Three meeting trends you should be thinking about
1. Whether your attendees are paying attention to the meeting -- or their smartphones. "The average person checks their phone roughly 50 times a day," says Lucian Beebe, vice president of product for San Francisco-based event app maker DoubleDutch. "This is not a habit we are going to break and in fact, it will, in all likelihood increase as we gravitate more and more toward 'mobile first' behaviors."
So, how should planners address this? The answer, put simply, is to find ways to make the content more engaging. "Technology is only a distraction during meetings if the speaker and the content aren't engaging enough, or the format and agenda are too demanding," says Shawna Suckow, founder and chairwoman of SPiN: Senior Planner's Industry Network.
"If you don't want people on their devices, make sure the session they're in is compelling enough so they don't need to do that," adds Terri Breining, founder of the Encinitas, CA-based Breining Group. "If you do want people on their devices, they can use them in ways that are useful and helpful to the meeting."
Jim Spellos, founder of Meeting U., says "meetings should embrace this opportunity by using technology more." He adds, "Make smartphones a tool that enhances the education and the experience, instead of asking people to shut off their devices and -- perhaps -- tune out."
2. How secure your event apps are. One method that many planners have employed to make their meetings more engaging involves the use of meeting and event apps. But just how secure are those mobile apps, especially when you're dealing with advanced GPS technologies like iBeacon (see page 24), or confidential and/or personal information? "Everything you do from a digital standpoint needs to keep your attendees' information security in mind," says Spellos.
Beebe acknowledges that while an event planner's job is not to be a security expert, "it is your job to find a vendor that is able to meet your event's security needs in a transparent and accountable way." He says that such a vendor should give planners a clear breakdown of how they plan to manage security to support their event's needs.
Beebe adds that if you are planning a public meeting you should make the event app registration process as simple and open as possible, but be sure not to include sensitive information that cannot be shared with a broader audience.
3. How your meetings are being perceived. The AIG Effect may have worn off in recent years but that doesn't necessarily mean that issues of perception are entirely removed from the conversation about meeting value.
"Perception is an ongoing discussion," says Breining. She notes that the most important thing a planner can do is set and define clear meeting objectives -- clear, measurable outcomes for what the meeting is supposed to produce to ensure nothing is unnessary or excessive.
Breining notes, however, that this doesn't mean that meetings can't be fun, too. "There's nothing wrong with having fun, but a business meeting should have business objectives and there should be fun." At the same time, each fun element should support the event's objectives.
"What I'm seeing in more meetings is purposeful fun," adds Suckow. "It's about brain-stimulating activities, and more structured networking activities, for example."
-- Deanna Ting
4. Big Data's Role Gets Bigger
According to the CWT forecast, the use of technology at events will hit an all-time high in 2015. Platforms such as social media, RFID technology (the badge codes that can be scanned at trade shows), and event apps increasingly are providing planners with a plethora of information about their attendees.
"The big trend I'm seeing is to really understand the various demographics," notes Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.
Carol McGury, SmithBucklin
With today's tech tools, "you can understand who this individual is who came to the session, what's their demographic, what's their title," says McGury. "It's looking across at where and how they spend, their attendance experience -- and you can actually tailor a program for them."
Planners can cross-reference each piece of information, Ball writes, to "spot trends and make business decisions and to improve customer interaction experiences (sell more)." Indeed, according to the CWT report, planners increasingly are using delegate management software, social media, and dedicated event apps to create "a more streamlined and effective attendee experience in 2015."
5. Training Meetings Gain Traction
When it comes to projected growth, the American Express forecast predicts a 9-percent increase in training meetings in 2015 -- the largest such percentage by category -- while the SM 2015 Trends survey finds 33.7 percent of respondents, again the largest percentage, will be hosting more training meetings in 2015.
Issa Jouaneh, vice president and
general manager of AmEx Meetings
& Events sees a rise in
"Organizations are looking to reinvest in their people in terms of education and training," says Jouaneh. "During the last economic downturn, many companies cut meetings that were deemed nonessential. As corporations now are experiencing more stability, they are looking at their meetings portfolio and seeking to make strategic investments for the future of the business. Organizations view people development and change management as important to their ongoing growth, and they're seeing training meetings as a vehicle to educate, to communicate, to set goals for the future."
In addition, as the pace of business quickens daily and competition rachets up, additional training frequently is required to help employees stay abreast on updated products and services. Training meetings have been increasingly important in making sure staff members from multiple departments "keep up with change and understand, use, and customize new technologies to make their business practices and day-to-day jobs easier," says MPI's Christian Savelli, who notes that investment in employee education sends a message to workers that they are valued within the organization.
6. Talkin' 'Bout My Generation
"Today, it's common for meetings to have three age demographics in attendance at any given time," says Luteran. "While it can be challenging to appeal to a diverse crowd, it's also an exciting juxtaposition."
It's been suggested that while Baby Boomers expect a lecture-style format for learning, members of Gen X prefer discussion groups, and Millennials gravitate toward technology such as video, gamification, and social media for education purposes. The key is to understand the demographics of your event, and include something for everyone, the experts say. But don't just throw different elements into the meeting mix without a clear objective for each. And communicate extensively with attendees so they understand the agenda and how the different pieces fit together.
"There's a need to broaden the audience and extend and repurpose content for attendees," says Jouaneh. "I think the expectation from Millennials is that they will have access to information in a very similar way to how they can interact with brands in the consumer world. [They want] to be able to pull information and interact with the brand over a period of time."
To that end, make sure your staff is trained in the different forms of technology that are being used to promote and run the event. "You've got to make sure your team is proficient at working those devices," Backal says.
USTA's Roger Dow urges
listening to each generation
One other tip is to make sure your planning team doesn't have just one voice. Include a member of each generation on the planning committee, if possible, to help you get a well-rounded view of your event. "If I look at the planning groups for most organizations, it's a shame, because it's the people who have been around in the industry a long time," Dow says.
Finn adds: "It helps to have diversity on your planning team. You don't want to have just three Baby Boomers, or just three Gen Yers, etc. You want to have a smattering of the different generations."
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This article appears in the January 2014 issue of Successful Meetings.