Thank you so much for listening. I appreciate anybody who listens and I would love to hear your feedback, comments or any other information that you'd like to send right to me through the email address on the website, and I look forward to talking with you.
You've been listening to the better meetings podcast, a strategic meeting, tech production, and your source for up to the minute meeting industry news, trends and discussions. Our theme music is courtesy of Otis McDonald and Licensed under Creative Commons. For comments, suggestions or topic ideas, please visit strategic meeting tech. com or email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org until next time, thanks for listening.
Show #2 - Sherrif Karamat, President & CEO of PCMA and Greg O'Dell, Chairman of the 2019 PCMA Board of Directors talk to us at PCMA's EduCon in Los Angeles.
To continue with the podcast relaunch on our second show, we were able to meet for a second time with Sherrif Karamat, President & CEO of PCMA as well as with Greg O'Dell, Chairman of the 2019 PCMA Board of Directors. We caught up with them at PCMA's EduCon in Los Angeles.
This time we covered a wide range of topics, but we focused on two important topics in both the world and within the meetings industry today. First was a discussion of diversity and inclusion, and the benefits of diverse skills and points of view in creating successful events. The second topic was human trafficking, and how raising the awareness in our industry and can provide a huge increase in opportunities to recognize and stop this serious international issue.
JON: Welcome back to the podcast. I'm Jon Trask, I’m your host and I'm here with Sheriff Karamat, the President and CEO of PCMA, and Mr. Greg O’Dell, the chairman of the 2019 PCMA Board of Directors. So welcome, gentlemen.
GREG: Thank you, Jon.
SHERRIF: Thank you for having us.
JON: I'm very happy to see you again. We talked recently up at WEC in Toronto, and now we're down in Los Angeles at your EduCon.
SHERRIF: Yeah, the world we live in is exciting, isn't it? So now in Los Angeles, wow.
JON: We're just jetting all over. And that's one of the things that I've actually always appreciated about our business is the opportunity to travel and see places and get to go, places I might not normally get to go to on my own.
SHERRIF: Yes, and experience many different cultures, different cities.
JON: Absolutely, yeah, it's been a great part of the business for me. And you guys are having a great event here it seems. Just to touch on that briefly before we dive into the real topics.
SHERRIF: Absolutely. I, you know, I love EduCon. It's event that we actually really get to visit with people. It's just a manageable size. And this year, bit larger than normal. Our largest EduCon in history. About 950 participants
JON: Very nice.
SHERRIF: And we've been creating some really interesting experiences. And I've been enjoying LA as well. Look at this city, it's vibrant. So, I have this thing that I'm comparing PCMA to LA. And so, here's my comparison…I absolutely think there's a renaissance, there's a transformation, there's a revival going on with the city. And I think it mirrors with all the exciting things that are happening at the PCMA. And so that's, that's my comparison is to, to a city and an organization that's on the move.
JON: Both of them coming together.
JON: Yeah, this this area, I mean, I'm a native of Southern California. And this was not an area that you would necessarily want to visit around the convention center. Even a decade ago, it doesn't seem. And so what they've done here, with the expansion and growth and the hotels, and all of that is really, really changed the whole complexion of this part of the city,
GREG: I would just echo two (of) Sherrifs comments from LA’s perspective and all the partners. You know, it's interesting before PCMA EduCon started, they had another major event here with the BET experience. And so, the transformation that happened from that event to ours was seamless. And I think, you know, hats off to the LA team. And they've been amazing and supportive hosting this event as well.
JON: They're very good, very accustomed to large, high profile events and working through them. I know, I did something at the event deck over here at LA Live a few years back, and it was the same time as a basketball game, and the Disney Radio Awards going on in the theater. And yet, you know, everything flowed smoothly and worked out really well.
GREG: That's right.
JON: So, what we were really going to talk about today, though, is when we were in Toronto, we talked about like numbers and data and things around the meetings, and I wanted to maybe talk with you a little bit more about the human side of the business. And I know there's an initiative that you started the Ascent Initiative. And I did a little bit of reading on that, and about inclusion and diversity within our industry. So I thought that would be where we could start today talking about that diversity and inclusion.
