As 2011 draws to a close, you can count on three things:
- Everyone and their brother will write a year-in-review article or blog post. (Case in point, see my Dec. 6 post titled, “Happy is as happy does this New Year.” I tried to be ahead of the curve.)
- Everyone and their brother will write a forecasting article or blog post. (Are you seeing a trend?)
- A jolly old man with a fluffy white beard and eight determined reindeer will circle the globe on Christmas Eve delivering presents to good little girls and boys. (Hopefully he’ll make a stop at my home, too.)
Since I’ve taken the high road and have already written my year-in-review post, and seeing as Santa may have difficulty finding me this year (we’ve been in our new home since the middle of October, but you know how much trouble it is getting the postal service to forward your mail these days), I’d like to focus for a moment on the meetings industry and what lies ahead in 2012.
If I was clever (or overly ambitious), I’m sure I could come up with a top 10 list of New Year’s resolutions for improving your meetings strategy in 2012. Instead, I’m taking the more practical route (and one that I believe to be just as effective). Following are my two (count them, two) recommendations for 2012 as it relates to your annual meetings calendar:
- Meeting planners need to book earlier to get rooms and function space.
- Professional development staff must plan more dynamic member experiences.
Easy enough, right? Maybe not. Allow me to explain.
First, if you know me or have worked with me in the past (particularly hoteliers and suppliers), you know that I plan ahead (seriously far ahead). So I’m always a proponent for booking rooms and function space in advance (it’s how you get the best rates and secure premium function space). However, supply and demand will not favor associations in 2012. With few new hotel rooms entering the market and the meetings industry steadily rebounding, planning ahead is an absolute imperative.
This mandate means surveying members, interpreting feedback, identifying both the short-term and long-term trends of your industry, determining future educational needs and crafting, in advance, a year-long educational calendar that both meets these needs and makes allowances for the addition of urgent and emergent learning opportunities along the way.
This calendar then provides the marching orders necessary to book hotel rooms and function space at the best possible rates a year or more in advance (of course, some crafty negotiations and innovative contract language don’t hurt either). Once you’ve mastered this practice, the same process can be applied to your signature events several years in advance.
Second, the traditional learning experience—one-dimensional keynote sessions and lecture-style breakouts—isn’t going to cut it moving forward. It may be the Band-Aid solution for the next year or two, but sooner or later your members are going to demand compelling experiences that inspire learning, engagement and community. And they’ll want this education delivered in a unique, engaging and unconventional way that speaks to their needs as an adult learner.
In my experience, these transformations don’t happen overnight. They require professional development staff to seek buy-in from key leaders and constituents within their organization. They require considerable training and coaching of program facilitators and content leaders. And they require significantly more planning, organization, lead time and logistics management than even the largest conference utilizing a more traditional learning format.
Although it’s a lot more work, the bottom line is this: meetings comprise a significant portion of the annual budget for most associations and without innovative events that peak member interest, associations are susceptible to retention issues and future budgetary constraints. Additionally, there’s a broader concern about educating members in a meaningful way so that their lives (and, consequently, our organizations and our industries) remain vibrant forces in today’s marketplace.
So, my question to you is this: Do you agree with my forecast for 2012? What would you change (or add)? What are you doing in 2012 to ensure your organization is delivering more dynamic member experiences (especially as it relates to learning)?