What Meeting Planners Can Learn From Melania Trump’s Plagiarism Mistake

Turn Melania Trump's learning moment into your own: There are a few simple steps associations can take to ensure their speakers and presenters avoid accidentally, or otherwise, engaging in intellectual property theft.

Plagiarism rocketed into the limelight this week after a Trump Organization staff writer admitted that several lines of Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention were taken from a similar address Michelle Obama gave in 2008.

Given the thousands of speakers that associations host each year, how worried should they be about these presenters engaging in intellectual property theft?

Not too worried—if they take a few simple steps, said David Lutz, managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, a firm that helps groups improve their meetings and conferences.

His main recommendation is drafting a set of guidelines to be signed off on by the speaker ahead of time. This document should lay out the expectation that all material used during a presentation be original or properly cited, Lutz said.

Vetting your presenters ahead of time also is important.

“I think you choose smartly, and you have a good discussion, and you have the confidence that they’re doing everything they can to prepare properly,” Lutz said.

After all, double-checking a presenter’s work ahead of a meeting can seriously tax an organization’s resources—especially given the size and scope of some conferences, he said. Those resources could be better spent furthering a group’s mission.

Lutz said where association staff might want to be more careful is with industry presenters. Experienced speakers generally know the rules around proper attribution, but a presenter without that background may be less aware of potential pitfalls.

“An industry presenter is going to be less knowledgeable about what is intellectual property and what isn’t. And intellectual property is very important,” he said. “You never want to share it as your own.”

Even then, Lutz recommends just working more closely with the individual.

Bottom line, though, an association should be extending invitations to present only to a person it trusts not to misattribute, steal, or plagiarize.

“I really believe that you’re probably—from a business standpoint—in bad shape if you’ve got to take the time to [check for intellectual theft] and are so worried about it and less trusting of your speakers,” Lutz said.

(Mike Segar/Reuters)

Derrick Perkins

By Derrick Perkins

Derrick Perkins is an associate editor at Associations Now. In his career as a reporter, editor, and photographer, he has covered communities in New England and Virginia as well as the Defense Department. MORE

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