Rethinking the Meeting and Event Experience

Typical conference ballroom set up. Not a place where you'd want to spend an hour, let alone a day. The upside is the table, where you can lay your head when you want to take a nap.

The meeting and events industry has long relied on the same formula - travel to a beachside destination, host the event in a luxury hotel, meet in a ballroom. Spend the budget on hotel-provided F&B, Powerpoint presentations on the biggest screen possible, and deliver entertainment in the form of an overpaid 90's band while executives enjoy "afterglow" at the bar.

The world has changed, people. Forecasts for 2017 predict that the meetings and events industry will remain somewhat stagnant, as budgets tighten, companies spend less on travel, and uncertainty in the world requires more vigilance.

It's challenging to reimagine a meeting or a conference. My team is often hired to do exactly that - create something extraordinary, "unlike anything we've done before", only to bump up against resistance when we finally get down to business. But, a new reality is here and organizations - whether a Fortune 500 company, an industry association, or a media company with an annual conference - must evolve. 

We can agree that Millennials are influencing much of the shift in programming, and we know that people want experiences not things. However, it's the smart use of technology that can truly transform the experience in a way that's never been done before.

I only know a handful of people who are actually using technology to change the way an event can be experienced, beyond a mobile app or registration check-in via tablet. See Charles Adler's comment about a recent talk he gave in South Korea after a 24-hr flight - he asks why he couldn't have participated remotely via AR, as a hologram on stage, saving himself the fatigue and the conference producer the expense. It's a good question. Production companies like Freeman XP are starting to build these things into their portfolio of services. Conference and meeting planners need to do the same. Why not offer a VR experience for employee training rather than a lengthy breakout session; or a conference as a paid live stream with global reach, rather than as a live event exclusive only to those who can afford to travel to the conference location? Utilizing technology to bring people and information together in an efficient, modern way clears the agenda for more in-person interaction and activities. It also opens up an opportunity to address another challenge - personalization. Find a way to customize the experience, you deliver more value.

And, I hear you - you could argue that giving a presentation remotely or live streaming an event is antithetical to the in-person experience. However, it just requires thinking differently about how those experiences are designed. Isn't that the fun part anyway?

Every day, we use technology to do the most mundane tasks, to improve our lives, to save time - order groceries, take college courses, purchase printer ink and have it delivered on the same day, even meditate. Your audience is already there. Now is the time to take them on an entirely new journey.