Every year, Global Events Partners, the Washington, D.C.–based firm representing 65 destination management companies around the world, tweaks its client meeting, the GEP Summit, just a bit, testing new tactics to improve its networking recipe. The company just wrapped up a well-executed 14th annual Summit, which brought about 180 destination management partners, hosted clients (or potential clients), and GEP staff to Athens, Greece, for three days in mid-July. We asked GEP executives about the meeting formula they use and why they think it’s been a success. The bottom line: Every element leads back to the return on investment that comes from quality networking.

Here are six tips to insure engaged attendees at your client event:

1.Right-Sizing the Event

“Scale” is an important part of the equation, says Jim Schultenover, president of GEP and its sister company Krisam Group. The Summit, he notes, is small enough that attendees can spend time with just about everyone over the three-day event, plus they’ve designed plenty of opportunities for small-group conversation. In Athens, attendees sat in pre-assigned groups of eight during each business session, which assured a good mix of buyers and suppliers at each table, and seating with new people each day.

2. Interaction Is It

Chris White, chairman and CEO of GEP and Krisam, says they’ve worked hard to design interaction into the Summit. He notes that they extended coffee breaks to 30 minutes this year by popular demand, and scheduled fewer presentations from the stage in order to make the most of the small-group seating. For example, at past Summits, selected DMCs took the stage and talked for a few minutes about new hotels, venues, or special event ideas in their destinations. 

 

This year, GEP turned this educational session into a fun, fast-paced trivia game where groups worked together to answer questions about the destinations’ developments. On another day, the session leaders introduced high-interest topics, including corporate social responsibility, technology, and creative entertainment, then let the table groups dig into each topic on a more intimate scale.

3. One-on-One Appointments

Pre-scheduled appointments between DMC partners and buyers are also essential to the ROI of the event, says White. During the Summit there are two, two-hour appointment blocks, where everyone is scheduled for a series of 20-minute appointments—six each day. That formula, White says, has proven just right, giving everyone enough time to make the connections they’re expecting.

4. Connecting Names and Faces

Stacy Tischler, senior vice president, operations, GEP and Krisam Group, says that an attendee “facebook” has been another successful element of the GEP Summit. Every registrant is asked to send in a headshot, and about a week before the Summit convenes, the downloadable booklet is sent out with each attendee’s photo, name, title, company, and location, allowing people to begin to network even before they arrive.

5. Education Adds to ROI

Over the years, GEP has found that clients have an easier time committing to the Summit if it includes a solid educational element, White says. So, in addition to topic discussions and the destination news trivia game, the Athens Summit included a keynote speaker. Miguel Neves, senior online community manager, IMEX Group, talked about the relationship between technology and audience engagement—with a special emphasis on mobile apps and social media. After his resource-filled keynote, Neves stayed for the rest of the Summit, generating technology conversations at every turn and posting to Twitter at #GEPSummit13.

6. Don’t Forget the Fun

While GEP Summit attendees in Athens worked each day from 8:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. in the meeting rooms of its beautiful host property, Grande Bretagne Hotel, there was also plenty of fun built into the schedule. GEP’s partner DMC in Athens, Horizon Tours, lead by President & CEO Aris Tsaldaris, orchestrated the special events that showcased Athens as a first-class meeting destination. The evening venues included the Dionysos Restaurant at the base of the Acropolis, the stunning ocean-side Westin Athens Astir Palace Beach Resort, and the historic Zappeion, a landmark building in the National Gardens of Athens, where the group enjoyed a red-carpet final-evening banquet. On one afternoon the whole group took a boat cruise down the coast, complete with lunch, traditional dancers, and sunny views of the rocky shore, and on the other afternoon, attendees had a choice of tours, including a trip to the iconic Parthenon, a visit to the new world-class Acropolis Museum, a bike tour of the city, and a walking tour of the old town.