Engaging engagement

Corporate meetings are increasingly seeking audience engagement that extends beyond the meeting duration as well as deeper connections.

More corporate meetings are ditching instructional

While business event planners have always understood that successful meetings engage participants, the definition of engagement has in recent times taken on a more critical meaning.

Firstly, according to business event specialists TTGmice spoke to, audience engagement has extended beyond the duration of the event.

More corporate meetings are ditching instructional formats, favouring instead an interactional approach

Sam Lay, senior director, Asia Pacific, CWT Meetings & Events, observed that corporate clients are increasingly forming event programming committees and conducting focus group discussions involving key participants, all in an effort to extract views on what they hope to see in terms of content at upcoming meetings.

He believes that this is happening in the corporate space as more participants now want a say in how a meeting programme should be, as well as companies’ growing awareness that successful content needs to be co-created with partners. The latter, Lay opined, is due to the presence of a more learned and experienced internal planner – one who sits within the corporate organisation as opposed to a specialist with a meetings and events agency.

“People who are touching meetings today, compared to five years ago, are more aware of event technology, the right approach (to programming), as well as how they should work with their partners in organising a meeting.

“Naturally this has happened because there are a lot more meeting management courses being offered at higher education institutions, (and) more meetings are taking place which allows planners to gain more experiences,” Lay said.

Secondly, as much as audience engagement has become wider – spreading beyond the duration of the meeting, it has also gone deeper, observed MindMeetings Netherlands’ meeting designer, Eric de Groot, who pointed out that the instructional approach commonly taken by corporate meetings is fast going out of style.

He believes that the Information Age is the catalyst.

“Sharing has become a trend. Wikipedia is proof of the power of crowd-thinking. As a result, many organisations are becoming aware of the value that lies in conversations with employees, in harvesting their individual insights. Today’s meetings are no longer instruction platforms. Rather, meetings are test tubes for information chemistry.”

He asserts that in a “new economy led by the young generation”, corporate performance visions are no longer something only the CEO can provide.

However, not all organisations are aware of the need to alter the way they meet and engage their delegates. These organisations struggle to accept this new reality, choosing instead to maintain one-directional meetings, said de Groot, pointing to the “fear of chaos”, and inability to process large amounts of new information from meeting participants as obstacles.

Creative delivery
In hopes of leaving participants with a memorable and lasting impression, corporate meetings are getting more creative in the way they engage the audience, communicate their key messages and achieve their goals.

Drawing an example around annual general meetings (AGMs), Lay said these once rigid events are shaking off their top-down approach and are becoming more “sensorial”.

“Traditionally at these meetings, someone at the top will tell the audience what’s happening and what will happen next for the company. But in recent years, AGMs are kicking off with a big ra-ra. Videos are used (as part of presentations), and mechanisms are employed to track audience reaction, and that data helps planners analyse which part of the event was most engaging and had the highest level of activation.

“So now, planners have data to help them know when to tune up and reengage people, perhaps at the six-minute mark when people’s attention starts to waver.”

Lay also suggested that corporate meetings are becoming more creative because communication technology has made it easier for planners to “see or hear how an event held 10,000 miles away was done, and to take something innovative from it to be incorporated into their own event here”.

Daniel Chua, founder and chief executive of Singapore-based conference management agency, Aonia, said some corporate meetings have become more creative because of “an internal demand to keep things fresh and alive”.

Most corporate meetings designed and executed by Aonia are aimed at top-level personnel. These meetings are adopting more multimedia in content delivery and offering more interactive opportunities between participants.

“As the cost of event technology usage continues to drop over the years, we can expect even greater adoption,” said Chua.

In terms of venue setup though, Chua’s clients have kept to the familiar classroom layout even though new and unique ideas are encouraged.

“Formats have not changed much, and if it did, I’d think it was because of interesting event possibilities offered by venues which give clients impetus to try out new content delivery,” he added.

Impact on suppliers
Naturally, the pursuit of deeper audience engagement has changed the way corporate clients regard their meetings and events agents and venue suppliers.

“The traditional role of a meetings and events agent is changing. Agents were more reactive – clients tell them what to do and they fulfil those orders. As the meetings and events industry advances, agents must play a more consultative role and propose unique, valuable ideas to clients,” Lay said. “And clients expect this of us, demanding that value proposition we can provide as their event partner.

Ramesh Daryanani, vice president, global sales, Asia Pacific (excluding Greater China), Marriott International, agrees that hotels must, too, play the role of an event partner.

Ramesh said: “Meeting planners have evolved from simply telling hotels, ‘OK, I want a meeting room from nine to five and some tea and coffee’, to being very specific about what they want participants to experience and to take away with them at the end of the event, and what the hotel can do to help make that happen.”

Lay also emphasised the need for companies to approach meetings and events strategically in order to fulfil the need for deeper engagement. By looking at a company’s full calendar of events for the year, instead of a single event each time, the internal planner can ensure a consistent approach to audience engagement and communications, as well as see where the opportunities for cost savings and consolidated spend lie.

CWT is pushing for this strategic approach with its corporate clients, determined to “look at a client’s entire calendar of events as early as possible, and get involved in the planning just from the start”.

“By doing so, one of the things we could do is putting in an innovation right at the beginning that will help the client save money, collect useful data and better engage attendees. To achieve this, CWT forges a very close relationship with various departments of the client’s company, such as marketing and operations,” he elaborated.

The heightened interest in deeper engagement has also prompted MindMeeting and Taiwan-based Asia Concentrate Corporation (ACC) to enter a 50-50 joint venture to birth Orange Gibbon, a company specialising in meeting design services. The founders hope that Orange Gibbon would create a more productive output for meetings delivered by ACC in Asia by adopting MindMeeting’s Meeting Design solution.

To expedite the evolution of meetings design in Asia, de Groot said Orange Gibbon would “provide formats that structure the large-scale input and dynamic alternatives for information processing” and “connect meetings to strategic goals and use the wisdom of crowds to achieve those goals”.

At press time in May, Orange Gibbon is finalising plans for a Meeting Design Week, an event for planners who would like to improve their meetings but are afraid of chaos. It aims to show attendees how meeting design can create effective meeting programmes.

Hotels as influencers?
Can meeting hotels influence the creative side of meeting design? Business event specialists certainly think so.
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CWT Meetings & Events’ Sam Lay said: “The availability of creative resources (provided by hotels) helps us in our job. I’m always very happy to come across hotel offerings that we can take back to wow my clients.”

Aonia’s Daniel Chua agrees, but said hotel sales representatives must be trained to communicate creative meeting ideas to the client during site inspections.

Marriott International’s Ramesh Daryanani acknowledges the critical role frontliners play in communicating what hotels can do as event partners. Sales staff are trained to use Marriott’s Meetings Imagined platform, the company’s meeting product that delivers memorable meetings and utilises an image-heavy website to suggest unique event ideas and guide objectives.

“A Marriott sales person digs deep into what the customer hopes to achieve through the event. He then gives the customer a visual of what Marriott can execute around the world, what other people have done in the past, and what makes events of the same kind successful.

”Site inspections are special too, Ramesh claims.

“We conduct ‘wow site inspections’. From the moment a customer get out of his car to when he finishes the site inspection, our hotel team makes sure that he gets an exemplary experience. Between a warm welcome and a fond farewell, all the activations – be it seeing the room or a meeting space – is customised to the needs of the customer.”

When asked if this approach works for customers, Ramesh replied confidently: “Meetings and events now make up 20 per cent of Marriott International’s business. In a market where we are opening numerous new hotels, we are still seeing growth in the meetings segment.”

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