As you can imagine, there are nearly as many reasons for gathering together as there are people on the planet. But for the most part, those reasons can be broken down into just a handful:
- Providing information
- Receiving information
- Exploring options
- Making decisions
- Making contact with others
These reasons all boil down to improving either individual or organizational performance.
In the meetings and events industry, research going back decades have consistently identified the top two reasons people go to meetings is for the educational programs or the networking (all other reasons pale in comparison). And these two are interchangeable. For some, education is valued more than networking. For others, networking is more valued than education.
In my language as a learning professional, I call educational programs ‘formal’ learning and ‘networking’ ‘informal’ learning. Regardless of what label we use, the interesting thing to note is that informal learning trumps formal learning when it comes to two all-important criteria: knowledge retention and knowledge transfer. If you are not retaining the information you receive at meetings and transferring that knowledge back to your job, you are literally wasting your time. And sadly, because much of the formal and the informal learning that takes place at meetings is not designed to optimize retention and knowledge transfer, we are all wasting our time.
In fact, I’d go as far to say that meetings, as they’re practiced today, represent the largest waste of human capital ever invented.
Meetings: Alternative Facts
Speaking of facts, these support my point:
- There are approximately 11 million business meetings held in the U.S. every day. That’s 55 million meetings per week, 220 million meetings per month and almost 3 billion meetings per year. Meeting attendees say that, on average, 50% of these meetings are a waste of their time. (1)
- There are approximately 1.8 million conferences or conventions held in the U.S. each year, attended by over 200 million people. The direct and indirect cost of these meetings is almost $1 trillion USD. Yet, very few stakeholders can say with any certainty what business value these represent to their bottom line. (2)
- One Fortune 500 company conservatively estimated that meetings involving middle managers cost the company $78.8 million annually. (3)
Yet meetings also represent one of the greatest opportunities for bringing together people from all walks of life to address the most pressing challenges of our times.
Meet Like It Matters (because it does)
I am one of the most vocal critics of the meetings and events industry. I am also one of its greatest defenders, because I believe in the ultimate potential of meetings as vehicles for individual and organizational performance improvement – for change. Every meeting has the potential to make a difference, to really matter.
Let’s start meeting like it matters.
1. Jay Nunamaker, Robert O. Briggs, Daniel D. Mittleman, Douglas R. Vogel, Pierre A. Balthazard, “Lessons from a Dozen Years of Group Support Systems Research,” Journal of Management Information Systems, Vol. 13 No. 3, Winter 1997 pp. 163–207.
2. Convention Industry Council, The Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy (2012)
3. 3M Meeting Management Team, and Drew, J. Mastering meetings : discovering the hidden potential of effective business meetings. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994.