Meeting professionals spend much of their time working behind the scenes, tending to details large and small, in order to keep meetings running smoothly. They also put a great deal of energy into designing events that are fun, engaging and memorable. So it is an honor and a privilege to put these hard-working and creative individuals in the spotlight, to reward their achievements and learn more about what drives them to succeed.
ConventionSouth’s Meeting Planners To Watch in 2016, nominated by their peers in the industry and/or singled out for creating exceptional meeting experiences, are involved in a wide range of event planning. They arrange corporate retreats, organize large annual association meetings, produce theatrical events, set up educational workshops and manage product launches. Some are veterans and others are relative newcomers to the profession. The traits they have in common include a talent for logistics, an ability to find creative solutions to challenges and a genuine love for the work they do.
Coping With Challenges
As might be expected, budget restrictions were cited as the biggest challenge that most meeting professionals face on a regular basis.
Several planners remarked that an emerging “sellers’ market is making it tougher to negotiate room rates.
Sherrise Stephens, Director of Global Accounts at Helms Briscoe in Alexander, Ark., said many of her clients, who had grown accustomed to getting concessions during the economic downturn, are having a hard time adjusting to the fact that “hotels are playing hardball now.”
Among the meeting planners who said they are challenged by the high costs that many facilities charge for wireless Internet in meeting spaces, Caitlin O’Brien, senior meeting manager with Association Headquarters in Mt. Laurel, N.J., said she sees this as a constant challenge in the years to come and has started offering “technology sponsorship opportunities,” to help offset these fees.
Creative Concepts Abound
This year’s Meeting Professionals To Watch offered many great examples of tapping
into their creative skills in order to provide memorable meeting experiences, often while working with limited budgets. For example, Lyn Henderson, an independent planner in Orlando, Fla., found a local magician to lend some excitement to the opening night of a recent conference. Mia Monroe, conference and events manager at All Points, LLC in Houston, dealt with a “miniscule budget for a milestone event” by developing an art competition involving local students, which provided decor for the banquet. In Hattiesburg, Miss., Emerge Events owner Jennifer Clark got a local comic book shop involved with setting up a VIP room for a local beer festival she plans, pairing featured VIP room beers with comic books that reflected that flavor or style of each beer.
While some technological developments are causing certain meeting costs to rise, other advancements are reducing printing costs while keeping participants more engaged. For example, Randi Rosenbluth, manager
of learning and development for the Chicago-based Society of Women Engineers (SWE), uses a conference app to provide targeted messages to attendees of SWE meetings. At a recent meeting in Nashville, a game was added to the app, offering points for attending certain sessions and allowing participants an new option for asking questions.
Outlook Is Positive
When asked about the year ahead, nearly all the meeting professionals spotlighted in this issue were optimistic that meetings will increase in number and in attendance.
Mark Genis, a planner with Eventmakers in Toluca Lake, Ca., was among the majority who predict a strong meetings industry in the coming year, asserting that “value and service will be the focus in 2016.”
While some expressed concerns about the impact that virtual meetings and videoconferencing might have on “in-person” meetings, others contended that such developments will complement rather than replace traditional conferences and conventions. “You can’t walk up to a speaker or another attendee and strike up a conversation or share a meal together at a virtual conference,” Henderson pointed out. “Human connections are so important and meetings provide a great way for people to connect with each other.”
You can access our complete digital edition of our annual Reader’s Choice Awards issue HERE, including top meeting professionals to watch in 2016.