While we were sorting through the nominations for this Year’s Best in Show, we thought, why stop there? As long as we’re showcasing what makes this such an innovative and inspiring industry, let’s ask others to join the celebration. So we expanded our guest list and invited meeting professionals of all kinds to reflect on how the business of events has gotten even better over the past few years.
This is the seventh year that Convene has published its annual Best in Show issue, highlighting top venues and innovations and celebrating excellence in the industry — and we can’t help but notice that some things have changed.
So it seemed a good time for us to reach out to a select and diverse group of planners and thought leaders to ask: What’s gotten better about the meetings industry over the last few years?
Many answers, unsurprisingly, had to do with how technology and greater access to data have increased the efficiency and effectiveness with which planners can perform their jobs. But another strong thread ran through the responses — for many, what has gotten better is how the role of meeting planner has fundamentally changed.
“We have never been more connected, which can feel scary and overwhelming, yet it’s changed the way we design our events, the way we meet, and the way we engage our participants,” wrote Judi Holler, DES, owner and “chief fear slayer,” at Holla! Productions. “We no longer attend a conference, we participate. You are no longer planning a meeting, you are designing an experience. This means that you have a new job title: You are not only an event boss, you are an event architect.
“No pressure, right?” Holler asked. Right.
Here’s more from 20 industry thought leaders about how the industry is changing:
“I have seen a broader awareness of the waste generated by events and a growing focus on responsibly managing and diverting waste. More meetings are minimizing printed material by focusing on digital communication. Also, as composting infrastructure becomes more widespread in the U.S., more meetings are exploring compost collection as a way to keep organic waste out of the landfill.” —Julia Spangler, owner, Sustainable Events
“The meetings industry is getting smarter. What I mean by that is we’re seeing more and more organizations leverage data to really understand what works and what doesn’t. They’re using the data they collect from their attendees’ behavior to help improve their experiences, and they’re measuring where attendees go and who they interact with. There has been more of a push to crowdsource the content for an event. Organizers are having real-time dialogues with potential attendees in forums or social media, to find out what it is they want to learn when they come to the event. Listening and paying attention to what it is your attendees want to learn at events — as opposed to what you have traditionally done — is key to evolving and growing our events.” —Donny Neufuss, director, digital engagement/eSports vertical market leader, Production Resource Group
“We see a clear increase in diversity and inclusion summits by corporations and other entities. Most of these events are still done in the traditional way (speakers, panelists, etc.), but to truly hit a home run you must create an immersive event.” —Frans Johansson, author, speaker, and CEO of The Medici Group
“Reinventing/redesigning meetings is now mainstream. I notice now at industry events that everyone I talk to is in some phase of the process of total reinvention. And, there is increasing awareness of the profession as a profession.” —Mary Pat Cornett, CAE, CMP, vice president, meetings and international affairs, American Society for Nutrition
“Event planners are focused more than ever on providing healthy food options for their attendees and ensuring they have a wide variety of options for people who have different food needs and restrictions. The idea is not how cheaply we can get food, but how can we ensure that the food contributes to our attendees’ energy, serves their specific needs, and contributes to the overall flow of the event.” —Liz King Caruso, CEO Liz King Events, techsytalk Inc., Foundher Network
“Resourceful and creative approaches to creating experiential environments are being incorporated into programming throughout the industry and across all budgets: Interactive learning centers; open-space classrooms; peer-to-peer networking hubs; combining digital and face-to-face conversations; reimagining general-session environments by incorporating traditional furnishings, comfortable seating groupings, various table heights and shapes and moveable chairs, where attendees select the environment that best suits their learning styles … the list goes on!”—Valerie Sumner, principal, VRS Meetings & Events, Inc.
“Industry professionals in my circle own their place at the proverbial table. I see more event, trade-show, and meeting professionals embracing their roles as business-event strategists, and I see more people in those roles working closely with other key stakeholders in their organizations to the benefit of everyone. When meeting and event pros work more closely with their own marketing teams and executive leadership, their meetings and events become closer representations of the organization’s brand. And when that happens, the brand becomes stronger. For an association, that benefits advocacy, membership, and revenue objectives. For a corporate brand, it results in the seamless authenticity that appeals especially to younger generations.” —Dana Freker Doody, vice president for communications & strategic client solutions, The Expo Grou
“The past five years have spotlighted a number of trends that speak directly to the engagement of attendees and the newer generations in the workplace. There is a much better focus on the event design and the attendee experience at every program — even in long-ossified settings like medical and scientific meetings. The co-creation and festivalization trends are also creating new types of environments such as C2 and SXSW. It’s not just about what’s happening at the events, though. It’s also about where they’re occurring. North American–based organizations are taking new or existing events to international locations. It’s a big world!” —Gregg Talley, FASAE, CAE, president & CEO, Talley Management Group
“The business of events has improved due to our relationships with hotels, CVBs, and convention centers, and technology has made our jobs a bit easier. Due to our relationships with various sales and convention-services managers, we’ve been able to reduce overall costs of our conference. Technology has helped us save costs as well. We don’t have to spend as much on marketing, printing, continuing education, and registration. Email, as well as various computer applications, has made it easy to promote our events with very low costs.” —Jennifer Lubold, CMP, director, conferences, National Association of Drug Court Professionals
“I think the single most significant improvement is the intentional move to re-classify what we do as ‘business events.’ This helps us show value beyond just fun or social activity planning. Some college programs have moved their meetings and events curriculum into the business school. Historically, those courses resided within tourism, hospitality, or even recreation. I think this shift will become natural to us soon — I admit I wasn’t sure about it at first! — and will pay off well in the economy of the future. —Joyce Paschall, CAE, CMP-HC, CMM, director, education and meetings, American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
