Six Shifts From Meetings Logistics To Designing Experiences

Paradigm shift keyboard

Our world continues to change rapidly.

Today conference organizers must respond to fundamental shifts in attendees’ needs and expectations. Attendees want more connectedness, customization, interactions, personalization, group problem-solving and mobility.

Conventional thinking for meeting professionals is to focus on the logistics of the meeting space. We spend our time and energy on designing the container for our conference. It’s all about room sets, chairs, traffic flow, signage and audio-visual. It’s about scheduling the right furniture, food and beverage, technology and space. Then we design a one-size-fits-all experience to put within that space.

Today there is a shift from our traditional thinking to one of strategic design thinking. The focus is on designing experiences and programming that leads to connections, collaboration, engagement, learning, sharing and networking. Preparing and approving BEOs (Banquet, Event Orders) is no longer sufficient as it does not necessarily lead to dynamic attendee experiences.

Six Big Meeting Planning Design Shifts

Here are six meeting planning shifts from conventional thinking to strategic design thinking.

1. From designing the container to designing the experience.

Conventional Thinking: Focus on designing the meeting’s container, its space, and then putting an experience within it.

Strategic Design Thinking: Focus on designing the attendees’ experience, activities and interactions then ensuring the logistics foster that experience.

2. From designing the logistics once to designing an experience that is dynamic and requires constant evaluation and assessment.

Conventional Thinking: Design the meeting space and logistics once and it’s completed when the space becomes occupied.

Strategic Design Thinking: Design is an ongoing, repeated process and needs to be evaluated and assessed with each smaller meeting within the larger conference. Changes will occur onsite to adapt to the audience.

3. From two separate budgets based on the logistics and programming to a combined linked budget on operations and programming.

Conventional Thinking: The space and logistics budget resides in a meetings department and the programming budget resides in an education department.

Strategic Design Thinking: The operations and programming of the conference experience are linked and the budget rests with a programming and services team.

4. From use of standards, formulas and what’s worked in the past to invention of new models.

Conventional Thinking: Use last year’s conference schedule and model and replicate it for next year. Use traditional standards and formulas to calculate logistics.

Strategic Design Thinking: In partnership with loyal customers, invent new models and design new informal and formal experiences.

5. From designing the conference from the organizer’s perspective to designing the conference experience from the customers’ perspective.

Conventional Thinking: Organizing the meeting with a focus on efficiency of space, budget and logistics from the provider’s viewpoint.

Strategic Design Thinking: Designing the meeting from the perspective of the attendee with a focus on effectiveness.

6. From focusing on consistency and one-size-fits all to a focus on customization, personalization and responsiveness.

Conventional Thinking: Creating a consistent, cookie-cutter experience that is the same for all attendees.

Strategic Design Thinking: The focus is on creating learning opportunities, both formal and informal that allow for customization, personalization and responsiveness.

What steps does a meeting planner need to take to shift from conventional to strategic design thinking? What type of questions would meeting planners ask to encourage strategic design thinking?

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  1. Paul Salinger says:

    Well Jeff,

    You’ve nailed it again. This is so right on and what I have been talking to our teams about for the last few years.

    Thanks for writing this post. Will definitely be forwarding it on.

  2. Jeff, as Paul said, once again you nailed it. I think the possibilities as our industry responds to the needs of the participants – and how organizations (association – not for profit or corporate) can benefit from creating experiences and environments that connect people to each other and the organization are tremendous. I welcome the shifts!

  3. Pam Marvin says:

    I agree with Paul. This post is a clear and susinct overview of the direction I am heading with my conferences.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for the kind words and for commenting as well.

      So true that conference hosts and organizers can benefit from creating experiences and environments that connect people. Well said!

      Thanks for reading and commenting as always.

      Good to hear that other conference organizers are implementing these strategies too. Thanks for sharing Pam!

  4. Jeff, so well put. Sadly so many planners (suppliers) are so busy and overwhelmed that they don’t have much time to stop and be strategic. But the world and market will not wait and will demand these shifts. But they better get on board cause the train is leaving the station – with or without them.

    I applaud you for beating the drum for change and innovation in your most unique and persistent way!

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