By: Judy Kucharuk and Mariela McIlwraith
Once upon a time, there was a talented meeting planner named Plannerella who believed with her whole heart that meetings should be more sustainable. She paid attention to all the details in planning her annual convention: her rooms had recycling bins, her exhibitors were emailed instructions on reducing paper use, and her menus were planned with local, seasonal produce. Her greatest pride was a community service project to restore a park habitat. Plannerella was excited “This is going to be the greenest, most sustainable, most fantastic convention ever!” she exclaimed.
The day finally came for the delegates to arrive. Plannerella was overjoyed – all her green dreams were about to come true. But then, something terrible happened. Not a single person showed up for her community service project. Poor Plannerella was distraught. A passing delegate heard Plannerella’s cries.
“Why are you so sad?” He asked.
“If just a dozen people had come to our community service project, we could have restored a park habitat to the way it was when I was a little girl,” replied Plannerella.
The delegate exclaimed “Plannerella, you need to tell all of us what you just told me – you need to help us understand why this is important.”
“Do you really think that my story could make a difference?” asked Plannerella.
“Without a doubt,” replied the delegate.
At the next general session, Plannerella stood up before the audience and told them about the park she had played in as a young girl, how she used to sit by the stream and play for hours. Then she told them how it wasn’t the same anymore. She asked for volunteers to come to the park at the end of the day to help restore it.
Why does sustainable storytelling matter?
Anyone can stand in front of a group and tell them statistics, but a storyteller can engage an audience through an emotional response that can guide them in their actions. Particularly when you’re introducing a new aspect of sustainability to your event, making that type of connection with your clients and/or audience can make all the difference in overcoming objections to sustainable initiatives.
A green meeting planner needs to engage her audience by telling the story in such a way that it triggers a reaction/action, to inspire a vendor to go that extra mile, or why stakeholders should be willing to make changes.
Just reciting facts and figures will not elicit an emotional response. When speaking with vendors, attendee’s or stakeholders, you must personalize the message. The good old “what does that have to do with me?” is critical.
In the near future, several meetings and events related standards are being released. Let’s face it – standards easily run the risk of being dry, so backing them up with stories that resonate will play an important role in their effective implementation. We believe that stories and standards go hand in hand – the stories provide the motivation for the standards to be used, and the standards provide the direction to ensure that the motivation leads to accomplishment.
As a green meeting planner you must be able to tell a story. You need to show how being a green meeting planner impacts you personally.
I initially became a green meeting planner after attending a Green Meetings Industry Council (GMIC) Conference in Vancouver. I was inspired by the work done by GMIC founders Amy Spatrisano and Nancy Zavada. The inspiration stayed with me and I used it as a catalyst to learn more.
A year after that, I was planning a conference and managed to stand still long enough to hear snippets of the keynote presentation. Three words resonated loudly, “Silence is Acceptance.” When we stand back and observe the destruction of the world we live in through overuse of natural resources, we are accepting through our silence. Our inaction says to the world, “this is okay – no big deal.” I can no longer be silent; I’m taking action by educating myself on sustainability and surrounding myself with like-minded individuals. I can communicate positive actions through my actions and education.
In the spirit of true confessions, I’ll admit to being naturally introverted. I still sometimes have to give myself a bit of a pep talk before attending networking events. One of the most positive professional networking experiences I’ve had was helping sort food at the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. Attending community service projects has been valuable for my own professional confidence, and so I focus on delivering projects for events that not only leave a legacy, but also strengthen the professional relationships that are so important for organizational success.
Five tips to developing your own sustainable meeting professional story
- Be reflective: Think about key moments on your path to becoming a sustainable meeting professional. Did you meet someone or hear an idea that stuck with you? Did you see something that opened your eyes?
- Be authentic: Tell a story that means something to you – not just something you think will “sell” better. Being genuine helps you connect with your audience.
- Be prepared and tell your story: Don’t wait for someone to ask you about why you think sustainable meetings matter. Having a response ready will help to bring it up as a natural part of your business presentations.
- Be prepared to tell your story in another way: The same story can be told in different ways to better connect with a particular audience. Know what is important to those you are speaking with and tailor your story accordingly. This might mean changing the focus to more on your personal growth, or more on business results.
- Be an active listener: Listen to your audience as well – engage them in the conversation about sustainable meetings. It is an opportunity for you to collaborate in a true “choose your own adventure” fashion.
About the authors
Judy Kucharuk, aka The Green-Eyed Event Planner, is the owner of Footprint Management Systems Inc. specializing in green events and is based in Dawson Creek, BC. She is an officer for the GMIC Canada Chapter in Formation.
Mariela McIlwraith, CMP, CMM, MBA is president of Meeting Change, She specializes in sustainability and pricing strategies for associations, meetings and events. She is the president of the GMIC Canada Chapter in Formation.