Your Unforgettable Journey

Listen to your dentist, he knows the drill: How to hone enduring skills and stay relevant in a broken world

York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman was asked at the PCMA Convening
Leaders 2021 conference which skill he felt had served him best in his career,
he said, “Deep listening – learn when to listen and what you say when you

Which is
why I encourage you to go to the dentist more often. Being at the dentist helps
you hone your listening skills because basically you can’t speak, so you are
forced to listen.

My trick
(sharing this for free since Covid has taught us to be generous and kind) is to
always ask your dentist an open-ended question just before he sticks the tube
in your mouth, and then you just lie back and listen. This way, you also cut
off the noise of the drill.

During my
visit last week, I asked my dentist how he’s managed in the world of virtual
events. He’s an active member of the local dentist association as well as a
regular speaker and attendee of dental conferences worldwide. In previous
years, we had shared stories of his travels to exotic destinations where
speaking about teeth becomes more bearable and exciting and given current
circumstances, more painful than any tooth extraction, I couldn’t very well ask
him, “So where have you been?”

My question
clearly touched a nerve with him. He got more and more excited as he spoke
about getting used to Zoom meetings, having dogs, cats and family members being
part of meetings and being able to do other stuff when some speaker drills on
and on about some subject or other.

attending online conferences, where new techniques and research are shared, he
and his peers learnt to set up WhatsApp user groups to exchange notes and
ideas. “We can’t use the common chat room because we might be challenging the
speaker’s expertise and we want to respect that, so we create our own little
chat groups to debate specialist topics,” he said.

example, he’s big on gum surgery so he’s got a group of gum fans going and
within that chat, they’ve exchanged notes, debated ideas and piloted
techniques. In other words, they’ve created their own networking node.

“You get
what you put in,” he said, between polishes. “If you want an outcome from an
event, you have to make it happen for yourself, not sit around complaining,
‘Oh, I miss physical events because I can bump into people’.”

I nodded between gargles. He’s clearly a man after my own teeth.

Main stage at Marina Bay Sands’ Global Broadcast Centre – venue of PCMA Convening Leaders 2021

As it
turned out, two days after the dentist visit, I was moderating a panel on
“Delivering Social Progress: How Associations Are Evolving To Stay Relevant” at
the PCMA conference and my first question to the audience was, are associations
more or less relevant as a result of Covid? It was a mixed reaction – some said
more, some said less, most were undecided.

On my panel, Martin Sirk, international advisor at Global Association Hubs, said “much more but that doesn’t mean today’s associations. More will be created, may not look like today’s. Many will disappear or become irrelevant or get taken over.”

associations, like everything else at this time, are being turned inside out not
only by forces of Covid but also by changes in human behaviour. Today, we have
the means and tools to create our own groups for whatever purposes we choose – be
it to become the best gum surgeon or to create social and political mayhem.

Tommy Goodwin, CEO of Washington-based Miller Wenhold Association Management, said associations play an important role in advocacy – for example, last year, groups like EUROBAT, Consumer Brands Association, Chamber of Marine Commerce, fought to keep trade and supply chains open.

to me is the most critical role of associations at this time – to keep supply
chains and borders open in increasingly isolationist and selfish times. This is
what we in travel are looking to our global associations to do for us – find a
way to open travel corridors amid the uncertainty. What vaccines will be
accepted where, what kind of health passports will be accepted by whom –
there’s a desperate need for standardisation and clarity.

global travel associations like IATA, ICAO, WTTC, WTO, etc, etc do in 2021 will
determine whether they remain relevant in the future.

point raised by Goodwin struck a nerve with me and it also related to why some
organisations fared better than others in 2020.

said one weakness of associations is that “many “global” associations only had
a headquarters-driven international strategy that was managed from its
headquarters (most likely in the US or Western Europe), usually in a “command
and control” headquarters-centric way.

meant many associations were unable to mitigate against the risks of the
disparate situations “on the ground” around the world and, perhaps more
importantly, unable to capitalize on the opportunities that emerged in hot
spots around the world at times over the last year or so because they were
unable to properly sense and respond in real time.”

when the world became broken, those with heavy central command faltered while
those with boots on the ground were faster at adapting. Those that localised
better did better. Those that relied on cross-border business sank. Look around
you and pick the ones to fit into either category.

weakness pointed out was the low adoption of tech by most associations and when
the audience was asked which skill set would be most relevant now, the most
common answer was around digital skills, social media and engaging and building
communities, but most critical is the ability to get work done differently – at
micro-level and macro-level.

Goodwin, “The professionals, industries, sectors, represented by associations
are agile and innovating and iterating in real time, so too must the
organizations that serve them to remain relevant and deliver value (needs and
wants are changing in real time).”

back to my dentist, you can see he and his peers are innovating and iterating
in real time what they need and want from events, virtual or otherwise, so we
must listen to them or lose them.

the way, Friedman, who was speaking about how skills are becoming obsolete more
rapidly, said his two other skills that have stood the test of time are, he
types really fast and he likes people. “If you like people, they like you and
they share their stories.”

Some skills endure. Now go visit your dentist.

Featured image credit: SARINYAPINNGAM/Getty Images