Shhhhhhh … don’t tell anyone but here are five trends in corporate meetings and events that you’ll want to be aware of if you want to be a rockstar to your attendees.
Designing and executing programs that put the needs and desires of attendees as your top priority will get you there. Let’s take a closer look …
Healthier Food & Beverage Options – Most studies indicate you can point the finger at F&B as the biggest driver of escalating corporate meeting and event costs, so navigating this particular trend is a sticky-wicket. Here’s the deal: As audiences skew younger and younger, with Millennials and Generation-Whatever becoming a larger percentage of attendee groups, the presence of health-conscious “foodies” is also increasing. For instance, at breakfast they don’t want the traditional smorgasbord of greasy meats, yolky eggs, starchy cereals, and sweetened juices … or the sugary pastries and buttery baked goods at the morning break … or the … you get the picture.
More and more, attendees are not only demanding but expecting healthier choices from meeting planners. They prefer quality over quantity when it comes to consumption. Swap natural granola bars for pastries (or do a 50-50 split of each). Include fruit in greater varieties at breakfast and breaks, as well as organic yogurt, a selection of herbal teas, and a bowl of raw almonds. Avoid sleep-inducing and waistline-expanding starchy items like pasta at lunches and dinners and offer more lean meat and non-fried fish options. And at cocktail hour, move beyond the tired lineup of basic beers and wines, and create stations where handcrafted cocktails (“alchemy cocktails” is the trendy name) are mixed by a bartender who also informs and shares the chemistry involved while mixing the concoction. Add local craft beers, too.
Questionable practices within the food industry have been exposed in recent years. People are better informed and rightfully cautious about what they consume to fuel their bodies. Yes, healthier food options cost more but you may discover the quantity of the food you need to order actually shrinks. And hey, healthier eating might help fend off that dreaded 2 PM slump!
Speaking of health …
Comfort is King – Remember the straight-back schoolroom chairs or rock-hard church pews of your youth? Yeah, they didn’t enhance the overall experience much, did they? People listen more closely and learn more deeply when they’re physically comfortable. This extends beyond seating and seating configurations, it involves wearing comfortable attire, as well.
The vast majority of companies have adopted biz-casual as the dress-code norm over the last couple of decades, and nowadays it often includes athleisure wear – clothing originally intended for workouts at the gym that is now socially acceptable (and more stylish) in many other casual and business settings.
Ladies are ditching spiked heels and dresses in favor of yoga pants, fashionable tops and clean, comfortable running shoes instead. For guys, suitcoats and ties are mostly a thing of the past and so are starched, button-up shirts. Athletic-cut clothing made from modern fabrics is more popular and common among men in meeting and event settings these days.
Meeting groups today are looking more and more like smartly dressed, physically fit groups on a walking tour of a city. And trust your attendees to be tasteful when it comes to choosing their attire. Allow them to be comfortable.
“All aboard the training train!” – Several recent industry surveys noted the trend towards training-based corporate meetings and events. Lectures and “Sermons on the Mount” — in this case, from the mainstage — are passe’. There is wisdom behind the Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” (Take him fishing and buy his beer and he’ll be your best bud! I digress …)
When people listen and do something simultaneously, both sides of the brain are engaged and they learn more meaningfully. Meeting hosts are realizing this and seeing the value in designing and executing carefully crafted programs that are heavily training-based.
Expos are Exponentially Popular – I’m not talking tradeshows and expositions in huge convention halls, I’m talking about vendor fares, supplier showcases, product demo stations, etc. within the context of a corporate meeting or event. Gone are the days of collecting a vendor fee, providing a skirted, 6’ folding table and two chairs, and saying, “Have at it, Mr. Supplier.”
A greater number of meeting professionals are pouring a lot of thought, money, time and attention-to-detail into expos. They’re more discerning as to who and what is showcased; making sure attendees gain something of true value from the interactions. High-quality food and beverage is often incorporated, and hours are being extended beyond the typical, 90-minute window when people rush from table to table to get their “passport” stamped enough times to redeem it for a logo’d t-shirt that washes up nicely exactly once.
I recently attended an event that kept its expo open from 10AM-7PM and it never had a lull. There was food and beverage, hourly prize giveaways of something you’d actually like to win, and lively upbeat music that added to the experience without overpowering it. As the day progressed, bars were brought in. There were only 65 vendors but the nine-hour time window allowed people to linger longer at each station and have more engaging interactions. But there’s a caveat …
If you want to include a meaningful expo element in your program, understand you will only deliver a highly impactful experience if you work closely with your vendors and truly collaborate on the best way to engage attendees. You know your audience and their needs and desires best. The vendor knows his or her product or service best. Find common ground where vendors are able to spotlight their offerings in a manner that better educates and trains an attendee to be better at their job. Expand the hours, add environmental dimensions like F&B, bars, prizes, an emcee or facilitator who can create energy, along with music and quality giveaways vs. cheap, branded trinkets. Make expos a place where everyone wants to be.
“Gimme a break. No, really, I need a break.” – With general sessions and workshops and training and expos, etc., etc., etc. to attend and with all this knowledge to gain in the course of a 2-3-day program, attendees’ brains are screaming for a break.
“Mindfulness” and being mindful is a chic topic these days and while it may be overused, it’s still important for event planners to build in opportunities for attendees to reflect on what they’ve just experienced. (True confessions: I have to walk away from my keyboard from time to time just to uncross my eyes and give my brain a five-minute “chill session”. Your attendees need that, too.)
Jam-packed meetings and events can be quite demanding for conference attendees. As one recent article stated, “And while the goal is ensuring attendee minds are full, don’t discount the benefits of attendees being mindful as well. Leading experts agree that ‘brain breaks’ are crucial to rejuvenating the mind, and actually foster elevated levels of creativity. Give attendees time and space to breathe, reflect, and regroup with hands-on workshops, outdoor activities, art exhibits or wellness activities.” Truth.
Now, go out there and be a rockstar!
Corporate meetings and events professionals have to meet more youthful audiences on their terms by staying current on trends in healthier food and beverage, experiences, higher levels of engagement, and comfort.