If the explorer John Cabot hadn’t set foot on the rocky shores of Newfoundland in 1497 he likely would have been attending a meeting somewhere. Why? Because meetings are all about exploration, discovery, and displacing the local inhabitants. But mostly they’re about discovery.
At the last meeting I attended, for example, I discovered a pair of someone else’s underwear at the bottom of the sheets in my bed. But let’s focus on the more substantive and less disturbing discoveries waiting to be uncovered at meetings.
Such as discovering a new, unmapped town you had never heard of before because the hotel you booked is, in fact, not “a stone’s throw away” from the meeting venue, but more like “three bus transfers, a six kilometer stroll and a short gondola ride” away from the venue. A stone, in other words, roughly the size of Prince Edward Island. Ah, the joy of discovery!
But the real adventure begins once you’ve immersed yourself among the native meeting participants, whom you’ll readily identify by their colorful plumage, strange dialect imported from the South Pacific island of Bureaucratese and, well, their name tags. (Exploration is much easier now than in John Cabot’s time, when hardly anyone wore name tags, other than Cabot’s children, whose names he could never remember after being at sea so long.)
Once you’ve settled into the meeting the list of things to discover is, like the lineup at the luncheon buffet or the opening remarks from the local mayor, seemingly endless.
After arriving late to every session on day one, for example, you’ll discover that there is a two hour time zone difference from your homeland. You’ll discover that many of the PowerPoint presentations are neither powerful, nor do they have a point. You’ll discover that the “gluten-free, low-sodium, low fat,” luncheon option is water. And, if you’re a woman, you’ll discover that a one-to-one ratio of men’s to women’s restrooms was poor planning on the part of every facility designer on the planet.
But of course, the deeper purpose of meetings is to facilitate “self-discovery” among the meeting participants, also known as, “finding your own way back to the hotel after you’ve missed the last shuttle bus from the evening’s offsite entertainment venue.”
The truly meaningful self-discovery doesn’t, however, happen in the dark alleyways you’ve accidentally wandered down in search of your hotel. The true business of meetings is, rather, to light the path towards even less traveled, more frightening, and much darker recesses. Yes, it’s all about a journey into little used portions of your mind. (The size of this uncharted territory will vary from meeting participant to meeting participant, and may expand substantially depending on the location of the offsite entertainment venue.)
Which means meeting planners, speakers and facilitators must act like lamplighters, or more poetically, pigeons, or even more poetically, like belching, listing tugboats, helping to guide meeting participants toward the barren, lichen-encrusted, most desolate regions of their minds.
This is a role the meetings industry must take seriously. Here are a few simple ways to encourage an atmosphere of deep discovery:
Follow this advice and you’ll land upon the shores of a new found land of deep discovery that even John Cabot would envy. Or, you know, Al from Red Deer.
Michael Kerr is a Hall of Fame Canadian business speaker and the author of six books, including The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All the Way to the Bank.
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