Instead of using printed signs to announce meeting rooms, Bob Walker has been turning to digital versions when possible. It’s not because of the “Gee whiz” factor; it’s practicality, digital signs save on both printing and the labor to post and retrieve paper signs. “The digital network gives you the opportunity to do that seamlessly,” says Walker MPI Dallas/Fort Worth Chapter and vice president at Freeman, Dallas-based integrator of solutions for live events. With conditions in the meeting and event industry humming, many meeting professionals now have the luxury of focusing their attention on best practices such as this, particularly in the use of technology as well as growth. “Technology is so important in our industry,” says Marie Botvinick, CMP, CMM MPI Orange County Chapter, founder of D’or Solutions in Solana Beach, California. “A lot of times we are ahead of the curve. We are learning it in our industry before it is presented to the world on a daily basis.” What is giving meeting professionals the breathing room to search for best practices is the ongoing seller’s market, says Bill Voegeli MPI Georgia Chapter, president of Association Insights, the Atlanta-area research firm that conducts the Meetings Outlook survey. The survey found that 32 percent cited the seller’s market as a top issue. “The market continues to be in a position of steady growth,” Voegeli says. “As long as you have this seller’s market, you have this steady slow growth. We are seeing a healthy industry for a prolonged period of time. None of this can happen when budgets are shrinking and people are hiding and getting fired. It can only happen in the market we have right now, which is a safe growth market.”
With meeting professionals seeing growth on the horizon, many are experimenting with technology to bring more productivity, value, cost savings, accuracy and revenue to their meetings and events, the survey found. 16% of respondents named “more valuable technology” a top issue. The survey found that they are identifying efficiencies most easily in the effective use of communications (outbound, inbound and across platforms), reduction of printing and shipping costs, consistency of information among disparate users and the ability to keep information (such as schedules, pricing, space availability and alerts) up-to-date. Many are taking an attitude similar to swimmers who have mastered the basic strokes, as once-novel technologies become mainstream, according to Voegeli: “Now they can have fun.” With 19% of respondents saying they use social media at all of their meetings and 20% reporting that they use it at most meetings, what they really want to do is use it more efficiently and effectively, he says. Apps are also capturing meeting professionals’ attention. Botvinick will be experimenting with one at a client’s upcoming association convention. Attendees will be able to submit questions to the speakers during the live event via the convention app. Members who can’t attend will also be able to use the app to submit questions.
The next frontier seems to be data gathering. In anecdotal evidence, meeting professionals suspect newer technologies may provide valuable data about attendees, sponsors and event ROI, but there was little evidence that these meeting professionals know what data to collect, what to use and how to get the most from it within their organizations.
To be sure, technology hasn’t lost its ability to wow and many meeting professionals are still using it to jazz up their meetings. That is providing an opportunity for vendors to educate them on how to get more practical benefits from it. “The meeting professional in the field is getting pressure from their powers-that-be to bring more pizzazz,” says Jeff Rasco, CMP MPI Texas Hill Country Chapter, CEO of Attendee Management Inc., a provider of attendee registration software based in Wimberly, Texas. “Maybe it is because of better information sharing, but a lot of times, frankly, somebody went to a conference and they had this cool thing. Now they want that cool thing at their meeting. There is no concept of budget, of what it takes to implement it.”In such scenarios, Rasco’s firm will start asking questions: What are you trying to accomplish with the meeting? What are your goals—and how can technology help? “It doesn’t help the meeting if it breaks the bank,” Rasco says. “On the other hand if you really need technology, whether it is attendance tracking, lead retrieval or onsite badge printing, there are sometimes ways to accomplish the same thing for less. Sometimes there is a price range that is thousands of dollars apart.” Rasco had one opportunity to educate a longtime client when it wanted a mobile app to do attendee track- ing and its marketing department threw in some requirements, too. “Some of the most obvious and cheapest solutions were taken off the table,” Rasco says. “We started with a list of about 10 companies that would be able to provide all of the things required. The pricing per application ranged from a little less than US$5,000 to $15,000. The final decision wasn’t the cheapest or the most expensive. We were able to find a very good solution that was in the middle and accomplished everyone’s goals.” In the seller’s market, one issue that is affecting the use of technology is charges for bandwidth.
Some respondents complained of venues charging high prices for internet access, which they think should be free, and are pushing hotels and convention centers to offer that.
Download here the full report. The MPI in Europe Team