Grand ballrooms, exhibit halls, breakout rooms one, two, and three. Been there, done that? If you feel that way, that means your customers do, too.

These days, customers want options! An atypical location brings something new and exciting to the table, and venues can’t just be reactive to requests for creative space anymore. They need to proactively plan for these requests so that when the opportunity arises they are prepared to execute it flawlessly.

It’s time to get inspired. The venues that are open to adapt and create unique ways to use their flexible meeting space will be the ones that win the game.

Flexibility: More than Just a Trend

Trends come and go, right? Well, all signs point to the flexibility “trend” not going away any time soon. In fact, in the recent IACC Meeting Room of the Future report, more than one-third of meeting professionals report the importance of flexible meeting space moving forward. When asked to describe the ideal venue, meeting professionals mentioned words such as “open, flexible, bright, fun, and well-equipped with technology.” Does this match how you would describe your own event environment?

If not, then it’s time to work smarter, not harder. Learning, understanding, and anticipating the needs of participants before they arrive will be critical into how venues can flex their space. Meetings will need to move past reactive adjustments and adopt a proactive approach to personalized experiences.

We can do this by utilizing data and predictive analytics to map the flow of attendees and provide optimum touch points in those heavily utilized spaces. For example, using furniture with built-in technology, mobile F&B stations, or adjustable seating plans helps the planner achieve their goals while achieving your revenue goals as well.

Create the “Accidental” Meetup

According to the latest study between Marriott and PCMA, “spaces can no longer be designed with one journey or path in mind.”

Networking can take on a whole new meaning when space is designed to maximize interaction We call the evolution of these types of meetings the “accidental meetups.” For example, there are shared workspace venues that intentionally create narrow hallways so that you have a better chance of “bumping” into people, fostering interactions.

Some venues take the idea of the accidental meetup even further into what IACC describes as the Linger Effect: “Long after the planned event concludes, we observe attendees remaining in comfortable environments — continuing intriguing discussions, sharing information, and having meaningful conversations.” When spaces are designed with the attendees needs in mind – comfort, flexibility, tech – they’re more likely to stay and talk to one another long after, potentially coming up with new ideas about the content at hand.

Part of this design influence stems from millennials. Their “plug and play” workspaces have become the expectation. With the “accidental meetup,” guests want the ability to open their laptop and meet with other guests/customers to get work done. Many times these spaces become key networking “hot spots” during conference breaks. That can translate into revenue hot spots just as easily for venues with point of sale stands placed strategically in these locations.

If Not the Ballroom, Then Where?

Your wheels may already be turning, and you might be thinking: if planners aren’t using ballrooms, where are they going?

Some companies are actually getting creative and utilizing space that belongs to them. A major airline, for example, holds their annual military fundraiser gala right in one of their very own airplane hangars. Plenty of space for tables, staging and a 120’ long screen to capture the attention of over 2,000 attendees.

Another company stripped down their event and used an empty warehouse to create a comic book using panels and video mapping. Attendees simply walked from panel to panel to become part of the story for their product launch.

Here’s the thing about a lot of these events…you just have to get innovative! These types of events can be altered to scale and placed in your parking deck, rooftop or – yes – even your ballroom! You can create entirely different looks through lighting, technology, and décor. If you move the educational content out of the ballroom, you’ll have a lot of additional time and space to set the stage for an event the attendees will be talking about for years to come.

Set the Scene

The key is this: paint the picture for your customers. Brainstorm with your operations teams to start planning for the non-traditional participant from now – don’t wait until an opportunity comes to start thinking about it. Consider bringing in your partner suppliers to these brainstorm sessions for added input.

As you arrange for flexible meeting space, don’t forget to plan for the back of the house as well with an operational flow that has the least disruption to your attendees. Make sure to map out where power and technology equipment are going to be housed so that unsightly cables and supplies are minimized.

The more work we can complete on the front end, the easier it will be for our customers to take a chance at trying something new and creating lasting impressions on their attendees.

group meeting

Advancements in technology have certainly made our lives easier in many ways, including how we choose to meet. Thanks to videoconferencing solutions like Skype, Zoom, WebEx (among others), employees across the globe are able to connect without even having to take a step.

But despite the convenience of virtual substitutes, in-person events are still the preferred way to meet for an optimal experience. In fact, according to Meetings Mean Business, 84% of executives agree that team productivity is best advanced face-to face. And the answer to why that is, is quite simple: the human connection.

At their core, meetings are meant to bring people together. Every year, PSAV – in partnership with Meetings Mean Business, EIC, MPI, and PCMA – celebrates Global Meetings Industry Day, highlighting the impact that meetings, conferences, conventions, and trade shows have on people, businesses, and communities.

As part of this international day of advocacy, my colleague Mike Leone, Chief Commercial Officer of PSAV, and I hosted an industry panel to discuss the value of face to face meetings and their human impact. Panel members included Cori Dossett, President of Conferences Designed, and John Mitchell, Vice President of Business Development for MC2.

