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We’ve Come a Long Way, Maybe?

Thinking about the theme of this issue got me pondering over how much I’ve evolved over the last ten years as a speaker, trainer and man. Certainly, I’m much more of a man than I was ten years Personal growthago—at least girth-wise. During this intense period of growth in my life, I’ve also evolved to the point where I now have hair in spots I never even knew hair could grow. Wow, who knew evolving could be so much fun?

Fortunately, the meetings industry has kept apace with my rapid growth.  I’m mean, just think about where we were ten years ago.  I know—it’s hard isn’t it? I can’t remember either, but I’m sure it was somewhere different than right now, otherwise we’d all be really depressed because we’d start to think that nothing has changed in ten years and we might as well just end it all now.

I do know that as a speaker, I’m much more mature than I was ten years ago. For example, now when someone heckles me, I hardly ever cry. And if I accidentally pass gas while in the middle of a training workshop, I don’t blame it on the meeting planner anymore—I blame it one of the audience members, usually one who looks like they don’t have the money to hire me again.

Without question, my speaking style has also evolved. Whereas in the old days I would often take my pants off during a program to get a cheap laugh, now, because audiences are much more sophisticated and demanding,  I also take off my shirt.

I suppose, once you put your mind to it, or someone else’s mind to it, it’s easy to see that the entire nature of the meeting business really has progressed. For example, ten years ago, we didn’t have nearly the access to all the great technology we have today such as video-conferencing or PowerPoint, so meetings tended to start on time. How boring was that? And speaking of technological advances—remember the old flip chart markers? Pathetic. It’s almost embarrassing to think that in the old days you couldn’t even get scented markers. And just try making an impressive point with a passion fruit-fuchsia-mango blend marker ten years ago!

Meeting participants’ expectations have certainly grown over the last decade. Remember how in the 90’s most participants were content to simply socialize, eat, drink and drink some more? Nowadays, it seems like folks aren’t content unless they socialize, eat, drink, drink some more, and go to a casino.

The clients organizing meetings are also more demanding. There’s all this chatter now about R.O.I. (for the motivational speakers out there, that means “Return On Investment”).  How nutsy is that?  I mean, where will it all end? Are clients going to start asking for content in our talks?  I don’t know about you, but putting content into a presentation sounds like a lot of work.

And heck, now that I think about it, even the table centerpieces have evolved.   Remember how it used to be that the centerpiece was just a clump of twigs someone had swept up in the back parking lot, a pile of paper clips or a few locks of  someone’s hair? Now, there are petting zoos at the center of every table. In fact, I spoke last week at an event in Orlando, where,  I kid you not, each table had their very own porpoise.

The timelines for planning a meeting have also shrunk enormously over the last decade.  When I started out in this business it was not unusual to book dates three or four years ahead of time, whereas today, well, I just got a call from someone who wants to know if I’m available to speak over the lunch hour. That’s right—this lunch hour. That’s about half an hour from now, if you’re in Alberta.  If you’re in Newfoundland you’re already . . . ah, forget it, I’m not finishing this joke (let’s face it, there aren’t any speakers in Newfoundland to appreciate my fine Newfoundland-themed wit anyways).

So I guess we really have come a long way in the last decade. Which begs the question, where are we going? And why are we all here? And what’s so gosh darn important that we have to keep meeting about it if we’re all just headed towards that big meeting in the sky? And why am I growing hair in places that shouldn’t have hair? And . . .and . . . and . . .how do I get out of this article?

I know how I’ll get out—by quoting the late, venerable wordsmith Ogden Nash, who, as we consider the evolution of the meetings industry, reminds us that, “Progress might have been all right once, but it’s gone on too long.”

Sort of like this column.

Michael Kerr is the president of the Humor at Work and the author of six books, including, “You Can’t Be Serious! Putting Humour to Work,”  “Inspiring Workplaces,” and “The Humor Advantage.” For humor at work books, articles and other resources, surf him up at or reach Michael

Copyright Michael Kerr, 2006


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