Debbie Langelier of NTSA shares how digital is a huge presence at her trade show—for a connected audience that expects the next great thing.
To creative 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 fourth “Planner of Productivity”: Debbie Langelier, CEM, vice president of the National Training and Simulation Association (NTSA). NTSA is a smaller association—350 members—with a large trade show of 17,400 attendees. Eighty-five percent of those attendees represent the military or U.S. Department of Defense. The rest are from related industries, such as serious gaming, health care and manufacturing. NTSA’s trade show—the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC)— is the largest modeling, simulation and training event in the world. Every year, it’s held in Orlando, an ideal location because four branches of the military have bases nearby. In fact, 40 percent of I/ITSEC attendees drive to the show.
Visit Orlando: How do you define innovation and what are you doing to infuse this into the meetings you plan?
Debbie Langelier: For us, a lot of innovation is digital. We’re slowly moving away from the print pieces. We’re trying to push everything digital and getting the word out via our app. And we’re creating virtual experiences because that’s what our base is about—AI and virtual reality. We have used gamification in our app. In 2018, we won the Most Innovative Award from IAEE (International Association of Exhibitions and Events) for the app. That’s when we did our gamification.
Think of the Pokémon GO game, where you must find him. We’ll have a game next year at I/ITSEC in which you find the “blue man,” the I/ITSEC mascot. Blue man will be virtual; attendees can scan a certain item or place inside the convention center, and he’ll pop up. I call it attendee engagement. There will be a prize at the end, but it’s about getting attendees to certain sections of the show where we want them to be engaged.
A lot of our ideas and innovations are adapted and created by our exhibitors in the industry space. We get to implement them, usually through those same industry partners. We work with the convention center on connection. About five years ago, Orange County Convention Center completely upgraded its Wi-Fi system, and it’s made what we want to do much easier.
VO: How have such innovative approaches allowed for greater productivity in meetings?
DL: We start pushing our digital presence about a month out from the show. With a printed program, you can’t get sudden changes out to the masses quickly, but we can using our digital presence. We can push out any changes we want through the mobile app or the online program. It helps attendees not only plan their visits but also make changes once they arrive if something has happened.
VO: Taking advantage of smart, flexible meeting space is one of the largest trends this year. How have you utilized this for greater productivity?
DL: New for us this year was Iron Developer, just like the kitchen show “Iron Chef.” A lot of developers got together in a meeting room and essentially turned it into one big Iron Dev meeting room. Then, we converted that meeting room onto the exhibit floor, so there was behind-the-scenes action that we filmed, and everybody got to see it. Then we went to live production on the exhibit floor.
When you think about the size of our show—half-a-million gross square feet—there are a lot of moving parts that the convention center handles flawlessly. Think about the developers going for three days, then us completely switching the game on them and switching them onto the exhibit floor.
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?
DL: You must listen to your attendees and your exhibitors. These are customers outward looking in, and they’re not in the day-to-day operations of trade shows. We’ve implemented some of their ideas, and they’ve become really important to our event. Sometimes those ideas are the ones that work the best. It’s somebody in a large group looking to make their experience better, and if they’re making their own experience better, then they’re probably making someone else’s experience better, too.
One idea from our committee was to create a lead scanning system inside the app for the exhibitors. They didn’t have to run a separate unit; they didn’t have to wait on their data till the show is done. Every night, they could go back to their rooms and download their data into their cellphones. They had up-to-date data right then; they did not have to wait three days after the show.
VO: Describe a few of the initiatives you’ve spearheaded—no matter how large or small—to improve the attendee experience.
DL: We have Innovation Showcase, in which exhibitors present the sales pitches that aren’t allowed in their official programs. It’s first-come, first serve. You must be an exhibitor, and each gets 30 minutes to present.
We’ve also streamlined registration. We’re a very secure show, and our main goal is to take care of the attendee and exhibitor and get them into the business as quick as possible. Since we implemented self-registration and self-badging, the lines have been minimal and the data correct for our analytics.
VO: When thinking about unique experiences in Orlando, which offsite location do you prefer: Café Tu Tu Tango? Cuba Libre? ICON Park?
Cuba Libre is nice because it turns into a nightclub at night. You can have dinner and then do some salsa dancing.
This article has been provided by Visit Orlando.
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