The 6 Forces Shaping the Future of Meetings

From what attendees expect as the "new status quo" to how venues—and entire metropolis’—are being forced to upgrade their technology infrastructure.

Like everything else these days, the meeting experience is changing.

Technology trends, sustainability concerns, experiential programming, next-level food and beverage, wellness options, and bleisure travel are potentially more important to your meeting attendees than in the past. (Or at least some subset of that list is.)

Is your host city a true partner in helping you navigate this shifting conference landscape?

Let’s take a closer look at each trend and evaluate how cities can partner with association executives and meeting planners to meet these changing member needs.

1. Tech-expectations

Conferences need to deliver high-level technology content and experiences. Some industries are more affected by the technology revolution than others, but no one is immune to these seismic changes.

Holding your annual conference in a city with a strong tech scene is a great way to ensure your meeting is getting speakers that can touch on the important tech topics that your members need to know.

But that doesn’t mean every conference needs to be in Silicon Valley. There are now a number of growing tech hubs throughout the United States, where startups grew successful, got bought, and are now spawning a raft of new startups. Indianapolis is a great example of this phenomenon: Salesforce bought marketing-tech success ExactTarget, enabling a cadre of newly-anointed entrepreneurs to launch their own ventures and startups, further spurring activity in the city.

Indy nonprofit TechPoint can help conferences source keynote and panel speakers that can cover the latest and future tech trends that matter (or should matter) to your members.

2. Meetings with sustaining impact

The conversation on meeting sustainability is expanding. Recycling and digital handouts are great, but your attendees might be expecting more on the sustainable meeting front these days. Take your conferences to the next level of green by upcycling or attempting to go zero waste.

You might think a zero-waste meeting is way too ambitious, but it’s doable. Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis’ natatorium achieved a 93 percent waste diversion rate when it hosted the 2016 U.S. Olympic diving trials. (Hint: Offering composting is key.)

As for upcycling, Indy-based People for Urban Progress takes discarded materials and uses them to create products for individual use or for the city’s benefit. The nonprofit can turn conference banners that would otherwise be trashed into nifty totes and executive bags. Could there be a better VIP gift?

3. Events as immersive, seamless experiences

Conference attendees are looking for that wow-factor at every conference. Delivering strong programming and multiple networking opportunities are always going to be your conference priorities. But your meeting attendees now also expect you to deliver an experience—that truly memorable moment.

One way to do this is to take a good look at your host city’s off-site event spaces. There are probably a couple that can deliver an experience your attendees will remember (and Tweet, Instagram, and Facebook about).

For example, the Indianapolis Zoo recently opened a new, eco-conscious private events pavilion. Attendees can roam the zoo and catch fascinating animal presentations—all after hours and without the crowds.

Also, consider letting your host city do most of the work for you. Are there cool events that you can latch onto? You promote the event to attendees, organize a participant group, and then the event works its experience-making magic.

4. Culinary relevance

Meeting attendees care a lot about good food and beverage options. Food trucks, craft beers, and farm-to-table meals continue to be hot trends across the country. Incorporate them into your meeting and your attendees will eat (and drink) it up.

Indy’s craft beer scene is no joke. And Ross Bailey, owner of Tastings Wine Bar in Indianapolis, operates a vintage wine truck—a customized 1952 International Harvester Metro—that can deliver more than 1,000 servings of wine virtually anywhere in the city (including the convention center).

On the food front, farm-to-table favorites Milktooth and Bluebeard, among others, are putting Indy’s dining scene on the foodie map.

5. Embracing—not evading—healthy choices

Wellness options is a win-win proposition. Your members who have made fitness, mindfulness, and/or a healthy diet a priority will really appreciate your efforts to help them stay on track. And happy, satisfied attendees are repeat attendees.

Consider organizing (or getting your hotel to organize) an exercise, yoga, or meditation class before sessions begin. You might be surprised how many attendees show up.

And here’s a huge benefit for you: Exercise and meditation improve brain function, potentially boosting attendee engagement in your programming.

6. Business or pleasure? Both

Bleisure travel is important to some business travelers. It’s no secret that a good host city will boost attendance. San Francisco, Las Vegas, and New York will entice attendees to take a day or two for themselves. But many smaller cities can also deliver some great nights out or a fun mini-vacation—for much less money.

Some important factors: Can you walk to cool places? Is there a happening local restaurant and bar scene? Are the main attractions close to downtown hotels?

Staying on top of what your attendees want from your meetings is critical to keeping conference attendance—and membership levels—high. Make sure you are you choosing conference cities that can help you not only meet but exceed each one of these shifting expectations.