Deliver better meetings by embracing changing attendee expectations

The past 365 days brought a whirlwind of technological advances, daring experiments in ways to stage meetings—suspended from the ceiling, perhaps?—and shifts in thinking about social issues.

Everything that plays out on the front pages of USA Today affects meetings, so planners have to be ready to respond to changing attitudes to stay relevant. Smart Meetings sifted through our coverage over the last 12 months to find the trends that are turning events upside down.

The result? Twenty-five things you must now consider before your first attendee walks through the ballroom doors. To build the drum roll, we put them in reverse order, from “changing slowly” to “Wow, I didn’t see that coming!”

Spoiler alert on the biggest trend: It may be gone tomorrow.

To make this list even more actionable, we also took a fresh look at these shifts. How can you use them to give attendees what they want while meeting your strategic goals? Our “now what?” action items are based on recommendations from fellow event professionals who shared steps you can take today for better meetings tomorrow.

25. Wellness Everywhere

Exercise isn’t just for gyms anymore. Hotels are including yoga mats, exercise balls and weights as standard amenities in rooms. Walking paths and workout routines are embedded in conference grounds.

Now what? Take advantage of your attendees’ desire to stay active on the road by incorporating charity runs, expert-led stretching breaks and healthy snacks in your agenda.

24. Plugged In

Attendees need to be powered up at all times. That means hotel and meeting rooms with a multitude of convenient outlets.

Now what? Consider selling branded charging stations to give people what they want while sharing important partner messaging at a critical point in the attendee’s day.

23. Total Tracking

Name badges have gone way beyond sharpies and magic markers. They are now embedded with beacon technology that can track movements, trigger messaging, exchange contact details and register our feelings about the keynote speaker.

Now what? Now that your event is generating mountains of data essential to the marketing and sales chain, use that position of power to insert yourself in strategic conversations at your company about how to get even better data to improve reporting and outcomes.

22. Going Rogue

Ironically, as much as technology is embedded in our daily lives, technology-free rooms promoting revitalization and restoration could become premium spaces.

Now what? Incorporate “white space” into your floor plan with movable, flexible seating, peace and quiet, and permission to contemplate.

21. Pet Pauses

Conferences and hotels have gone ultra-pet-friendly and partnering with an animal shelter to bring puppies in for breaks has become a popular conference floor attraction.

Now what? Adopt this win-win-win activity for your next event. Many petting areas raise money for animal causes or help place puppies in new homes. Plus, it gives attendees a warm feeling about the organizer. And from the wagging of tails, it seems the dogs like the attention, too.

20. Gourmet Gluten-Free

Dietary restrictions have become the rule rather than the exception, and chefs around the country have gotten better at having options for vegetarians, Keto-diets and allergies of all types. Even better, they taste great.

Now what? Ask attendees in advance for dietary restrictions and communicate those to the venue, along with requests for menus and signage that list all ingredients, and courteously deliver the right meal to the right person.

19. Creative Liquidity

Foodies are not just focusing on the plate anymore. Chef-driven approaches to mixology are hot and getting hotter.

Now what? Leverage the skills of the tattooed mixologist at your next event to create a signature drink with a fun name that reflects your theme. Some have even made a name for themselves emblazing logos in beer foam.

18. Hyper-Accessible

ADA is more than the law of the land. Making meetings accessible for everyone is good business and the right way to welcome people of all abilities.

Now what? Keep a checklist of common barriers. Look for these during site visits and when planning everything from registration counter heights to stage access. The trick is to ask yourself, “Is this accommodation treating everyone with the same respect?”

17. Really Intelligent

Virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) have moved from being technology on the horizon to the meeting room next door.

Now what? It is time to thoughtfully engage these tools as enhancements to programs rather than gee-whiz sideshows. From chatbots that can quickly answer questions by website visitors to tours of still-to-be-developed properties, the benefits of using the technology needs to be obvious to the end-user.

16. Textability

Want to get the attention of a millennial or anyone else with a smartphone? Text them. Emails are the new snail mail. The fastest way to engage is to plug into the device connected to their thumbs.

Now what? Attendees who opt in to SMS (short message service) communication are asking for short messages about changes in programs, timely reminders and personal messages. The trick is to be judicious about when and how much to send, but the odds of being read are much higher than for other forms of communication.

15. Beyond Millennial

Grouping entire generations of people and treating them as if they all acted the same was never a good idea, but now that the oldest members of Generation Z are entering their late 20s, the term doesn’t even work as a slur on young people anymore.

Now what? How about not making assumptions based on age? Instead, use behavior and preference to personalize experiences and design meetings around studies that show shorter, more interactive presentations are more engaging for people of all ages.

14. Real Official Documents

As TSA becomes stricter about what forms of identification will be accepted at checkpoints, travelers will truly need to know what’s in their wallets.

Now what? To avoid slowdowns getting to the gate, consider signing up for Global Entry, and getting a mobile passport and RealID. You may have to camp out at DMV, but that’s better than missing your flight in the security line at the airport.

13. Nontraditional Venues

Breakout rooms? Old news. How about brainstorming in a cabana? A gala in a warehouse? A reception in a museum? Taking people out of their physical comfort zone can transport them mentally to another place.

Now what? Work with hotel vendors who might know off-site gems and have partnerships that can help with catering and logistics. Just because it is unusual doesn’t mean it has to be difficult.

