How smart venues are focusing their design around how people want to interact at events.
Association gatherings—from narrowly focused trainings or education events to the all-hands-on-deck annual conference—continue to be a big reason why individuals and organizations renew their membership each year.
In its annual Circuit report, association management firm SmithBucklin provides 20 key trends, issues and developments it predicts will impact associations in 2017. Two of them are about events: Trend No. 2 covers how associations are getting high marks for unconventional education, and trend No. 12 discusses how millennials care deeply about experience and how this relates to events.
Are your association conferences delivering the professional development experiences that all members—both younger and older—crave? How can your event space can help you do this?
Here are five things attendees are looking for in conferences today. Before you choose your next meeting site, it’s worth considering if your venue can help you check those boxes.
1. Attendees want to be in meeting spaces that are open and have an energy about them.
We’ve all been at conference venues that feel like a dungeon that’s also a maze. The space is uninspiring and everyone keeps getting lost. Is that really the best place to foster productive professional development experiences?
“The meeting planning community want a new type of meeting design and experience,” said Anne Marie Johns, regional director of sales and marketing for Fairmont Hotels and Resorts Eastern Canada region. “It’s more open concept, creative designs that are going to have people network better, collaborate better, get them in an environment that’s a little more inspiring.”
Johns is based at the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth in Montréal, which recently underwent a complete renovation to make all of that happen.
To help create a buzz that will translate to meetings at the hotel, the lobby will have an urban market (opening in September). “This market is kind of a marriage of Eataly with the Todd English Food Hall in New York’s Plaza Hotel,” Johns said. “You will have the market on one side of the lobby and an event space on the other,” each space feeding energy—literally and figuratively—to one another.
2. Attendees want to session hop.
It’s an age-old conference conundrum: Two amazing sessions at the exact same time. Savvy attendees attempt to split their time between the two. But depending on the meeting room configuration, it can be difficult to politely leave or join a session midway through without making a spectacle of yourself.
In the renovated Queen E, five traditional breakout rooms on the main convention floor have had their walls removed to create an open-concept foyer. “Imagine little circular cocooning sections where you can put 40-50 people and have three of these open-concept spaces,” Johns said. “Today people want to hop in and out, and this setup allows that.”
In addition, associations “can look at some funky new programming in these new spaces that will attract that younger member, and keep the older members happy with more traditional sessions in the traditional rooms,” Johns said.
3. Attendees want good food and beverage onsite.
Many attendees will venture out in the host city to try to the local fare, but they will also be eating onsite and catching up with colleagues at the hotel bar. Imagine how happy they will be if these food and beverage experiences exceed expectations.
“When attendees are onsite, they have their programming, but outside of that they want to be in a trendy bar or the latest trendy restaurant that’s highlighting whatever is key in that region,” Johns said.
She notes that all Fairmont hotels are doubling down on quality food and beverage, focusing on local and regional cuisine. “At the end of the conference, what do you remember?” Johns asked. “Sure, you remember the good speakers, but everyone remembers that memorable food experience.”
4. Attendees want the latest technology that can enhance presentations, discussions, and brainstorming.
Will your venue offer video or projection mapping? What about touch-screen monitors? This technology is shiny and new, but, more important, it can help create an immersive experience. Is your venue equipped to handle new presentation technology?
“I’ve never worked so close with AV production as I do now, looking at the technology and figuring out how you make it work,” Johns said. “Especially when you are in a traditional room, and you want to reconfigure it to have a modern approach, there’s no better way than with the technology and lighting.” Johns is also excited to test out holographic technology at The Queen E.
5. Attendees want spaces that ease the networking experience.
For many attendees, conferences are as much—or more—about the networking as the education. Will your next venue provide ideal spaces for networking functions? Does it have many different places where attendees can gather on their own?
“Networking happens onsite where it’s convenient,” Johns said. If people can organically congregate throughout the conference venue, this will add to the overall energy of the event.
When the meeting space is set up to give attendees what they want in a conference, a meeting planner’s job is that much easier—and attendees are that much happier. Taking the time to find those venues pays off in the end.