In Their Own Words: Industry Experts Reflect on Decades of Change

In celebration of M&C's 50th anniversary, we asked industry luminaries how the meetings business has changed -- or not -- during their careers. Here's what they told us.

 Corbin Ball, CSP, CMP, DES
Founder, Corbin Ball & Co. 

Technology has fundamentally transformed nearly every event-planning process. We have gone from paper to digital processing, making the planning process much more convenient, efficient and cost-effective. It's hard to realize that we once received registrations by snail mail and processed everything on paper from that point on.

More recently, mobile and social technologies have empowered participants, giving them a greater say in the process and more opportunities to connect and interact at events.

The two basic drivers for many meetings remain the same: education and networking. The ability for events to provide a focused environment for networking, relationship-building, brainstorming, conducting business and learning will remain viable for the foreseeable future. As we go along, with the increase in online education options, the value of networking at events will continue to grow.

 Patti J. Shock, CPCE, CHT
Academic consultant, International School of Hospitality; professor emeritus, University of Nevada, Las Vegas; adjunct professor (online), Florida International University, Kennesaw State University

The main things are evolving technology and awareness of sustainability. The Internet has provided many additional resources and sped up the planning process. People expect immediate responses, and attendees are more demanding of special meals and special accommodations.
People still need to meet face-to-face. While online communication, webinars, etc., have advanced, we still need to develop rapport and relationships in person. ​The opportunity to network and learn new ways to do things is what will keep meetings and events relevant. ​ 

 Joan Eisenstodt
Founder, Eisenstodt Associates

There are certainly more women attending meetings today than there were 50 years ago, and if you look at some meetings, you'll see more people of color. Also, we think technology is the end-all and be-all for meetings, but it's also made a change in how people interact: 50 years ago -- even 25 or 15 or 10 years ago -- people attending meetings talked with each other! Now people, at breaks or at meals, are more concerned with checking their electronic devices than they are with interacting with those around them. Yes, we do use all kinds of methods to interact before and during meetings using technology, but we have lost some of the great face-to-face peer interaction.

The very first interview I did with an industry publication was with M&C in 1983 about ethics. Ethics was then and remains one of the biggest issues in how meetings are planned and how the industry operates. And nothing has changed except we don't talk about fams as much.

Meetings still look pretty much the same as they did 50 years ago. I have early versions of the CLC Manual [now the CIC Manual] showing room sets. If I attend a meeting today, room sets are identical to what's been done before.

 Christie Hicks
Industry consultant; former senior vice president of sales, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide

The evolution of meetings to be more experiential seems the biggest change. With time limitations, people feel the need to achieve purpose and objectives to attend a meeting, so content, meeting design and overall pertinence are critical. Also, the extension of the experience and information after the event ends are important. Online access, using the information and maximizing the networks created, are more important than ever.  

 Steve Moore
President/CEO, Visit Phoenix

Some key changes include shorter booking windows, tighter room blocks, WiFi needs, and technology to enable distance learning both pre- and post-convention, to complement the experience for members and convention attendees. Rotational patterns of the past are no longer applicable/predictable. Much more additional planning is required for event activation beyond the convention center. Sustainability awareness, social responsibility and service to those in need (in their own association and/or host destination) are also new considerations. 

The value and quality of face-to-face meetings cannot be replicated, and neither can the services of a CVB.

 Margaret Moynihan
Former director of global conferences and travel, Deloitte

I see that the booking process is being handled more by the in-house procurement department or being outsourced to a third party.   



 Dave Scypinski
Senior vice president, ConferenceDirect

Technology has dramatically changed the process and speed of sourcing and performing meetings. In 1977, much of what is now a pre-populated, push-the-button process was done by hand-on typewriters with carbon paper. Even the actual step-by-step process of sourcing, planning and executing a meeting wasn't considered a standardized practice until Barbara Nichols, then the director of meetings with the American Academy of Cardiology, wrote a textbook on how to plan meetings. This is now the bible, and PCMA has edited and updated it many times over the past 30 years. 

