How to make your meetings more experiential


Is the PCO’s role changing from traditional meeting and conference organiser to creator of in-depth experiential events? Research suggests that it is. Conference organisers can no longer simply arrange speaker and delegate packs and expect the delegates to follow a DIY approach to learning.

Craig Newman, ceo of Johannesburg Expo Centre, says: “Gone are the days of shoving pamphlets at your delegates and expecting them to be happy. Delegates want to be involved. They want to participate in creating the outcomes, finding the solutions. You’re going to lose your clients if you don’t adapt to that way of thinking. Delegates need to be actively engaged.”

Creating impactful experiences is essential for a successful meeting or conference. Millennials are far more likely to be engaged if they are helping generate the content, finding answers and solutions and working toward a shared outcome that addresses their specific needs. Samuel Herman, team leader of FCM Events at FCM Travel Solutions, says while this trend has been present with its multinational clients for a while, it has now filtered through to its South African offices, and they are increasingly seeing this in the requests they receive.

Rudi van der Vyver, ceo of Saaci says: “It is absolutely crucial for the business events industry to move toward experiences rather than remaining stuck in the old thinking of a meeting around a boardroom table or a conference taking place with basic cinema-style seating and absolutely no interaction. Business events must meet and be aligned to specific business objectives. This is crucial for our industry, to provide maximum return on investment from clients. This ROI is strengthened exponentially by creating experiences.”

What do clients expect?

Herman says that in-conference activities are increasingly popular and could include morning walks, healthier food options, exercise breaks, yoga and more. Corporate responsibility and community give-back often feature, and include activities such as planting trees, school donations and social assistance for orphanages etc. He adds: “We are seeing the increasing use of unique and often outdoor venues for conferencing, meetings and gala dinner functions. Gone are the days of traditional seating set-ups such as schoolroom, U-shape etc. Interesting décor and a relaxed ‘lounge type’ seating set-up has become the norm rather than the exception.”

Research indicates that, in order to capture attendee attention, new technologies need to be integrated, emphasis must be placed on creativity instead of productivity, sessions and presentations must be short and diverse, and there need to be numerous opportunities for interaction and collaboration. 

Gillian Kombora, group marketing manager for The Capital Hotels & Apartments, says it has experienced that theming around a concept tailored to a particular corporate brand is important. “Huge set-ups are also popular – flower walls, tunnels and the like. From a food and beverage perspective, new, fancy, out-of-the-box thinking is a must. Organisers are looking to ensure that their events are memorable and the experience is enriching. So, for example, at The Capital Moloko, we have introduced express spa massages as an add-on to the conferences.”

 Lee Hendrickse, sales and marketing manager of Lagoon Beach Hotel, has also found that themes are popular, and they offer themed tea breaks. The creative space has also proved to be an experiential favourite. “We can offer interactive stations for this experience,” says Hendrickse. “Everything from paella to sliders and braais can be done.”

 

What the experts say

Herman believes that the awarding of business will be influenced by the originality of concept, budget and the overall experience offered. “The global trend is to enhance the experience of learning. No more boring PowerPoint lectures in a darkened, windowless room. Experiencing is a more effective way to learn and research shows that people learn better from experience than lectures.” Van der Vyver agrees. “Experiences substantially increase information retention and recall due to the delegates being more engaged and involved, and people remember the feeling of an experience more vividly than a merely being addressed by a speaker from a stage.”

Does it work for everyone?

The experiential trend is definitely more the domain of the corporate and incentive meetings and conference market. Riedwaan Jacobs, md of ILIOS Conferences, notes that experiential meetings and conferences are seen less at association conferences. “The association conferences are usually very technical, based on the latest developments, procedures and research in a given field. In these types of conferences people submit a short abstract about their research, topic or project. Delegates attending these conferences are professionals in their field, attending these conferences to remain abreast of the latest research and developments in their fields. All these abstracts and presentations are then produced into an official scientific journal, which is then used as a research reference. These conferences are, therefore, very technical and focused. At most, we will have one or two of the usual social events, and perhaps a spouse’s tour programme.”