To the industry's credit it is not just the host organisers who are trying harder to produce quality programmes: venues are pitching in, as are industry educators and other suppliers. Everyone realises that keeping delegates engaged at live events is challenging and needs some serious brainpower. The same old same for annual events no longer works.
Education in this area has improved. Evidence can be found in various quarters. Industry association PCMA has developed a reputation for producing conferences which dare to experiment with new formats so industry members can experience the possibilities before adopting them for their own events. Ideas like the Learning Lounge, TechCentral, and the Inspiration Café.
Major industry trade shows like IMEX and IBTM are constantly on the lookout for innovative education sessions and are willing to test new ideas. Admittedly, some are catchy titles for traditional sessions, but many are incorporating new room formats and learning styles. For example: Campfires, Hot Topic Tables, Meet the Expert, Research Pod, Playroom, Deep Dives, Learning Labs, Inspiration and Research Hubs.
Beyond the business sessions, creative programming extended to delegates' other needs which impact their overall event experience. No longer were we being offered standard coffee breaks or tired old lunch options. Brain food appeared on the menu.
The new convention and exhibition in Sydney due to open at the end of 2016 will offer "smart food" which embraces a "feed your performance" philosophy using fresh, high protein/low fat, local produce.
Accor's Mercure Hotels have responded to rising expectations with the launch of Mindful Meetings which creates welcoming meeting spaces through use of plants, wall art and oil diffusers, along with hotel carbon credits for a carbon-neutral meeting. Mecure's Food for Thought menus have been created by a qualified nutritionist.
Other venues are rethinking the presentation of event spaces through design, soft furnishings, conversations areas and technology. Enhanced atmospherics help organisers develop conference programmes which result in more immersive experiences for delegates.
The combined efforts of enlightened conference stakeholders is good news for the attendees. Pressure to lift the bar means delegates can look forward to less staid meetings and more dynamic energising events which should improve outcomes for all.
Elizabeth Rich is an Australia-based business events specialist with a background as an association manager, PCO, trainer, speaker, writer and consultant. A keen observer of the international market, Elizabeth has over 35 years' experience in business events. [email protected]