The Society of Government Meeting Planners held its inaugural meeting yesterday to discuss the problems of meeting planning and plan its next meeting on planning meetings.
More than 70 bureaucrats descended on the ballroom of the Sheraton Washington Hotel to hear the founder of the embryonic organization, Sam O. Gilmer Jr., a GS15 at the Health and Human Services Department, bemoan the number of government meetings that are "poorly planned, held in poor surroundings, which seldom if ever have demonstrable end results."
Joining the bureaucrats were some of the sponsors of the voluntary organization: representatives of hotel chains anxious to let the meeting planners know they could help them meet their plans and anxious to get their business.
Some definitions are in order:
A meeting, as described by Jimm Horvath, a staff member of Meeting Planners International, "means conferences, seminars, institutes, everything from two people getting together down the hall to 1,700 people getting together in Las Vegas."
A meeting planner, in the words of Skip Moon of the Defense Department's Office of Reserve Affairs, is "anyone who works for you who you can tell to go plan a meeting." In most cases, these end up being secretaries and lower level bureaucrats who may have no familiarity with transportation planning, hotels' group rates or how to find a printer to make "hello, my name is . . . " nametags.
Rich Terry, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration staffer who helped organize the group, said many bureaucrats tell subordinates that they have a week to find a nice place for 50 people to meet, eat and talk to each other, all at a price within the government's $75 per diem allocation for employe travel expenses.
Then, if the hotel is moth-eaten or the meal is atrocious, the discussions may fall on deaf ears. "If the speaker breaks, or the lights go out, these may seem like little things but they could ruin a whole meeting," Terry said.
"If the necessary support services aren't provided the content of the meeting is going to be affected," he added. One aim of the meeting planners group is to put together a brochure to give neophyte meeting planners a blueprint of the logistics with which they will have to grapple.
Gilmer, a stickler for fundamentals who over the years has compiled 40 pages of instructions on how to plan meetings, also points out that meeting planners should be sure that their meetings have a point.
One of the points of yesterday's meeting was simply just to meet each other. "I'm really getting into this more and more," said Mary Conneran, a secretary with the Marine Fisheries Division of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.
Conneran plans a large meeting "every couple of months." Her last effort brought 40 scientists, government officials and researchers to the Georgetown Holiday Inn for a meeting of the Antarctic Marine Mammal Commission earlier this month. She said she has had to learn how to do it as she goes along. "This group could really be a help," she said.
Future meetings will get into the niceties of bylaws, election of officers and dues.
As for the inaugural effort, it wasn't that bad of a meeting: it started on time, it ended on time, the microphones worked, the lights stayed on and the hors d'oeuvres weren't bad.