Key takeaways of the panel centered on harnessing the power of community, ideas, and solutions to business challenges that can only be born at meetings, and how their impact is so much stronger when we meet in person and build off the energy in the room.

Cori kicked off our discussion, addressing the notion that so often, ROI mistakenly becomes the only objective of meetings – ignoring the human element. “It’s more important to also think about the community aspect and bringing people together face to face and how important that truly is. And building the member community and creating a unity within.”

John further reflected on the value of these in-person discussions, pulling from his own experience. “When I first started my career, it was about the internet, and the internet was going to kill the meeting business. But it doesn’t because we’re always going to be human. There’s nothing that’s ever going to replace the value of me sitting next to you, seeing you, getting to talk to you, getting to see the challenges that you’re going through, empathize with you, and then creating a solution from that. So, I think it’s the human spirit of the meeting businesses always going to be there and that’s what really drives our business today.”

Ideas are an organism that grow when we’re together. When we gather for a common purpose, we unleash the power for human potential. For more on this topic, check out the full panel discussion below. To view our video for GMID, click here.

Virtual Reality

In 2012, VR first grabbed the attention of the world with Oculus Rift’s wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. The almost 2.5 million dollars raised proved it was easy to see the potential of a technology capable of transporting users to another perceived environment.

This rings especially true for the meetings and events industry. From the initial event planning discussions to day-of — and everything in between — virtual reality has represented the potential to create interactive, immersive experiences. Seven years later, however, VR applications are still limited in scope.

Let’s review a few ways you may have considered using virtual reality, and VR’s place in the meetings industry for 2019.

Site Visits & Design Visualization

Who hasn’t thought it would be a great idea to put a VR headset on a stakeholder who couldn’t make a site visit? But once we tried it, most of us quickly realized this is more of a novelty than a practical tool. There is little to no tech support outside of the venue to help first-time users acclimate to VR tools, and users have to be ravenously curious about VR to give it a try – never mind that a photo tour could do just as well.

The one unique case where it might be useful is pre-selling or showcasing a renovation/ new build space. Tech-savvy teams that develop scenic renderings can convert pre-visualization textures and geometries to real-time engines that have built-in VR capabilities.

That said, those same engines can just as easily be displayed on a laptop, over the web. So, for now, having VR is really about giving the future meeting space that extra kick. If you choose to incorporate VR, run the experience on-site and be sure you have a competent technical team on standby to help.

Education & Training

This is where the content needs to be custom, and well-matched to the medium. You only want to use VR if only VR will do – not as a gimmick. Content delivered through VR can be a much more compelling experience than passively viewing slides or a video. For example, medical groups are employing VR to conduct training and offer seminars in surgical techniques. These modules often implement dynamic overlays and offer orbital, interactive exploration of the content.

In this case, it’s not only VR visuals that increase efficacy but also VR-specific gesture control, allowing users to grab and move virtual elements more naturally, side to side, forward and back. This is not easily done with a 2D display. Even in these situations, be cautious of the ROI. You should still be expecting to spend upwards of $20k.

Brain Breaks & Entertainment

With the demand for attention and actionable insights required of today’s event attendees, meeting planners are looking for ways to break up stress. Could this finally be a job for VR? Slip into a headset and find yourself transported to a beach, climbing a summit, or snorkeling along a reef. Magic, right?

As you probably know, brain breaks like this have variable success. But we’ve achieved a better response when set up in a private, quiet space where attendees don’t feel like they’re on display. Some planners add aromatherapy to elevate the experience. I know what you’re thinking: private means it’s not discoverable. But if you include the experience in your schedule or wayfinding material, attendees seeking sanctuary won’t mind walking a little further to get to it. Just make sure you bring plenty of extra headset covers for hygiene.

Gaming, on the other hand, is an entirely different way to destress with VR. Thinking about adding a PS4 VR during a social event? Awesome! Especially if there are multiplayer options. (Though with a friendly reminder to mind your licensing.) Again, just make sure your technical team is right there to help. Plus, games are designed to be discoverable, so there’s a good chance people will just want to explore. And of course, it’s supposed to be a spectacle, so people already know what they’re signing up for.

Is that your final answer?

So, to answer the original question, is VR dead in the meetings industry? It has its place when leveraged appropriately. Thankfully, we can finally see our opportunities more clearly. And this isn’t the end of the story.

Today, there are emerging VR platforms that may soon bring together people who can’t travel. At the moment, these platforms are the domain of diehards and developers, but as the platforms become more professional and better connected and tools become smaller to support the emergence of wearable augmented and mixed realities (AR/MR), VR will only benefit – and we can’t wait to explore these topics in future blog posts.

Authors:

Holli M. Downs, Ph.D, Senior Analyst, Metrics and Communications at PSAV

Christian Wright, Director, Research & Development at PSAV