I’m old enough to remember when fax machines became commonplace in the workplace. It was a heady, fax-filled time. People were faxing in their pizza orders, faxing jokes to one another and excitedly talking about the day when we’d be able to send faxes from our cars. There was even hushed talk of teenagers participating in sex-faxing, or as the kids called it, “saxing.”
Naturally, all the knuckle-draggers stuck in their PacMan-fuelled, Pong-driven, Atari world of dial phones and telexes bemoaned the fact that faxes would soon replace face to face contact and that the meetings industry would plunge into a death spiral.
“Why meet when we can fax ideas to each other?” people would say. (Or more accurately given the era, fax to each other with a cover sheet so you knew who was sending you the fax and how many pages should be included, including the cover sheet.)
“Why bother hopping on a plane to Halifax when someone can just fax you a poorly transmitted facsimile of a black and white smudgy image of what the Halifax harbor sort of looks like?”
And the killer argument that resounded most heavily: “Why go to a meeting, when the meeting can be faxed to you.” Ouch.
Fortunately, the fax-loving doomsayers got lost in transmission, so to speak.
The meetings industry not only survived the fax era, it continues to thrive even in the age of Skype conferencing, virtual reality holodecks and telekinesis.
One word: associations.
Associations are to meetings what monkeys are to subtropical rain forests. Or, perhaps more poetically, what a sunrise is to a solar eclipse after a rainbow has sprinkled stardust onto a moonbeam. What I’m really trying to say is that the meetings industry without associations would be like England Dan without John Ford Coley. And who wants to live in a world like that? (For the newer kids on the block just try to imagine Milli Vanilli without any Vanilli.)
Associations have always been key drivers of the meetings industry. In fact the primary reason associations exist is to meet. It’s right there in their definition for goodness sake: “Association – Noun. – a group of people who are legally obliged to meet in a hotel conference room once a year, preferably in a scenic location on a beach, at an event known as the annual general meeting (AGM), wherein said people will choose their next place to meet, preferably in a scenic location on a beach, in the mountains, or in a place adjacent to a casino where they will hold their AGM to decide where their next meeting should be held, preferably back at the beach if the preceding meeting was held in the mountains or next to a casino.”
Fortunately for the meetings industry there has never been more associations active in the world than there are today, including (and no, I’m not making any of these up folks): The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, The Association for the Preservation of the Coelacanth, The Count Dracula Society, The American Mustache Association, and yes, I’m told on good authority that there’s even an association for associations! (What next, meetings for international meeting planners?)
With new associations sprouting up daily, it won’t be long before we’ll be hearing from the Association for Word Associations, or the Association for Words That Don’t Associate With Each Other or even the Association for Words That Used to Associate With Each Other But Now, Not So Much.
And if there’s one group of people that portends a bright and sunny future for the meetings industry it’s got to be this one: The Flat Earth Society, whose stated objective, according to Wikipedia, is to “further the idea that the earth is flat instead of an oblate spheroid.”
Founded by Englishman Samuel Shenton, the modern incarnation of the Flat Earth Society dates back to 1956. Over the years FES formally adopted controversial positions such as the sun and moon are really only 3,000 miles above the earth, the Apollo moon landings were a hoax, and Oreo cookies do not in fact taste better when dipped in milk.
After a brief hiatus in 2001,The Flat Earth Society started up again in 2004 (presumably the news was shared via Morse code, carrier pigeon or by some guy on a horse.)
But think about what this means! If the Flat Earth Society is still chugging along, if they can remain relevant and not find any reason to pack up their globes–er, sorry guys–maps, and go home then that’s got to bode well for every association on the planet, flat or otherwise! And ergo, it bodes well for the entire meetings industry as well.
So on behalf of the meetings industry, please allow me to pass along my heartfelt thanks to associations of every size and stripe. You are the people who ensure the meeting industry remains a thriving and vibrant beast. You are the people who ensure that the next Canadian Olympic gold medalist will have a platform to share their inspiring story for at least 16 months until people start to slowly forget who they are. And you are the people who keep the companies who provide those cute mini bottles of hotel shampoo booming!
How can I be so confident in the future of associations? Well, it’s like I said recently in my closing keynote to the Canadian Association of Fax Repairmen, “Unless you’re a member of the Flat Earth Society, you can’t ignore the fax sitting right in front of you.”
Copyright 2013. Michael Kerr is a very funny Canadian motivational speaker, international business speaker and trainer. He is the author of Putting Humor to Work, Inspiring Workplaces and The Humor Advantage: Why Some Business Are Laughing all the Way to the Bank.
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