Sponsored by Irving Convention & Visitors Bureau
The pace of change and disruption in the meetings and convention industry is increasing, causing meeting planners to revolutionize the way they plan meetings. First, attendees have 99 things on their mind in addition to the event they are attending. Second, all of these distractions are accessible during sessions via mobile devices. Now, add millennials to the mix. They have entirely different needs, motivations and expectations compared to previous generations.
What does that mean for those whose business it is to plan meetings, seminars and conferences? Event content must be attention-grabbing, concise and pertinent in order to effectively compete with everything else attendees have vying for their time. And planners must create compelling, personalized and engaging experiences in order to retain attention, especially with a millennial audience.
A true “wow” effect can be accomplished with the right venue choice, delivery of a customized and authentic experience, engaging meeting design, mindful programing and scheduling, a strong digital and social presence, and a forward-thinking tech selection.
Let’s look at some trends and tangible takeaways…
Venue Choice: Get Off the Beaten Path
Attendees are primed for new experiences and open to checking out the path less travelled. That said, second-tier destinations are becoming more popular. For example, small, quirky cities like Marfa, Texas are destinations where one is likely to enjoy gazing at stars instead of big city lights. Select destinations with unique, unusual, and differentiated profiles.
Authentic Experience: Go Local
Going local is a concept that showcases a location’s personality. These days, creating engaging experiences is as important as providing high-speed Wi-Fi. Millennials are known to prefer meetings that incorporate authentic, purposeful experiences. These can take place within the itinerary of the business event itself, as well as in the days before and after the business event —a concept known as “bleisure.” This is not a new concept, but is most prevalent among millennials. Consider securing the conference rate at participating hotels for the three days before and three days after a conference.
During the event, give attendees the fanfare that they will remember: bring in local entertainment; turn meal breaks into culinary experiences that reflect the regional cuisine and become fun talking points between attendees; plan offsites that are unexpected. Instead of shuttles, why not transport them in Pedi cabs if those are indigenous to the area? Industry professionals who make an effort to engage members with activities they cannot find anywhere else will likely find that these opportunities will resonate with all generations.
Engaging Experience: Customize
Providing options allows people to feel that their particular needs are being acknowledged and met. To accommodate individual needs, customization is necessary in every aspect of planning from food and beverage, to swag, scheduling and programming, to activities. While boomers are more likely to enjoy golf and spa, Gen-Xers prefer adventure. Why not offer both? Provide options.
Asking for input on topics is helpful in establishing what your audience wants. While it’s not necessary to crowdsource all of your presenters, don’t plan a meeting or conference with absolutely no input. Listen to your attendees.
Meeting Design: Shake it up
Incorporate modern tech twists with traditional meeting formats. Knowing how active millennials are on their mobile devices, you may think networking and interaction isn’t important; however, what this generation’s tech-focused upbringing has instilled in them is a hunger for live experiences. Try alternative presentations, rather than always programming speakers. Use video, interviews, small group work or even invite the audience on stage spontaneously. Workshops are another powerful way to convey content, and allow attendees to share experiences and knowledge.
Don’t rely on PowerPoint. Ask presenters to incorporate the new speaking mix – mobile app, live interaction tools, throwable mic, props and music.
Mix it up so there is something for everyone. Consider casual, informal and multi-purpose gathering spaces. Instead of traditional theater seating, provide informal lounge-style chairs. Encourage organic and free-flowing discussion.
Entertain: Incorporate playtime
Keep your guests on their toes and full of anticipation for what will happen next. This creates energy. Incorporate the element of surprise by interspersing surprise special guests, pop-up giveaways or unannounced entertainment. Hold evening events at secret off-site venues or transform the setup of educational sessions each day to keep your participants buzzing about what will happen next. You can also, of course, use music that sets the tone of the destination, the theme and energy level, and use volume to cue people’s attention.
Wellness: Be mindful
Health and wellness is incredibly important to meeting participants of any demographic. Many people choose meetings that offer extras like meditation rooms, yoga sessions, and healthy food and beverage choices. Be willing to carve out time in the agenda to include fitness classes and other activities, and be sure to include healthy food options during breaks. The outcome is healthy, happy and productive attendees.
Forward Thinking: Be Tech & Socially Savvy
Stop thinking desktop and start thinking mobile. Today, searches and event registrations aren’t necessarily conducted on desktops. Your web design and event technology must accommodate this.
And this should go without saying, but you better be tech-friendly and socially savvy. Create an event hashtag, display digital signage, and offer charging stations. One of the best ways to increase engagement is to use a good mobile event app to support registration, networking, scheduling of breakout sessions, navigation of the convention center and much more.
Modern day planners don’t have to be tech gurus, health & wellness coaches, activity directors, concierge and entertainers, but it’s definitely time to move past traditional planning. Success comes from the ability to bring multi-generations together in a fast-paced environment to educate, entertain and engage.
Sponsored by Irving Convention & Visitors Bureau
With the opening of the new Irving Music Factory visitors can stay, meet, entertain and play right in the heart of Irving’s Las Colinas Urban Center. This project, featuring an indoor/outdoor amphitheater operated by Live Nation, is the second phase of Irving’s vision for a distinctive visitor’s district. The Irving Convention Center was the initial anchor, and a $110 million, 350-room Westin brand convention center hotel will mark the completion of the district in 2018. There will also be a 50,000 square feet outdoor plaza and over 20 restaurants to satisfy any cravings for breakfast, lunch or dinner. When you want accessibility, first-tier service, a friendly-city vibe, a stunning convention facility, entertainment, walkability and urban integration… choose Irving, a small city where big things happen.