Veteran event and association management professional Annalisa Ponchia, CMP, CMM, has joined AIM Group International as director of innovation and customer experience. Serving for the past 12 years as CEO of the European Society for Organ Transplantation, Ponchia organized the group’s scientific and educational events, including its biennial Congress, which regularly attracts over 4,000 attendees. At AIM Group, she fills a new strategic position, tasked with driving innovation across the company. We asked Ponchia about the experience and outlook she brings to the job.
MeetingsNet: Looking back over your career, what have you learned about attendees and their educational experience at meetings that you didn’t know when you started the business?
Annalisa Ponchia: When I started the business, our major focus was on the perfection of the execution and attention to details. Attendees were less sophisticated and often paid more attention to entertainment and the quality or amount of food, rather than content. Logistics are still all important, but they are now something we provide on autopilot, while our main efforts are directed at creating a personalized experience for each audience segment. Education for adult learners today must be placed in the context of the attendee’s professional environment and respond to their daily practice and work, providing detailed information on operation protocols (for medicine) and offering occasions for networking.
MeetingsNet: Meeting design has evolved over the years, largely for the better. Can you name a meeting design strategy that you would be happy to see go by the wayside?
Ponchia: I’d be happy to say goodbye to logistics design that doesn’t resonate with the meeting scope and purpose. I can no longer imagine a stage setup with the traditional top-table lectern and a speaker who wants to stay far away from the audience. In terms of the agenda, I would like to abolish all programs without a storyboard, ones that do not stick with the vision of the organization or association, as well as those with a speaker lineup designed to showcase “old” professors delivering top-down presentations and “must-invite” colleagues and friends.
MeetingsNet: Five years from now, will the trade show floor look like?
Ponchia: Trade shows will become a big interactive lab, where products are showcased for learning. For instance, we have already organized guided tours through expo areas led by independent specialists who present the clinical applications and the status of research around equipment and providers, focusing on sharing experiences and information rather than promoting a particular solution. The approach of the Industry is changing or will have to change, favoring education over marketing. There are huge opportunities to provide information on products in new ways, for example, virtual booths, 3D video clips, and augmented reality presented in dedicated theaters or at the booth.
I always think of the exhibit area like an airport terminal, designed to offer areas to relax and network, recharge our bodies as well as our devices—the place to be when you are not in a session. Everything from furniture to food (if served), even a scent (like in some shops) must work together to create a sensory experience.
MeetingsNet: What might someone be surprised to learn about you?
Ponchia: I am a quiet person who enjoys moments of peace and silence, despite being very talkative and normally a ceaseless networker.