One part of running a meetings team that I truly love is looking over the horizon to try to see what is coming next. Taking the time to dream, think, discuss, and create what the future might hold is both challenging and rewarding. Sometimes the images are hard to make out—I certainly did not see a global virus coming—but other times, they seem crystal clear. It is that sense of clarity that I want to share.
After almost a year of virtual meetings, we can safely say we have seen a bit of everything. Organizers and attendees now have a range of technology choices—a spectrum of platforms from simple to sophisticated, gamification tools, and HD streaming. People also now have a wide range of affiliation virtual experiences to consider, such as social hours, yoga classes, wine tastings, DJ sessions, and even speed dating. When we return to in-person meetings, customers will have more choices than ever before.
While there will continue to be unknowns about the future of meetings, there are many “universal truths” that help to shape our work: People are social and eager to connect with others; we thrive on discovering new locations and new customs; and we cherish learning new things and love to reconnect with those we miss. So, what does this tell us about meetings?
As I talk to customers, co-workers, suppliers, and peers in other companies, several themes have emerged. I believe they point the way to how we can think about meetings in the future—perhaps our new North Star in the events industry.
Meetings will all be designed around a clear purpose, and engagement journeys will replace isolated events or meetings. Attendees will decide which meetings to attend and how to attend (virtually or in person) based on a meeting’s purpose and value to them. If the meeting content is not perceived as valuable, people may not invest their time. Planners will have to clearly articulate purpose to drive attendance: Who will be speaking; who is attending; and what is the value proposition? What will an attendee gain? All of these messages will need to be carefully crafted and communicated.
Implementing end-to-end sustainability measures will no longer be optional. Location and format of meetings will be driven by their carbon footprint (from attendee travel to supplier selection). Attendees will want to know the impact of their participation, and planners will have to make decisions based on environmental, societal, and economic impacts.
Virtual solutions will become a permanent part of how people meet and connect. Additional options for remote participation will allow attendees to choose their experience and travel priorities. There will be a drive to scale digital tools to provide greater services at lower unit costs.
All meetings will be designed around the participant experience and preferences. There is no “one size fits all” concept. Every touch point will be considered an opportunity to embed knowledge and influence outcomes. Good service no longer means five-star hotels and convention centers. Planner and participant journeys will be designed for intuitive decisions and seamless experiences, with or without human interaction.
With better technology and intentional attendee journeys, data collection will significantly improve. Data will inform planners on where and when to host meetings, who to invite, and how to maximize meeting ROI.
Agendas will be designed to maximize interaction between participants. Small group workshops, training sessions, team building, networking opportunities, and “white spaces” that allow for spontaneous connections will become more important than ever. Plenary time will be reduced, and some content-delivery sessions will be available pre- and post-meeting. Networking will be incorporated into every aspect of the meeting, not just cocktail hour, to make the most of in-person attendance.
“The times go changing. Fashions change. The ways
Of being change. Old credences grow strange.
The world is all made up of whirls of change
Invariably varying its face.”
—Luís Vaz de Camões, in "Sonetos”
We are at a pivotal moment in the history of meetings. I, for one, am so excited to be here now, with the opportunity to shape the future. I invite you to be part of this journey
Maria Barros is senior manager of meetings & events at the Boston Consulting Group. She has worked in the hospitality industry for her entire career, starting out in her family’s restaurant in Portugal. She is passionate about the events industry and steering stakeholders to innovative, sustainable solutions that meet their business needs.