The New Face of MeetingsApril 1, 2015

5 Trends From the Event Service Manager's Perspective By
April 1, 2015

The New Face of Meetings

5 Trends From the Event Service Manager's Perspective

Suttle,Denise-ESPA-110Denise Suttle, CMP, is president of the Event Service Professionals Association (ESPA) and the assistant director of convention services at the Albuquerque CVB. Suttle has been at the Albuquerque CVB since moving to New Mexico from Oklahoma in 1991. At the CVB, she works with citywide conventions that utilize the Albuquerque Convention Center and multiple hotels, sporting events and hotel meetings of all kinds. A member of PCMA since 1996 and ESPA since 2000, she has served on the ESPA board of directors and is past chair of the marketing & communications committee, 2015 Annual Conference committee and code of ethics ad hoc committee.

The event service manager is on the frontline of events, with the benefit of a broad view as direct liaison with the meeting planner, representing a variety of meeting types and all other departments involved in the event, including catering, facility operations and audio-visual. A fluid partnership between an event service manager and a meeting planner creates an undeniable synergy that ultimately yields a successful and memorable event.

By the nature of our role, event service managers work with a number of meeting planners, groups and events each day, exposing us to new ideas and trends. Here are five trends to watch this year from the perspective of an event service manager.

1. Change it up! Incorporate a mix of seating styles in your general session so that attendees can choose what best reflects their learning style. At the Event Service Professionals Association’s (ESPA) Annual Conference this year, we included traditional classroom seating, rounds, theater seating, highboys and pods of six in the main general session room. The setup enabled interaction and collaboration among attendees and encouraged attendee mobility. If budget allows, soft seating such as couches and chairs also add a great element to this format.

Groups also are rethinking their traditional breakfast and lunch space. Instead of rounds of 10 and a buffet, consider having a mix of seating styles with stations located throughout the room for better networking and incorporate interactive activities to help attendees move around. It’s not just for receptions anymore. At the Annual Conference, we incorporated a dance floor and music in the middle of lunch. Attendees were able to network, move around and, best of all, have some fun in the middle of a day of learning.

2. Engage your audience. This is a big trend in the industry right now as groups continue to look for the best ways to keep attendees engaged and help foster relationships. More groups are incorporating interactive polling into their sessions and there are a variety of mobile applications that enable this type of activity. Polling gives attendees the opportunity to interact with the speaker and immediately weigh in on and share their thoughts and opinions on specific topics.

Teambuilding exercises can incorporate new technology or can be a bit more playful. For example, RSN, an audio-visual group, gave attendees a set of tools that included tinker toys, fabric, string and foil. Attendees were challenged to work as a team to create an impromptu AV production set. Each team presented their works of art while an iPad projected the image on-screen for everyone to see. The result of this experiment was a session brimming with creative group collaboration.

Using technology such as mobile applications can help build attendee engagement and interactivity, but don’t lose sight of the traditional tools that can be used, too.

Using technology such as mobile applications can help build attendee engagement and interactivity, but don’t lose sight of the traditional tools that can be used, too.
Bulletin boards where attendees can post things they have learned throughout the event, takeaway reminder notecards to jot down ideas that attendees would like to implement when they return home, and bowls on each table filled with topics to spark conversation during breaks and lunches, are all traditional tools that help create a sense of engagement and interaction.

3. Cater to your attendees. The design of food and beverage menus is critical, and more meeting planners are looking to the venue’s chefs for custom menus versus a facility’s published selections. The ability to incorporate more options into the menu that are local, vegetarian, vegan, health-conscious and protein-packed is a hot topic, as not all published menus offer as much variety. A fellow ESPA board member from a Starwood hotel relayed to me that their chef is currently restructuring its menu offerings and looking to cover these types of requests into their standard buffet menus while also making available a selection of vegetarian plated options for meeting planners to select from in advance.

There also is a more proactive and organized approach in learning and fulfilling attendees’ special meal requests. Planners are collecting that information upfront, communicating immediately with the venue and assigning special cards or seating to accurately identify guests with special meal requests or dietary restrictions. Chefs are becoming more creative with preparing foods that meet various dietary restrictions such as gluten-free and various allergies. Starting the food and beverage conversations early in the planning process and ensuring your chef is connected with the meeting planner from the start helps to achieve everyone’s food and beverage goals.

4. Health and well-being. In addition to menu design, groups are more attentive to attendees’ work and personal balance. More and more groups are incorporating exercise programs into their events, such as yoga, Pilates and Zumba classes, to promote wellness and help attendees relax, loosen up their minds and bodies, and refocus their energy for the remainder of the meeting.

5. Corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR no longer only means going offsite to community venues. Groups now can bring their CSR activity into the hotel or convention center’s space making it more accessible and widely supported. Consider activities such as assembling personal hygiene kits for residents of homeless shelters, filling weekend backpacks with protein snacks and packaged foods for children, writing personalized notes to service men and women overseas, creating get-well cards for those battling illnesses at local hospitals and assembling bicycles for children from an underserved part of the community. Set up a room at the venue where attendees can stop in at any time throughout the duration of the meeting to contribute to these types of activities. To create an even bigger sense of camaraderie, schedule certain times throughout the event for attendees to participate in these activities as a group.

These five trends illustrate just a few new elements to incorporate into your meetings. Event service managers and meeting planners should collaborate to create enhanced learning environments and memorable events. AC&F


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