SHERRIF: Sure. So, you know, you actually get an extra point on my radar today, because you said the word inclusion before you said diversity. Because for me, diversity is an outcome of being inclusive. And so PCMA is all inclusiveness and it's about inclusiveness, because that's the way we learn, and we challenge the status quo more than ever. Without actually been being inclusive, you will never know everything. And the more perspectives the more diverse backgrounds, the more different mindsets that we bring to the table…And we grow, we learn, we create better experiences. So PCMA has started the Ascent Program for a number of reasons. And the CEO pledge. And one was looking at diversity and inclusion, and so forth in a different lens; and we looked at SAP Users, SAP today is the most diverse company in the world, because it was the most inclusive company in the world. And it is, it's labeled that simply because not because they will be altruistic and good. They actually had a need, and they had a need in computation, and mathematics. And they had, they had complex mathematical problems that they had to solve. And they couldn't find people that could help them solve this problem. Well guess how they went about it, they actually, they went, went looking. And then what they discovered was that people with autism actually had incredible mathematical and computational skills. So, they started hiring people on the autism spectrum. Today, SAP has more than 250 people working in their employment, that are on the autism spectrum. And talk about inclusion…But it was this notion that you can do good, but it's good for business. And that has actually served their pocketbooks and they're bottom line, much better than then just you know, going to some traditional route. So, inclusiveness has many forms, many, many ways that you can be inclusive. But we've got to look beyond race, and gender and so forth, and really truly think of what inclusiveness is all about. So that we can bring different perspectives and different ideas.
JON: That's, that's been something that, that I've got a personal education on a little bit over the past few years, because I've been, I had some surgeries on my back. And I've been getting around with a cane and had some mobility issues. And you, you start to learn a lot of things you didn't realize, when you're not exactly the same person that you were a year before. And you have these challenges of maybe walking a long distance or something, and you get into a huge facility and signage and things like that. So, it really opened my eyes personally, few years back, and I've talked to someone who's shown up in year convene magazine, Joan Eisenstodt. I've interviewed Joan a few times about that, and actually taken her class where she will put people in the experience of having some challenge, and let them kind of walk in those shoes. And I think doing that is very eye opening to people. So that's one thing that I recommend is trying to look at the world from some other perspectives. And thinking about that.
GREG: I mean, I agree. Everything with Sherrif said and I think inclusion so important. But you know, the reality on the last point you just made, you know, there are there are real diversity issues. And I think people's bottom line or company's bottom lines are better serve when they actually serve that diversity audience. The best way to do that is to have diversity within. And so, I think we had one of the most powerful, amazing speakers today, Tamika Catchings, who happened to be African American and happened to be a woman. But I think everyone in that room who experienced it today saw her compelling story first. But there are those who resonate with her for those reasons as well. And so, I think it's important that we recognize that but also in an inclusive manner.
SHERRIF: So, I'm just going to add to that one as in terms of performance of companies. Companies that are inclusive and are diverse; as a result, performed 41% better than companies that are not; return on investment, return on equity. So, it is just it is, you know, the data is there to support the fact. So, I also want to touch it, but your issue and your back. And so, we want what I like about the nomenclature today that's changing is sort of, we used to say people with disability. Right, and it's such a terrible term. What about people with special abilities? Right? Because they do have; so, think of the autism spectrum. We would (say), oh, they’ve got a disability? No, no, no, they've got a remarkable ability. And it's, it's just about being inclusive and understanding that we understand that these people Tamika this morning that you reference her, and her hearing challenges that she faced and that created a lot of other adversities for her. And it's, it's so I mean, how she broke those barriers down. I mean, it takes a very special person. But you know, I don't know, I think that we, shedding light to these issues is so important, talking about them in a non-threatening way. And, and I go back to the old line, you know, when we meet face to face…So, I think that…I wonder what if people never saw to Mika if they only saw a black woman. And when you saw her today, actually, you just saw just a wonderful individual. You couldn't give it any care about race or gender, just a person.
JON: Right, someone who's done amazing things.
SHERRIF: Yeah. And you want to, you know…just love this person, because of just that. You're just a wonderful… So I think that it just allows you to break down those barriers.
JON: And so in in a perfect world, I was trying to trying to come up with a way to put a bow on this and put it together into something what does an inclusive event look like in a perfect world? To you? How would you describe that? How do people do the best job to do that?
