Monday, May 31, 2010

Do We Live In An Age of Distraction?

On May 9th, President Obama gave the commencement address to graduating seniors at Hampton University.  The main topic of his speech was the importance of using the technology we have available as a means to make ourselves and our world better, rather than just a form of entertainment.  He called our current time an "Age of Distraction" in which cell phones, TVs, laptops, and iPods all demand portions of our time each day. 

This topic is one that greatly affects the conference center and meeting industry.  Faster, better technology is constantly demanded in RFPs, and it will only continue to grow.  As industry professionals, how can we ensure that we provide the technology that is necessary to make meetings smooth, current, and efficient, but also effective?  Is there such a thing as too much technology use in a meeting?

Read through this commentary, "Meetings in the Age of Distraction," and leave comments!

Also, Happy Memorial Day and thank you to all veterans and those currently serving our country! 

Written by:
Meghan Bollenback
Food & Beverage Manager
R. David Thomas Executive Hotel & Conference Center

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Telephone Tips

Seeing as the Emerging Trends Committee has a conference call scheduled for today, I thought this article was quite timely.  The following tips provide some good guidelines for how to hold more effective calls that maximize input from the group and minimize lost time.  Tip 5 caught my eye as there has been so much talk recently on how technology is changing the way we meet.  These are good things to share with clients and co-workers alike.

10 Rules for Effective Conference Calls
Written by David Lavenda

1. Keep statements short and ask for frequent feedback

When many people participate in a call, it is easy for minds to “wander.” Keep your statements short. Ask for feedback frequently. Ask direct questions. Don’t ask, “Are there any questions?” but rather, “Dan, what do you think about this phase of the project plan; are we under-budgeted?”

2. Don’t use slides if you can avoid it

Looking at slides laden with text is really, really boring. You can easily kill a discussion with slides. And worse, you can’t even control what people are looking at – most of them are skipping ahead to see how much pain they will have to endure. The smart ones will clock the amount of time spent on each slide, then extrapolate to calculate how long the torture will last.

3. If you must show slides, don’t send them ahead of time.

Don’t send slides ahead of time. You blow all your ammo before you get your partners on the phone. They will probably have gone through the deck before they get on the line – freeing them up to read email, news, or play Solitaire while you drone on and on.

Even if you don’t send slides ahead of time, try not to subject people to slides via WebEx or GoToMeeting either. Rather, use primary sources of data. For sales calls, show real product demos, for project meetings, show project graphs, high-level financial information, etc. If you must show slides, limit them to just a few and make sure that these rock. Slides aren’t a crutch for not being prepared. Rather, they are an aid.

If participants want the slides, send a set that summarizes the call, after the call. This will serve as a meeting protocol. Even if they don’t look at them right away, it represents a good summary for future reference.

4. Send out an agenda ahead of time and stick to it

Whether a sales call, status meeting, product feedback meeting, support call, etc. – make sure you have an agenda so everyone knows the purpose of the call, approximately how long it will last, and what they are expected to prepare before the call. This reduces anxiety for all. When people dial in to an audio call, they don’t have the visual cues that are present with a face to face meeting – the added clarity of the agenda makes the call go smoother.

5. Use video if possible


Frank, what do you think?

(No answer.)


Is Frank still on the line.

(More silence…)


(Fumbling to unmute his phone)

Oh, sorry, did someone ask me something? I had the phone on mute.

Since you don’t have visual cues on audio calls, people mute their phones and tune out. Then they do really important things, like play video games, carry on parallel conversations, or just sleep. Providing visual cues through video keep participants engaged. Skype and other VOIP services offer video as a basic service – there is no reason not to take advantage of it.

6. Let the participants know if you are recording the call

Some companies record calls for a variety of reasons (to retain summaries, for training purposes, etc.) – if you are on the call with people from other companies, make sure you let them know you are recording the call…and make sure they are okay with this.

7. Start on time


Is Bob on the line?

(No answer.)



(Very long silence.)


Can someone call Bob on his mobile and see why he isn’t dialing in?

If you calculated the amount of time wasted waiting for people on conference call in your company, you would be amazed. 6 people waiting 10 minutes, is 1 hour of productivity in the toilet.

8. Make sure the moderator dials in early


Hello? Anybody else there?

Anybody there?


