Meetings and conferences aren't just a part of what IACC members do, it's their raison d’etre. IACC is the only global professional association with venue members who adhere to a strict set of rules and criteria with respect to conferences. There are 385 members in 22 countries in the Americas, Europe and Australia. In New Jersey, there are eight: Chauncey Conference Center, Crowne Plaza Princeton Hotel & Conference Center, Dolce Basking Ridge, DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel and Conference Center Somerset, Executive Meeting Center at Hilton East Brunswick, The Heldrich Hotel & Conference Center, Johnson & Johnson Education and Conference Center and Wyndham Hamilton Park Hotel & Conference Center.
In other words, when the CEO of IACC lectures about trends in meetings and conferences, it’s time to listen. Mark Cooper, CEO, presented the top trends in meetings at this year’s MPI WEC. His brief presentation touched on a number of innovations for meetings with about 100 attendees. He recently shared his presentation with NJM+E. Here’s the takeaway.
1. Round Meeting Rooms
Think back to kindergarten. Chances are you were told to sit in a circle on the rug. You may not have put much thought into it, but sitting in a circle encourages interaction since you see each person around you. “It goes back to the campfire,” says Cooper, who adds that it helps everyone feel involved and part of something.
2. Open Kitchens
If you’ve ever hosted or attended a dinner party, you know that everyone always congregates in the kitchen. Same goes for meetings, says Cooper, who adds that the trend plays off that casual homey feel that meetings are taking on.
3. Creative Décor
“We’re finding that renovations include more creative décor now,” says Cooper. “We’re steering away from the beiges and seeing colors like lime green. No more cream walls.” Creating points of interest isn’t just a design element; it’s a way of keeping attendees’ spirits high.
4. Pull Up a Chair. Well, Not so Fast.
“Small groups (10-15 people) are often just sitting on the floor and not even using tables,” says Cooper. It plays off innovation No. 1, echoing the campfire feel.
5. No More Ballroom Blitz
“We’re finding that many groups are leaning toward using non-residential conference centers,” says Cooper. In other words, they’re not booking ballrooms at hotels.
6. Informal Breakout Spaces
Cooper notes that from bars and fireplaces to clubby spaces with cushiony couches, breakout spaces are beginning to feel more like lounges and less like traditional spaces.
7. Feels Like Home
More employees are home-based now than ever. The notion that people are at home in the pajamas typing away on their laptops has blurred the lines between the home and the office. Because of that, “meeting spaces are beginning to feel more like home,” says Cooper.
8. Open Bars
“This idea borrows from a Sandals-style resort where the bar tab is always included up front,” Cooper says. It takes the pressure off both planners and attendees. “There’s no sweating the bar bill,” Cooper adds. “We also see the unstaffed bar bringing people together … we’ve seen the CEO making drinks for the team, etc.”
9. Importance of Connection
“We are a nation of home-based workers,” says Cooper. “There is no water cooler talk.” Meetings aren’t just to exchange important information; they offer a way to connect with each other. “Forming relationships is even more important now,” he adds. Team-building and icebreaker activities are on the rise.
10. Conversations, Not Lectures
Conferences and meetings used to be defined by a didactic presenter. “Now, we’re finding that more meetings are designed around two-way communication,” he says. “It’s all about collaboration.”
11. Dinner’s Not at Eight
“We’re starting to see a grazing-style approach to dining,” he says. “Instead of having a set time for meals or having a banquet-style luncheon, we’re seeing more planners asking for hot and cold buffets. It’s more of a restaurant style that lets attendees grab something when they want it.”
12. Meeting Nannies
“You will see this in Europe more, with a chateau and a host couple handling the needs of a group on a corporate retreat.” The more-casual style does away with general managers and meeting coordinators and instead relies on a person or couple who handle everything from soup to nuts for a group.
13. Laid-Back Registration
After a long trip, is there anything worse than standing in line to register for a hotel room or a conference? More are moving away from this, with a laid-back approach to registration. “People are sitting down at a table, plugging in and reconnecting after a long trip and registration comes to them,” he says.
14. Local Flavor
“People are more interested in connecting with a community than ever before,” Cooper says. “We are discovering that venues are helping immerse attendees in a community in many different ways.”
Eco-conscious practices have long been part of the hospitality industry, but it’s definitely a trend that’s here to stay. Cooper shares an example of a hotel in Europe where the staff uniforms are a unique example of sustainability. “The uniforms are made locally using recycled fabrics,” he explains. The style is unique and memorable, but “staff feels good telling the story and attendees feel good hearing about it.” It’s a win-win.