by Sarah J.F. Braley | December 21, 2017
IACC, formerly known as the International Association of Conference Centres, has announced it is continuing its Meeting Room of the Future research, which has been looking into how technology has greatly expanded and redefined what a meeting room is and can be. IACC and its sponsoring partner, Benchmark Hospitality, will continue the project for the foreseeable future.
 
Benchmark partnered with IACC on the Meeting Room of the Future, beginning in 2015, looking to transform the meeting experience through a global collaboration of leaders in conference-space design, audiovisual technology, hospitality, academia and conference management. For the 2017 report, 150 thought leaders were surveyed, and participants spanned executives in government, corporations and associations.
 
Recent findings from the study show technology is the major force driving changes in an industry where members of every age are increasingly tech savvy. Though technical advances are evolving constantly, the majority of the industry welcomes them, realizing the technology is a means to meeting a range of objectives.
 
According to Ellen Sinclair, above, Benchmark's senior vice president of operations, and chair of the Meeting Room of the Future initiative, some new and crucial objectives are taking shape, as the survey has shown that an increased focus on participant engagement and personal development are taking shape. "These elements need an inspiring and dynamic setting in which to thrive," Sinclair said. "A boardroom, ballroom or auditorium, however many technical bells and whistles they have, can't create that personalized and unique experience that planners and attendees now demand."
 
The study originally was expected to last three years. "Our goal was to build a meeting room of the future, but we soon realized that meeting spaces are no longer confined to a room," said Sinclair. "Thanks to mobile technology, a meeting room can be in a park, on a beach, in an art studio or other inspiring site. There will always be a need for a sophisticated, technically advanced meeting space, but the idea of what constitutes a meeting room has vastly changed in a very short space of time."
 
As part of a new partnership between IACC and Meeting Professionals International, MPI's members will take a wider role in the research process.
 
Details from the most current research, presented at IACC 2017 Europe Knowledge Fest in September in London by Sinclair and IACC CEO Mark Cooper, identified several key trends.
 
1. Planners recognize the impact of venues on productivity and creativity.
 
2. Experience and purpose remain constant, regardless of age. Meaningful experiences will become even more important, according to 75 percent of the respondents.
 
3. Objectives - ROI, value, networking, education - won't change. The methods of meeting those goals will.
 
4. Flexible space is a top priority of 75 percent of those surveyed. However, as interactive technology advances, this could change. Right now, the most crucial elements, in order of importance are: quality broadband, acoustics, lighting, collaborative spaces, and the flexibility to change the layout.
 
5. Fully 81 percent of those polled have introduced new technology in the last five years, much of it interactive and social-media based. These include social-media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, conference apps such as ShowGizmo and Proxfinity, and audience participation apps like Glisser. Tech-savvy planners demand user-friendly, relatable technology, and a capable tech-support staff.
 
6. Planners want to control the meeting's organization themselves. Only 23 percent of those surveyed would consider outsourcing the process.
 
7. Food-and-beverage service should support networking efforts with more informal, grazing menus. Meal schedules should allow ample time for participants to get in touch with their offices, family and friends.
 
"Benchmark's commitment to the development of the meetings industry goes back to our founding in 1980," says Alex Cabañas, Benchmark's CEO and current IACC president. "My father, Burt Cabañas, saw the industry's huge potential. But 37 years ago, no one could have envisioned the impact technology would have on conferences. Today, we are charged with shaping a vision for the industry's future using the resources of its most prominent thought leaders and the expertise of its global membership. Our pursuit of the perfect meeting room may never be realized, but the journey is bound to be exciting and beneficial."
 
Mark Cooper, IACC's CEO, said, "Understanding the key trends in the delivery of meetings, and the environments needed for an optimum experience is important for planners and venue operators. With the help of our partners, including Benchmark, we invest in research to give us valuable information and understanding, and to allow us to make informed decisions linked to investment in meetings."