Planning for the Future of Meetings

Future of Meetings October 9, 2018

New technologies and shifting attendee priorities are changing expectations for meetings and events. Recent benchmarking and foresight research from the ASAE Foundation identify significant trends for meeting professionals to watch.

Association meeting and event professionals are always looking ahead—not just to the next meeting, but also at long-term societal trends that affect how people live, work, and associate. Meeting professionals are increasingly aware that members want up-to-date technology at conferences, that environmentally responsible practices are increasingly important to members, and that the growth of virtual connectivity means that people need compelling reasons to meet face to face.

The challenge is knowing where to begin. Technology is continuously shifting and member needs change. Two ASAE Foundation resources, Benchmarking in Association Management: Policies and Procedures, Vol. I  and the ASAE ForesightWorks action briefs, shine light on issues that will drive the future of meetings and events—and help meetings professionals identify changes they can make to keep attendees coming back.

Make meetings about experiences and interactions. About half of all associations offer some type of virtual meeting, according to Benchmarking in Association Management. As the quality and diversity of virtual learning and meetings options increase, people will be drawn to in-person meetings for new reasons. The ForesightWorks “Virtualized Meetings” action brief suggests that attendees will look for unique experiences and authentic social interactions with colleagues in addition to—or rather than—traditional learning and networking activities. With this in mind, think about what could set your meeting apart. What can you offer people that they can’t necessarily find at anyone else’s event?

Attendees will look for unique experiences and authentic interactions with colleagues in addition to—or rather than—traditional learning and networking activities.

Use technology effectively. Many associations are already integrating new technology at events. Associations are the type of organization most likely to have an event app, with 89 percent reporting that they offer one, according to a 2017 study.

The key to incorporating new tech at meetings is to make sure that it improves member experience, that it is fully integrated with the event, and that it works. Many associations are using apps and other technology options to create paper-free or paperless meetings: 79 percent of associations have gone paperless at their events in 2018, according to Benchmarking in Association Management. Ditching paper cuts costs, unburdens attendees, and is great for the environment.

Effective technology makes attendees’ lives easier without taking away the information or support they rely on. What kinds of technology could serve your attendee needs while providing wide-ranging benefits?

Keep it green. The “Ethical Consumption” action brief notes that many millennials are values-driven consumers. Associations can connect with younger members by demonstrating a commitment to ethical practices in meetings, including environmental responsibility.

Data in Benchmarking in Association Management indicates that associations are meeting this demand in various ways. Twenty-one percent of respondents reported contracting with venues with demonstrated commitment to green practices, such as those with LEED certification; 28 percent provide shuttle transportation to reduce individual car use; and 35 percent offer locally sourced, seasonal, or organic foods. Such steps not only attract attendees and improve the bottom line, but they’re also an opportunity for associations to demonstrate a commitment to the environment.

The future offers a host of possibilities for association meeting and event planners, so it is important to make informed decisions. Benchmarking in Association Management: Policies and Procedures, Vol. I and ASAE ForesightWorks provide the research-based knowledge that, alongside your own member and meetings data, enables you to deliver the best meetings to your members.