Alarm Bells are Ringing, But Is the Event Industry Listening?

Posted by Jenise Fryatt on Tue, Mar 19, 2013 @ 05:04 PM

danger signThese are pivotal times for event professionals.

Technology, economic challenges and sustainability issues have combined to create a perfect storm that will carry those who are paying attention to new heights, while leaving the rest bypassed or replaced by innovators and do-it-yourselfers.

As someone who has participated in, watched and written about the events industry for several years, it has become clear to me that business cannot continue as usual.

As Plan Your Meetings' Kristi Casey Sanders noted on Liz King Events blog recently, the economic landscape for events has changed.  The fact that events continue to be among the first budget items to be slashed despite industry efforts to make the valid point that "Meetings Mean Business" must be faced. 

Whether this is due to the ineffectiveness of our message or the emergence of virtual meeting options that allow organizations to continue to meet while eliminating the travel & hospitality expenses incurred by face to face events may be debatable. But the fact that the game has significantly changed is not.

In fact, it may be that more meetings are taking place as a result of virtual options that are not only inexpensive but easy for non-professionals to organize.

Facing the Facts

On that note, have you looked lately at all the tools and information that are available online for amateur event planners to do it themselves?  Many organizations are choosing to forgo hiring a professional. In fact, new formats developed by these amateurs have become quite popular. Formats such as the "open space" and "bar camps" celebrate amateur event planning and take pride in the do-it-yourself approach.

There are other factors to consider; for instance, continuing concern over the unsustainability of the events industry. The tradeshow/convention industry is known to be among the most wasteful industries in the United States and the rising cost of fossil fuels has imperiled options for travel.

In the midst of all this stands what I consider to be a ray of hope that continues to go unrecognized by many event professionals. We are witnessing what I would call a content revolution: a drastic change in marketing from an emphasis on broadcast, name recognition, flash and big bucks advertising to a quest for online search engine optimization effectively driven by fresh quality content posted online. 

This new emphasis on "content" over form or style zeros in on what makes face to face meetings and events so valuable.  They are prolific content generators. In addition, they provide networking opportunities that cannot be duplicated virtually.

Meeting Pros of the Future

Meeting professionals who educate themselves and begin to use technology to their advantage could become masters at organizing and digitally marketing virtual events, thereby adding value to their roles. Facilitating more meetings throughout the year virtually could serve to create a demand and appreciation for opportunities to meet face to face at conferences.

Instead of trying to accomplish objectives that can easily be met through virtual meetings, organizers should take advantage of the unique opportunities that face to face meetings present.

A renewed emphasis should be placed on effective presentation techniques that foster attendee interaction and use research about learning and the brain to create more optimal experiences, as Jeff Hurt suggests. Networking opportunities should take a much more central role and use the latest techniques and formats to make the most of valuable face to face time.

In addition, we can no longer afford to squander the valuable content generated at events. Capturing and repurposing event content throughout the year to build community as well as for the content marketing of future events has become a must.

As my Smarter Shift colleague Mitchell Beer put it in his final column for MeetingsNet: "...it is the quality of session content and its integration with an organization's wider strategy—not the choice of glitzy destination or seat covers at the gala—that brings most participants on site and persuades their bosses to pay their way."

If it all comes down to creativity, then event professionals have at least one thing going for them. This field is filled with some of the most creative and resourceful people on the planet.  The problem may be that we have become so good at the nuts and bolts we've neglected our passion for bringing together and activating collaboration and synergy within groups.

A renewed emphasis must be placed on the "why" of events.  Creating quality networking opportunities; empowering attendees to mold events to their individual desires; creating quality content and maximizing it's power through tools such as online streaming, recording and online community engagement: all of these are opportunities for event professionals to set themselves apart and connect with the creative spark that got them interested in events in the first place.

All are also opportunties to ride a wave of change that threatens to engulf those who refuse to look up and take notice.

(photo by flattop341)

Tags: event formats, meeting planners, virtual events, content capture, content marketing, event industry