Have we gone too far in our quest to justify our industry? Have we focused too much on ROI or economic impact? These were questions posed by Claire Smith, chair-elect of PCMA’s Board of Directors, at the recent Singapore MICE Forum.

Just this week I received four press releases from various convention bureaus and centres across the APAC region, spruiking recent event wins and the estimated economic impact these events will inject into the local economy.

Calculating economic impact is important (we all have KPIs to meet, after all), but this doesn’t make for a good story. 

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As an industry, we are far too preoccupied with the need to defend our place in the world and to communicate our value to those outside the meeting and events sector. Is this because we’re struggling with an identity crisis? Often we meet to discuss (or lament) a lack of community awareness and engagement: Why doesn’t anyone seem to understand what we do? Why are event managers still considered as part of the hospitality industry? How can we attract more funding? More talent? More attention?

The answer is not ‘a US$20 million economic boost’. The answer is storytelling.

Ironically, for many event professionals, this is our bread and butter—creating immersive experiences to tell brand stories and engage audiences with a corporate message. So why can’t we tell our own story?

Smith asks: Have we tried to place measurements on things and maybe missed some of the more important aspects of the meetings we host?

“We all know when people come together and meet face to face, incredible things happen,” she adds. “When world leaders meet at G20 summit they can change the path of history and when doctors and researchers come together they can impact in outcomes for cancer patients.”

Last year I was lucky enough to meet Dr Ian Frazer, a clinical immunologist, professor at the University of Queensland and one of the scientists behind the revolutionary cervical cancer vaccine. He is also a founding member of the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre’s Advocates Partnership Program. When I asked why he is such a staunch supporter of face-to-face meetings, his response was simple, but profound: At an immunology congress years ago he was able to meet a fellow scientist from abroad, a scientist who would later assist in the discovery of the Human Papilloma Virus vaccine and its role in preventing cervical cancer. Without that meeting, the vaccine may not exist.

So the question remains: As meeting planners, are we focusing on the wrong things? Are we focusing only on what we can measure?

Smith says: “The outcomes of meetings are far and wide, but also very difficult to quantify… It can be a wonderful idea that you take home to make your organisation stronger, or a business connection that bears fruit for the future, or meeting a like-minded individual with whom you develop a life-long friendship—all are critical outcomes of meetings, but very hard to measure.”

It’s time to look in the mirror and sharpen our focus on what makes our job so important, on what excites us. This is the story we need to tell, the story we need to share with young people looking for career inspiration.

There’s a misguided criticism that meetings and events aren’t ‘sexy’ enough to attract ‘good talent’. We engage people, make them happy, and are responsible for an exchange of ideas that can make a very real impact on people’s lives. We can change the world. What’s not sexy about that?

Share your stories with me: Lauren.arena@haymarket.asia