by Sarah J. F. Braley | August 01, 2016

The meetings industry, like so many other sectors, is in a time of rapid change. Our own professional associations are leading the charge, killing tired events, testing new technologies and amping up engagement techniques. The result is a live laboratory designed to keep attendees on the cutting edge.

Many credit the influx of Millennials in the workplace with pushing the meetings envelope.

"Where I think Millennials have expedited the journey is that they are more comfortable with the technology and the pace that has evolved," says Mark Cooper, CEO of the International Association of Conference Centres. "Soon, I think we'll be in a completely different environment. It's going to be a fun five years."

Here's how some industry organizations are upping their games.

ASAE: New show
At the opening of the American Society of Association Executives' annual Springtime Expo in April, ASAE president and CEO John Graham IV, CAE, announced that the 40-year-old event was being retired, and a new conference, the Xperience Design Project, or XDP, will be introduced next May at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center at National Harbor, Md.

"We could have ridden it out for a couple more years," Graham says of Springtime, which had struggled with declining attendance and booth sales in the years following the 2008 economic downturn. "We weren't losing money, but we didn't want to be associated with a dying event, because it hurts all of our events."

ASAE wants XDP, developed with design partner 360 Live Media, to be 100 percent interactive. On the first day, sessions in The Lab will offer six key topic areas around meeting trends: location; technology; experience strategy, design and production; performance metrics and ROI; marketing, and curriculum. On the second day, findings from day one will be presented in a TED Talk-style recap, and attendees will participate in the Business Exchange, one-on-one conversations with industry partners. Following the show, a white paper will recap topics, ideas and solutions for the association community.

The one-on-one exchange is not to be confused with hosted-buyer events like those popularized by the IMEX shows, where meeting planners are invited to meet with suppliers. "Most associations are not quality hosted buyers because they don't have enough business," says Graham. "They're not like corporate buyers, who are procurement buyers; associations buy on relationships. We are going to give industry partners and buyers an opportunity to be together in a more intimate way, solving problems and, not coincidentally, building more relationships."

ASAE is testing the inaugural XDP show at the Gaylord National to tap into the Washington, D.C., association market; the event could then be taken to other association-rich markets, such as Chicago.

MPI: New learning
In February, Meeting Professionals International used a Danish concept called Meetovation to shake up the design of its 400-person European Meetings & Events Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Nontraditional seating options and setups marked the general sessions and breakouts, and speakers focused on spreading their messages by telling their own stories.


Story time:
MPI's Paul Van Deventer
and SXSW's Mike Shea chatted
at the WEC16.

"From a customer and learning experience, we had our highest ratings ever," says MPI president and CEO Paul Van Deventer. The concepts worked well enough that the association employed them again at the much larger World Education Congress, which attracted some 2,000 attendees to Harrah's Atlantic City's new Waterfront Conference Center in June. The general sessions featured comedian Dena Blizzard as emcee; Mike Shea, executive director of South by Southwest, told his planning stories, and other singular speakers wowed the crowd.

Van Deventer feels, however, that general sessions are becoming less of the focus of MPI's main events. "It's the interactive elements that people are looking for, where colleagues can share together," he says. "We're trying to break down into smaller elements and do a lot more tracks and segmented learning. We're trying to give more focused learning experiences."

MPI, which currently has about 17,000 members, also has been bringing its classroom to other industry events. For instance, the association provides education for IMEX America's Smart Monday and is offering a course at Northstar Meetings Group's Destination Florida hosted-buyer event next month. "Our goal is to reach the broadest community possible within the industry and be as inclusive as possible," says Van Deventer. "The more we can raise the overall professionalism of the industry, the stronger our position to advocate becomes."