While technology has made the process easier, the actual execution of a meeting is still a labor-intensive, time-consumptive, back-breaking endeavor. We have created more interesting meetings, can measure meetings in a million ways and deliver content in different ways, but at the end of the day, a meeting still looks very much like what it was 30 years ago. General session, breakouts, exhibits, receptions, dinners all involve a common denominator - people wanting to interact with people. Hopefully, that will never change.

 Nicki Grossman
Recently retired president, Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau

The most apparent change has been the demand by meeting planners to make the most of their meeting's budget and, in fact, their organization's budget. They want lean proposals and want assurance that quality will not be forfeited. 

Another change is that there is far less time between the selection of the destination and the arrival of the group. This is reflected in our leisure business, as well, and I think it indicates a cautious attitude of associations and corporations with regard to "inking" a deal too far in advance.

 Kathleen M. Ratcliffe
President, St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission

The variety of educational content and the method of delivery has evolved greatly over the years. When I began in this industry, the structure of most educational content was in lecture style. Other than Q&A, there was little audience-to-presenter interaction. 

Today, there usually is a greater variety of formatting for delivery of educational programming, which keeps attendees better engaged throughout the meeting, creating a learning environment where more information is retained.  

No longer do potential attendees automatically make arrangements to attend the same meeting that they attended previously - a save-the-date notice has no value any longer. The marketing of a meeting is competing with other educational and networking opportunities, as well as a general dearth of time and an overload in the inbox. Therefore the content, entertainment and networking opportunities need to be rolled out early in the marketing of the meeting, as they will be critical in the decision to attend. 

Also, more third-party vendors are being incorporated into the planning and execution processes for virtually everything, including site search, production, housing, labor management, transportation and registration. The management of those components, those third-party vendors and the relationships between them, as well as the dividing line on responsibilities, adds a whole new level to the meeting planner's duties.

Menus also have changed dramatically, as chefs in hotels and venues have gotten better on creative menu planning to provide a variety of options for attendees that rivals restaurant quality.

 Jeff Rasco
Founder/CEO, Attendee Management; former director of conference services, MD Anderson Cancer Center

We've gone from faxes being the epitome of high tech to being able to plan and manage meetings almost entirely in the cloud. ​Besides the incredible impact of technology on meetings and events, we have made great strides in elevating the profession as partners in an organization's success.

Of course, my mother still has no clue what I do for a living.​  

 Rossi Ralenkotter
President/CEO, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority

We are finding that groups want to get out of the traditional meeting room and have more experiences. Of course technology is a key change, even for us: The LVCVA recently debuted virtual-reality capabilities that allow planners and delegates to experience or sample Las Vegas before they even get here.

 Cindy D'Aoust
President/CEO, Cruise Lines International Association; former COO, Meeting Professionals International

When I started in the industry, the measurement of success often was based on the excellent execution of an event. And while that is still important, the focus has evolved to designing meetings that achieve business objectives. This change in approach delivers much more effective meetings, typically based on attendee input and engagement. While the change was often driven by the need to better demonstrate the value that meetings deliver, by defining successful metrics, it has resulted in more effective meetings for the attendees and the sponsor.  

 Michael Dominguez
Chief sales officer, MGM Resorts International

The profession of meeting planning has been recognized as a key strategic role to an organization's larger objective. The growth of the profession has led to a proliferation of hospitality programs at universities and the explosion of certificate and certification programs in the industry that continue to educate our meeting professionals.

 Jonathan T. Howe, Esq.
Founding partner, Howe & Hutton; contributing editor, M&C

Contracts have gotten longer, from the old proverbial cocktail napkin to some that now exceed 40 pages. Owners have become more involved, different layers have become imposed between the parties sitting face-to-face to negotiate an agreement. What planners and suppliers need today is someone to step up and solve the issues.