Kevin Brooks of Church of God discusses how embracing wireless technology in Orlando streamlined registration and was a welcome addition to the attendee experience.
To create innovative and interactive meetings, planners around the nation are raising the bar on productivity and capitalizing on attendee experience. In Orlando, seven planners have exceeded in this realm, setting the bar high for both their peers and the industry. In this series, we’ll learn how these planners are driving change, creating memorable events and inspiring their attendees at each and every meeting.
Meet our seventh “Planner of Productivity”: Kevin Brooks, the agent of record for the Church of God—headquartered in Cleveland, Tennessee—since 2004. This means he is in charge of public relations and conference planning. Every two years, the Church of God International General Assembly is held for members and ministers to gather from around the world for worship, as well as to conduct business meetings. The Church signed its first-ever multiyear contract with the City of Orlando, holding its international meeting there in 2010, 2012 and 2014 and again in 2018. The Church is now negotiating its next Orlando multi year contract. The international meeting averages 12,000 to 15,000 attendees, representing 25 to 50 countries.
Visit Orlando: How do you define innovation and what are you doing to infuse this into the meetings you plan?
Kevin Brooks: I define innovation as anything that raises the level of your meeting, whether that’s facilitating registration or ease of movement. Innovation is anything that raises that level of expediency and accuracy. Orlando is truly the world’s capital of hospitality. They actually built their city and planned their infrastructure to accommodate and facilitate large meetings. Because Orlando did such a great job building their infrastructure, we tested new satellite wireless registration sites there in 2018. For decades we had one registration site. But in 2018 we used a satellite registration process, meaning if you were at the Hilton you could register at the Hilton. If you were at the Hyatt, you could register at the Hyatt. We still had our main registration at the Orange County Convention Center. It was so well-received that we are increasing the number of wireless registrations for our next meeting. Our attendees absolutely loved it. We’ve raised their level of expectation, and we have to do it even bigger and better in the future.
VO: How have such innovative approaches allowed for greater productivity in meetings?
KB: When you arrive at your destination, anything that we can do to speed up and make the registration experience better is going to help raise the standard of excellence of the meeting. Having to go stand in line at a hotel, then having to go stand in line at registration doubles the opportunity for frustration and fatigue. Streamlining this to where you only have one-stop shopping truly made for happier attendees and overall a much happier conference. One comment on social media we saw over and over was “welcome to the 21st century. I’m so thankful my church is doing this.”
VO: Taking advantage of smart, flexible meeting space is one of the largest trends this year. How have you utilized this for greater productivity?
KB: We are incorporating much of that into our 2020 design. We are adding more sofas and more “fellowship space” to increase the connectivity of our attendees. We only meet every other year, so our group wants to meet and eat and fellowship. Apart from the electronic innovations we began in Orlando in 2018, we have these non-electric innovations of sitting areas, conversation areas, sofas and chairs, that are “human interaction innovation.” One of our largest exhibits is our Pathway Bookstore, the church’s publishing company. We bring that with us. It’s a “Bible Barnes & Noble”—they can sit there and look at the books and drink a cup of coffee. We’ve found that it is incredibly popular.
VO: What advice would you give to peers about keeping up with consumer expectations? How should they not only manage this, but continuously surprise and delight attendees?
KB: Follow the innovation. God has not given us a spirit of fear—don’t be afraid of embracing technology. It can help, and, in a church setting, can set you apart. I would also say that not all innovation is technological. These face-to-face conversation areas are not inexpensive, but the difference that it makes in the feel of your exhibit area and the feel of your registration area adds an entirely different dimension to what is normally professional and all business. I think our friends in the coffee shops have figured it out: Give people a comfortable place to sit down and they will linger longer and will buy more product and they’ll be happier.
VO: Describe a few of the initiatives you’ve spearheaded—no matter how large or small—to improve the attendee experience.
KB: Live streaming and social media at our 2018 event was at an all-time high for us. After all, we are the church; we’re not known for our innovation and our social media savviness, so we hired an incredible group of social media influencers and said, “make our church event relevant.” We had a selfie wall and a hashtag—it was incredibly well-received. The social media influencers were members of our church who understand our unique church culture. Then we hired a social media company based here in our hometown—many, if not all of them, are Lee University graduates (the Church of God’s university). They know the culture; they understand the nomenclature. They understand that the church vocabulary is different from the world’s vocabulary. When your own children are retweeting church events, you know you’ve done something right. I’m very glad our leadership team took some risks, and those risks paid off in a big way.
VO: When thinking about unique experiences in Orlando, which offsite location do you prefer: Café Tu Tu Tango? Cuba Libre? ICON Park?
KB: Cuba Libre. The food, the atmosphere … It’s my favorite restaurant in Pointe Orlando. It’s a must-stop for me and my family every time I’m there. I have one word: plantains.
_This article has been provided by Visit Orlando. _
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