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In her March 9 column for The Wall Street Journal, “Bordellos for the Brain,” Holly Finn paints the meetings and conventions industry as yielding few, if any, external benefits to participants or to business itself. That’s just not the case.
People attend conferences for two primary reasons – to learn and to network. Seasoned professionals stay current in their ever-changing marketplaces and nurture longstanding business relationships, both of which are essential for success and growth. Participants absorb key trends, are exposed to new techniques and methodologies and make important connections that can help open doors, many that last a lifetime. Few industries exist where doing a good job is enough to get you recognized and promoted. Further, companies simply cannot afford to offer in-house training for all employees, across disciplines. Professional conferences are an excellent alternative.
Same is true for journalism. The editors of The Wall Street Journal host invitation-only conferences throughout the year with the world’s most influential and powerful leaders. Their own publication recognizes the value of bringing together leaders, face-to-face to discuss and provide solutions to pressing problems.
Participants value conferences, and, as Ms. Finn noted from a recent survey, 53 percent of those who had attended a conference in the past 18 months plan to do it again in the next six. Meetings make a difference. And not just for the participant or the organizations holding them, but for the economy as a whole. More than 200 million people attend conferences each year, and, according to an Economic Impact Study by PricewatershouseCoopers LLP in 2011, the industry has helped account for 1.7 million U.S. jobs, $263 billion in direct spending, and a $106 billion contribution to GDP.
Our organization, the Convention Industry Council, represents the interests of 103,500 individuals and 19,500 firms and properties involved in the meetings, conventions and exhibitions industry. We take our jobs very seriously, demonstrated by the14,000 people who have completed the Convention Industry Council’s Certified Meeting Professional program. Now in its 25th year, our rigorous certification program recognizes individuals who have achieved the industry's highest standard of professionalism. The profession is advancing and growing rapidly, and we’re keeping up with it.
In her column, Ms. Finn implies that face-to-face meetings are passé in today’s virtual world. While virtual meetings represent a technological landmark for the industry, they are not a catchall alternative to the face-to-face format. A recent study, conducted by the IMEX Group, in partnership with the Meetology Group, found that face-to-face meetings garner more creativity and make a larger impact than virtual meetings.
The real conference “take-away” is not, as Ms. Finn suggests, that people go to meetings to seek a “mental bordello,” rather, they are seeking a blueprint – concrete ways to stay current in their industries and indispensable in their jobs so that they can plan for their and their company’s futures. Our industry facilitates meetings where the exchange of ideas lead to real world solutions. We will continue to aid in that process, as we have since 1949.
Karen Kotowski, CAE, CMP, is the CEO of the Convention Industry Council, Alexandria, Va. CIC originally published this response to Finn's column on its website.