by Leo Jakobson | January 04, 2016

One of the biggest changes the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's Torres sees going forward is the changing expectations of attendees. "They want more than just a trade show and a couple of dinners," she says. "They want an experience. Now we have education sessions on the show floor, and lounges with music. We have themed parties now, and we've made lighting changes on the floor to make it more inviting."

She's not alone. Nearly two-thirds of the meeting planners polled in the Successful Meetings' "2016 Trends Survey" said the "need to create a compelling meeting experience" for attendees was one of the most important trends to follow in order to create effective meetings in 2016.

"First and foremost, we're seeing a definite increase in the demand for experiential learning," says IACC's Cooper. "People don't meet in the corridor or over the water cooler anymore, so an important part of bringing people together is to build relationships and bond. To do that [planners] need to find ways to create a meeting experience, such as teambuilding or experiential learning." Popular ways include culinary exercises, as in teams competing to build the best giant sandwich and blindfolded cake decorating, as well as volunteering in the community, Cooper adds.

"More companies are looking at integrated value when it comes to their strategic meetings programs and events," says CWT's Fisher. "Absolutely, return on investment is critical, but so is ensuring that it's an impactful event experience for those attendees that they walk away with a memory." This type of "high-sensory" experience leads to a greater emotional connection, she adds, noting that this in turn is "what can ultimately drive better brand recognition, sales, client retention, and behavioral change."

Mobile meeting and convention apps are becoming ubiquitous for all but the smallest gatherings. The most common way they are used is to improve engagement of attendees (29 percent), improve communications (27 percent), communicate schedule changes or emergency information (15 percent), and deliver documents electronically (10 percent), according to Amex.

Just 8 percent use them to measure overall event effectiveness. Amex's forecast finds. Yet that is what innovative event organizers are doing, says Alon Alroy, co-founder and CMO of Bizzabo. Pointing out that data has little value by itself, Alroy says it is the insight that planners draw from that data that is key. By using event-management software to help them find and organize this data, savvy planners can use it to make smarter decisions, he adds.

These event apps will "mature into full-featured event intelligence and data analytic platforms in 2016," adds meetings technology guru Corbin Ball of Corbin Ball Associates, in his year-end TechTalk newsletter. "Modern smartphones have an array of sensors. When combined with mobile events apps, they can provide a goldmine of information about participants' likes, dislike, interests, movements, and more that can be used to improve future events and to provide customized marketing content based on the participants' individual needs."

For the second year running, Ball predicts that 2016 will see an increased use of virtual meetings technology. He's not alone. One third of the respondents to Successful Meetings' trends survey said they planned to hold more virtual meetings in the coming year, compared to just 2 percent who will plan fewer. This was far and away the biggest increase in any type of meeting reported. Hybrid meetings were second, with nearly 17 percent planning more, and 2 percent planning fewer.

The top reasons planners use virtual/hybrid meetings are to reach a broader audience, save on costs, and to reduce travel and time out of the office, according to Amex. It also found that only 13 percent of planners surveyed say their company has a clearly defined virtual meetings policy or strategy.

Even with a strategy, Ball is not a fan. "Webinars and other virtual meetings are great for short information exchange," he says, but that "30 to 45 minutes is usually the maximum you can expect someone to pay attention to a webinar while sitting in front of a monitor. Meetings, on the other hand, take people to a more focused environment with fewer distractions. As long as attendees are informed, entertained, and fed, event hosts can keep them engaged for days. The opportunities for networking, brainstorming, and relationship building are usually far greater at face-to-face events than online."

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This article appears in the January 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.