As we entered the second half of the second year of the worst recession the travel industry has ever experienced, we knew that associations—and their meetings—would never be the same. Scrutiny of business travel, of membership dues, of whether or not to send an employee to his or her annual association event have created downward pressure on most meetings. Increased competition from the Internet, information overload from ever-expanding sources, and the explosion of social media that allows the building of communities that connect like-minded people and professionals means associations no longer corner the loyalty market.

Events in April, May, and June—ash that closed entire airports, oil that threatened an entire region’s ecosystem, and a state’s meeting industry labeled incapable of hosting meetings due to political agendas beyond its control have exacerbated the plight of association meetings.

We asked some of the best minds in association meetings to give us their views on a variety of topics—where we are and where we’re headed.

Jump to an interview:

American Library Association's Deirdre Ross on Innovation

Glen Ramsborg, Kendall College, on Design and Education

Dave Fellers on International Attendance

ICCA's Martin Sirk on Globalization

Susan Sarfati on Learning Communities

Terri Breining on Return on Investment

IAEE's Steve Hacker on the State of the Exhibitions Industry


Deidre Ross on Innovation

Deidre Ross, MHA, CMP, has been called one of the most influential people in the hospitality industry and one of its top trade show managers. For 15 years she has managed the American Library Association’s two largest meetings—the 25,000-attendee Annual Conference, coming up in late June—and the 12,000-attendee Midwinter Conference. To find out where association meetings are headed, take a look at what ALA is doing now.

Association Meetings: How is the economy affecting your meetings?

Deidre Ross: We had record-breaking attendance in Chicago in 2009, but we were a little down on exhibits. The economy is having more of an impact on this year’s conference. Last year many of our attendees were working on [fiscal year] 2008–2009 budgets, which weren’t getting cut. But now we are seeing a lag. Because 2009 was so bad for the economy, budgets for this year got cut, which is affecting attendance. I think we’re also going to see a lag for our meeting in 2011.

For 2010, the exhibits are looking good, but the attendance is not. We are about 1,200 under what we were last year in paid registrations. Attendance was down about 2,000 for our Midwinter Conference.

AM: How are your conferences changing to meet the needs of attendees?

Ross: We’ve cut off a day of our conference because people said they couldn’t afford the extra day away and the exhibitors were saying it was a little too long. It’s less expensive for us as well because we bring 150 staff members to the meeting.

We do a lot of e-marketing—through Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and our own site, ALA Connect. We also try to integrate social media into the conference. This year we are doing a cell phone application that has all of our exhibitors and programs on it. And we’re working with another company to do a cell-phone-based game called Scavenger, where attendees get clues and find stuff while they are at the conference. Gaming has become very big in libraries and it’s very big with librarians—especially the younger librarians.

We also started something called Networking on Commons, which is an area at the conference where people can make impromptu presentations. It’s almost like a town square, where people show up and talk about whatever they want. They’ll announce on Twitter when they’ll be speaking and what they plan to talk about. Everything is set up for them—seats, screens, hookups—all they have to do is bring their computers.

We also introduced a game called Battle Decks. A person is given 15 PowerPoint slides to present. The trick is that in this “battle deck” there are non-sequitur slides, slides that have nothing to do with the topic. When they come up, the person has to continue talking on the subject, incorporating the funny slides. This game popped up last year at Networking on Common and was wildly popular, so this year we are having a tournament.

We get a lot of ideas bubbling up from members. In the past, all of our programming would come from our different divisions and they would do it way in advance. But now we have members submit session ideas and the proposals are juried by a younger group of members called emerging leaders. Of the 65 proposals we received, the jury picked the best 12 and we put them on the program.

We also have a day-long “unconference,” where participants decide on the spot what they want to talk about. We do it on Friday before the opening reception. It’s free, but attendees have to sign up and it’s limited to about 200 people.

AM: Do you anticipate any changes in the way meetings are planned?

Ross: Social media is going to take off even more (and I am now the queen of social media). We’re going to see it even more integrated into the conference in the future. And there are more interactive things. Attendees tweet it out and people just come. It’s like an instant session. I’m happy to [support] those kinds of things because we want to engage the attendee. The more they are engaged, the more they will talk to friends. It’s competition for dollars when it really comes down to it. If they feel involved and they can network, they will come to your conference.

We already have a virtual meeting, which is another trend. We do it after our annual conference. It will be made up of some sessions that were recorded at the conference and some sessions created especially for the virtual conference.

AM: How is your expo floor changing to meet the needs of attendees?

