Back when my cofounder, Chris Kelly, and I started Convene, one of the biggest criticisms we heard was that face-to-face meetings were going to die out—that digital meetings would take over and the need for meeting venues would dissipate as people could now meet virtually from the comfort of their living room.
Nearly a decade later, here we are—and the meetings industry is bigger than ever.
What happened? How did the prognosticators get it so wrong?
What transpired is that our work and therefore our organizations have become more collaborative than ever. It wasn’t that long ago that the way work was done was like that of an assembly line, with each “department” owning its specific piece of a project or task. Given rapid changes in technology, impacts of globalization, and evolving demographics, the problems that businesses face today are exponentially more complex than five or ten years ago. Teams and companies that want to stay ahead must now move in an agile way that requires cross-functional collaboration, communication, and alignment both within the organization and beyond.
This shift towards collaboration is dramatically increasing the number, frequency, and types of meetings that organizations are conducting—creating a huge opportunity for the broader meetings and events industry.
Planners and Priorities
What does this growth mean for meeting planners? It depends on the type of meeting planner you are. Our research team, headed up by Joyce Bromberg, has broken corporate planners into three specific groups (a) the accidental planner, (b) the professional planner, and the (c) the event designer. All three have similar needs, but each prioritizes these needs differently.
Accidental planners (frequently administrative assistants or marketing professionals) need simplicity—planning meetings isn’t within their normal job duties, and anything we can do to make the experience simpler and more seamless for them takes a big load off their minds.
Professional planners want value and consistency. They’re planning events and meetings all day, every day, and they have high expectations from their venue partners that must be delivered on, at a price-point that makes sense, every single time they host a meeting.
And the event designer wants to deliver a truly unique experience. Like an artist, they’re always looking to create their next great work, and need a partner who has the capability to deliver an unforgettable space and experience for attendees.
At Convene, we’ve spent a lot of time with each of these stakeholders and are fundamentally changing everything we do from space design, to our website, to menus, to our sales process to make sure we’re meeting each of their unique needs. In having these conversations with different planners, we’ve noticed five specific trends taking place in the meetings industry.
Experience Rules All
We now live in the experience economy and this is as true for meetings and events as it is for every other industry. At Convene, we tell our team if it’s not “Instagram worthy” we didn’t do our job. Meeting planners and event organizers are feeling this pressure as competition continues to grow and end users need to sort through the noise to find the meetings and events they actually want to attend.
This drive towards experience is putting pressure on all aspects of an event—location, space design, menu, technology and most importantly—the content. This is a generational shift in expectations and a trend that we don’t see letting up for decades to come.
The Power of Place
The future of meetings is all about human-to-human connections and the power of place. Place is more than a venue—it’s the holistic experience—and most importantly how the meeting and event staff make their participants feel. Meeting planners that are focused on this are ahead of the curve and should see engagement with their events increase dramatically.
Think about the experience of your favorite local coffeeshop. Chances are, you like it for more than just the cappuccino or the blueberry scone. You like it for the convenient location, its authenticity, the aesthetic design, the fast Wi-Fi, and the friendly staff that knows you by name. More and more meeting planners are moving towards this holistic view of a venue, leaving bland ballrooms behind.
Keep it Simple
The one thing we can’t get more of is our time. This is as true for consumers as it is for meeting planners and their participants. At Convene, we’re 100% focused on simplifying everything that we do so that our customers can focus on what’s most important—their meeting and their guests. Meeting planners must also focus on simplifying the process for their sponsors, event speakers, and participants. In a world of instant gratification, simplicity is king. At every turn friction must be removed from the process to allow for a more seamless user experience.
Consistency is Key
As more companies are forced to give up their internal meeting, training, and event spaces by their corporate real estate departments, the need to outsource will grow rapidly, putting increased pressure on planners who can’t rely on internal space and will need to outsource more of their meeting and events to third party venue providers. This will put an increased premium on “consistency” as these venues will need to deliver a truly consistent and magical experience to an expanded subset of meetings with varying budget constraints and business objectives.
Keep it Local
More companies are looking to “think global, and act local.” They want to get close to their customers and deliver an experience tailored to them. This shift towards a local mindset, combined with an increase in experiential meetings and live events, is creating a need to produce events across multiple cities as brands look to activate closer to their core customer base. This shift towards local will put a premium on location as most companies will look to host these events outside of traditional hotels who often require a minimum room night commitment. This combined with the cost of travel drives meeting budgets up and in an increasingly uncertain economic environment budget constraints are once again becoming a “real” thing.
2019 will be another exciting year for the meetings and events industry and we can’t wait to see what new innovations await.