SHERRIF: Well I, first of all is be open to different ideas. And we have different, doing different things, but also be open to different people and different cultures and different…but different geography as well. And so, just allow that to happen so that those ideas can come. So, one way you can do that is by crowdsourcing ideas, just understand. So just a simple using technology as one way; two is just actually being very deliberate about it. And I think we do have to do, I'm a person that don't believe in quotas, but if we need them to just to get to where we need to go with them. Maybe that's something that you do. But I think that if we're deliberate, very deliberate, we’ll realize that we maybe don't need the quotas, because we're seeing the benefits of, and then suddenly we’ll be diverse. But sometimes we've got to go to extreme measures in order to make things happen.
JON: Kind of have to swing the pendulum far to one way?
GREG: I just want to add to that, because I think it's a compelling point. You know, one of the things, I'll give you a great example, this morning, we had our nextup, which was a mashing of our legacy society and our board members with our 20s in their 20s. And, you know, in a traditional sense, you would think this is an opportunity for the 20s in their 20s. To hear from the more tenured members. But in fact, you know, what we talked about, and that we were very explicit about is that we learned as much from them as they learned from us. And a great example that I gave was technology. So, we all had to adapt, the three of us had to adapt to technology, whereas it’s all the known in certain aspects of technology. And so, if nothing else, we learn quicker from them about how to utilize that technology in events, or how we're going to educate people leveraging that technology. So, I think its diversity of thought, but also an age demographic, but also geographic, all those things that I think PCMA is being very deliberate, whether it's matched up, or whether it's seeing people of color, who giving, providing the content, or otherwise I think, it's very deliberate, and very compelling. And that was what I think is success from what I would define a success.
JON: Excellent. Um, the other part of this conversation was really around the human trafficking that you guys have pledged on. So that's with ECPAT? Yeah, ECPAT USA. And there was something called the CODE.
SHERRIF: Yes, absolutely.
JON: So talk a little bit about that.
SHERRIF: So, let's just first talk about ECPAT, and it's, it's, it's one organization, but it's one that we really have vetted, and just look at what they're doing to raise awareness and curb human trafficking, if not completely eradicate it. And, and what PCMA has done is that with Maritz Global Events, we actually, they have been this been a big cause. And big initiative on behalf of America global events. And, you know, that they thought that our industry could actually play a key role in in driving the goal. So, I want to give them a lot of credit for starting this. And PCMA, said, you know, you're absolutely right, why couldn't we help. And so, we really got behind it, our foundation actually donated monies towards ECPAT. We have done projects around human trafficking. And we did the code, signed the code, and then actually did training for our employees. And we're going to take that on the road at our events so that we can train people, so they can understand how to recognize the signs of people that are in distress. And so, David Peckinpaugh, the president of Maritz, when he approached us and approached me, I said to David, that PCMA will get fully behind and fully vested in this providing Greg and our board was behind it. But it was a no brainer for them. They just said, of course. But I said, you know, what, it's bigger than all of us. So, we should get more people involved. And, we went to the EIC, the events industry council and said that all the industry organization should be involved, this should be this should be a plank of the EIC. And it should also though be a plank of others. So, Marianne signed the code, Arnie Sorensen signed the code. We are doing activation as a part of one of the trends that we are bigger than oneself, we have used the human trafficking issue, to show that we can have a bigger impact than just one individual on human trafficking. So, let me put that into context. company like Marriott, Maritz, Events, DC, PCMA, with all the employees and all the people that we bring together, think of the eyes that we can bring to the issue. And thus, we can recognize if there's something going wrong, if we make them aware how to recognize those issues. So, that's, we want to amplify this, we want to raise the awareness level as much as possible, we actually think of human trafficking as happening in Bangkok, and other areas, but it's happening in our local communities all around the country. And we actually, every community needs to pay attention to this.
JON: Makes sense? I know, when I was doing some research on this, that there are some resources and things if you can go to like the code.org. And pull up things like contract clauses to put into your RFP’s is to make sure that you're discussing this with your properties and your vendors, when you're coming into something. And I discovered a lot of that through this research with PCMA. So, it's helped me already start to think about things a little bit different way.
