2011 was a rough and tumble year, one with more than its share of excitement and innovation. It was also a year when everyone seemed far too busy, with not nearly enough time to ponder or apply new ideas for making meetings more effective.

So we end 2011 with two competing story lines: Was it a year that helped us work faster, smarter, and better, when pockets of the meetings industry finally began laying down the ideas and best practices that will help us prepare for adversities ahead? Or did the emphasis on speed make it harder to spot the opportunities in front of us?

It’s too early to say which one will be the dominant narrative for 2011, but here are some of the stories that flew by in the past 12 months, any or all of which could reshape the industry for years to come.

  • Hybrid meetings take center stage: An MPI case study reported the results of a massively successful, global hybrid meeting that generated huge savings in time, travel, and carbon for software giant SAP. Then Event Camp Twin Cities expanded on its model of a hybrid with lots of heart and not much budget, bringing face-to-face meetings in six offsite locations through a single hub. When ECTC showed us the limits to the model, we watched and learned, and our client events will be better for it.
  • Sustainability comes of age: Eight of the Convention Industry Council’s nine green meeting standards were finally approved late in the year. A sustainability component has been added to the new Certified Meeting Professional International Standards, and the Green Meeting Industry Council Sustainable Meetings Foundation began full operation. Now, if only the airlines could make a dent in their carbon emissions, we’d be on our way to a truly sustainable industry.
  • Serious about learning: More organizations began to get serious about content and learning design. The industry saw an uptick in conversation about how the brain processes information, how participants respond to different meeting settings, and how to turn those insights into better results on site.
  • Gamification goes wild: Gamification was one of the year’s hottest business trends, and planners began incorporating game components in their meetings and events. Participants began to see QR codes, contests, and a variety of other game features show up in their meetings, and the Green Meeting Industry Council became the first industry association to build a learning game into the fabric of its annual conference.
  • Still vulnerable to attack: In the year when the CIC released its long-awaited economic significance study, all it took was a $16 muffin to prove the continuing vulnerability of an industry that generates $907 billion in annual economic activity.
  • 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. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog and tweets as @mitchellbeer.