Monday, August 26, 2019

Meetings with Purpose

I think I've mentioned before that I got my start in association management as a meeting planner. When I started I had zero experience. It was entry-level, and someone simply gave me a chance to provide myself. I found that I had a knack for it, and pretty soon my career in association management was off and running.

I say association management, but honestly, for a time I thought I might be looking at a career in meeting planning. I even contemplated getting my CMP to help bolster that possibility.

But eventually I decided that it wasn't meeting planning that I was interested in. It was association management, and meeting planning had simply been my introduction to it.

That backstory affords me a different take on meeting planning than most meeting planners. With no wish to denigrate, meeting planners are cut from a different cloth than association management professionals who know how to plan meetings. The incentives and reward systems are different. To describe it as simply as I can, for the meeting planner the goal is that the meeting run smoothly. To the association management professional the goal is that the meeting achieves its purpose.

Now, these are not mutually exclusive goals. In fact, they support each other to such a degree that it's almost impossible for one to occur without the other -- but only in one direction. In other words, it's completely possible to have a meeting run smoothly that does not achieve its purpose, but it's next to impossible to have a meeting achieve its purpose if it doesn't run smoothly.

This one-way co-dependency creates a trap that too many association fall into. Knowing that they can't achieve their meeting's purpose without it running smoothly, they elevate the importance of a smooth-running meeting in all of their decision processes.

Smooth running means not going over budget, so let's cut a corner here. Smooth running means automated processes, so let's forget about customizing the name badges too much. Smooth running means the right number of box lunches, so let's enforce our rules about needing a ticket in order to get a lunch.

If you follow this logic long enough, you'll soon realize that you've stripped all the humanity out of your meeting. Or worse, you won't realize it. Instead, one of your attendees will point it out to you. I used to look forward to coming to your meetings, but now they feel so impersonal and regimented. I don't think I'll bother coming any more.

This is a major problem because almost every association meeting has the same common purpose: bring people together so that they can learn, connect, and have fun. Without that, there's no point in having the meeting in the first place. Your members are not coming to your meeting so that they can follow all the rules you've put in place to make sure the meeting runs smoothly. They're coming to your meeting so that they can learn, connect, and have fun.

That's the purpose of your meeting. Don't let your meeting planning get in the way of that.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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