GREG: And you know, and I was going to say, and I, you know, from my perspective, and I'll confess, I wasn't well versed on this topic. And so, I'm glad when Sherrif brought this to our attention. But, in many ways, it's not even about pressuring people…people just aren't aware of this issue, right? So, I think it's an awareness campaign in many respects. And I think we are the most compassionate industry I know. And I think once people understand the problem, and they're willing to solve a problem, I think it's been great to build that awareness. And then people are compelled to act. So, I've been personally humbled by learning first about it, because I wasn't aware. But also, to be proactive, and what we can do about it as an industry. So, it's been, it's been great to see the proactive behavior of our industry, and certainly a credit share for leading PCMA, not just jumping on the bandwagon, but having to lead this.
JON: And we really do have a lot of eyes in this industry. There's a lot of people who can be watching out for this issue. And just bringing an awareness of it, it's kind of interesting, because I think both of these topics that we've talked about are really about awareness, and how, as an industry, we've started to pay attention to some things that we just didn't think about before.
SHERRIF: Well, you know, we also did the hackathon here for homelessness. And as we talk about homelessness is a symptom of a deeper societal issue. Right? Or, and or a human issue. And so how are we treating the deeper, deeper issue, but being aware of what the symptom is, is helps you to dig deeper, and PCMA really, really believes, this is our DNA that business events are going to drive business, no question about it. And it needs to. We need to have better employment opportunities for all our people. But business event should also do good for people, and our communities or local communities. And so, we're going to take every opportunity to inform, educate…not tell people how to get there, but actually highlight the problem and sort of because different people might choose different avenues to get there. And we want them to choose the vehicle that's best for them. But we want to make sure that we're all sort of saying, “this is the end goal”. But we can get there differently. And so, there are many other issues that we need to deal with. I want to highlight and I think it's something that you and I talked about previously was about the HIV AIDS issue and in Australia, and the fact that we use the business event to actually make them change their laws in their country, to allow people with HIV and AIDS to come into that country. I think it's pretty phenomenal. But what was even more exciting and interesting is that the country and the government and industry has made a commitment that they want to eradicate HIV and AIDS by 2030. And they're working. And that's creating new jobs and creating research, and all sorts of different industries because of their commitment; and because of an event.
JON: Because of an event that started it all. So, we can be a real catalyst for change within this industry by starting something…
SHERRIF: We are, we are, and we've got to recognize that this is what we, this is why. And this might be changing our conversation a little bit. But this is why we need to focus on why we do what we do, not what we do. And when we focus on the why we’ll understand that; yeah, we might be bringing people together…but why were we bringing them together? And we are bringing together where we are, maybe look make maybe using simple lenses to solve complex problems. But when we come together, we can do this. I am convinced, and I am convinced that science alone is not going to solve human issues. It’s people, it’s science, it’s data; it takes it all…And inclusion, right?
JON: Yeah, those diverse perspectives, those people coming in from different angles are where you get the best ideas sometimes. So absolutely. But this is exactly what I wanted to talk about. Because I came out of the last talk with you so inspired, and I just had a feeling that this area would be the same. Same inspirational feeling. And it's just really nice to consider the possibilities. And see that PCMA is behind this idea of moving us forward not just as a business, but as humans and as people and making things work better for everyone.
SHERRIF: I, categorically believe that we have a responsibility any leader, whether you're the leader of events, DC or the chairman of PCMA, or you are a local community leader. If you're going to be a leader, then you need to be responsible. And you have the opportunity in front of you to make a difference. And we've got to do it. And we actually bring together more than any other industry people in this world, that can make a difference. So, the opportunity is limitless. And we need to create better jobs for people. We need to create better lives for people. And we all need to grow, all those things the business events industry can do. And PCMA is committed to that.
JON: It's an amazing legacy to leave. And I hope we can all do that.
SHERRIF: Jon, thank you so much, as always.
JON: Thank you, I appreciate you both being here today. And it's been great talking to you.
GREG: So nice to talk to you.
JON: And until next time. We'll see you on the podcast. Thank you for listening
To begin things on show number one here on the Better Meetings Podcast. We were able to meet up with PCMA President and CEO, Sherrif Karamat during MPI's WEC event in Toronto. He shared with us his thoughts on the state of associations, big data in our industry (including news about PCMA's Beam Project) and some inspirational thoughts for all of us about the role that meetings, events and our industry can play in making the world a better place for everyone.
JON: Alright, welcome back to the podcast. Today we're at WEC in Toronto. And we're speaking with Sherrif Karamat, CAE. He's the president and CEO of PCMA. Welcome.