Ross: We had Ethnometrics (a consultant) come in and they suggested using pavilions to build communities, so we have a lot of different pavilions around the hall—like the gaming pavilion. We also have an area called “At Your Library,” which is a stage where we have readings and other events to promote library awareness. We decided to try another stage last year—a cookbook stage. It was gangbusters! We had five or six sessions featuring cookbook authors who either talked about food or cooked something right on the stage. It was always packed. And all around the stage we had stacks and shelves of cookbooks. It was a great success, so this year we are going to our Pop Top stage, which is a phrase for popular fiction like romance, mystery, and travel. So we’ll have three stages on our show floor. People love it and the exhibitors love it because it brings people into the show floor.

Continue the discussion. E-mail Deidre at dross@ala.org and visit the ALA Web site at www.ala.org.

Next Page: Glen Ramsborg on Design and Education

 

Jump to an Interview:
American Library Association's Deirdre Ross on Innovation
Glen Ramsborg, Kendall College, on Design and Education
Dave Fellers on International Attendance
ICCA's Martin Sirk on Globalization
Susan Sarfati on Learning Communities
Terri Breining on Return on Investment
IAEE's Steve Hacker on the State of the Exhibitions Industry

(Continued)
 

Glen Ramsborg on Design and Education

Glen Ramsborg, PhD, CMP, has been involved in education since he joined the association meetings industry 25 years ago. He spent 17 years as director of programs and meeting services at the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, where he was in charge of both logistics and program content. While at the Professional Convention Management Association as senior director, education, he became executive editor of PCMA’s “Professional Meeting Management,” the industry’s premier textbook. In 2009 Ramsborg became professor at the School of Hospitality Management at Kendall College in Chicago, where he teaches meeting management.

Association Meetings: What is the current state of the college classroom? How are learning habits of today’s college students different from previous generations?

Glen Ramsborg: In one of the first classes of the quarter we go through a one-page survey where I ask the students to rate themselves so I can get a feel of their learning style—visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. Most are visual learners, meaning they respond best to what they can see, whether it’s a handout, images, charts, or videos. I think this speaks to how we are bombarded visually as a society. Also, keeping them engaged and ‘in the moment’ is probably the greatest challenge. Students are easily distracted with their connectivity with the outside world.

It’s no different with adult learners. Meeting planners are challenged to overcome the disruption that today’s connectivity brings to meeting attendees of all ages. People are multi-tasking—listening to the speaker while they are on their BlackBerry, responding to e-mails, or interacting with other social media options. It really takes some innovation in the design of the educational experience to keep them engaged in the learning environment rather than in what’s going on at home or the office.

AM: So how can we best command the attention of tomorrow’s association meeting attendees?

Ramsborg: Take a blended approach. Give a little bit of everything in each session. All generations like to interact and be involved in their learning. There are two main principles that planners need to incorporate into each educational session. One is interaction—a way to keep them engaged and involved—and the other is to identify specific learner outcomes beforehand so the learner knows that he or she will walk out with certain takeaways. A well-crafted learner outcome becomes your best marketing tool. This helps to ensure that the attendee has something specific to use upon returning to the office.

To measure the impact of the meeting, planners can go back to the learners in three months or six months with a survey asking, “What did you learn?” or better yet, “What did you implement?”

AM: How do you address all levels of adult learners in a session?

Ramsborg: Planners have to look at designing meetings that incorporate interactive learning experiences into the sessions as well as foster the informal learning that continues after the session has concluded. They also have to design experiences that link classroom learning with the networking going on outside of the session. This is where the content germinates and grows.

Too often, meeting managers are not involved as much in the educational design as they should be. Logistics and education have never caught on as one entity—they always seem to be two separate departments with an association. Planners provide the essential link between the logistics and the learning environment and design, the interactivity, and the networking.

AM: Will education continue to be a main draw for associations in the future?

Ramsborg: Yes. There’s so much information available that the key is to help attendees pull relevant information and draw conclusions that will assist in the application of the learning.The learning environment has to start long before attendees get to the meeting. It continues during the event and then continues in the development of communities and other forums to keep it going long after. This change is going on now and is going to continue to spawn new and different options that many of us have not even considered. It takes a symbiotic relationship between meeting planning, education, and technology to make it all happen.

Continue the discussion. E-mail Glen at gramsborg@kendall.edu.