Yoo hoo?

(All three wait on the phone, listening to the Scorpions’ ‘Still Loving You’ loop over and over, until the moderator joins.)

9. Don’t dial in from a mobile phone

Don’t dial in from a mobile phone or from a land line in a noisy place. If you must call from a mobile phone, make sure you are in a quiet spot, that you have good cell coverage, and that you have a full battery (or a recharger). There is nothing more annoying than background noise on a call. It’s hard enough to concentrate on a clear line, with many people on the line.
10. Set limits on call duration

This is even more important than setting time limits for face-to-face meetings, since the amount of energy lost in a call exceeds that of meetings. The lack of feedback is a huge energy zapper. Limit calls to reasonable lengths so folks know what to expect.

Do you have any additional tips to add to this list?  Or, any funny stories from conference calls gone wrong?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Gen Y Stereotypes

At the Annual Summit in March at Eaglewood Resort & Spa, I attended a workshop entitled "Get Wise With Gen Ys."  It was a great class that centered around the three main generations currently represented in the workforce -- Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y (or Millennials). 

The facilitator went through a series of Powerpoint slides that showcased the major social, technological, and cultural impacts that influenced each group.  Later on, we discussed stereotypes that the generations are associated with.  Stereotypes for Gen Y were that we are lazy, do not react fast enough to problems, and do not seem to show enough emotion or care in the workplace.  Being a member of this generation and knowing my own work ethic, I disagreed.  But, many of the Generation X'ers and Boomers alike continuously mentioned these descriptions, so obviously there must be some truth behind them.

This blog post, "Do We Get Gen 'Why?'",came out on May 20th in the Harvard Business Review and divulged other Generation Y stereotypes.  Please read through and leave some comments as to whether you agree or disagree with the sterotypes presented.  I know that many IACC properties now have Gen Ys working at their properties, and I am curious to hear about how they come across to other generations.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tips for Mentoring Millennials

According to an article in the most recently published Harvard Business Review, “in four years, millennials — the people born between 1977 and 1997 — will account for nearly half the employees in the world.”

Does this make you nervous?  If so, you're not alone.  This change of generations in the workforce will affect many common business practices, one being mentoring.  Typically when one thinks of "mentoring," the thought of an older, wiser professional molding a young protege to be his or her successor comes to mind.  The Business Review's article challenges organizations to break through that old stigma, and to focus on generating more creative ways of mentoring.  The goal?  Making Millennials feel valuable, letting them share their fresh outlooks on their workplace, and providing personal and career development.


The following are the three different types of mentoring suggested in the article:

1. Reverse mentoring -- Let the young employee teach the old dog some new tricks.  Millennials can offer new insight into workplace processes and provide input on how to make things better.

2. Group mentoring -- With a smaller amount of more experienced professionals available (due to the Baby Boomers retiring), this can provide Millennial employees with the mentoring experience they desire in the form of a peer group.  One senior employee can host roundtable discussions or a forum for multiple mentees at once.  To me, this sounds like a great idea since Millennials are very social and like to give and receive feedback from many individuals.

3. Anonymous mentoring -- This is new to me but sounds very interesting.  Matching companies conduct behavioral tests to match Millennial employees with an anonymous mentor outside of their organization.  One benefit of this according to the article it "ensures mentors have an agenda-free interest in the mentee’s professional development."  On the flip side, the younger mentee may be more willing to open up and discuss problems and uncertainties they experience due to the anonymity. 

Do you have any tips about how to mentor Millennials?  Feel free to leave any ideas or comments!

Written by:
Meghan Bollenback
Food & Beverage Manager
R. David Thomas Executive Hotel & Conference Center

Monday, May 10, 2010

Generation-Based Catering

Having worked with multi-generational meeting planners and attendees I have noticed there are distinctive trends in their conference needs;

The Generation “Y” conferees :

• F&B - Healthy protein rich foods are a first priority for this generation. Power bars, fresh fruit and crisp greens keep these conferees satisfied and their mild appetites assist in maintaining a healthy food cost for proprietors. I mean come on they are really still on liquid diets (i.e. red bull, mountain dew, smoothies, starbucks and of course MGD or a good glass of vino)

• Internet & Technology - Internet access is a must! Generation “Y” conferees must have uninterrupted lightening speed access to fulfill their connection needs.

