By Greg Gerber
What does it take to plan a successful meeting?
It’s important to have a strong partnership between the meeting planner, the organization staging the event and its supplier partners. Conversations create synergy that can lead to memorable events. You want a planner who helps you create a special event, rather than telling you what you need to do.
What types of events are especially appealing to groups in 2020?
Themed events have been around for a while, but planners are starting to ramp up the experiences with participatory activities. They might plan a 1980s theme, so with advance notice, participants can be sure to pack period clothes or bring mementos from their youth. The outfits can be amazing and allow people to express their creativity. It breaks the ice for new relationships or more serious conversations. Also, team competitions let people think up names, create uniforms or bring tabletop displays to convey the uniqueness of their organizations and staff.
An emerging trend involves activities that invoke corporate social responsibility and allow participants to give back to their host communities
in ways that create impact. For example, participants can work together to build bicycles or wagons and give them to organizations that work with disadvantaged youth.
How can planners make a connection to the local community during their events?
People want a sense of the place they are visiting, and that goes beyond meeting in a hotel ballroom. We have hosted Dining in the Desert meals among the saguaro cacti. We’ve offered local artists opportunities to showcase their work by setting up displays in the lobby or dining area. It helps participants better understand the community they are in, and helps them not only experience, but make memorable connections to the people and scenery.
How has PRA executed experiential events for larger groups?
Smaller groups often provide more intimate connections. However, we’ve planned street parties for thousands of people that showcase local establishments and artisans. Rather than a buffet line, we create stations offering uniquely Arizona cuisine, like homemade tamales. You can get a tamale anywhere, but people will remember it more when they watch it being prepared in front of them. The same is true for guacamole. Show people how to prepare it, and give them a recipe card. This way, people get to experience the community, enjoy delicious food and really get a flavor for the area.
What new technologies should meeting planners consider for their events to stay on the cutting edge?
Mobile apps are almost expected for larger conferences where people can plan in advance which sessions to attend and vendors to visit. Emerging technology includes facial recognition systems to speed check-in and even gauge the mood of participants. Chatbots are growing in popularity where people can ask questions and get instant answers with video mapping showing them the location of a breakout session.
Smart tech options also make it easier for presenters to say “Google, dim the lights” or “Display this graph.” Some meetings kick off with polls asking fun questions people can answer by using smartphones.
Many meetings offer goodie bags for participants. Can something be done to spice them up?
We find people really like gifts with a purpose. There will always be a place for traditional giveaway items, like pens and keychains. But gifts are a way to connect to the local community. For example, some clients have offered Native American dreamcatchers as gifts. As participants watch the dreamcatcher being made and learn what the elements signify in that culture, they are drawn into the event and the local area.
What’s one of your crucial takeaways for event planners to remember when starting their planning process?
Events start long before people arrive at the check-in station. Planners need to communicate with participants much earlier to set expectations for what will happen at the event. Planners must convey why they chose to bring everyone to this community in Arizona. When people get to see and feel a genuine Arizona experience, they are more likely to remember the state and the event.