12. All-Inclusive Reinvented

Forget about tacky beaches and endless margaritas. Sophisticated groups are embracing new all-inclusive resort offerings that are luxuriously stimulating—and take a lot of the work out of your planning.

Now what? When properties fly the flag and hold up the hospitality standards of Hyatt, Hard Rock, Melia and Velos, it makes it easy to relax and let the celebrity chefs, conference managers, and audiovisual experts take care of everything from the welcome drink and paddleboard lessons to set-up for a PowerPoint presentation at an incentive, retreat or sales training—with the peace of mind that comes from knowing there will be no surprises in the bill at checkout.

11. Biophilic Design

Venues are going back to their roots—plain earth. Property designs increasingly showcase living walls, unfiltered views of nature, natural lighting and water features, such as waterfalls and pools.

Now what? Nature-inspired designs tend to promote relaxation. Pick a meeting space with lots of greenery, forest views and the sound of rushing water to encouraging open discussions and healthy gathering.

10. Responsible Meeting

Attendees are looking for a local connection wherever they meet. Corporate social responsibility—philanthropic or environmental—gives them that sense of meaning and place.

Now what? Look for properties that offer turnkey programs that make it easy to create backpacks for kids or pick up litter at the beach—small acts that help attendees feel invested in the cause and give them the satisfaction of leaving the destination better than when they arrived.

9. Protected Data Compliance

Since the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules went into effect in May, marketing security has become a priority. While most agree with the aim of protecting attendees from data breaches, a recent study by American Express Meetings & Events found that half of respondents are struggling to comply with all the consent and oversight requirements.

Now what? Even U.S.-based planners are taking steps to avoid possible massive fines by posting privacy policies on event registration websites, collecting only the data needed to enhance the attendee experience and screening vendors for their policies.

8. Sports Meetings

Online gaming is a big business. Millions assemble to watch tournaments in hotels, convention centers and specially designed esports facilities in cities as diverse as Las Vegas and Arlington, Texas. According to statistics company SuperData, esports brought in $1.5 billion in 2017.

Now what? Consider egaming stadiums as a treasure trove for top-of-the-line audiovisual systems, turnkey team-building activities and a fun spectator sport. Now that video games are mainstream, attendees of all ages and demographics are embracing the action.

7. Cannabis Tourism

As marijuana becomes legal in more places, planners will have to consider the implications for their events. Retreats specifically designed to indulge in the herb are already available in California and Colorado and, as the industry grows, the supply chain will need to meet somewhere.

Now what? Research the laws—for medical and medicinal use of marijuana and its components, including CBD extract, a popular ingredient in non-narcotic relaxation treatments—in the place where you are meeting. Then create a policy so there are no questions.

6. Block-Event-Chain

This technology revolution is doing more than fueling a bitcoin cryptocurrency economy. Authenticated distribution systems provide a safer, more cost-effective way to garner business and manage internal systems.

Now what? Adopting authenticated transaction technology, such as Ethereum, eliminates ticket fraud and scalping issues and could streamline the registration process. You might also want to get ready to consider taking payment in an alternative currency—if that makes sense for your group.

5. Address the Difficult Problems

Planners can no longer look away when social problems are sitting outside the conference center doors. From homelessness to human trafficking, event professionals are positioned to demand action from destinations and providers that do more than cover up the problem or put it out of mind.

Now what? Join concerned event professionals stepping up to make a difference. Meeting Professionals Against Human Trafficking advocates for awareness training at venues. Support CVB CEOs who have become advocates for finding effective solutions to help people find temporary and permanent housing. Why? It’s the right thing to do and good for tourism.

4. Inclusive Teams

It’s clear that 2018 was more than the year of the woman. It saw a shift in thinking about the importance of including diverse voices in decision-making—because more points of view mean more problems solved.

Now what? Stop hiring people who look just like you. Go beyond your comfort zone to find new ways to communicate, work and deliver value that are approachable for people from all backgrounds, including gender, race, sexual orientation, class and age. All voices matter.

3. No Food Left Behind

In a world where approximately 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted every year but 795 million people don’t have enough to eat, food waste at meetings has become an action item on many agendas.

Now what? Look for hotel partners that are scaling back the buffets, donating to local food banks and composting to grow the main course for another meeting. Bonus points if you find an F&B provider who has joined the ranks of those doing away with plastic straws.

2. Secure Perimeters

Looking out for safety of guests at events and online is now job No. 1 for planners. Whether it is an active shooter, hurricane, medical emergency or cybertheft of attendee information, you are responsible for protecting and reacting in real time.

Now what? Luckily, one of the core competencies of event professionals is also the best line of defense for all these situations—being prepared. MPI offers a six-hour course on incident management strategies in partnership with National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security. Anticipate worst-case scenarios at all steps of the planning process instead of waiting until you are forced to face the unthinkable.

1. Insta-Worthy Spots

This was the year of the pop-up—whether posing for selfies in a marshmallow pit at San Francisco Museum of Ice Cream, a blue plastic ball-filled Dream Machine in New York City or primary-hued balloons at the Los Angeles version of Color Factory, all that matters is getting the perfect Instagram photo.

Now what? Yes, it may seem contrived and silly, but if it makes the event memorable, who are we to argue? So, put some creative thought into staging a selfie station at your next event that puts branded props and your preferred tag in easy reach. Then watch the posts roll in.