The New Frontier of Meetings & Conventions

Too hot in the session breakout room? No kosher at lunch? Content that is too sophomoric? Today’s conventioneer is just one tweet away from changing the dynamics of what makes an event viable to an organization and economically successful.

Business Economist and Research Officer Kevin Kliesen of the Federal Reserve talks about the impact of macroeconomics on meetings and conventions, as well as their effect on attendance.

Elliptical machines instead of chairs, furniture on wheels, comfy couches, pool tables, outdoor gardens with colored fountains, accessible Wi-Fi throughout exhibition halls, and real time content, are part of the new frontier in convention tools designed to keep pace with the increasingly twitter-happy enthusiasts who are just one click away from live streaming their next moment. Welcome to the new frontier in event planning.

Eighteen members of the Explore St. Louis National Customer Advisory Board met for a two-day seminar at the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis recently to learn more about the top trends shaping the future of our industry as presented by PCMA’s Senior Director of Global Strategy Michelle Crowley, as well as to engage in a variety of Think Tank Roundtable discussions. Participants were also treated to a presentation by Business Economist and Research Officer Kevin Kliesen of the Federal Reserve who talked about the impact of macroeconomics meetings and conventions, as well as their effect on attendance. The seminar was the second in a series of thought leadership seminars hosted by Explore St. Louis, the destination and marketing organization and operator of the America’s Center Convention Complex.

PCMA’s Senior Director of Global Strategy Michelle Crowley discusses top trends shaping the future of the meeting industry.

The seminar’s theme, The Economics of Meetings and Conventions in the 21st Century, allowed participants ample time to reflect on challenges they have encountered within their organizations concerning the perceived value and viability of their meetings. In other words, how to compete and remain relevant in today’s environment of the 24-hour news feed, where attention spans are often defined by 140 characters.

Mindful of their stakeholders — C-suite and board members, attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, volunteers and staff — the participants divided into four problem solving groups to brainstorm everything from sensory analytics and delegate pop-up events to gamification and the perceived value of a destination as it relates to its cost for attendees.

Discussion questions focused on three areas —pre-event, onsite and post-event logistics — as they pertain to goals and metrics, feedback and refinement of content, and results tracking and reporting. At the crux of it all, however, is the continued need to identify and attract new attendees, maintain participation of long-term attendees, and, even more importantly, discover why some never show at all.

Members of the Explore St. Louis National Customer Advisory Board participate in a series of discussions related to the top trends shaping the future of the travel industry at their recent meetings held at the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis.

During the planning stage, participants discussed the need to create new experiences for their events that might include anything from unique venues with more outdoor space or quirky configurations, Fit Bit walkability features for the health-minded, and more interactive events for the attendees. Instead of sitting for hours in a convention hall, for example, the groups discussed options that included downsizing break-out sessions by reducing the number of participants in each, encouraging the participants to utilize apps that require follow-up action, even suggesting the attendees help select the content, either in advance of the event, or while attending. For those organizations with limited staff and budget, there was a consensus that a strong working relationship with the host city is essential to producing a purposeful event.

Key among on-site concerns is the ability to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of newsworthy events occurring throughout the world that may affect a meeting in real time. Being able to respond at a moment’s notice to a national crisis, or disaster, for example, is essential. Reserving extra rooms at an event can provide a space for these rapid-response discussions or speaker talkbacks at the drop of a hat.

Having a social media hub at an event can also provide attendees the chance to tweet questions to the speaker during the presentation, allowing the direction and tone of the speech to change to reflect the input in real time. Planners can also develop a Q&A about the speech while it is occurring and send via social to the attendees asking for their immediate responses. Or, send a push notification that offers a free lunch with the key speaker to the first 20 responders.

Participants discussed top trends shaping the future of the meeting industry at the recent seminar at the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis. Here, Monica Culpepper, CMP, Director of National Events/Y-USA and Margaret McKeon, Vice President – Conference and Events/Insurance Accounting & Systems Association, Inc., brainstorms pre-event logistics with fellow panelists.

With a smart phone in the hands of every attendee these days, Twitter has solidified its place at the table, literally. Through tweets, guests are now able to complain about cold food, lack of food, long lunch lines, short-staffed registration tables, late shuttles, and even poor signage. Woe to the event planner who doesn’t heed the chatter.

New technology such as Bluetooth beacons can track attendees as they navigate convention sites and exhibition floors, allowing planners to improve traffic flow and monitor attendance. Tracking can also help quantify the value of a speaker, the number of booths an attendee may visit, or even the order in which they visit them, resulting in critical ROI information for stakeholders. Be aware of downloadable apps that only offer games for attendees to participate in – some of these attract the hyper-connected attendee, as opposed to the average participant, preventing a planner from receiving accurate feedback. Experience Guru offers feedback through smiling, neutral and frowning cartoon emojis. Attendees can also log their questions and complaints via the platform.

When the final attendee boards the last shuttle to the airport, metric reports are already being shared among key stakeholders. Attendees, still on an emotional high from the event, can provide some key feedback in terms of complaints, praise and/or suggestions for next year. Encourage host city contacts to provide economical statistics from your event. Survey staff, sponsors, hotel reps and volunteers. More importantly, survey those who couldn’t make it to uncover possible strategies to engage them in the next event.

During the final discussion of the two-day seminar, participants concluded that given our shorter attention spans in the digital age and the myriad of potential experiences vying for our consideration, creating an event that not only addresses but satisfies multiple needs of each participant, is imperative for a vibrant thought-provoking convention.

Suggested tweet for event planners — @BeAllThingsToAllPeople.

Explore St. Louis wants to thank the members of its NCAB, as well as Ms. Crowley and Mr. Kliesen for their contributions and participation.

Members of the Explore St. Louis National Customer Advisory Board attending the summer 2017 meetings:

Deb Davis, CMP
Manager, Meeting Services
Office Of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church
Keith Kershaw
Director, Office of Convention Planning
Church of God in Christ, Inc
Dale Shuter, CMP
Meetings & Expositions Manager
Electrical Apparatus Service Association
Monica Culpepper, CMP
Director of National Events
Rob Knight
West Coast Director of Strategic Partnership
IFES | International Fellowship of Evangical Students
Song Stott
Director of Global Events
Jennifer Haggard
Director of Meetings & Convention Services
Sweet Adelines
Ally Jenkins
Director of Marketing and Logistics
Taffy Event Strategies
Michael Martin
President & CEO
National Wood Flooring Association
Kay Granath, CMP, CAE
Director of Meetings & Conventions
Association Management Center
Margaret McKeon
Vice President – Conference and Events
Insurance Accounting & Systems Association, Inc.
Ushma J. Suvarnakar, MTA,CMP
Director, Meetings and Conferences
American Anthropological Association
Nicole Guy, CMP
Conference Director
Conference Managers
Wes Meixelsperger, CPA
Chief Financial Officer/Director of Meetings
Alliance of Crop. Soil and Environmental Science Societies (ACSESS)
Nasser Pazirandeh
Founder & President
Meeting Insites International, Inc
Christine Phelps
Deputy Executive Director
American Academy of Neurology
Mary Wolski, CMP
Director, Conference & Event Science Services
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics