While Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID) may have come and gone this year on Thursday, April 12, 2018, the vitality of the meetings and events industry is ever evident.

We caught up with Benjamin Rabe, CEM, events director for association management and service company SmithBucklin, which maintains offices in Chicago and Washington, D.C., to ask him his take on GMID and what he’s seeing in the association meetings segment.

Rabe, who started with the company as an event coordinator in 2002, is now in charge of strategy and fulfillment for five annual tradeshows and their corresponding events. He also leads teams who deliver event services to professional trade associations and societies as well as some corporate and government clients.

On the trend front, Rabe noted the following things to look out for and consider for your upcoming association meetings:

Map Out the Attendee Journey

Meeting planners know, of course, that executing a successful meeting is more than just securing a space, buying some pots of coffee—lots of coffee—and throwing some snacks out on a break table. The attendee journey needs to be first and foremost in one’s mind, as it is the attendee who is always your primary client.

“It needs to be personalized, not one-size-fits-all, Rabe said. “One way to achieve this is by identifying specific audience segments you want to attract to your event. Map out their journey from the time you invite them through the post-event survey, and make sure you have activities that will appeal to them.”

SmithBucklin reached out to an organization who it deemed a prospect to attend but who had not taken part in the event before, and tailored their experience before, during and after the meeting.

“We invited an organization that had not previously attended the event but had ties to the industry,” Rabe said. “We set up appointments the day before the event for this organization to meet privately with a select group of exhibitors with common interests. The exhibitors who participated in the pre-show appointments supported this exclusive opportunity and received premium booth space near their location at the show.

"After the event, the new attendees were invited to join a closed Facebook group to keep their conversations and networking going," he added. "By having an individualized plan for these attendees, we helped build the foundation for longer term relationships between them and our client as well as the exhibitors.”

Develop Key Anchors on the Show Floor for Specific Audiences

Educational experiences are not just to be sequestered in boring breakout spaces.

Today’s attendee—and exhibitors—crave the action and excitement of discovering their interests addressed in a buffet-like fashion, spread across a convention center show floor.

“Get attendees excited about your show floor by developing special pavilions that offer exclusive content to specific audience segments,” Rabe offered. “First, you need to understand what motivates each subgroup and what they want and need from this event.

"Then create anchors on the show floor specifically designed for these subgroups.”

These pavilions can also serve strategic purposes that go beyond attendee education.

“For example, we set up a pavilion that provided education and entertainment specific to the needs of a particular subgroup we were trying to recruit as a partner for future shows,” Rabe said. “Our client also organized a scavenger hunt to help drive traffic to this pavilion. Altogether, the interaction was great. The subgroup was engaged not only with the content but networking in the pavilion as well as the entire event.”

Unique Experiences Are Key

If you want people to take time off of work and travel to your convention, you better make sure it delivers something out of the ordinary they couldn’t get at home. If not, why bother coming at all?

“People crave doing something they’ve never experienced before,” Rabe said. “It doesn’t mean you have to offer bungee jumping. For example, one client had a tailgate party at the College Football Hall of Fame. We put walking tacos on the menu, and Georgia Tech cheerleaders led a pep rally.

"The event was a hit with everyone—even those who admittedly weren’t into college football. It’s more about coming together with colleagues and sharing something new that helps strengthen those relationships.”

Augmented and Mixed Reality Is Catching Fire

More associations tradeshows are using augmented, virtual and mixed reality technology to bring real-world experiences to the show floor.

“We’re see more really cool live demonstrations and hands-on learning opportunities on the show floor,” Rabe said. “Exhibitors can showcase equipment without the expense of shipping it to the venue.

I’ve seen exhibitors who are in the construction industry give tours to attendees through a building they’ve built without leaving the show floor. We developed a promotional advertising package to highlight the exhibitor and their virtual reality tours. This is the future of tradeshows.”

In the end, producing and executing a successful association meeting—or any other, for that matter—thrives on innovation and providing exciting, inspiring experiences that create an atmosphere of FOMO (fear of missing out) among attendees and prospective attendees.

“There is no wash, rinse and repeat in this industry,” Rabe said.

"Revisit the theme for each show and devote time to the ideation process. Your show has to have at least one new element that will surprise and delight your attendees each year so they will keep returning.”

The Value of Meeting Face-to-Face

When it comes to the value of meetings, Rabe is among the many who live the Global Meetings Industry Day ethos year-round.

“Professional trade associations and societies rely on conferences, tradeshows and meetings to further their efforts in educating workforces, improving lives, creating jobs and delivering innovations,” Rabe said.

SmithBucklin Staff Celebrating GMID 2018

He noted how the meetings industry contributes billions of dollars to the U.S. economy, while creating millions of jobs in almost every community in the country. The Oxford Economics study, released in February 2018 by the Events Industry Council, concluded that the economic impact of U.S. meetings in 2016 totaled:

  • $845 billion of output (business sales).
  • 5.9 million jobs with $249 billion of labor income.
  • $446 billion of GDP (representing contribution to U.S. gross domestic product).
  • $104 billion of federal, state and local taxes.

“The meetings sector supported more direct jobs than many large manufacturing sectors, including machinery, food, auto and chemicals,” Rabe noted. “It sustained more jobs than the telecommunications and oil and gas extraction industries as well, the report said.”

Of the 1.9 million meetings held in 2016, associations accounted for a total of 453,068 meetings and served 86 million participants, a 34.3 percent share of the total meetings participants, according to the report.

On the ground, Rabe is seeing first-hand how conferences are providing vital education and networking conference attendance is on the rise.

“Many of our client organizations are seeing their meetings and tradeshows growing,” Rabe said. “We’re seeing record-setting attendance and continued growth in exhibit sales. Net promoter scores are increasing, too. Overall satisfaction responses are positive. People are continuing to find value in these face-to-face meetings.”