. Top 6 Meetings Trends for 2015 | Successful Meetings

Top 6 Meetings Trends for 2015

Here's a look at what the New Year will hold for the meetings industry

Meetings Trends for 2015 opener

(Note: For the more recent "Top 6 Meeting Trends of 2016," head here.)

While there is no crystal ball for meetings in 2015, Successful Meetings analyzed various data and spoke with industry experts, meeting gurus, and on-the-ground organizers to get a sense of what planners can expect in the coming year. Read on to discover their top six trends for 2015.

1. Sellers Call the Shots
Tony Wagner, Minnetonka, MN-based vice president of CWT Meetings & Events, recently had a client ask for a luxury property in a warm-weather destination just 60 days before the event start date. A whopping 55 properties declined the request due to lack of availability, he says.
 

"This client was adamant that they couldn't switch their dates, so their negotiating ability and the availability of types of properties they required really lessened," Wagner points out.

The lack of growth in new hotel rooms coming online in recent years will really be felt in 2015. Limited room supply will mean tougher negotiations and longer lead times, and it will mean the return of a seller's market this year. In fact, when asked this past November which issues would be important as part of the Successful Meetings 2015 Trends survey, nearly 60 percent of respondents said that negotiating with hoteliers in a seller's market would be top of mind.

For this reason, hotel chains such as Carlson Rezidor "advise clients to be flexible in dates and meeting specifications where possible," according to CWT Meetings & Events' "2015 Meetings & Events Forecast," sponsored by Carlson Rezidor.

Another piece of advice from the experts is to book multiple or recurring events within one contract, and reach out to partners with whom you have good relationships.

"Planners are continuing to innovate and use partnerships with suppliers to leverage spend. They are changing the way they request proposals, how they negotiate contracts, and who they trust as suppliers," says Christian Savelli, senior director of business intelligence and research for Meetings Professionals International (MPI) in Dallas.
 

2. Expectations Are High -- Budgets Are Not
Only modest growth in meeting budgets is expected across North America and Europe. "Conditions are holding steady," finds the MPI Fall 2014 Meetings Outlook, which predicts an overall budget increase of just 1.7 percent in these regions, while the majority of respondents (40.8 percent) to the Successful Meetings 2015 Trends survey forecast no change in budgets in 2015.

What this means for planners is that, increasingly, they must prove the return on investment for their meetings and demonstrate the ways in which they are leveraging technology and other tools for efficiency, says Arthur Backal, CEO and founder of Backal Management Group, which manages New York City's Apella Event Space at Alexandria Center. "It's more important than ever," he says.

 

Larry Luteran, Hilton Worldwide
Larry Luteran, Hilton Worldwide

"These persistent, flat budgets mixed with high expectations result in significant pressure and stress to deliver," adds Larry Luteran, senior vice president of group sales and industry relations at Hilton Worldwide in Washington, DC. "It puts a premium on measuring the return for every dollar spent. The more we have bulletproof data to support the meeting spend, the better everyone feels about investing in meetings and events."

Such findings are echoed by Issa Jouaneh, Toronto-based vice president and general manager of American Express Meetings & Events. As quoted in the American Express Meetings & Events "2015 Global Meetings Forecast," Jouaneh says economic conditions over the past few years have driven "a more disciplined approach around approvals processes, increased scrutiny on spend, and a larger focus around accountability and expected outcomes for meetings."

At the end of the day, "it comes down to value," says Andy Finn, vice president of group sales for Benchmark Hospitality Group in Houston, TX. This is a special challenge when planners are tasked with creating unique, personalized, one-of-a-kind experiences for attendees -- which are becoming more and more expected, the experts say.

"You have to continue to change up and innovate the experience. It means planners have to reinvent the event without additional dollars," says Carol McGury, executive vice president of event and education services for Chicago-based association management company SmithBucklin. "You are not going to have more money to throw at better food and beverage, bigger bands, better giveaways. [And] you can't count on your sponsors funding this kind of stuff all the time. You have to look at doing zero-base budgeting from an event perspective and say, 'Let's reinvent the event with a finite bucket of money.'"
 

3. Goodbye Attendees -- Hello Participants
When asked which issues would be important to plan effective meetings in 2015, more than 70 percent of respondents to the SM 2015 Trends survey pointed to the need to create a compelling meeting experience for attendees. A big component of this challenge is shifting from thinking of the meeting-goer as a passive attendee to an active participant in the event.

"The entire dynamic of meetings is changing; instead of 'top down' it is 'bottom up,'" said Bellingham, WA-based technology meeting consultant and speaker Corbin Ball in "10 Transformative Meetings Technology Trends for 2015," an article he published on his website. "Instead of attendees passively sitting at events watching a talking head, meeting participants are demanding a greater say and expect active engagement," Ball noted.

This is playing out in several ways. Social media tools such as online communities, scrolling Twitter walls, audience polling, gamification, and mobile apps are engaging attendees and crowdsourcing their ideas before, during, and after events.

Further, "we are changing from speakers being dispensers of information to facilitators of learning," Ball tells Successful Meetings. "[There are] more roundtable discussions and problem-solving breakout groups" in meetings.

"It can't just be one-way, where you go into a meeting and hear what someone else is saying and take notes and leave," Backal affirms. "Now it has to work more than two ways. It has to be circular, it has to be inclusive, it has to be collaborative."

And it has to be fresh. Gone are the days of pointers and PowerPoints. At meetings today, information is being presented in new and unexpected ways. For example, facts and figures might be projected onto walls or even people, as was the case during a recent breakout session at an event that Benchmark's Finn attended. "They handed out hazmat-style suits -- one of us had to put it on, and then we wrote our [discussion] responses on that person," he says.

"Meetings professionals are rethinking the flow and design of meetings to encourage conversation, spontaneous meetings, and idea exchanges," adds Luteran. "They are implementing more causal sitting areas, pop-up cafes, and meeting spots."

 

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.

 

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.

 

"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.

 

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."



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the January 2014 issue of Successful Meetings.

Under the Radar
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
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
training meetings
Issa Jouaneh, vice president and general manager of AmEx Meetings & Events sees a rise in training meetings

"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
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."



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the January 2014 issue of Successful Meetings.