“There is a greater sense of community, not only between planners and suppliers, but also among competitors. By coming together, the business of events has received a higher level of recognition, not only because of its economic impact, but its value in the processes of learning, training, standard setting, cultural understanding, and analyzing trends. We have seen a stronger interest in certification by individuals looking to stay ahead of trends as well as to promote adult learning and professionalism within the industry. We also see that certification has a greater relevance to employers looking to hire individuals with benchmarked skills, experience, and a commitment to excellence in the industry.” —Matthew DiSalvo, vice president, sales and marketing, Capital Convention Contractor LLC
“Attendees and travelers are benefiting from major trends in business events. There is increasingly less emphasis and demand for room blocks, and more focus on requirements for flexible meeting facilities that can adapt to clients’ needs without archaic ‘room block minimums!’ Hotels need to adapt to increased competition from alternative booking options, which is great for meeting attendees. Likewise, services such as taxis and shuttle buses are seeing increased competition from new sources of transportation. Business event strategists (and the industry as a whole) need to embrace these new technologies and realize them as a cost-savings instead of a hindrance. — Leslie Zeck, CMP, CMM, HMCC, director of meetings, American and International Associations for Dental Research
“We were previously (and still are) good at making effective anecdotal cases for business decisions, but today we couple that with gathering appropriate data to either support or refute our beliefs and move forward more confidently. And we better use industry-wide data, such as salary surveys, to further our careers, and use economic impact and employment data to advocate for our industry in the global business and government communities. Previously, many of us viewed these tools as simply interesting information. Now the data is more comprehensive, and we’re better at putting it to work for us.” —Angie Silberhorn, CMP, conference director, Warehousing Education and Research Council
“Our industry is not as unknown in the broader business community as it was just five years ago. Sophisticated private equity has materially invested in our industry — Vista Partners at Cvent; Goldman Sachs, and now Blackstone at PSAV; and CI Capital here at AlliedPRA are just a few of many blue-chip private equity firms who see the value-appreciation opportunity in our industry. The hotel industry continues to consolidate, which is another sign the industry is growing into another exciting chapter. Other sectors in our industry are also consolidating, which will drive greater voice to the industry over time.
“In terms of technology, it is not the Wild West anymore. Technology businesses are growing in their solution suite and the data behind these firms is more valuable as a result. And finally, Meetings Mean Business has made great strides as an advocate, especially in Washington D.C., which is critical.” —Tony Lorenz, CEO, AlliedPRA
“Technology continues to increase our networking ability before, during, and after the event. Program formats are adjusting to the changing needs of the vast variety of adult learners and introducing new methods of exchanging content face to face, beyond the traditional lecture. With greater ease we can connect to international speakers and members who may not be able to attend an event but can be an active part of the exchange of knowledge.
“There is a greater awareness of the impact of face-to-face events, but that does not take away from the need to connect virtually. Event professionals are taking more risks as they introduce new dimensions of opportunity for networking and learning at their events.” —Betty Ford, independent meeting and strategic planning program consultant
“The industry is driving a collective effort regarding security and safety measures to help venues and event organizers be better prepared, minimize threats, and increase attendee safety. Initiatives such as the Exhibition and Meetings Safety and Security Initiative [EMSSI] are working to create national safety and security guidelines for convention centers and large venues that we’ve not had before.”—Janet Sperstad, CMP, director, Meeting and Event Management program, Madison College
“Relationships remain the key to success for business events. We must continue to develop and nurture relationships with vendors, not only to ensure positive outcomes for all but to share knowledge and experiences. Our industry has been built on relationships and electronic communications simply do not replace long-standing friendships. Virtual site inspections, easy as they are, simply do not replace in-person site visits of venues to get the feel and flow of a facility. When last-minute advice or assistance is needed, your computer will not be able to lend a hand, but the friends you have cultivated and grown relationships with will step in to assist and ensure your success. —Lauren Kramer, CAE, founder and principal, Meeting Priorities LLC
“We’ve shifted from a ‘butts in seats’ [mentality] to more of an outcomes approach. Certainly, we need meetings to be financially successful. We also need to know that the meeting’s strategic outcomes have been met. This has driven experienceand design thinking in meetings and events as well as innovation.” —Lauren Parr, vice president, meetings, American Geophysical Union
“Five years ago there was such a great focus on how we could incorporate technology in our meetings and how to deal with the millennial generation. Now the shift has changed and we’ve learned that it’s more about ways to engage attendees in multidisciplinary ways. Design strategy has evolved to incorporate technology in effective ways and the emphasis is not just on millennials but making sure that everyone benefits.”—Julia Richardson, director of conventions and marketing, American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages
“I think the meetings industry has become more efficient, more transparent, and more purposeful. Technology has saved us time and money and improved the overall efficiencies of our industry. We’re slicker now, more professional. We carry far less paper, have much easier access to information, content, and data.
“We’re also way more connected. Technology has also disintermediated our industry, and this has led to much greater transparency, particularly in relation to costs, pricing, and tariffs. More and more we’re working for fees based on experience, expertise, and time.
“As technology occupies an ever more front-and-central position we’ve also re-evaluated the importance of face-to-face, and are focusing more and more on the deeper purpose of face-to-face meetings. Business leaders like Simon Sinek have moved the business conversation beyond ‘what we do’ and ‘how we do it’ to the deeper underlying ‘why we do it.’ This is bubbling up in the world of business events — the ‘why’ for meetings, incentive travel experiences, conferences, and events has increasingly come into relief.” —Pádraic Gilligan, managing partner, SoolNua; CMO, SITE.