My how things have changed in the past two decades. We have slowly shifted to keep pace with these changes in the corporate events industry and the expectations of the guest. As our world shifts around us so quickly we can barely keep pace, we’re learning to become more agile and adjust to the landscape. Some of the changes which have struck me as significant I share below, and I welcome comments from those you have experienced.
Shifts in food and beverage. We are now in the age of the foodie, full of knowledge of organic and farm raised, allergen-free, gluten-free and nutrient rich, flavourful, prepared under the tutelage of celebrity chefs and with unique seasonal ingredients, of wine regions and craft beers, specialty teas and cheese, fair trade coffee and chocolate and so much more.
Hotels and convention centres have responded with lifestyle menus and a return to natural products from the processed and sodium rich foods which had come to be relied upon by many. This is a welcome change, and as we continue to serve lighter, healthier meals we will see increased engagement in our meetings and events as we offer our guests the type of food they would eat at home. We’re implementing a style that reduces the sugar rushes and crashes we have seen in the days past where many meals included “white foods” high in refined sugars. As global food prices continue to rise and the industry responds, costs vary by destination, and each year food and beverage costs are increasing meeting costs incrementally.
Shifts in destination. As the world becomes smaller, and participants’ ability to go farther faster and a desire for the comfortable exotic grows, we seek new destinations which will delight. As we bring meetings to new locales, tourism growth follows, and costs naturally increase to a more global levelling. Hotels continue to compete for lucrative group business, and new forces such as airbnb.com have forever shifted how we are able to manage room blocks, with accommodation a mere click away and forces outside of any loyalty to an association take precedence. While we still host international meetings and these remain important for the largest idea flow and innovation growth to happen, the rising cost of travel has caused many organizations to change their meeting structures with more regional meetings, use of video conferencing and virtual meetings and an experimentation with hybrid meetings. These all tie into the next area.
Shifts in audio visual. It was only in the 90’s when we were listening to CDs; par cans were the most common lighting fixture, and flipping our slides into carousels “upside down and backwards” for rear view projection was a norm. Soon, PowerPoint was a cutting edge new presentation style, and presenters began changing their files up until minutes before they were on stage, plugging in their laptops as flash drives were not yet invented. As data projectors and Barcos replaced overheads and slide projectors, intelligent lighting fixtures and gobos everywhere replaced par cans and lekos. Staging became integral to creative storytelling desired in general sessions, and naturally our production budgets doubled and quadrupled. We adjusted accordingly, adding as required to meet the expectations of audiences today whose sophisticated tastes are driven by media and multimedia now ubiquitous in our daily lives.
Shift in sustainability. With an increased focus on taking care of the triple bottom line, people, planet and profit, we inevitably have to rethink decisions based on what is best for all. We need to ensure a fair profit for all or businesses cease to function – whether a hosting organization or a venue or other suppliers. We are choosing décor which is rented or repurposed or upcycled. We choose destinations and venues with environmental programs in place, and we serve more regional and seasonal food. We have moved to more mobile apps and decreased our paper, while also increasing the opportunities for long-term engagement around our events as we now have “in the pocket” means to connect with participants on an ongoing basis beyond the confines of the event.
This ties into shifts in communication. Twenty years ago we excitedly obtained our first email addresses followed by a surge in web pages and web commerce, rapidly moving us from the days of mailed registration packages and pages of cheques to be deposited by hand at the local bank before printing, stuffing and stamping confirmation letters. We are now in a time where events are searched on our mobile device where we choose our sessions and buy tickets. A paid and confirmed registration can be automatically shared on social media and your friends also invited to the same event. Where we had high costs related to graphics, printing list purchases and mailing often of several pieces from prospectuses to calls for papers and advance programs, we must now shift to invest in the technology plus the digitally capable people required to adequately manage this new smooth registration paradigm.
Shift in experience. In the olden days, participants knew what to expect, and meetings were generally quite predictable. Now that we can order anything we want from anywhere, any time, our expectations of meetings have also become more personalized. We seek sessions that meet our specific pain points. We want to have networking options, and we expect to be surprised – by environment, by information, by the people we meet, by the products and performances we are introduced to. We now have a percentage of participants who are also immediately sharing what is happening on social media, and we must now pay attention to what is loved (entertainment, décor, someone they are with), and what must be immediately rectified (a cold room, an inappropriate comment). We can see in real time with mobile analytics exactly what is happening throughout our events and adapt.
All of these require us to rethink our budget allocations as we shift resources inevitably from one area to another all with achieving the most successful event in mind, as defined by a combination of our pre-set objectives and the new and evolving expectations of our guest. What will this mean in the next decade?