Use the unique elements of your meeting location to provide opportunities for seasoned professionals to create and learn new things.
Findings in the American Express 2019 Global Meetings & Events Forecast show that engaging participants is key to optimal outcomes for meetings and events. That is the critical challenge for event planners—creating singular experiences that meet the professional development needs of their association or professional group. Event planners can seek out and use venues and experts unique to a location to offer educational opportunities attendees would not get elsewhere.
“Most companies and associations have seen and done everything. They are serious when they say they’re looking for something different. It’s not enough to have sessions or events outside of the convention center,” says Rachel Paisley, vice president of business development at Red Velvet Events, a destination management firm in Austin, Texas.
Novelty isn’t the sole reason to focus on experiences. Adults learn best through experiences and opportunities to apply their expertise with a purpose, according to eLearning Industry. It can be uniquely challenging to provide exciting opportunities to very knowledgeable or veteran professionals. When developing an out-of-the-box event, consider that the meeting location itself can be educational. The Red Velvet Events group’s “Day at the Ranch” event provides a case study in creating a one-of-a-kind event for experienced professionals by making good use of a location and local expertise.
More than 200 attendees in a group for hotel general managers and chefs spent a day at a working ranch with free-range Longhorn cattle in the Driftwood area outside Austin, Texas. The objective of the meeting was to provide attendees, most of whom were not from Texas, with a culinary education and networking experience showcasing the best of the state.
During the first part of the day, a local food foraging expert led the group around the ranch grounds to find and sample local edible herbs and plants. In the second part of the day, attendees listened to presentations while dining on upscale BBQ including Elgin sausage, a Texas BBQ staple, and salads created from the plants they foraged earlier in the day.
Creation is a powerful professional development tool, according to a report in Harvard Business Review. On the ranch, attendees were treated to a mixology session where they learned to make the Texas-born “Mexican martini” with a twist—they used some of the foraged ingredients to experiment with the cocktail and develop something they could take back to their own bars.
“Chefs and general managers are so creative in general. They want to get in there and create,” says Paisley. “We designed an opportunity and a space that allowed them to collaborate.”
Event planners can create highly customized events like this one in any location, but using local experts and destination professionals is key. “Your local experts can really help you build out your experience,” advises Paisley. “You can easily Google venues, and most event planners do, but without that local involvement, your event can still feel cookie cutter even if it’s outside of the hotel or the convention center.”
It starts with the goals of the meeting and the learning experience. Discerning event planners should seek local experts and partners who will consider, first and foremost, their organization’s brand and objectives.”You can tell when an event was designed intentionally to meet its goals and to incorporate the overall themes and messaging of the entire meeting,” says Paisley. “Then it’s not just another dinner or another retreat. It becomes an experience that sticks.