Wondering what the hottest trends are for conference center events? Meetings Focus reached out to some of the most informed folks in the field, and this was the top feedback when it comes to staging cutting-edge conference meets.

Collaboration Is Rising
Whether looking at the way speakers are bringing the audience into the experience, the seating at certain group events, or even how attendees are dining, the effort of increasing group interplay has risen.

“Meetings are increasingly collaborative and the traditional meeting formats are being replaced by more-progressive designs,” says Ryan Simonetti, CEO of New York City’s Convene. “From the content, to the technology, to the venue, to the seating arrangements, our clients are looking to create memorable and highly collaborative meetings and event experiences for their participants.”

Team Fun Heats Up
“Experiential learning is not a new concept, but it is one that has evolved in recent years to include a broader range of team-development activities, from culinary teambuilding to zip-wire activities and many other on-property activities,” says Mark Cooper, CEO of the International Association of Conference Centres. “These activities blend easily with classroom learning and are affordable.”

At the San Luis Resort, Spa & Conference Center, in Galveston, Texas, Director of Conference Planning David Townsend has seen a dramatic rise in interactive “Iron Chef” competitions and team mixology contests, where resort demand for these events over the past year matches the total for the previous 10.

Healthy Dining Demands
“Today’s consumer is much more sophisticated and has higher expectations when it comes to food, beverage and service experience,” Convene’s Simonetti remarks. “This is putting increased pressure on planners and their venue partners to deliver culinary and service experiences that surprise and delight.”

Mairead Hennessy, district manager for Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, Calif., says attendees are “taking a more natural approach and asking for more local and organic items. More and more people are asking for local beers and wines and are doing without carbonated and sweetened beverages.”

Nancy Lindemer of Babson Executive Conference Center in Wellesley, Mass., echoes the health emphasis.

“We have seen an increase in demand for healthier food items and have addressed that with our fresh food selections; with lots of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and vegetarian and vegan options on all buffets—to handle allergens, dietary needs and lifestyle preferences,” she remarks.

Outside the Box
“We’re seeing more creative and unique outdoor events where people are encouraged to ‘unplug’ from technology,” says Asilomar’s Hennessy. “For example, companies are doing more bonfires where employees can just sit around and talk.”

Babson’s Lindemer has witnessed a similar wave, including “the utilization of casual spaces and the outdoors for collaboration and networking,” with groups “breaking out into different environments to inspire the conversation.”

Trendy Tech
“More groups are tweeting during conferences,” says the San Luis Resort’s Townsend. “Many groups are utilizing a live feed for participants to interact with the crowd. A challenge with this is keeping up with the bandwidth needed to support these functions.”

Convene’s Simonetti has seen a number of techie trends, including the growth of the virtual meeting, but the main wave he’s seeing in the high-tech area is an overarching one.

“Technology will continue to be a larger and larger part of the meetings and event industry,” he says. “From how clients book venues, to how they interact on-site, to what happens after the meeting, everything will be supported by technology.”