A WALL OF GREENS
Technology has transformed all kinds of meetings, whether a festive sales gathering or a technical medical conference.
Planners use metrics to assemble the data needed to assess a meeting’s success and plan for the future. For example, RFID tags show which booths generated the most traffic, who attended particular breakout sessions, or which presentations drew the most conversation, notes McHugh of Total Event Resources. Surveys reveal attendee satisfaction. And social media postings show which talks and activities cut through the clutter.
“These are no longer stand-alone endeavors; they are measured against an organization’s larger strategic goals,” McHugh says. “How does this roll up into the bigger picture? Is this helping drive sales, or should we do something else? There’s a lot more quantifiable data and measures than as recently as five years ago.”
Web streaming or webinars let the host reach people who don’t travel to the venue. “The ability to stream has been a game changer,” says Barbara Connell, CEO of the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, or ASGE, and national chair of an Events Industry Council committee for planners. “People can be halfway across the world. They don’t have to wait weeks or months to see presentations.”
Agendas, schedules and presentations, attendee lists and speaker bios are posted to mobile apps and websites, doing away with printed materials.
“After the conference, we send out emails with links to the presentations,” says Manfredini of MSCI. “We’re replacing all that paper, so it’s more (environmentally) sustainable.”
Mobile apps are useful for interactions with the audience, such as a quick survey or questions for a speaker. They also provide news and updates. Essendant’s meeting app was particularly helpful in 2015 when an ice storm in Nashville, Tenn., hit on the arrival day of a show for customers and suppliers. Attendees were stuck as the airport was closed.
“Having the app was critical for bulletins as the program was turned upside down,” Collins recalls. “We pushed back the general session. People trickled in; a few hundred didn’t make it at all.”
Then, of course, there’s ubiquitous social media, used by meeting sponsors as well as attendees to post content, observations, praise, criticism and photos. Posting content on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms enables the conference to amplify its content, reach a wider audience and extend the life of a show.
ASGE begins promoting content on social media before an event to “generate interest and attract the right people to the content,” Connell says.
Every element of a show is fodder for Instagram, and food pictures are a favorite, whether a barista manning a coffee bar, a chocolate dessert fountain or a sushi display.
“Everything must look playful, beautiful and organic because everyone is taking photos,” says Jodi Fyfe, founder and CEO of caterer Paramount Events. Platters and baskets don’t work because photogenic displays require height. Paramount uses illuminated blocks, raised wooden boards and etageres to present food.
A lettuce wall was a well-photographed attraction at a May event for about 85 meeting planners on Michigan Avenue hosted by a convention visitors bureau, says Micayla Diener, director of sales in Chicago at event planning company CSI DMC, which handled the logistics. Guests went up to the wall of greens with a pair of shears and snipped off romaine and red leaf to mix their own salads.
The salad wall tied into the event’s “healthy living,” theme, Diener says, and impressed the seasoned group of planners.