• Conference Start times– When hosting a generation “Y” conference be sure to schedule some conference staff late to host what we call the “Night Owls”. This generation likes to work late until their “juices” get flowing after they’ve rushed back to the center after cocktail hour. They treat set up like college finals and burn the midnight oil to be prepared for the next day’s events.

• Recycling – Meeting planners are extremely concerned with recycling programs for their conference. They require recycling stations conveniently located to their meeting and often request pitchers of water versus bottled.

• New on the forefront-“Edutainment”- Some of my Generation “Y” colleagues are even requiring that “entertainment” learning tools are placed at the break stations and on the tables next to the pens and mints. One meeting requested that we have silly putty on each table so that the participants could expand their thoughts.

The Baby Boomer conferees:

• F&B – Delicious comfort foods with elaborate presentations are often a requirement for this generation. Unlike Generation “Y” this group would be more satisfied with a lunch buffet to include pasta, fried chicken and sweet treats for dessert.

• Internet & Technology – While internet access has recently become a standard demand generally Baby Boomers still only need it at their breaks as 40 percent of them are checking “blackberries”. The other 60 percent are looking for bathrooms and really using the time to person to person connect.

• Conference Start times - This group prefers to have early set up times (and they pay for them) so that any additions or set ups can be correct by 6pm at the latest so that all is right in the world when they set foot on the conference floor at 6am SHARP!!!

• Recycling-While many in this generation started the movement many are still lukewarm to the cause. We see fewer requests for sustainable options. They are good with recycling bins, but there is still cache in having “bottled water” (especially if it’s sparkling) at the meeting sets. This is not to say that they are not excited when the salesperson walks them thru our “green” efforts.

Written by:
Mike Blackley
Banquet/Conference Center Manager
Hilton Washington D.C./Rockville Executive Meeting Center

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

No Laptops Allowed...the Other Side of the Technology Debate

any sessions of IACC's Annual Summit last month in Chicago concerned technology, social media, and their ever-growing role in the conference center and meetings industry.  Many conference centers are recognizing that clients desire more technology in their meetings because it allows them to work faster, smarter, and also connect with more people that are not present at the meeting.  However, there is a flip side to these benefits.  Sometimes, people just want to disconnect and shut off their computers.  Read on to learn about a California restaurant owner who refuses to let patrons use laptops while dining.  Leave comments as to your thoughts...are you pro-laptops at casual restaurants and cafes, or would you rather disconnect?

From Hospitality Net, May 1, 2010:

San Francisco Bay Area café owner bans laptops. The owner of a North Oakland café is asking customers to leave their laptops at home and actually speak to each other, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

“When we opened this place we wanted to create a community. Instead it’s just been a room full of laptops,” said Sal Bednarz, who opened Actual Café in January. “I don’t have anything against technology, but it’s not the same as looking someone in the eye and pressing the flesh.”

Weekends only patrons (so far) who flip open their laptops will be asked to unplug, sign off and log out. They’ll be encouraged to sit at communal tables and chat. Customers, when pried away from their computer screens Friday afternoon, said they were thrilled at the idea. They said they’re tired of their laptops, iPods and cell phones, too. How is this bold initiative working out? Here are some random comments from customers:

  • “When I get away from the computer, it’s a relief."
  • “(A patron without a computer) I’m looking forward to meeting my fellow café denizens.”
  • Laptops cut people off. I think it forms a social divide. Technology’s great, but there’s a serious social impact.”
  • “Chatting is now starting to overcome the keystrokes (says the manager at nearby Nomad). It’s really changed the feeling of the place. It’s really nice.”
The owner of Nomad Café - - a neighborhood competitor that opened in 2003 - - became so disenchanted with laptops that he reduced the number of electrical outlets to one.

Perhaps the most compelling reason of all behind the Actual Café taking this step might be to discourage patrons from buying a two dollar cup of coffee and spending all day using a table that could be taken by a customer purchasing lunch, visiting with friends or otherwise spending money and then leaving.

Remember to leave comments about what you think!

Monday, May 3, 2010

7th Habit Suggestions From Industry Leaders

Follow up from previous post...