Next Page: Dave Fellers on international attendance

Jump to an Interview:
American Library Association's Deirdre Ross on Innovation
Glen Ramsborg, Kendall College, on Design and Education
Dave Fellers on International Attendance
ICCA's Martin Sirk on Globalization
Susan Sarfati on Learning Communities
Terri Breining on Return on Investment
IAEE's Steve Hacker on the State of the Exhibitions Industry

(Continued)

Dave Fellers on international attendance

Dave Fellers, CAE, is president of Dave Fellers Consulting. He has more than 30 years of association experience, including serving as CEO of the Radiological Society of North America, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. He was most recently president of ethnoMetrics, the convention and trade show consulting subsidiary of GES.

Association Meetings: How are associations doing in terms of attracting non-U.S. participation at meetings?

Dave Fellers: International expansion offers a great opportunity to come out of this recession with a new area of growth. A recent survey of CEOs of leading medical societies found that international growth is a major focus for most of them. Some of this has evolved with little planning or intent on the part of U.S. associations: Foreign members attended their meetings, liked what they saw, and spread the word.

The potential for U.S-based associations is enormous. Some medical meetings, such as the 60,000-attendee annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, have one-third of their professional attendees and more than 50 percent of their speaker submissions from outside the U.S. Others have up to 40 percent foreign attendees and they are now starting to look at areas for collaboration such as patient registries.

AM: Will the U.S. Travel Promotion Act, recently passed by Congress, be a boost to association meetings?

Fellers: Many associations are not even aware of the Travel Promotion Act, which was signed by President Obama in March. It was the first-ever national travel promotion program to attract more international travelers to the U.S. Unfortunately, this program will probably not be prepared to promote meetings for at least two years. So associations need to do everything they can now to establish their ability to attract foreign participants. They want to focus on finding ways to make the entry and exit process for travelers easier.

AM: What are the biggest challenges U.S. associations face in attracting international audiences?

Fellers: Associations need to determine whether or not they want to commit the time and resources to increase international participation. Will this distract from their domestic members and programs? What opportunities are there for collaboration with foreign sister societies? How can

this be incorporated into the strategic plan?

The three biggest challenges are getting staff and board support for the strategic steps to pursue international growth; the problems resulting from national and global phenomena like H1N1, 9/11, and the volcano in Iceland; and the weakened global economy.

It takes commitment to make global outreach successful. Most groups who dive in have found it worthwhile and profitable.

Continue the discussion. E-mail Dave at dave@fellerskc.com or go towww.fellerskc.com.

Next Page: Martin Sirk on Globalization

Jump to an Interview:
American Library Association's Deirdre Ross on Innovation
Glen Ramsborg, Kendall College, on Design and Education
Dave Fellers on International Attendance
ICCA's Martin Sirk on Globalization
Susan Sarfati on Learning Communities
Terri Breining on Return on Investment
IAEE's Steve Hacker on the State of the Exhibitions Industry

(Continued)

Martin Sirk on Globalization

Martin Sirk is CEO of ICCA, the International Congress & Convention Association, based in Amsterdam, which represents suppliers who specialize in organizing, transporting, and accommodating international meetings and events. ICCA has 900 member companies and organizations in 85 countries worldwide.

Association Meetings: The meetings industry has become truly global. A shutdown of airports in Europe due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland affected meetings not only in Europe, but in the U.S., in every region of the world. What can planners do to mitigate risk?

Martin Sirk: My biggest suggestion is to have an absolutely comprehensive and regularly updated bid document—most associations have at best a relatively incomplete document, with lots of historic assumptions that aren’t written down—with all key decision-making criteria and the precise decision-making process set out in advance rather than leaving anything to be dealt with ad hoc. ICCA produced a detailed publication for international associations called “International Association Meetings: Bidding & Decision-Making,” filled with checklists for association execs to run against their existing process and spot the gaps. We feel there are four distinctively different sets of decision-making criteria. First are the logistical factors, which tend to be used as shortlisting criteria; second are the financial factors, which can be complex when local partners and sponsors are involved; third are the internal association objectives (e.g., membership development, certification programs, business opportunities for members, etc.); and finally the political/emotional factors, which are very important but too rarely written down!

Having said all that, there’s no way to totally eliminate “black swans,” the large but unpredictable dangers both natural and man-made. For example, should you eliminate San Francisco and Los Angeles from your U.S. options simply because one day there will be a big earthquake (or, for that matter, Tokyo or anywhere else on a fault line)? Should you cut out Madrid and London because they’ve been terror targets in the past and may be in the future?

