Following up that inspirational session would be no easy task, but Michael Owen, CEO and managing partner of event production and destination management firm EventGenuity, brought a different energy to the room by laying out what he sees as the most buzzed-about topics at meetings and events industry conferences, then turning the conversation over to Aspire attendees. “This collective room is smarter than I am,” he noted before launching into the hot topics.

The first trend he talked about was corporate social responsibility, often abbreviated as CSR, which is “the commitment to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of our workforce and their families, as well as the communities in which we work.” This often includes sustainability, where social, economic, and environmental needs overlap, said Owen.

Meetings industry advocacy is another top-of-mind topic today, especially after the “AIG effect” and other meeting-related scandals highlighted in the media in recent years. “We have to demonstrate our value and the economic impact of meetings,” said Owen. Meetings industry show trends also are on planners minds as they see hosted-buyer programs—where vendors pay for qualified planners to attend an industry show in exchange for appointments with the planners—shift from a European phenomenon to U.S.-based events such as RCMA’s Emerge.

The Convention Industry Council’s Accepted Practices Exchange, or APEX, initiative also is, if not a hot topic, at least warming up, said Owen. APEX is designed to make meeting planning more efficient, save time and costs, enable better communication among the various players, and streamline processes involved in meetings, he said. To date APEX has put together a 1,400-term industry glossary that, as Owen said, “gives a starting point for speaking the same language.”
 It also has developed a series of best practices around requests for proposals, an event specification guide, post-event reporting, contracts, housing and registration, and meeting site profiles, many of which include templates planners and hospitality partners can download and use. APEX also has developed a series of sustainability standards in conjunction with ASTM on everything from accommodations and AV to exhibits, food and beverage, meeting venues, and transportation (there are nine standards in all). The glossary and an RFP workbook were introduced between 2011 and 2012. Current projects the APEX initiative is tackling include high-speed Internet access, or HSIA; eRFPs, and new formats for post-event reports and the event specification guide.

The final topic Owen introduced was the one that really got the room buzzing: HSIA. And Aspire attendees aren’t alone in finding that topic daunting. “This is the hottest topic I’ve seen in any group in years,” he said. Some think free Internet should be standard, but Owen questioned whether that would be sufficient, since it may not provide the level of access some attendees are expecting. Nowadays planners need to be very specific about asking for exactly what they want, not just “free Internet,” he added. “Would you go into a meeting and just say ‘We want food’? Of course not. You’d have to say how many people, steak or hot dogs, etc. It’s the same thing with Wi-Fi.” 

Ears did perk up when he mentioned the APEX bandwidth estimator, where you can plug in a meeting’s specific parameters and get a rough idea of how much bandwidth you’ll need, though the larger the meeting is, the less dependable the results become. Among the factors determining bandwidth are how many people will be using it, what they’ll be using it for (just to check e-mail, or live-streaming video?), and the number of devices per user and the type of devices they’re using.

Among the takeaways the audience got from their small-group discussions were to ask attendees when they register how many and what type of devices they’ll be bringing to the meeting; to get a trusted adviser who can help translate your Wi-Fi needs into language the facility can work with; and that you can provide basic Wi-Fi for free, then get sponsors for higher levels of bandwidth—sort of the 2013 version of sponsoring Internet cafes that were so popular in the pre-smartphone and tablet days of not-so-long-ago.