SHERRIF: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here in Toronto, WEC.
JON: We're having a wonderful time here. And I really appreciate you taking time out of your schedule, because we know how busy you are, to talk with us here. So, thank you for that. And let's just dive right into things; I really thought first we could start out with just an overview of PCMA from your perspective.
SHERRIF: Sure. So PCMA a number of years ago, we were in a very good financial position. And we said to ourselves, now is the time to change. And that change was predicated on the fact that we didn't want our backs to be against the wall before we start to realize that we needed to change. This was changed on multiple levels on how we engage people in our community, what people find the value of just about everything. And we actually hire Wharton School of Business, and went down 11 streams, and ended up with this global vision, and the vision of economic and social progress through business events. So PCMA being a platform for economic and social progress. There were two other legs to that stool, though, beyond economic and social progress. There was an organizational success as the second leg. And then the third leg was about you as a human being and me as a human being about our personal and professional development.
SHERRIF: And so, when we did that, we looked at the world, and we looked at it, and not because we wanted to be exclusionary to anyone, but we said, where could we have the most impact in the short term until we are able to build? So, prioritizing our priorities. And we look the three regions Asia Pacific, obviously very large.
SHERRIF: The Americas, but primarily in North America. And then Europe.
SHERRIF: And so those are it, we would not exclude Africa, of course; and we will not exclude certain parts of Latin America. But looking at how not the act of a business event. And by the way, notice that I use business events and not meetings, because its outcome focused. And we believe that any meeting or any event should have an outcome. So what we were doing is looking at how event organizers were being viewed. Were they being viewed just for logistics? Or were they being viewed for bringing the objectives of that meeting or that event to life? And how does that tie to the organization strategy? We absolutely know that business events make incredible difference economically in communities. But business event should also make a difference socially for people. You know, the old saying is when we meet, when we meet face to face, we meet eye to eye.
SHERRIF: We should. And we must use business events to drive economic outcomes, but social outcomes as well. And social outcomes has nothing to do with socialism.
JON: No, no.
SHERRIF: I couldn't care less. But I do care of you as a human being. And I do care that when we get together, that we can see that both of us are progressive. And so events should be that part of that.
JON: Lifting people up?
SHERRIF: Absolutely. Well, another part is, let me touch a little bit on the personal basis, and professional basis. When you are younger, and you've done an undergraduate degree, for example. And then you do a graduate degree. Where do we get our, our knowledge? It's from organizations like this. We share experiences, we learn from each other, we grow, we network, there's an old course at the University of Chicago, called “your social network is your social net worth”. And it is very, very true. So you and I learn develop true these organizations. So it's very, very important, not just about focusing on economic and social, but our own growth.
SHERRIF: And these events do that as well. So that's where PCMA has been focusing on, and been really focusing on the education that would drive that at the highest level. And we are focusing on accreditation, certification, but also building community, we want to engage you the way you want to be engaged, not the way that we're putting it out there. And so, for me, that is the only way I want you to be engaged. Because if it is meaningful to you, it is not about PCMA; I really actually don't care. I do care that if you are going to be a part of the PCMA community, that you're getting something. I know you will give a lot if you're a part of the PCMA community because I see it. But every volunteer, anyone that gets engaged, but I want to make sure you're getting from it as well.
JON: You guys have a little bit different chapter structure it seems then we have here, and how does that work for PCMA. I mean, it seems like you're not doing local meetings as much?
SHERRIF: We do a lot of local meetings. And here's the thing, you know, engagement, actually today in the world that we live in. And, there's so many competition for people to find, it depends on what people want. So, we actually don't have a hard-set rule, we've got a first of all, a two-track membership, you can be a member or non-member; or you can be a part of our audience that can engage in different ways. But one of the things that we do say is that we want to engage the way you engage. So, in North America, our chapters are very, very strong, some of them very large. But we've heard loud and clear from Europeans that they will absolutely join PCMA as a member and be engaged with PCMA. But they need time with their families, and they need other time. So, they don't want to do the volunteer; but you and I have grown up culturally with. They're not. Now in Latin America is very different. They actually like chapters. So, it's so the idea is that one size doesn't fit all. And so PCMA is really adapted
JON: Being flexible, being able to go where the people want you to go to.
