The convergence of technology and face-to-face meetings was the subject of the keynote address at Expo! Expo!, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events’ annual meeting, but more notably, the event put virtual meeting theory into practice.

On December 5, IAEE broadcast interviews live from the Expo! Expo! trade show floor at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center to show its members at home what they were missing. The fast-paced and informative hour included breaking news, industry trends, conference highlights, and new initiatives. IAEE called the virtual event a Town Hall, but the feel was more like a television news show, with the coverage alternating among a team of reporters from Convention News Television who interviewed movers and shakers from the show.

Virtual Extension as Marketing Tool

Conference keynoter Eric Ly, co-founder of LinkedIn and CEO at Presdo, gave the virtual audience a recap of his address and took their questions. “There’s been a debate the last few years about whether technology has been a threat to face-to-face meetings,” said Ly. “Coming from the technology world, I can assert to everyone that it is not. There are a lot of synergies, and we as an industry must figure out a way to bring them together productively.” The virtual extension of Expo! Expo! is one good example, he added.

“There’s a huge market of individuals who just can’t make it to the face-to-face event,” said Tony Larenz, founder, bXb Online, the digital event marketing company that streamed the Town Hall session for IAEE. Typically, only about 25 percent of members attend an association’s annual meeting in person, and that was true for Expo! Expo, which drew over 2,100 people to Orlando (just under the record-setting 2011 meeting in Las Vegas).

When you take the energy and content from events like Expo! Expo! to a wider audience, two things happen, said Larenz, during the virtual broadcast. First, online attendees benefit from what’s going on at the physical meeting; and second, because they are exposed to the event, online attendees might want to attend in person in the future. Meeting organizers are realizing that hybrid sessions are not going to cannibalize their face-to-face events, they are going to give them a lift, added Larenz. “This is a marketing tool for the rest of the people who are not able to get here.”

Online video is also a powerful way to generate revenue and deliver important association information to members who don’t attend the annual meeting, added Bill Peeper, vice president of sales and marketing at Convention News Television. “I think we are in the embryonic stages of understanding the power of online video for associations,” Peeper said. “We’re all pioneers in this adventure.”

Co-Location and Rebranding

During another Town Hall interview, IAEE President David DuBois discussed IAEE’s plans to co-locate its midyear meeting with ASAE’s annual meeting next year, August 5–7 in Atlanta. For the price of registration, IAEE attendees will be able to attend ASAE’s exhibition and networking events, while ASAE members will have access to IAEE’s educational sessions.

Other news reported during the virtual event included IAEE’s decision to rebrand the Exhibition Industry Foundation as the CEIR Foundation, effective January 1, 2013. The EIF was a joint venture between IAEE and CEIR when it was formed in 2003. (IAEE acquired CEIR in 2006.) CEIR Chairman Chris Brown, executive vice president at the National Association of Broadcasters, said the change creates a direct link between CEIR, the research arm of IAEE, and the foundation, which raises funds for research. The new set up will “facilitate a clean and clear focus on the business of generating research that benefits the exhibitions and event industry, and on the fundraising needed to make that work possible,” said Brown.  

Women’s Leadership Forum Launched

Stephanie Everett with the IAEE Women’s Task Force announced that on May 30 in Washington, D.C., IAEE will hold a one-day forum on women’s leadership in the exhibition industry. “We’ve noticed in this industry that there is certainly a need to focus on leadership for women,” said Everett, executive vice president at the Exposition Development Co.

Men fill about 70 percent of the “C-Level” exposition management positions, she said, yet this doesn’t align with the demographics of the industry. Only about 40 percent of IAEE’s members are men. The forum will help women develop their leadership skills and take the next steps in their careers.   

There was also buzz during the Town Hall meeting about the bulked up educational programming at Expo! Expo! “We’re so excited about what we have been able to accomplish this year,” said Judy Owen, chair of the IAEE Educational Committee and vice president, training and development at Freeman Companies. IAEE doubled the number of educational sessions it offered, bumping up from 40 last year to 80 this year. The increase stems from surveys that showed that members wanted a broader variety of sessions.