Canada is a big, sprawling country full of big, sprawling people who like to attend big, not-so-sprawling meetings, if, for no other reason, to stay warm.
Not only does this present basic logistical challenges around issues such as central heating and questions such as, “Can you actually get to that meeting from here?“, it also means the Canadian meetings industry must cater to an extremely diverse population, playing host to people from coast to coast to coast to prairie to mountain to glacier to lake to small woodlot to strange little suburb that seems to have been a complete afterthought. It’s a challenge because, like beautiful, precious snowflakes, no two Canadians are alike. Nor do they necessarily like each other.
Politicians who have struggled over the years to keep this sprawling beast called Canada intact by balancing regional interests and pitting Canadians against one another other in fights to the death (I could be thinking of The Hunger Games, but that sounds about right), know all-too-well how difficult a job it can be to accommodate the accommodations of so many Canadians, let alone find accommodations for them. As former Prime Minister Joe Clark once observed, “We are a community of communities made up of communities that come from different communities who rub shoulders with other communities while living alongside and inside communities.” As profound as it was confusing, and yet, his comment still resonates.
So how do you run a meeting that effectively accommodates such a diverse range of interests, backgrounds, and shoe sizes? Although it’s not a perfect approach, let’s start by examining how our meetings can accommodate the various regions:
British Columbia: British Columbians are notoriously laid back, so much so that many of them won’t actually make it to the meeting. Those that do make it will often attempt to hug or even cuddle with other attendees, while others will be merely content to hold hands and belt out a hearty rendition of “We Are the World”. Give them lots of love, copious servings of smoked salmon, and let them smoke the agenda –or anything else they can get their hands on–and they’ll be happier than a sea otter in May (which British Columbians assure me, is pretty darn happy).
Alberta: When meeting out of province, Albertans will primarily be concerned about whether or not they can get a refund for any provincial tax they pay; when meeting in Alberta they’ll be concerned about telling other attendees how awesome it is not pay any provincial sales tax. And if the meeting is not held in Banff or Jasper, they’ll demand to know why. (No, seriously? Why would you not meet there?)
Saskatchewan: Saskatchewan meeting attendees are a happy lot, as long as they have a clear line of sight to the stage, and so long as you don’t adjust the timing of any of the conference sessions. And if you value the life of your meeting attendees and are concerned about getting your hotel damage deposit back, please, for the love of wheat, don’t sit the Estevan people next to the Wayburn folks.
Manitoba: After regaling you with stories of polar bears, the Winnipeg Jets, and -40 degree picnics, most Manitobans will be happy to point out that, as the psychological centre of Canada (the geographical bragging rights belong to Baker Lake, Nunavut) all Canadian meetings should logically be held in Winnipeg.
Ontario: As long you seat rural Ontarians away from the Torontonians, everything will run smoothly. This shouldn’t be an issue, as the Torontonians will all be seated in the centre of the meeting room looking inward.
Quebec: Many of le belle attendees would prefer to sit in another meeting room by themselves, however you can entice them to stay with the larger group by providing simultaneous French translation, lots of handouts, and some really awesome poutine.
The Maritimes: Maritimers hate it when you lump them altogether, but when you do lump them all together. . .they are very SOCIABLE!
Newfoundland: My head just exploded as I seriously don’t even know where to begin. As a start, I’d offer plenty of cod for them to kiss, a couple of fiddles, and simultaneous translators…for the non-Newfoundlanders.
The Territories: Yup, there really are people up there and sometimes they come down south to our meetings. That’s why they, more than any other Canadians, love meetings.
Following these simple guidelines should help you host Canadians from coast to ill-conceived suburb. If, however, if you feel there’s some region of Canada I haven’t properly offended or stereotyped, please feel to drop me a line.
Copyright Michael Kerr. As a Hall of Fame, in-demand business speaker, Michael Kerr has spoken in every province and territory in Canada. His latest book is called The Humor Advantage.
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