Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

October 09 2014

This Is The End Of Meetings And Events As We Know Them

By David McMillin

 After I attended the Center for Exhibition Industry Research Predict Conference in Chicago in September, my head was swimming with facts and figures for the forecast of trade shows. How many new attendees can we expect to see on the show floor over the next two years? How much new revenue can organizers expect to see in their bottom lines? Which sectors of the economy will be able to sell more booth space and which sectors might see a decline?

While all of these numbers are essential ingredients for an understanding of what’s next, I wanted to get a more personal perspective outside of charts, graphs and percentages, too. Once I digested the information from the most recent CEIR Index, I caught up with Bob Priest-Heck, President and COO of Freeman, to get a sense of his industry outlook. Here’s a hint: it’s pretty bold.

“I think it’s the end of events as we know them,” Priest-Heck says. “The world has changed. Some companies don’t understand that they have to highly architect these events now.”

“The days of inviting a database, selling a bunch of space and having people show up are over,” Priest-Heck adds.

SEE ALSO: Why Attendees Will Skip Your Trade Show

However, don’t confuse pessimism with potential. While Priest-Heck says the historical approach to designing meetings and trade shows is extinct, he is a firm believer in the sustaining power of bringing people together.

“Face-to-face is as relevant as ever,” Priest-Heck says. “Attendees still crave the human connection. We just have to listen and understand the types of experiences they really want to have.”

It’s not just about passive listening, though. Meeting planners and trade show organizers must invite a crowd of new voices into their brainstorming sessions.

“It’s time to let audiences take greater control of these events,” Priest-Heck says. “”They have high expectations for these experiences, and they want to be co-creators.”

For a recent example, Priest-Heck highlights an organization of emergency room physicians that arranged the emergency room of the future in the middle of the show floor.

“It was an entirely different approach to education,” Priest-Heck says. “Forget the session room where everyone is looking down. It’s all about looking at blending the new technology trends with the best of face-to-face to create a truly interactive experience.”

SEE ALSO: How To Expand Your Trade Show Audience

What Will Success Look Like?

As the industry parts ways with traditional approaches to designing experiences, traditional ways of measuring success may be on the way out, too.

“There’s a new set of metrics emerging in our industry,” Priest-Heck says. “We need to ask some new questions. What happens if you exploring different pricing models? What happens if you measure participation rather than square feet?”

“We’re trending back toward quality over quantity,” Priest-Heck adds. “We should look to create a better experience for attendees — not just a bigger experience.”

Better isn’t always about spending more money or adding new resources, either. Priest-Heck says that implementing a new strategy for attendee engagement doesn’t have to require spending new dollars.

“People are going to have to take some risks,” Priest-Heck says. “They’re going to need to be willing to address some areas of concern and push themselves to think about these trends.”

The good news: the earlier you can start evaluating ways to experiment with change now, the better you’ll be positioned for the future.

“Have an evolution now, so you don’t have to have a revolution later,” Priest-Heck says.

Looking for ideas to spark that evolution? Check out this PCMA OnDemand educational webinar on trade show design to jumpstart your innovation engine.

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