Evolve Your Meeting Into a Personal Experience For Attendees

This week we’re taking a look at an important trend in the events and meetings industry and – quite frankly – a trend that’s grown out of people’s ever-evolving expectations. Our participants want personal experiences. We can’t escape it. We live in an on-demand world and our culture has developed into one of power-consumers.

What does this mean for us as meeting planners and event organizers? It means that our audiences are used to consuming large amounts of information and – perhaps more importantly – only the information that they want to know.

Take, for instance, the transformation of online tutorial hub Lynda.com. A few years ago, Lynda.com was well-known among the photography and visual designer set as a great place to find no-nonsense, quality tutorials on photo editing and design programs. These days Lydna.com has branched out into all types of education – from web development to business courses – so that a person with a premium membership can learn a whole range of new skills on their own time, at any pace they choose. They are the go-to providers of instant skill-building.

Uber your meeting

It shouldn’t take much of a leap to see how this approach could easily be adapted to the conferences and meetings market. If your education and engagement strategies don’t reach beyond the traditional models, someone will develop a platform that does and render your event obsolete.

“We can’t keep up with the likes Netflix and Uber,” you say. “They have resources that we couldn’t dream of.” I see your point – but I would counter with the argument that you actually don’t need any more resources. The only thing you truly need is a shift in your thinking. Hyper-personal meetings and events that are fit for the new age start with a refocusing of their content, then they re-examine their structure.

For ideas on how you can innovate your content, starting with you Call for Proposals, start here.

Dissembling a big expo

Once you’ve committed to evolving your content – how can you rethink the structure? This is perhaps the scariest part. It isn’t easy to just let go of your lunch speaker, your breakout sessions, and your pipe and drape set up, but today we’re bringing you the inspirational story of Plan Your Meetings’ yearly exhibitor event series, PYM LIVE. Let’s learn how they were able to take an unwieldy expo and transform it into a series of intimate, productive regional meetings.

Kristi-60Kristi Casey Sanders is the VP of Creative/Chief Storyteller at Plan Your Meetings, a premiere (digital and print) industry resource for people who plan corporate events and meetings. Each year her organization was putting together what you would consider a traditional expo – keynotes, lunches, breakouts, and several hours of wandering around an exhibitor hall.

In the mid-2000’s, PYM took a look at the event and realized that it had outlived its usefulness. “It was losing value in terms of how effective it was,” says Kristi. “You needed to have at least a 2-to-1 attendee to exhibitor ratio to make people happy. To have that number of people exhibiting at once requires an astronomical number of attendees.” For Kristi and her team, reaching for attendees meant sacrificing the quality of the connections being made. “The pressure to bring that many people into a trade show floor meant that you were going to get a higher ratio of tire-kickers than you would normally get if you were really strictly qualifying.”

The PYM gang hit a proverbial wall. Kristi says, “It cost a lot of money, the staff was stressed out, and we never got the ROI we wanted. We knew we had to evolve.”

Listen to people’s needs

It’s easy to fold when you’re at a crossroads – but Kristi and crew tried to identify what was at the heart of their event and then create a new experience around those essentials. While they were doing so, it came to their attention that some smaller roadshows they had been holding in Dallas were actually performing much better than the expo event. The crowds were smaller and the vibe was more intimate, but they saw potential in the structure.

PYM LIVE then became a series of smaller shows across the country that focused on what matters most – connecting vendors with qualified buyers and educating both on the issues of the day. Kristi says, “We started listening to what our exhibiting partners needed, and we started listening to what our attendees enjoyed. Every design decision that was made was made to satisfy those audiences.”

Creating the perfect experience

One particular piece of PYM LIVE’s program that exemplifies this wonderfully is a Sponsor Speed Dating session where attendees have the chance to spend concentrated time with relevant vendors but, thanks to the structure, are able to maximize the number of meetings. Vendors, on the other hand, don’t have to worry about strained trade show booth conversations and trying to attract attendees with flashy designs and swag.


Kristi and the PYM LIVE team were able to develop an innovative structure like this because they started thinking like their participants. They asked, “How can we make it less intimidating to go up to an exhibitor and talk to them?” and “How can we make sure that exhibitors meet a whole lot more people per event?”

The work, however, didn’t stop there. Kristi and the team workshopped Sponsor Speed Dating in several cities and continued to adjust until they found a winning recipe. They reduced the number of meetings in a session to prevent burnout, and developed a system for matching buyers and vendors based on the buyer’s specific needs. Evolving your event is a never-ending process.

Making it your own

I asked Kristi how meeting planners who want to refocus their events to include deeper personal connections should be thinking. The first step is clear – know your business goals are and center your meeting around meeting those objectives. Once you have a laser-focused meeting agenda, the next step is to examine each piece for how you can give it that personalization flair. Kristi says, “For every element, whether it’s pre-show or post-show, chart out for yourself ‘how do I want people to feel,’ ‘what do I want them to know,’ and ‘how do I want them to behave.’”

Kristi gave the example of that dead space between when people file in to listen to a speaker and the talk itself. There could be 30 minutes or more where your attendees are missing out on a personal experience from you – the organizer. What could fill that space? First decide your goal. Is it to build anticipation? A countdown clock could do just that. Do you want people sharing on social? Projecting your hashtag and showing a live Twitter feed will get your audience talking immediately.

Now make the change!

Change won’t come easy, but the payoffs are tremendous. Once you break the patterns of thought that are relics of your current meeting, you’ll be able to put yourself in the shoes of your participants and truly start giving them the experiences they’re craving. Your strong commitment to experience has positive ROI written all over it.

Experience PYM LIVE’s personal touch yourself at one of their 2015 events! Find a listing of dates and locations on their website.

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