SHERRIF: Absolutely, and serve up what they're looking for versus what is expedient for PCMA.
JON: Right. Very good. Well, I had written down something here to just about how an organization I think we've kind of touched on it already. But associations have some troubles holding onto members and inspiring members and such. And so what we're talking about there, I think circles back to really a question that I wanted to ask.
SHERRIF: I actually think that there's…I think we should evaluate the value that associations are providing if they're having trouble. So let me just say this, I feel today, we are more disconnected than ever. We're more connected. And yet, so we're more disconnected. And this is resulting in loneliness. Okay, and loneliness in many, and associationd can play a critical role in our community. So, there's a need for associations more now than ever, when you've got data and information and trying to make sense of it, whether it's true or false, or it's more, what is it? Associations can help you do that. But we, as associations have to provide value, we cannot be there and expect that we've done the things that we've done for 50 years and expect people to be engaged with us. Why should there be we should earn their membership, or their engagement. Like anything else.
JON: Just like adapting, like you say, to the way a person wants to be a member?
SHERRIF: Absolutely. And so we say these things that all our revenue streams are challenged, this is challenged, that's challenged…Well, to me, revenue is a byproduct of how you engage, right? It's not let's fix the revenue for us. It's are you providing value? Why should you? Why should you donate your time and your effort to anybody? If they're not going to provide value for you? It doesn't mean it's not logical. And it's illogical in the information age that we live in today. The think that people would do that. And so, but I think, today, I actually feel there's a faster need for associations than ever, because we used to live in our small communities. And, you know, back 30, 40 years ago, the only way that we heard something was we picked up the local newspaper. And by the way, if there was something bad that's happening around the world, we heard it 10 days later, today, we hear it instantaneously. And we're trying to make sense of it. We don't even hear it from news media's we hear it from our friends, because they've already sent you a text or an Instagram or, or posted on Facebook, whatever the medium is, you've heard it. So, we must recognize that there is many ways that us as individuals can get access to information. But how do we pass on tacit knowledge? And how do we make sense of things that are happening around us is when we get together? And that, to me is the power of associations, we have to be able to deliver those platforms to earn your membership or your engagement.
JON: And that, really talking about just how much information comes at us every day. And how much is available to us sort of ties into the next thing that I wanted to talk to you about, which is the BEAM PROJECT that you have. And because we're talking about big data, and we're just talking about all this information, and how do you sort through that, and how do you figure out what's really relevant and what's really useful to you. So, I'm, I'm assuming because it's business events, analytics and metrics, that's what that project is all about.
SHERRIF: Yeah, for sure. For starters, beam is about, it will first cleanse the data to make sure that the data that you even have is even useful. Before we start going. I must also say that PCMA partnered with Info Group, which we believe is one of the preeminent people in data, analytics, and also the ones that comply with all the regulatory bodies, GDPR and privacy concerns. And so, we selected a partner that we felt was really the best in class of business. One. Two is that I want you to think of a pie. And think of it is having 12 slices, okay, and you're a convention center. And I'm a convention bureau, and over there, there's an event organizer. And over there, there's a PCO and over there, there's a AV company. And over there, there's a hotelier; we all each own one slice of that pie, but we don't have the whole picture. Okay. And so what we are trying to do is making intelligent decisions on a huge piece of business without only one slice of the pie. So what BEAM is doing is bringing all those slices of the pie together to actually give you insights where you can overlay your data on top of a whole broad industry set to give you a holistic view of what's going on in the business event space. Today that does not exist period, may exist in certain instances on site selection, it may exist, but it's still limited information. This is this is giving you a holistic picture. It also is allowing you to then design and create the type of things that you need to do to engage the audiences that you need to engage or to attract the businesses in your communities that you need to attract. Maybe tied into economic sectors that are important in the community. None of that exists today. And that's why we started that. This has been two to three years in the making. And we rolled it out now because we were ready to roll it out. We want it I mean, of course, we want a few thousand people in this. The bigger it is the more data it's important. But we wanted to have at least 100 people signed up company’s organization signed up by August, the end of August. And the response has been incredible, so far, so that we will exceed that mark, and we will. And that's good. But that's also important in order to get the richness of the data.
JON: Yeah, because you need, you need a broad selection of data to get relevant results.
