Our recent survey of more than 180 meeting planners from around the world for the IACC Meeting Room of the Future report delivered many interesting insights. We heard from people who are new to event planning as well as long-timers, and many provided candid comments. Some of their remarks were anticipated, but some certainly surprised us.
So what do meeting planners say venues need to do to appeal to the changing nature of today’s meetings? Here are ten of my insights into the most essential elements of sought-out venues.
1. Spaces that foster interactive meetings and networking.
Today’s meeting attendees want more interactive programs with more opportunities to network with peers. That means less time sitting in a lecture-hall style room, and more time to get up, move into smaller groups for discussions and circulate with the other attendees at an event. How does that translate into meeting space design?
It means more flexible spaces that allow chairs and tables to be moved around (even by the meeting attendees themselves), gathering spaces outside the main meeting rooms (think informal spaces with sofas or chairs in conversational seating groups) and meal service designed for social interaction.
Here are a few comments from meeting planners about it:
“Meeting attendees today want more intentional engagement and they want the event to be interactive...not boring and just sitting there listening. The evaluation of the event will include the question: Were the attendees engaged and able to contribute?”
“Attendees come expecting to be entertained and impressed more than ever. They also enjoy networking with – in the case of our events – competing business owners. I attribute this to the rise of social media which has changed how we interact with one another.”
2. Accommodating shorter meetings.
Planners told us that attendees are looking for quick, concise meetings and convenient locations. They highlighted that meetings tend to be shorter, spanning fewer days or even a single day. And some planners are seeing the size of meetings shrinking. For IACC venues with smaller venue spaces in unique settings or the ability to accommodate special requests, that could be good news. “Managers want to have smaller group meetings to gain a deeper impact with the attendees.”
Or in some cases, companies and groups are consolidating several meetings into one larger one.
“There is more consideration of whether a meeting should occur and the ability to condense several smaller meetings into one larger one. People today have less time and the pace of the meetings is much quicker.”
3. Pricing based on ROI.
It appears that one of the key factors in meetings today is showing a return on investment. For meeting planners, this means designing programs that offer direct value to a company’s bottom line. For venues, it means pricing your services to help support meeting goals.
Planners today must show that the meeting was worth the attendee’s time out of the office or away from clients. They must show value for costs.
Your pricing should be aligned to support these goals for interaction, networking and special activities. Services and offerings that make it easier to meet these objectives will be more valuable than those which are simply “fancy” extras.
“It is now essential to have metrics. Anecdotal observances to affirm that you met your objectives don't cut it anymore.” Venues can help by providing accurate attendance tracking and meeting feedback technology.
4. More on focus on specific objectives.
Some planners told us this year that one primary difference from past years (or decades) is simply that more meetings have specific objectives. The meetings today are much more results focused. And, the objectives are more clearly defined and detailed as opposed to the generalised goals of the past.
Similarly, I observed that there is more focus on evaluating the meeting based on achieving objectives and longer-term educational outcomes rather than just satisfaction with the meeting venue or presentations.
“My clients have become more aware of defining objectives other than just satisfaction with the food or speakers. Similarly, the objectives we plan today are truly focused on education, networking, and creating opportunities for sponsors to obtain leads and obtain new businesses.”
The trend toward learner outcome was also noted in another brilliant industry survey "Swedish Conference and Meeting Barometer" conducted by Svenska Möten (Swedish Meetings),
You can hear more about this report at the IACC Conference session: Eight trends that will change future booking and meeting behaviour. Workshop on Saturday, 23 September 2017. Register now.
5. Tighter budgets – doing more with less.
I know it’s never fun to hear, but budgets for meetings are impacting planning. Many meeting planners say they are expected to do more with less. As one planner told us: “The economic environment has changed a great deal. We are trying to do as much or more on smaller budgets.”
For venues, that can mean pricing offerings differently so that services which truly add value to the meeting outcome are given more emphasis, or offering more a la carte pricing so customers can choose the services they most value. However, I also believe that conference venues offering inclusive packaging for delegates may have a better chance of winning business because they provide more perceived value.
