5 Trends That Are Changing Meeting Design

Author: Barbara Palmer       

meetings trends

Kate Fairweather (right) and Amy Blackman present results from “The Future of Meetings and Events” report at Convening Leaders 2019 in Pittsburgh. (Jacob Slaton)

When Marriott and the PCMA Foundation joined together to update research on the trends that can be expected to transform meetings and events in the future, they made the decision to look everywhere except within the industry.

meeting design

Kate Fairweather

“We knew if we were going to do this right, we could not do it internally,” said Tammy Routh, senior vice president for global sales at Marriott International, who introduced a session at Convening Leaders 2019 in Pittsburgh last month, where the results of the report, “The Future of Meetings and Events,” was released. “You can’t just get the same people who live and breathe events doing this or you will get the same stuff,” Routh said.

Marriott and the PCMA Foundation worked with New York City–based global consultancy firm Fahrenheit 212, where Kate Fairweather works as an innovation consultant. Fairweather said at the session that she researched global trends across multiple categories, “reading more papers and reports than you can imagine” and conducted interviews with a wide spectrum of people, including entrepreneurs and visual artists — “folks who were doing really disruptive, breakthrough things.” Her research, along with input from additional thought leaders, was synthesized into five trends and applied to business events.

“These five trends are consumer and market forces that are here to stay,” Fairweather said. “We believe they are going to be disruptive in every category, but have certain implications that will be important for meetings and events.” The following summary is from the report and Fairweather’s presentation at Convening Leaders.

Emotional Intelligence

Business events will need to move past reactive adjustments to adopt a proactive approach to personalized experiences, understanding the needs of participants before they arrive.

This means designing with the end user in mind. Meetings and events are going to need to move beyond the idea of demographics into extreme individualization. You’re going to need to understand proactively what people want, what they’re going to look for, their needs, and tailor experiences to each individual.

Businesses that are setting up smart systems and underlying infrastructure to collect information, make sense of it, and translate it into tangible action are increasingly coming out on top.

Orchestrated Serendipity

Experiences must embrace freedom and surprise, freeing consumers from the constant constraint of schedules and agendas. By embracing the unexpected, we can engage participants and leave a lasting impression.

This is engineering and embracing the unexpected to create magical, meaningful moments that people are really going to remember. Life now is overscheduled and over-programmed. We have extreme amounts of control over every choice in our day-to-day lives, thanks to technology
and all those good things, but what that means is that we’re really lacking those magical moments that happen when collisions between people happen, and you end up spending free time with someone that you didn’t expect, or you have some sort of surprise and a light moment.

Multimodal Design

Every event has a unique objective and audience, and a space must reflect each event’s specific personality and needs. Space is critical to any event and should be designed to adapt to the ways that participants will engage.

Consumers are expecting physical spaces to be as nimble and flexible as their digital experiences. You have to be able to shift and adapt, so that means that if people want space to help them connect with each other, they want to be able to change [the space] throughout the day and throughout their experience, so that it’s going to work for what they need.

Bigger Than Oneself

You can’t just provide content anymore. Every event must have a message. Participants want to understand what’s important to a business, and experience events that deliver that message down to the smallest detail.

Talk is cheap. You can’t just talk about what your events stands for, you can’t just talk as a brand or a business about what your values are — you have to act as well. Bring it to life in the experience, even in the smallest touchpoints. This means that your events have to have some higher purpose. It can’t just be about the content, it has to have an element of reciprocity, of value, standing for something politically, socially, whatever it may be, something important, and doing that all the way down to the smallest details. If you stand for environmental impact, don’t give out plastic water bottles.

Sense of Place

The most memorable events celebrate the local surroundings, enriching visitors, exposing them to the local culture and connecting them with the community to increase engagement.

This is leveraging geography for deeper engagement and enrichment. Consumers really don’t want corporate commercialized environments or even on-the-mark cities. Second- and third-tier cities, unique locales, places where people have never been before, they want to be going there. We need to be celebrating that. Take people to these new places, immerse them, put them in these communities and show them what the culture is like there.

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