SHERRIF: Absolutely. And for you to get that holistic view. And also, you need a broad selection is the very right term, because you need all the different parts of the industry there, and good, good subsets of that data.
JON: That's interesting, because it's, it's something that I do agree, we haven't done a great job of doing, I've been in the business quite a while. And places I've worked have always looked very narrowly at relevance to their organization of a piece of business, or a price to charge or a design or, you know, whatever. So, I think having that that bigger picture in information available, would be valuable.
SHERRIF: It will be extremely valuable and in fairness to everyone. You know, it's hard to be able to capture all that data. It's hard to more importantly, it's hard to make site. Create insights from it. And thirdly, it's very hard to keep it up to date. Right? Almost a third of your data goes out of date every year. And so in order to keep that fresh and to refresh it, it's not an easy thing. Maybe one of the most important things that I think Jon is, is asking the right questions at the at the front-end, understanding. And so, when you start seeing what your data is telling you, it's going to sort of then, you're going to have a clear picture of what you're missing. Because in order to make those key decisions, and you don't have the data when your data is telling if the data is telling you this, but you need these things answered, you know that you have to change your question.
JON: So, have you found that that's something you've had to do a lot of as you've been developing this project over a few years, the questions you're asking have those evolved?
SHERRIF: Oh, absolutely. And I think that PCMA is no different. I mean, like we've asked many of not the right questions. I mean, we're not some, you know, I consider us in a lot of cases, an experiment. We have experimented many things. But we've also said that we're going to learn and learn and unlearn and relearn based on experiments. And so that, for me, in my mindset, anyway, is just helping us get better. I was commenting on the fact that I use convening leaders in January in Pittsburgh, as a test where Steelcase came in and did a complete, good, bad and the ugly, and we are going to publish it completely. There's no, we don't care. I mean, the thing is that hopefully someone can learn something from it. And look at what, you know, we, we can always feel that we're doing the right thing, but not all the raise the right, what you feel is the right thing is what the audience wants.
JON: Well, and I know certainly some of your mistakes, you learn much more from then your successes.
SHERRIF: I don't think we ever learn from successes because we know yet successful. But you know what? We already know that. That's why it was successful. But it's the things that we fail at this way with those really key learnings coming.
JON: There's another piece of this that I wanted to touch on before we wrapped up on it. And that would be like the data security and privacy element of it. Because you are talking about aggregating a lot of data from a lot of sources. And I know that that was mentioned in what I've read about it.
SHERRIF: Yeah. I think more than ever, people should be concerned about data privacy, and data security. But all the things that we're hearing today, if they're not, I would say that that would be unwise. So this was the thriving reason beyond their ability to and their expertise in data was their unwavering protocols with respect to data privacy, and complying with government and regulations like GDPR. And that's why we partnered with the Info Group, that was exactly the reason, because we wanted the best in class in order to do that with. And clearly we're concerned. Now this data, for example, your organization, you will be able to see your organization's data because you have access to that right now. However, you're not going to be able to see the other peoples are, you can overlay your data to actually glean insights. So you're not it's not like you're seeing individual people's data, that's never going to happen. You can see yours. And it's not coming to PCMA it's going to an independent body. So, that was obviously our driving force, data security is paramount for us. And Info Group is to me the best in class when it comes to data security.
JON: Excellent. And we were going to touch on another topic. So
SHERRIF: Yeah, I do want to talk about you know, I think that research is so important. Data insights that leads to research, I do want to touch on designing experiences that people would engage with and understanding and that, as I say, we live 360. We live every moment of our day. And we don't just attend a conference, to think of attending a conference would be very naive that we're coming here just to be at your event. You still have family issues to deal with. You might have kids. You have to work and attend the conference, you might have special meal needs, you might want to go to a yoga class, whatever it is, an event has to understand that you need to live. And so living 360, for us is very important in and designing an event. That, to me, really increases engagement. And I do want to touch on the digital side of things. Understanding data points is not enough. Far too long, we've measured ROI and how many heads we had in a bed? How many? You know, did we make the bottom line? Did we do this? We do that? But did we really focus on you? And so data as inserted data gives you metrics and so forth. But how do you make meaningful insights that I'm talking to a human being, like I'm catering to a human being, not to a data set. And so that that person feels like an individual? That, to me, is the most powerful thing, when it comes to we're an association success lies, if they are not going to cater to you as an individual? Well, your wallet will do the walking. Right? Because you're not going to want to spend your money. I think the opportunity is brighter than ever, for associations. But they've got to seize the moment. Because today, if there's anything that people have, is empowered, and they have choices, right? And so, they will, they will, they will take those choices. To me the only trend today that we that is is around, we might focus on everything, but the only trend is the empowered consumers. And they are empowered. And they have the tools to make them empowered. And so subsequently, they will make the choices that if you're providing what they're looking for.
