James Spellos is the President of Meeting U., whose mission is to help people become more productive and comfortable with technology.
Jim delivers over 150 seminars annually on how to use technology more efficiently. In 2015, Jim was named one of the Meeting Industry’s trendsetters by Meetings Focus magazine. He is a faculty member at New York University, teaching in the School of Professional and Continuing Studies since 1990. He was been honored with both their Award for Teaching Excellence and their Outstanding Service Award. He also speaks about food recovery and sustainability in the industry.
Outside of the meetings industry, Jim is an accomplished musician and songwriter, playing guitar, keyboards and singing for the New York City rock band, Contraband.
Has the meetings and event industry changed dramatically in the past five years?
It has changed, but not dramatically. Revolutionary change doesn’t happen often. We don’t push the envelope as often as we should and many have settled into their “comfort zone.” As an industry, like most industries, we are too risk adverse for that to happen and still focused on profit first.
To have a dramatic change, especially in sustainability, issues of planetary need or a world environmental crisis will have to impact our meetings.
It will be interesting to watch as millennials continue to adhere to their core values, which are often easily lost when you get into the rat race. They are sticking to principals and talking sustainability. Change still needs champions. It is similar to the “overnight sensation” that takes 25 years to make.
What have you seen on the technology front?
Massive change is happening on the mobile and social fronts. Give it credit or blame, the iPhone has changed how we perceive technology. Social media has changed how we communicate and both are being adopted in our industry. Interestingly, many social tools, such as Instagram and Pinterest, still have not been adopted to the extent they should be in our industry.
I believe that change will continue to speed up, like the industrial revolution did during its’ onset. Augmented reality and wearable tools will take mobile social and move it forward. Alternative reality can have value from a business and meeting perspective.
Are there any trends that concern you?
Security trends and big data trends are concerning. The crossroads of big data and security may cause a push back of technology adoption and usage as it is being quantified and monetized. As the augmented wearable tools come out, this may happen. It is interesting to watch what is happening in Europe with Google and the right to be removed from online presence.
Organizations will be known for the level of trust they generate in their community. Those that are transparent and do engender trust will be able to move forward using the technology quicker and more efficiently. To the consumer, it will look and feel personalized and consumers will want the capability of controlling it…or at least believing they can do so.
How important is sustainability in the meetings and event industry?
The Hospitality Industry can make such a difference especially in the area of food waste. As an industry, let’s take a stance on food waste. I was recently at an event in Virginia where small portions were served for lunch. There was no waste and no one fell asleep after lunch. In addition, guests were asked to bring a can of food. It is estimated this gathering fed an additional 150-200 people through these donations.
Tell us about Rock and Wrap It Up.
In 2014, I joined the Board of Directors for Rock and Wrap It Up, an anti-poverty/hunger think tank, which supports over 43,000 agencies in North America. I have been volunteering with them since 2000. Working with Syd Mandelbaum, we created the Whole Earth Calculator (www.wholeearthcalculator.com) app, which helps organization’s identify the quantity of food donated and carbon footprint reduced from food recovered at meetings and events, essentially , “saving the planet one meal at a time.” It is important to note, that we are giving people the tools to make this happen. Technology simply promotes it. I think the meeting industry should focus on food waste as one of their sustainability issues. What if every planner took a picture of food waste at their events, put a hashtag on it, posted it on Instagram and other social media, and let the meeting industry see the waste?
What is the biggest obstacle still to be overcome?
In food waste, it is both the fear that they will look bad by not having enough out there, as well as the perceived liability issues in food donation. We need to change these perceptions. The “lack of plenty” is a dollar and cents conversation, and corporate champions need to say we are redefining value. The educational challenge is how to make it sexy.
The liability conversation is one of education. The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan act, which was passed by Congress nearly 20 years ago, ensures that organizations are not held liable for charitable food donations when handled properly.
As a change agent and hero, what inspires you?
In sustainability, it is people like Syd Mandelbaum who are out there doing this for the sake of good and nothing else.
In technology when I teach and train, it is the eyes of the people, when they get it and get excited. It is having conversations with people you have had an impact on.
Personally, I have known Jim for over 20 years as a leader in the meetings and event industry. He is a good, caring human being who doesn’t do anything unless he does it fully and won’t settle for mediocre. As his art side flourishes, Jim works at getting rid of perfection. He believes strongly in “process over perfection” which should be the guiding principle for all of us in sustainability and technology.
Thank you, Jim, for making this world a better place!