There's a lot of talk about coming together to promote the value of exhibitions, conferences, and meetings to those outside our industry. There is discussion about security, why it's safe to travel, etc. I say: Yes, we need this information on public and industry Web sites. But the focus of our industry efforts should not be on expelling fear, but on promoting the value of the event to the attendee and their friends and family. I believe that the value of attending an event is pretty powerful stuff of its own.
Since 1999, when I founded the enterprise software company b-there, we have focused on the value of managing the attendee relationship. Our strategy is to provide everything the attendee needs to make the meeting or exposition a meaningful experience. While we are best known as a registration, housing, and travel engine, the vision of the company has been CRM [Customer Relationship Management], with special emphasis on the C — our clients' customers, the attendees.
With post-9/11 attendance hovering at 20 percent to 50 percent below prior years, we are all taking a much closer look at how to meet attendees' needs. John Golicz, aexecutive who was one of the b-there pioneers, used to say, “Take care of the attendees, and the exhibitors will beat a path to your door.” This past December at the Convention Industry Council (CIC) Industry Issues Summit in Chicago someone said, “We need to look at the attendees' needs.” I said to myself, “I wish John could hear this!”
Why do people attend events? Education, networking, the destination, getting out of the office, great food and fun. There's an emotional connection for the attendee — both professionally and personally in most cases. We are social and tribal — live events satisfy that basic element of humankind that virtual meetings simply can't. We need to promote to the public and the CEOs of the world the very reason that our industry exists — events are the best and often most cost-effective vehicle for education, sales, and— and they're fun! We need to play up the positive, not the negative.
From my own professional meeting planner's experience with everyone from physicians to trial lawyers, religious groups and techies, I can tell you that people find a lot of personal and professional value in attending conferences and trade shows. And so do I. I'm taking my family with me to MPI in Honolulu in January. I took my oldest daughter to High-Tech Maui last December. I plan to take my youngest to Hawaii next year for an industry event. It's my one time a year to show my child what I do for a living, and also an opportunity for me to spend “one-on-one” time with my children.
No terrorist who puts women in conditions worse than most farm-raised livestock is going to change my way of life. I love this industry. It's been great for me developmentally as well as financially. I believe that most attendees feel the same way about their industry and its meetings — let's remind them of that.
Peggy Lee is founder and chairman of b-there.com, Westport, Conn. We welcome your Talk Back essays, as well as Letters to the Editor. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.