Prepare for the future of meetings now.
By GREG VAN DYKE
The future of meetings is changing and no one has the perfect crystal ball. But there is no time like the present to start preparing yourself for the future. MPI has engaged Leeds University, in the U.K., on an extensive three-year research initiative to understand the future of meetings. What they have found is that meeting planners by nature are focused more on the short- to medium-term. We would like you to increase your planning horizon and prepare yourself for the coming trends.
Globalization: We know the world is getting smaller and we are operating in a global economy. Just think of the recession of the last few years that has hit the U.S. and Europe. While the traditional Western economies face slowing growth, think about the emerging economies of Brazil, India and China. They would likely ask, “What recession?” Divergent economic growth could have substantial impact from where meetings are held, to who the sponsors will be. Brands used to be considered international if they were in 20 countries; by 2030, those same brands will be operating in 50 countries. Futurists predict the dominance of three global languages in the future: English, Mandarin and Spanish. Meetings will bring together geographically dispersed workforces in multinational companies creating new relationships across cultures.
CAPITALIZE ON TREND
As a planner, how can you capitalize on this trend? Have you operated in newer destinations and do you have proven expertise with diverse audiences? If you have the experience, do you clearly promote it? Can you further market your expertise in language or destinations? If you don’t have the experience, how can you obtain it? Or do you need to widen your network and partner with others to provide your own version of global service? In the future, helping clients reach new markets and new industries can be a clear competitive advantage.
Societal Changes: We have all probably heard about the differences across generations—just consider the media coverage around Gen X. But we are approaching a meetings world that might require us to cater to three to five generations at once. Generation Y and Z all have different life experiences and different lenses through which they view the world. And we can’t forget about the Boomers, who are working longer and remain key participants in the meeting world. Each generation has its own preferences for meeting, learning and networking.
As a planner, how can you educate yourself around the preferences of the different generations? When you develop a program, can you provide personalized tracks and paths of interaction that feel comfortable to different attendees? Consider the pace of information, the structure of the meeting space, opportunity for interaction and materials. Allow people to stay connected and interact. And don’t forget to cater to a greying population in terms of their deteriorating sight and hearing. Finally, as you find success, how can you promote your experience and skill set as a planner? Get credit for your success.
Data: We are entering an era where you will have more access to data than ever before. The challenge will be turning that data into insight that helps you execute a better meeting and provide a superior return for your clients and sponsors. There is more access to individual profiles, lifestyles, values and attitudes then ever before. Technology allows you to identify attendee behaviour online, offline and throughout the full lifecycle of the meeting, including pre and post. Think about Amazon. It has revolutionized the online-shopping experience, constantly making recommendations tailored to you from your prior purchases, spurring even more sales.
As a planner, have you looked at opportunities to leverage attendee behaviour to make recommendations for their future meeting activity? Event technology solutions are changing. You used to have to buy several isolated products from multiple vendors to deliver the best meeting experience. But new offerings promise platform solutions for end-to-end planner and attendee experiences. Do the services you select allow you to combine logistics, attendee activity and attendee spend across multiple services? Emerging data solutions and content management systems offer you an excellent opportunity to create niche experiences for a better engagement with your meeting attendees.
Technology: It’s technology that is dominating our horizons and shaping our future. The iPad has already revolutionized the meetings industry, allowing planners to replace voluminous binders with a small tablet. Meeting apps and mobile devices are keeping attendees connected with the ability to interact directly with presenters and fellow attendees. Attendees are expecting consumer convenience with professional results in the meeting space. And that isn’t addressing the real future of technology, from targeted audio through to 3D printing, robotics or holographic telepresence. Interestingly, survey respondents from the meetings industry listed technology as the most pressing change; respondents from outside the industry listed people issues as the most pressing change. Considering the meeting industry is all about people, we can’t forget that technology enables human interaction.
As a planner, it is difficult to stay on top of the latest technology trends. So the key is finding the right partners. MPI is certainly one such partner. Additional white papers on technology will be released and can be found on the MPI website. There are great industry blogs and newsletters on technology. Of course, your audiovisual and event technology partners can be great advisors as well. Ask your peers about cutting-edge technological events and ask to visit them or find out who put them on. Finally, remember that most of this technology runs on the Internet. So it will be critical for you to understand your meeting and your attendee requirements for Internet accessibility. Free Internet may not be the best option for mission-critical elements of your meeting. The Convention Industry Council is launching a bandwidth calculator that can help guide you on what you might need and how to address your requirements with your venue.
The future of meetings is exciting and we are on the cusp of change—political, economic, environmental, social and technological forces are affecting all of us. So the time to get ready for that change is now.
-Greg Van Dyke is senior vice-president, global sales and marketing, for PSAV.