The question I always advise planners to ask is not, “Is it safe?” but, “What are your risk-assessment and disaster-planning processes?” Not a guarantee, but at least you’ll find out how seriously the destination handles these issues and the communication challenges that run in tandem. I think a big mistake is to try to find a “guaranteed no risk” destination. This mythical beast simply doesn’t exist.

AM: We have finally arrived at the point where associations, many of which have built their livelihoods on member retention and face-to-face meetings, can no longer depend on loyalty. With so much competition, how can associations draw members and get them to meetings?

Sirk: It could be the end of associations as “monopoly providers” of fields of knowledge within specific geographical regions. Europeans and U.S associations are competing in the Middle East, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and in each other’s backyards. There are battles going on for global accreditation and certification rights. And, of course, there are so many new forms of competition, from commercial companies, to dissatisfied delegates setting up their own meetings, to the Internet and virtual meetings.

The key differentiators that will attract delegates are personalization, which enables delegates to achieve their personal objectives; thought leadership, which includes offering new perspectives that aren’t on the current agenda; making sure the best speakers are involved—ideally in person; and using the meeting as a gateway to other sources of knowledge—that is, embracing the concept that the meeting is not an end in itself, but is part of an ongoing cycle of building knowledge. This last is difficult because these other sources may be thought of as competitors, but the theory of competitiveness in the new information-based economy tells us that those who are best at giving rather than keeping knowledge stand to be the strongest, even if the old competitive model gave advantage to the “keepers.” Many associations haven’t yet grasped this.

AM: You mention that meetings have to become more personalized, which is one of the findings from The Convention 2020 Report, of which ICCA is a main underwriter. It also forecasts that attendees will need greater incentives to attend. Who is going to pay for all of the technology required for customization, and the other complexities of meetings, including blended events, and the need for more ROI?

Sirk: Those of us who want to run effective and successful meetings have to take the risk to make the necessary investments to stand out from the crowd, whether it’s in IT and social media, in hardware, in higher staff-to-delegate ratios, or other innovations. Ultimately, the smart money will flow to where the strongest intellectual activity is taking place, where thought-leaders gather, to the “must-attend” events. If you don’t invest, but cut costs and reduce value, you’re in danger of entering a death spiral, which will accelerate when competitors enter the market to grab your space. Any established event has to be constantly thinking about new methods to build emotional attachment with their delegates and communities.

Continue the discussion. E-mail Martin at msirk@icca.com. Visit the ICCA Web site at www.iccaworld.org.

Jump to an Interview:
American Library Association's Deirdre Ross on Innovation
Glen Ramsborg, Kendall College, on Design and Education
Dave Fellers on International Attendance
ICCA's Martin Sirk on Globalization
Susan Sarfati on Learning Communities
Terri Breining on Return on Investment
IAEE's Steve Hacker on the State of the Exhibitions Industry

(Continued)

Susan Sarfati on Learning Communities

Susan Sarfati is CEO of High Performance Strategies, a Washington, D.C.–based speaking and consulting firm formed in 2008 that focuses on creating high-performance individuals, teams, and organizations to achieve excellent results. She is best known as the CEO of the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives and for being the founding CEO of The Center for Association Leadership and becoming Executive Vice President of ASAE. She counts the countries of Curaçao and Jordan, the U.S. government, and several associations and nonprofit organizations among her current clients.

Association Meetings: You’ve been known for striving for excellence in education for association professionals and for launching the Nation’s Capital Distinguished Speakers Series, which drew many high-powered speakers, for 13 seasons. How does education at association meetings look today?

Susan Sarfati: One thing that always bothered me about association meetings was that associations were not maximizing the networking opportunities. Special events became mob scenes. You could have a burning issue and be sitting behind someone in a session who had the solution to the exact problem you came with, yet you never connected with that person.

I got so excited when “smart badges” came out. Yet smart badges have not become commonplace in our industry.

We tried social matchmaking software, too, which is terrific technology that allows you to pinpoint that person with the same issues before you arrive at the meeting and during. But it comes down to adoption. If not enough people use it or participate, it’s not effective.

One of the government agencies I currently do work for is committed to building professional communities and ongoing communities of learning around the world. There is a critical need for meetings and professions to become more cross-sectional. We need to give people the opportunities to exchange ideas across sectors. This is particularly important in emerging markets but also is critical in developed countries. Ongoing learning communities mean people have to get together virtually, not always face-to-face. I’ve been involved with building online communities, and, just as at face-to-face events, participants engage at different degrees.

