Maarten Vanneste has been the CEO of meeting production firm Abbit Meeting Support, based in Belgium, since 1982. His interest in meeting format and design, how people learn, and proving the return on investment of a meeting led him to launch the Meeting Support Institute in 2006. The nonprofit membership organization develops and promotes support tools and services for the meetings industry, with a focus on learning, networking, and motivating at face-to-face events. But it wasn't until last year, when Vanneste published his book, Meeting Architecture, a Manifesto, that his movement — and his vision for a new type of meeting professional — took hold.

Corporate Meetings & Incentives: How did you get the idea for the book?

Maarten Vanneste: It was in my head. I wrote it in just 10 days, 10 Fridays. It has to do with my quest for value and the constant questions: “Why are we doing this? Why do clients need us?” I have been in my business of managing meetings and events for over 25 years, and I recognized the need for meeting architecture. I see meetings as still growing up. Or perhaps a better way to say it: Meetings are a three-legged stool and architecture is the third leg, the first two being logistics management and hospitality.

Without the third leg we are not stable. Once we have a way to strategically align a meeting's values with corporate values, focusing on the delivery of content and the way people learn, for example, we can measure a meeting's success and show return on investment. Meeting architecture will be part of that process.

CMI: Is meeting architecture the same as meeting design or meeting format?

Vanneste: They are part of what a meeting architect does, that is to design the curriculum for the meeting. Every architect designs, but starts first with the family who wants to build the house. What is it you want or don't want? Like or don't like? What are you trying to achieve? These are the questions a meeting architect asks a meeting owner (who is never a meeting professional).

But meeting architecture still involves execution. It could be managing your outsourced partners who do logistics, but it still includes flawless execution. Ultimately the meeting architect sets objectives, designs the meeting, executes, and measures. It is easy to remember the four phases of what a meeting architect does to build a meeting through the four “IDEA” phases: identify objectives, design, execute, assess.

CMI: What skills does a meeting architect need?

Vanneste: A wide variety. We will reach out to more interdisciplinary associations, such as training and human-resource associations and invite those speakers to our industry meetings. Meeting architecture has to do with science and sociology, psychology, organizational development, and the science of learning. Meeting architecture puts them all together, giving meeting architects proper tools and techniques to create meeting excellence. Interesting stuff!

Meeting architecture will also result in specialists. Some meeting professionals will head in a new direction. We have developed a one-day course to be held as pre-convention sessions at our industry meetings. We need to interact with and invite C-level industry people to the discussions of meeting architecture as it goes through its evolution. Our first course is taking place at IMEX in late May.

CMI: How do you see the discipline moving forward? How can one become a meeting architect?

Vanneste: We are writing a paper with industry stakeholders called “Meeting Architecture 2011.” We are starting a research project for meeting architecture and will look for funds. There will also be research for education for meeting professionals who say, “I've been there, done that.” I see a growing need for education for the junior and the senior meeting planner and for procurement executives and others in leadership in a corporation, such as senior-level marketing executives. Eventually I see it as a two-year masters program at a university, where every student has to do a thesis. Research will be the key. With it, we will finally be able to demonstrate our value, a meeting's value. For more, visit

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Fast Facts

Financial loss to Atlanta as a result of Citigroup Inc.'s cancellation of its June conference:

$55 million
The convention would have drawn 55,000 attendees to the Georgia World Congress Center.

Source: U.S. Travel Association