How to Delight Meeting Attendees in 2020

Meeting planners seeking to engage attendees must harness the uniqueness of the destination to succeed.

Attendee satisfaction is the best indicator of the success of your meeting, reports Event MB in its State of the Event Industry survey. What attendees want, more and more, is authenticity. Attendees seek greater engagement with the educational content and more meaningful connections with peers and the destination.

“Consumers are really conscious about what is authentic,” says Clarisse Charot, Sales Director France, CWT Meetings & Events in the company’s 2020 meeting trends report. “Consumers and employees want something different—they want diversity and respect.”

Creative meeting planners can use traditional spaces, such as hotel ballrooms and convention center salons, to create the authentic, unique experiences that attendees seek. The Winter Classic is a fitness meeting that also raises funds for The Adam S. Hamilton Academic & Athletic Scholarship Fund in honor of the Kent, Ohio-native US Army specialist who died while serving in Afghanistan. The organization transformed a big-box room at the Huntington Convention Center in Cleveland into the ultimate CrossFit gym, hosting literal hometown heroes to compete with world-renowned CrossFit athletes.

Another top priority for meeting planners will be improving the on-site experience, according to the 2020 Global Meetings and Events Forecast by American Express Meetings & Events. Meeting planners indicate they’ll prioritize experiential elements over logistics to drive better engagement. Those elements include the food, with attendees increasingly expecting healthy, locally-sourced food and beverages, to meeting outdoors to reconnect attendees to nature. Spice Acres, a 13-acre sustainable farm in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park outside Cleveland treats attendees to meals made from ingredients they picked themselves.

The challenge for meeting planners is to find locations that can help them keep costs down, provide must-see features or venues and provide high-quality infrastructure, including accessibility. It’s critical to ROI—satisfied attendees are more likely to register for the following year, recommend an event to others and share their experiences on social media, according to magazine Convene, an events industry magazine.

To meet future trends while being mindful of ROI requires meeting planners to think beyond typical, expensive destinations such as New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. The American Society of Association Executives, based in D.C., opted to host its Key Professionals Association Committee for the first time in Cleveland, Ohio, wowing this select group of executives with one-of-a-kind venues and sunset views over dinner on the city’s Cuyahoga River.

The Association of College & Research Libraries was drawn to Cleveland’s affordability and accessibility. Its meeting attendees toured the city like they’d walk a campus. They ended their meeting at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that they turned into their own personal Coachella.

The Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation sought a location with cutting-edge medical expertise for its annual educational event. The organization tapped Cleveland’s large medical community to deliver never-before-seen education content including a first-ever “fireside chat” between the AAMI CEO Robert Jensen and keynote Dr. Toby Cosgrove, former CEO of the Cleveland Clinic.

Finally, networking continues to be one of the most important reasons people choose to attend a meeting, reports the Experience Institute. In 2020, attendees will expect opportunities for authentic connection with peers beyond small-talk and card exchanges in ballrooms. Conferences Direct treated its CDX attendees in Cleveland to three different tours—museums, breweries, and a boat cruise on Lake Erie—to encourage relationship building with peers and the city itself. The Content Marketing Institute created highly interactive education and networking sessions using innovative spaces in the city’s Flats East Bank area.

Authentic connections are the key to memorable experiences in 2020 and beyond. Meeting planners have more responsibility, but also more opportunities to think differently about their meetings and harness the venues and expertise in a host of cities to deliver meetings that bring attendees back.

“The success of your meeting depends on the meeting planner,” says Yma Sherry, Vice President, North America, American Express Meetings & Events. “Their job is to recommend creative ideas that will make the event more engaging for the participants.”

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(Lance Anderson)