AM: What else can associations do better at their meetings?

Sarfati: People want advanced education at their meetings. We need to raise the level of dialogue. For scientific meetings, it is much easier to gear your content to be cutting-edge. But for softer issues, such as leadership and management, it’s more difficult. Most meeting evaluations tell you that what you lack is that more advanced knowledge. I believe that attendees want to be stretched to reach the next level of thinking.

It’s easy to provide entry-level information, because for people new to a profession or industry, it’s a whole new universe.

And the way we deliver adult education is still someone delivering a PowerPoint session, questions put on a flip chart, and discussion. But maybe 20 percent is relevant.

AM: What have your globe-trotting, and global views, taught you about association meetings?

Sarfati: We need more sessions about the world we live in. What about women’s issues around the world? Or social responsibility? I launched the Global Summit on Social Responsibility in 2008 and 700 attended at the host site and hundreds more participated virtually from around the world. It was supposed to launch a movement among associations around CSR.

Our industry is sometimes parochial and overly cautious, looking inward instead of outward. But CSR is growing. I had a big vision. We had collective energy. Every industry and profession is reflected by its association, and associations are all about their own special interests. That’s why members pay dues. However, association leaders can become about the common interest as well as the special interest. Our world community needs both areas of focus.

Continue the discussion.

E-mail Susan at susan@ssarfati.com and visitwww.sarfatihighperformance.com.

Next Page: Terri Breining, CMP, CMM, principal, Breining Group LLC

Jump to an Interview:
American Library Association's Deirdre Ross on Innovation
Glen Ramsborg, Kendall College, on Design and Education
Dave Fellers on International Attendance
ICCA's Martin Sirk on Globalization
Susan Sarfati on Learning Communities
Terri Breining on Return on Investment
IAEE's Steve Hacker on the State of the Exhibitions Industry

(Continued)
 

Terri Breining on Return on Investment

Terri Breining, CMP, CMM, principal, Breining Group LLC, started and ran her own meeting management company, Concepts Worldwide, for more than 20 years. Along the way she volunteered at both the local and international levels of Meeting Professionals International, including serving as chairwoman of the board in 2003–2004. She disbanded her company during the 2009 recession, but is carving a new niche as a consultant, including training meeting organizers how to measure a meeting’s return on investment, as defined by the Phillips ROI Institute, a widely used measurement in many disciplines, but one that hasn’t totally taken hold in the meetings industry. She’s been talking “the business of meetings” for many years.

Association Meetings: Why does it bother you when people use ROO—return on objective—interchangeably with ROI? What is the definition of each?

Terri Breining: ROO is a term made up by the meetings industry. And in the absence of any other kind of tangible measurement, it has served us. Unfortunately, it’s not a term that is recognized or used by the people who are now asking questions about the value of meetings. The meetings industry has long made up words or phrases to suit the unique elements of what we do, but to the extent that we speak our secret language, we will remain marginalized and misunderstood. If we want a seat at the table, we need to speak the language of business so that other business professionals understand us and appreciate the contribution that meetings make. Besides that, return on objective is inherent in the ROI Institute Methodology. In order to measure any success resulting from a meeting, there must be clear objectives, and those objectives must be quantified. So it’s not an either/or situation.

AM: To what extent is ROI measured for meetings today?

Breining: Only about 5 percent of meetings are measured at what the ROI Institute Methodology calls Level 5, the highest level, which includes a financial measurement. From 90 percent to 100 percent are measured at Level 1, which is the measurement of reaction, satisfaction, and planned action.

To conduct a full Level 5 measurement will cost 2 percent to 5 percent of the overall meeting budget, or often the same amount as ground transfers. People will spend tens of thousands of dollars on floral arrangements for their meetings or events, yet don’t want to invest in understanding the impact of the meeting on the attendee.

AM: Why hasn’t ROI measurement caught on among associations?

Breining: So many people say, “We can’t afford that ROI thing.” There’s a lack of understanding, a lot of fear. All organizations that spend anything on meetings should know if they’re accomplishing what they want in those meetings. If an organization can’t afford to measure to Level 5, they can absolutely use the ROI Methodology to measure learning (Level 2) and the application of that learning (Level 3) for participants. And in most cases, those levels of measurement are something everyone can do without spending a lot of extra cash.

It terms of measurement tools, many research instruments are available, but survey tools are most often used and are the most cost-effective.

AM: The ROI model you advocate resembles the continuing education model of performance improvement and measurement; that is, there is a need to show how the meeting improved performance or raised knowledge or awareness. What are the best ways to measure a change in behavior or attitude or in performance from attendance at a conference?

