If 2012 goes as well as it might for meetings and events, the year will be remembered as the moment when integration became the industry’s new watchword.

If the year goes very well, we’ll have the time and flexibility to drive the trend ourselves, and the insight to seize the opportunity. But even if a major change in focus is forced on us by events beyond our control, our day-to-day work and broader business prospects will be better for it.

2012 may well be a year that spins out of our control. The European debt situation is still lurching along from crisis to cataclysm, and online media reported late last year that one-quarter to half of U.S. mortgages were “effectively underwater.” 2011 set records for severe weather disasters, even as residents in an at-risk area of Virginia objected to infrastructure improvements intended to protect their communities (and, along the way, their meeting facilities) from climate-related sea-level rise. While the meetings economy saw a modest rebound last year, the recovery is still fragile enough that any number of external threats could throw the industry off-course.

If that happens, we’ll have to go back to the mantra of wringing every ounce of impact out of every meeting we hold, whether it’s face to face, virtual, or hybrid. Even if all goes well, that’s not a bad mantra to have.

And that’s where integration comes in.

When we’re right in the midst of a meeting, it’s easy—and necessary—to give that activity 100 percent of our attention. It’s the moment when every detail matters, and we can’t spare a thought for anything that isn’t right in front of us.

But we have to understand that any meeting matters only in its broader context. Which is why we should want 2012 to be the year when we perfect the art of integrating:

  • our conference programs with our organizations’ needs and objectives
  • our on-site audiences with the far wider group of members and stakeholders who can and should be attending virtually
  • the three or four days of on-site programming with the 365-day-a-year conversation in which participants are probably engaged
  • the content we present on site with the wider knowledge base that participants draw upon to do their jobs
  • the different content platforms—text, Web, mobile devices, tablets, on-site plasma screens—that our organizations can use to deliver education
  • the power and reach of social media with the consistent messaging we deliver through our conference programs
  • the economic impact of our meetings with the economic and job creation strategies of the communities that host them
At first glance, integration isn’t a theme that draws attention or stirs the heart. But our industry will be stronger and more effective if it becomes a centerpiece of our business strategy. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a big fan of solving problems by making them bigger, as a way of understanding their true solutions. We’ll be in good shape this year if we can follow his lead.

Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content, and founding chair of the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Foundation. You can read his blog or follow him on Twitter @mitchellbeer.