JON: So they want a personalized experience?
SHERRIF: Totally. And we all learn differently, I will tell you, there are people that if you show them visuals, they will learn 100 times more there’s other people that would like to read the text, so forth. The other people that only want someone to speak to them is other people that needs discussion points, people, we're all wired up differently. We shouldn't treat everybody the same way.
JON: It's funny, the thing that was going through my mind as we're talking about this is it would be, I've seen organizations that just do the same thing over and over. And, and to me that's like, only having slide projectors in the room because I come from a technology background of AV. And it's like, you know, I haven't touched a slide projector in 20 years. But their organizations that their meetings are effectively still using slide projectors, even if they've moved it to videos.
SHERRIF: Well, you know, there was a, you know, in the old days in Brazil, in San Paolo, if you wanted to sell a car, you put a plastic bottle and top of your car, right. And people would know on the street that that person is selling their car. Well, when technology in the internet came about, they would actually go and take a picture of the bottle, instead of actually on the car and put that instead of actually using the medium. And we've got a lot of opportunities to adapt to the new mediums that are in front of us, that allows us so many ways to engage, we cannot use the same traditional approach in new mediums, it doesn't work, you have to use the medium the way it's intended.
JON: Well, and that's the goal of what we try and talk about here is that idea that we can do better, and we can improve. And we can find new ways of doing things and making people walk away with better outcomes.
SHERRIF: If I could say one thing, in closing, is that this is the single most important industry in the world. No other is not medical, not scientific, nothing is more important than business events. When we meet face to face, we could change anything. Okay, we can do the human spirit, the power of the human being is so amazing. We can change anything when we meet. And if you couple that, I firmly believe that it's going to take science and medicine data and human beings to cure cancer. Not one of them, not just medicine. And if we start thinking about that, we will understand the power that we can when we meet all the things, all the things that we have, that are irritants or troubles in our lives. And our economies in our world are just irritants to just passing. And it's because we can take the bloody time to meet with each other. We can look each other in the eye and say, Why? or Why not?
JON: Or, how do we fix this?
SHERRIF: Yes, that's problems that will give us things to do. Right? It should. And so, I I don't prescribe to the sky is falling in, I do think that we have got the most powerful platform in the world, bar none to solve the challenges that we face.
JON: I think that's a very, very great inspirational place to, to wrap this up, then because I agree, I think that if we can do better at this than the world does better
SHERRIF: We owe it to everyone in society is that if we're going to accept these roles, and these positions, then we must be accountable. There is no other way. And when I am saying when I mean when we meet face to face, great things can happen. And great things are happening. And it's sometimes feels because information comes at us instantaneously that the world is caving in. But I'm very optimistic about our future. And I'm very optimistic the fact that there will be many more things that are challenging us in our world. But, I think that we are going to face them.
JON: Thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today. I really appreciate the message and what the work that you're doing there at PCMA. And it's great to just learn some more about it and get some more details. And it's inspiring.
SHERRIF: I am so appreciative of you taking the time to talk to me. I very much appreciate it. I believe so much and what all industry associations do. And thank you for having me.
JON: Well, and everyone who's listening, thank you for listening and we appreciate you as well and hope that this has been useful for you and so until the next time, this is Jon Trask signing off and we'll talk to you soon.
We've been creating the Strategic Meeting Tech podcast and blog for a. number of years. But, during our recent hiatus from posting, we realized that there are many things beyond technology and AV that we'd like to examine and discuss. The name of the original podcast, while reflective of what we do didn't really fit some of the material and stories that we want to cover.
So, work within a more descriptive name; we are adding a second podcast aside the Strategic Meeting Tech Podcast to cover a wider range of topics and issues within the meetings and events industry.
And because at Strategic Meeting Tech we are committed to helping planners and organizers create better meetings.
We've decided to call it the "Better Meetings Podcast".
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