Venues near major corporate offices or cities may also see an increase in company meetings locally in effort to reduce costs. “Over the last few years, we seem to be producing events for corporations near or around the main headquarters which lowers cost in travel, hotel, transportation and per diem.”
6. Connectivity and updated AV equipment.
Not surprisingly, technology has become a much more integral part of meetings today, both in design and execution. Attendees and planners expect the latest technology and AV equipment to be available. That includes video conferencing and secure networks, fast broadband, Wifi, and access to ample charging stations.
“AV equipment and connectivity are key factors in achieving meeting success, before, during and after the meeting. Online information and digital networking, mobile apps for agendas, hashtags to share the experience are important elements today.”
If you include a good quality internet service without additional charges, this is something you should be shouting from the rooftops, not hiding in the small print!
7. Creating experiences.
Meeting planners tell us that there is more focus today on creating experiences and offering personal learning opportunities than in the past. In part, this may be because attendees need to be actively engaged to justify time away from the offices.
But it’s also about creating a “wow” factor to gain more interest and increase attendance at meetings. For some that means trendy food, unique settings, interesting activities (like zip-lines, cooking demonstrations or virtual reality) and for others, a unique theme or engaging production. Venues that can offer unique experiences, activities or settings will be sought-out.
“Meetings today focus more heavily on personal growth and professional development, rather than basic education, PowerPoint presentations and state-of-the-business addresses.”
“The ‘experience’ is what creates the buzz and draw for others to attend based on a previous attendee’s feedback. If an attendee doesn't have a positive ‘experience’ at an event, you have possibly lost their attendance for future years and all the people that they could have influenced to attend the conference as well.”
8. More accommodation of special requests.
Meeting planners say that guest expectations regarding all aspects of a meeting are higher than five years ago. Accommodations for dietary requests, space needs and AV needs, are all more important and growing in specifics compared to past years. Team-building activities are also making a comeback. Venues that can provide flexible spaces and accommodate special requests will see return engagements.
“I think networking is super important now. It seems that now, despite being surrounded by social media and the noise of the digital world, the people that are thriving are those who know how to build REAL networks, connections based upon actually seeing people face to face.”
“People want to accomplish more at meetings -- networking, education, AND personal growth rather than attending different meetings for each category. Their time is a priority now and they want the biggest return for their investment of time and money.”
9. More breaks, lighter healthier meals.
Wellness is critical in today’s meetings and has affected the type of food and beverage offerings needed, as well as the type of group activities, breakouts and even gifts for guests. In addition to dietary requests to accommodate allergies, vegetarian or special dietary needs, planners are getting requests for more organic, local foods. Fresh food is appreciated more than “pre-packaged” options. The trend is toward smaller meals or food items on demand over the day rather than larger group meals in a sit-down setting.
“Don't put all the food out in one area - scatter it around the room and that will encourage small groups to form and connect.”
“The breaks should be more frequent, with lighter and healthier food and beverage, and create an environment for engaging networking opportunities, to continue the discussions, and increase the enthusiasm for the meeting agenda topics.”
Getting up and moving around during meetings is also important. Long sessions without breaks or a chance for people to get up and walk around can make meetings feel stifling. “Sitting is the new smoking,” said one IACC survey respondent. “Moving is important.”
You can learn more about that topic at the upcoming IACC conference campfire session “Do Your Meetings Move People?” presented Dan Collins of Freshtracks on Sunday, 24 September at the IACC Europe Festival of Knowledge in London. Register now.
10. More outdoor and “green” space.
Planners are seeing more requests for meetings located near commuting hubs so meetings can be shorter. Venues with outdoor spaces are also very highly appreciated. In addition, people are looking for options with different types of seating, and “green” options.
“Having space that is conducive to learning and is private - that is, not shared by other groups - and dedicated on a 24-hour basis - is a greater need than in the past.”
“Convenience to transportation hubs is more critical because of people's time constraints and the difficulty of travel.”
Get the Full Report
The IACC Meeting Room of the Future™ report brings together insights from global meeting planners, IACC members and industry experts on the trends and issues that will impact the future of meetings and conferences. Download the full report here.
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