Every so often our industry proves that it is ahead of the curve. For years we have been preaching the benefits of conferences to the unconvinced and been forced to suffer our critics who claim that meetings are, at least, a waste of effort or, at worst, a health hazard. (The side effects of damage to the bank account, exposure to infectious diseases and terminal boredom are most frequently cited.)
But now we have the ultimate riposte. It’s official: Meetings are good for you!
A leading psychologist, Dr. Aric Sigman, a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society, has declared in an article in the journal Biologist that we are all jeopardizing our health by communicating through social networking sites instead of face-to-face.
He explains that physical contact triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin, which is believed to lower the risk of heart disease. He says that research has shown that people who mingle regularly with others are also less susceptible to colds and flu.
So, although "an apple a day keeps the doctor away," a meeting a quarter is better for the aorta, it seems.
What are the implications of this revelation? Well, for a start, there is a new tool in the event marketing locker that smart planners will use to attract attendees. I can see the headlines: "This meeting might save your life," "Get extra health protection by registering for the annual convention" and "Share your oxytocin with friends at next month’s conference."
So, while I may still pick up a virulent virus being spread by a delegate, it is reassuring to know that I am less likely to suffer a coronary.
But it is the good doctor’s sideswipe at social networking sites that intrigues me, since he endorses my view that, as remote communication is unfulfilling, we need to meet face-to-face to really understand each other.
What then is the future for the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn and Plaxo (and new kid on the block Twitter)? These sites would appear to be the antithesis of the physical get-together-providing personal contacts without personal contact.
Will they have to carry a health warning? "This site may damage your health-get out more!" "Don’t just tweet him-meet him!"
Nevertheless, Facebook and its ilk provide a service that we didn’t know we needed until they were invented, and now they are indispensable.
Well, almost. I think they may be responsible for my high blood pressure and frequent spasms of crankiness in the office. I have been on Facebook for about two years and my friend count has grown almost exponentially. Not a day passes without the distraction of several inconsequential messages from well-meaning friends.
To save my sanity and keep my network manageable, I have a rule: I will not accept requests to be friends from people I have never met. This means that I ignore requests from the cute babies of friends and their family pets.
And as for Twitter, who has time for it? Do I really need to know-by e-mail and phone-that Joe Donut was suffering from indigestion six minutes ago?
"Carey doesn’t understand the philosophy of social networking sites," I hear you mutter. Maybe not, but I do accept that they have a role to play and that meeting professionals would be foolhardy to ignore them, especially when it comes to marketing.
But let’s return to the health benefits of events. In the U.K., a third of adults live alone (the figures for the U.S. are, I understand, similar), and research shows that lonely people are more likely to suffer from health issues than the more gregarious among us. Increased tele-working can only exacerbate this problem.
Already, the time that we all spend in the company of others reduced, in the 20 years up to 2007, from six hours per day to two. Most of us spend double that watching television.
And the more time people spend alone, the less they are able to face the rough and tumble of social interaction. We have all encountered asocial geeks only capable of communicating their feelings via a screen.
But all is not lost. As meeting professionals, we can now truthfully point to the health benefits of events and be proud of the fact that we knew all this before the boffins proved it for us. One+
TONY CAREY, CMP, CMM, is an award-winning writer and a past member of the MPI International Board of Directors. He can be reached at a [email protected].
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