I attend so many meetings in our industry that are just ... average. We’re supposed to be the innovators—the first to try creative formats and to integrate technologies that enrich the experience.

The Convention 2020 project, sponsored by IMEX and the Inter-national Congress & Convention Association, has shown us how to do that. At the recent IMEX America show in Las Vegas, Rohit Talwar shared the group’s final research, as well as many great examples of forward-thinking formats, such as general sessions where people listen to several topics simultaneously through headsets; or keynoters who come down into the audience and break it into groups for discussion.

There’s so much more we could be doing—so why aren’t we? “I think the meetings industry has been slow to respond to new formats and more strategic thinking,” Talwar told me. “But this will change gradually as it shifts from being a real-estate sales operation to an experience-creation and -delivery business. The need to fill hotel rooms and venues will never go away—but the emphasis will shift toward innovation and experience.”

Take the 20-minute campfire discussions at IMEX—where attendees sat on blocks (comfortable ones!) right on the trade show floor to discuss a pre-scheduled topic. Instead of attracting 10 people as expected, they drew three times that. It’s easy to find 20 minutes in your schedule.

Talwar says the tech industry is the most innovative with its events. “They totally get that they have to deliver great experiences and use the technology to enhance them.” In our industry, he cites the American Society of Association Executives, Professional Convention Management Association, and EventCamp as examples of innovators.

I’m concerned about what will happen once Talwar winds down his efforts and all the research and case studies he has created fade into the background. Other industry associations and foundations should step forward to keep this work alive. As one not-to-be-named industry CEO said during a recent panel (note: panel) at another industry meeting: “If we’re doing things the same way five years from now, we’re in trouble.”

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