I began a discussion at IACC’s LinkedIn Group ( to see if any of my colleagues could think of a seventh habit. As it happens, they could…

Eric Whitson, who is Director of Sales & Marketing at The National Conference Center in Virginia (host of next year’s IACC Summit), suggested either “FOCUSED”, “PRODUCTIVE” or “COST EFFECTIVE”

Neil Pompan, President at Pompan Hospitality Global and former President of IACC Global suggested “INNOVATIVE”, which he defined as “the ability to always surprise and delight the customer by introducing new ways for them to be successful in meeting their objectives.”

Wendy Butler , Special Initiatives Coordinator at The Johnson Foundation liked “PRODUCTIVE” but threw “EFFECTIVE” into the mix as well.

Saira Banu Kianes, Travel Director & Founder of IMPN thought that “SERVICE ORIENTED” was worthy of mention.

Jeff Farina, who is a Development Professional and Hospitality Consultant added “PERSONALISED” as it “encompasses all of the above traits and is what we are all about in the conference centre industry.”

If you haven’t joined the IACC LinkedIn group then please do – you’ll not find a better network of industry experts anywhere in the world. If you’re a conference centre you can share ideas with like-minded colleagues. If you’re a customer/planner then you get to pick the brains of hundreds of suppliers outside of a pressured sales environment.

James Bland
Sundial Group (UK) Marketing Manager
2009 IACC Global Scholarship Winner

The Six Habits of Highly Effective Conference Centres

(with apologies to Stephen R. Covey)

It was during a group session at last year’s IACC Global meeting in Denmark that this first came to me. The discussion was under the heading “What will our customers want in 2015?” and as our individual thoughts landed upon the large sheet of paper, I began to see six groups form in front of my eyes. The idea to mimic the world-famous “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” only came to me as I approached the microphone to present our group’s findings to the conference.

It is unfortunate that I was unable to think of a seventh habit, but perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it) it was sensible to stick with six to avoid being sued! Not that I’ll be making any money out of this you understand, unless you fancy sending me a cheque, in which case my contact details are pretty easy to find at

So, in 2015…

1. We will be CONNECTED
3. We will be GREEN
4. We will be FLEXIBLE
5. We will be TALENTED
6. We will be SECURE

These are the headlines. But what does each of them mean?


We will provide connectivity in our meeting rooms. We will forge strong relationships with our staff, customers, neighbourhoods, suppliers and, yes, competitors. We will keep abreast of developments in the industry by joining, and actively contributing to, associations and forums that influence us. We will network, not only online, but also in person.


We will continue to provide inspirational places to meet, work and visit – by deploying the latest technology and innovative design. Furthermore, we will inspire a world-weary, sceptical market of the need to keep meetings and training happening. To do this, we need inspirational people throughout our business, and an inspirational network of suppliers.


We will cut consumption and waste. We will recycle more. We will buy more local and seasonal food – trying wherever possible to do this without reducing the variety we offer to customers. To do this, we’ll need to keep our clever chefs.


We will sell what people want to buy. Pretty simple, really, but worth remembering. If someone wants to run their meeting from 2-10 instead of 9-5, we’ll make sure that’s what we offer them. We will have flexible workforces, able to adapt to our quieter times. We will welcome our demanding customers. (Actually, I prefer them – they tell us what other people may be keeping to themselves.)


Again, it’s really not rocket science. Our staff need to be good at their jobs. This means we need to hire the right people. This is a question of attitude – there’s no point hiring someone with lists of qualifications if they are socially dysfunctional – this is hospitality after all. No, we need people with the right attitude to look after people, and an ability to learn. If they have these, we can train them.


If you believe everything you read (and most people do), these are scary times. If the terrorists don’t get us, the pandemic influenza will. If you carry cash, you could be mugged, but if you rely on credit cards, you leave an electronic footprint. The threats are not just to individuals, but also to organisations – a perfectly innocent conversation in a bar could result in trade secrets leaking to competitors. We already provide a secure environment where people can work without having to look over their shoulders, but in the future our people will have to reassure, demonstrate and prove this to our customers. We will defeat the invasive paranoia that has contributed so significantly to the global economic turmoil.

Spotted the theme yet? People. Highly Effective Conference Centres will need Highly Effective People. Remember these six habits. Of course you’ve heard them before, but it doesn’t hurt to read them again.

James Bland
Sundial Group (UK) Marketing Manager
2009 IACC Global Scholarship Winner