Breining: Clearly defined objectives will indicate the behavior, attitude, or performance that should be changed. Once that decision is made, the next step is to determine how the change will be measured. It could be fewer complaints, greater efficiencies, higher sales or margins, and so on. But the measurement is always dependent on the identified change, and then, of course, subject to limitations of resources, including time, money, and data.

AM: How can you isolate the impact of a meeting?

Breining: One of the myths about ROI is that the impact of a meeting can’t be measured, since there are always so many other factors that influence change. Part of the ROI methodology is the acknowledgement of those factors, and the attribution of various factors—including the meeting—in determining change, success, or movement toward a goal. There are many statistically valid methods for isolating data, but the two most commonly used for meetings are control groups and participant estimates of success. With control groups, you can compare success of those attending a meeting against a like demographic that did not attend the meeting. With participant estimates, all the factors that could be responsible for a change are ranked by the participant.

Continue the discussion. E-mail Terri at TBreining@breininggroup.com. Visit the ROI Institute at www.roiinstitute.net.

Next Page: IAEE's Steve Hacker on the State of the Exhibitions Industry

(continued)


The State of the Exhibitions Industry:

By Steven Hacker, CAE, President, International Association of Exhibitions and Events

I’m tempted to address the question of the exhibitions industry’s current condition with a broad adjective like better, improving, or recovering. But while convenient, that kind of simple answer would be wrong. The truth is that the exhibitions industry is very broad-based and each event reflects the underlying condition of the industry or interests it serves.

Not very long ago, conventional wisdom said the exhibitions industry was “recession-proof.” That myth was dispelled by the recession of 2000–2002 and was again hammered home by the Great Recession of the past two years.

The 2010 CEIR Index reveals that the exhibitions industry contracted in 2009 by an astounding 12.5 percent when taking all four of the metrics that we measure into account (exhibit space sold, revenue, number of exhibiting companies, and visitor attendance). It was by far the most destructive year—by a factor of four—since we began tracking the industry. The largest previous decline was only 3.5 percent in 2008.

Events in the government, public, and nonprofit sectors suffered the least decline as a group while, no surprise, those events serving the building, construction, and home repair industry plummeted the most. Not far behind were events in the automotive sector.

Once again, the experiences of 2008 and 2009 demonstrate that the exhibitions industry is a mirror image of the industries served by our events. There is a close correlation between the path of the Gross National Product and the trajectory of the exhibitions industry.

Looking ahead, we have very good reason to believe that the latter portion of 2010 and 2011 will be a period of dramatic recovery for many, if not most, events.

Despite the bloodshed of the last two years, there is ample evidence to suggest that the exhibitions industry, while dinged, remains viable and dynamic. Even in the darkest days of the Great Recession, many new events were launched successfully, and events serving emerging industries like wind energy and almost all things “green” did very well indeed.

Trends, many of them powered by new technologies, are now converging and promise some exciting things ahead for the exhibitions industry. Among the most promising is that virtual events—which have been feared for some time as threatening to replace the face-to-face experience—are taking an important supporting and supplemental role to live events. They are making the face-to-face experience even richer and more vital. Virtual events prepare attendees and exhibitors for the live event and also extend the life of the real event by many months. Thus virtual events are not a threat but a new and exciting set of opportunities for the exhibitions industry.

The convergence of Web-based and hand-held cellular technology is changing the experience as well. It is arming attendees and exhibitors with new management and communications opportunities. The days of the printed show directory are waning and GPS is beginning to guide visitors around the largest and most daunting exhibitions floors. Programs like Xnip now enable exhibitors to slice their show costs by allowing attendees to receive electronic collateral that they can retrieve from Web-based personal files.

Social media is creating communities of interest that are arising around key exhibitions and events. Like virtual events, social media is giving new and powerful communications capabilities to attendees and exhibitors. In short, despite the setbacks of the last two years, the future is brighter and more exciting than ever for the exhibitions and events industry.

Continue the discussion. E-mail Steve at shacker@iaee.com and visit theIAEE Web site.

Jump to an Interview:
American Library Association's Deirdre Ross on Innovation
Glen Ramsborg, Kendall College, on Design and Education
Dave Fellers on International Attendance
ICCA's Martin Sirk on Globalization
Susan Sarfati on Learning Communities
Terri Breining on Return on Investment
IAEE's Steve Hacker on the State of the Exhibitions Industry