This is, hopefully, the first in a series of regular posts at Greg Ruby’s Gems, where we get to know some of the characters and personalities that make up the meetings and events industry. I am pleased that Joan Eisenstodt was willing to be our first victim, errr, subject for this series. - GR
The name of Joan Eisenstodt is one of the most recognized in the world of meetings and events. The Chief Strategist of Eisenstodt Associates, Joan has been a familiar face at many educational conferences and has been a frequent contributor to industry periodicals and online communities. I had the honor of first meeting Joan in Seattle during the 2008 PCMA Convening Leaders conference, where she facilitated the Train the Trainer session I attended for those that wanted to be Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) study group leaders. I consider Joan to be the Grand Dame in our industry.
Now, onto the questions -
GR: How did you start in the meetings industry?
JE: Before I knew it was a profession, I arranged street fairs to raise money for polio in the ’50s. Then I organized things through Y-Teens in high school. I worked at an art museum arranging events. When I moved to DC in ’78, I didn’t know this was a profession – I had no name for what I did. After not getting another job (volunteer coordinator/grassroots organizer) at a not-for-profit in DC, I volunteered there. The ED hired me in my first meetings job and from there, it took off. Over the years, I’ve learned my strengths and moved from ‘pure’ meeting planning to what I do now: consulting on contracts, meeting design, departmental staffing; training; facilitation.
GR: What is the last book you have read or are reading now?
JE: I just finished a most marvelous book, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. It had a huge impact on me as I read it and still has. It’s a story about a story about a girl in Japan who had lived in the US and how her life is upended when her family moves back to Japan. It’s about her ancestors and about a journal she keeps and the woman who finds it. Or does she find it? The storytelling is beautiful. The great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun, spoke about so many issues that were contemporary. I find myself meditating “seeing” the great-grandmother. I sent it on to a friend with whom I hope to have many discussions when she’s completed reading. Waiting to be read is Harlan Coben’s latest book. My tastes are eclectic!
GR: Coffee or tea?
JE: I love chai tea lattes made at Busboys & Poets at 5th & K in Washington, DC. And I’m that specific. I love coffee and just don’t drink it much now. And water .. a big glass of tap water with ice makes me very happy!
GR: What is the biggest issue facing the meetings industry today?
Someone wrote to me the other night and asked how I felt about all the those, much younger than I, who are getting attention for things I’ve been saying for nearly 40 years about changing meetings’ formats, delivery, measurements. We don’t seem to change and the same issues keep resurfacing. HOW many times can we set a room straight theatre before people wonder why they are uncomfortable? How many sessions that don’t match the description can be done? How many networking receptions with too-loud music keeping people from talking can be held?
BUT wait.. I have more than one:
Whether one believes that the climate is changing, they have to see the drought that is devastating the US and the world. It is causing prices of all products to soar because they can’t be grown or sustained. It is causing people to die and more will. Yet, cities and properties and meetings say they care about ‘sustainability’ by which they mean “no handouts” to be green and they don’t look at the bigger implications of all the change. In all the discussions of sustainability, there is no talk about people – those who are not making a living wage, those who are being oppressed in their work, those whose jobs are in danger b/c hotels say they are “greening” by paying guests to not have their rooms cleaned while these same hotels/hotel companies lay off many in housekeeping. When we have no workers or very under-appreciated and rewarded workers we will lose the hospitality of our industry.
GR: How do you unwind after work or an event?
JE: I’m an “I” on MBTI and so during an event or a day or a week of conducting training, I have to go to my room where I “vant to be alone” – have to be alone. It is how I re-energize. After a day of work, I watch news, read, play “words with friends”. Those all help me unwind.
GR: Favorite destination to attend an event?
JE: It used to be a favorite conference center in California until the owners and then management co. looked at profits more than people – long-serving people – and fired too many. I loved it for the ambience, the people, the food, the atmosphere. I really hate attending events so it’s a tough question to answer.
GR: What is must see TV for you?
JE: MSNBC and “All In With Chris Hayes” – he’s smart, interesting, lives and talks about his principles .. which appear to match mine. And anything on which Melissa Harris-Perry appears .. tho’ I confess to not getting up early to see her own show. My guilty TV watching but it’s not ‘must see’ is “Say Yes to the Dress” which I find is all about psychology. It’s the only reality show I watch now. (Loved Queer Eye when it was new.) I miss smart shows like “The West Wing” and “M*A*S*H”.
“My Cat From Hell” – which started again on 4/26 with a new season.
GR: If you could go back in time, you would want to see what?
JE: When I was 16, I desperately wanted to come to DC for the March on Washington. A friend’s church was coming and they required written permission from parents. My parents were worried and wouldn’t give permission. I was a ‘good girl’ and should’ve disobeyed. I went this past summer to the anniversary March and I went to programs to learn from those who’d been there. And I wish I’d been old enough or brave enough to leave home and go South to register voters in the ’60s.
And I’d like to go back to Russia and parts of Poland where my ancestors came from and experience the shtetl and see how my ancestors lived. I think it would have made my thinking so different or would have reinforced what I know and believe.
GR: Finish this sentence – Nobody knows this about me, but I……
JE: I was a guest on the Donahue Show, on a show hosted by Arlene Frances in NYC, a guest w/ Bill Bixby on a show in Chicago,.. all for the cause of parenthood-by-choice not by mandate.
GR: Joan, thanks for participating on The Hot Seat!
JE: Thanks for asking! This was a good time to be introspective.