I think the meetings and conference industry has reached a plateau.
For years the industry has focused on the logistical side of the meeting including registration, food and beverage, contracts, venue space, room sets, schedules, SMMP and more. The industry has matured and many meeting professionals have become very good at the details.
Yet, the improvements in those details have not taken the meetings industry to the next level. In fact, many conferences are still suffering because the attendee experience has not changed in 30-50 years. It’s become stale, predictable and status quo.
It’s time for the industry to make a intentional and radical leap to take the meetings professional out of department silos and into a more holistic, strategic and creative planning professional.
Silos Suck The Life Out Of Conferences
Currently, most conferences and meetings are planned by an array of people each within their own silos. The meetings department is focused on the minutia of the meeting. The expo department focuses on tradeshows. The sponsorship and development department focuses on sponsors. The marketing department focuses on promotion and marketing of the event. The education department focuses on the programming. And in the nonprofit world, the membership and chapter relations department focuses on volunteer involvement and committees.
We have more silos for our major conferences than the traditional farm. Unfortunately, the conference silos are not used to store nourishment that leads to outstanding education and networking.
Our conference planning silos have created a fractured and broken attendee experience. Without a major conference planning champion, a clear and articulated vision and strategy, and a more holistic approach we have left most conference experiences up to the luck of the draw. Frequently, the odds of the attendee walking away with a transformative experience and high ROI are better at the black jack table then the conference.
The Meetings Industry Is Staring Down Disruption
The meetings industry is facing major disruption. People no longer attend to get the most current information–they can get that online. They don’t look to the conference as the primary source for networking as they can do that online too.
Attendees spend more time in the hallways setting up meetings with the people they want and need to see. They don’t go to general sessions or breakouts yet we’re spending millions of dollars on production, AV, speakers, room sets and more to create those education sessions. Attendees say that their conference highlights are the parties and offsite experiences often planned by those outside of the conference team.
Where The Meetings Industry Needs To Go
I believe that if the meetings industry wants to make a major impact on conferences of the future, they need to go in new directions. Here are some of the areas that I believe that strategic meeting professionals must embrace and do differently:
Most organizations will say they have programming and education talent. We have to ask ourselves if it’s the right programming talent! Can that education department design a creative, unique memorable opening general session based on what science tells us works to change attitudes and behaviors or is that department nothing more than a scheduler of speakers?
For meetings to go to the next level, the meeting professional must embrace how to design effective education and networking experiences. They can’t let it default to others.
Do our organizations really have the creative talent we need for the meetings industry to create and foster innovative experiences? It’s time to take some lessons from the events industry on creativity and creating experiences.
While focusing on the details uses one side of the brain and focusing on the creative uses another side, we have got to merge the two sides of the brain as well as the two tasks. We need meeting professionals that can easily jump between logistics, strategy and creative.
Most meeting professionals are not very good at research and analytics of their events. Sure they can spout inputs and outputs including attendance, expenses and revenue. Yet few are good at comparing years of data, interpreting trends and identifying the right audience for each experience. Fewer still are willing to watch global trends, analyze them and interpret how they’ll impact their conferences. Analysis needs to evolve beyond merely analyzing inputs and outputs into deriving core insights to inform decisions like how to spend meetings dollars.
4. Converged Content And Technology
Few meeting professionals understand and know how to apply today’s pull economies. Most are stuck in push marketing strategies where we bombard potential attendees with interruption marketing. Few can leverage the power of today’s technology tools and use content properly as a conference marketing strategy. We have got to be more nimble at applying earned media strategies, social and mobile. Why? Our attendees have become more tech savvy and content hungry they we are.
I think it’s time for a meetings industry revolution. The question is will our current meetings industry organizations lead us there or do we need to leave them behind?
Hat tips to thought leader David Armano who’s recent post about changing PR profession helped me solidify my thinking about the meetings industry.
What other areas do today’s strategic meeting professional need to embrace? For how long do you think people will pay to attend conferences that are average at best?