by Shawna Suckow, CMP
• Trends and tips for future meetings
• The four C's of meeting: conversation, collaboration, change, and celebration
• Creating participant experiences
If you’ve heard me speak at an industry event in the last five years, you might have heard me tell you that people don’t come to meetings primarily for content anymore. Why? Because we live in a time where content has never been so readily available. If it were just about content, we’d stay home and read books or watch webinars or use Google to get practically any knowledge we desire.
At MPI’s World Education Congress in 2016, a speaker made a similar prediction – in the future, people will stop coming to meetings strictly for content.
Of course, people will always come to meetings with learning on the agenda. I’m not saying it’s entirely going away; rather, I’m saying that it can’t be first on our list anymore. In fact, I believe it’s not even in the top five.
Here are my predictions for what participants want from meetings going forward:
Conversations. Overwhelmingly, participants still list networking as the number one reason they come to meetings.
Celebration. People come to have a good time! Cocktail receptions are still important.
Experiences. What can they experience at your conference that is new, exciting, or unique?
Change. Something’s not working in their life or career, and they see your conference as providing a solution. Here’s where you can tweak your content. More on that in a bit.
Collaboration. There’s something magical about learning along with others, in a collaborative environment. It beats learning alone at home, if done correctly.
I want to focus on #4 and #5. This is where content will shift and evolve to stay relevant in the future. We can no longer rely on good content alone to generate interest or attendance. Audiences have evolved, and it can’t just be about a one-way dissemination of information from speaker to passive attendees. (Note: this is why I deliberately have been calling them Participants – if they are simply attending, they are not getting what they need. They need to be participating.)
Knowing that our participants crave conversations and collaboration, we need to deliver our content differently. How can you create unique learning environments where this can happen, both organically and intentionally?
Create conversation pods. Participants just heard a great speaker, but don’t just leave it at that. If the speaker was truly great, she’ll leave people wanting more discussion on the topic. Create seating areas in your pre-function area, or use table signs at lunch to bring participants together who want to have a deeper discussion on a particular topic or session.
Offer experiences around content. If you are planning a conference on recycling, for example, don’t just talk about it. Bring participants to a local facility so they can see it in action. Meetings industry speaker Tracy Stuckrath, CSEP, CMM, CHC, CFPM, does a great job of this. She speaks on creating more inclusive food & beverage experiences at meetings. Rather than just talk at the audience, she brings in chefs to have cook-offs, or includes participants in prepping a meal. Seek out speakers who will go the extra mile and not just talk. Immersive experiences create conversations, promote collaboration, and increase learner retention.
Give participants discussion points. We know that many audience members have trouble networking if left to chance, especially first-time attendees, industry newcomers, and introverts. Why not be more intentional with your networking time? There are several ways to accomplish this: have your emcee suggest a discussion topic as participants head to a break after a general session; put out tent cards at breakfast with different geographical areas of the region/country/world so people can sit with others who live near them; or create a scrolling slide show for your evening receptions with discussion topics – either fun conversation starters, or purposeful thought-provoking ideas. Participants will appreciate the networking head-start.
Regardless of how you choose to adapt, it’s important that you do. Persuading your committee to adapt is often the bigger challenge. Sometimes committees see meetings as a well-oiled machine: ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ It’s time to break the tired, outdated machine! Your participants crave it and expect it. If you don’t deliver, they’ll check out – mentally and physically. If you’re seeing declining numbers, it’s a glaring symptom!
Next time you’re in that conference room with your committee discussing your next meeting, rethink how you’re going to proceed. Instead of starting with a list of content the committee wants delivered, start with how you want participants to feel, think, and act differently afterward. Then work backward to determine how you’ll immerse them in experiences, help them have collaborative conversations, and ultimately enable them to be more actively involved in their own learner outcomes. Sitting and listening to speaker after speaker just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Shawna Suckow, CMP, founded SPIN, the Senior Planners Industry Network, in 2008. Today, she is a global speaker on industry trends and a sought-after sales trainer for industry suppliers. www.ShawnaSuckow.com.