Assembling the data for a new kind of presentation can provide fresh insights, and Senior Editor Barbara Palmer noticed a mismatch between respondents’ expectations for 2013 versus what actually took place.
For example, a majority of respondents (52 percent) in 2012 expected attendance at their biggest event in 2013 to stay the same. But only 36 percent of this year’s respondents report that attendance at their largest 2013 event actually remained flat. On average, attendance increased for 44 percent of survey-takers and decreased for 21 percent — when only 12 percent had predicted a drop. Likewise, last year, 72 percent thought their number of exhibitors would stay the same in 2013, but only 46 percent report that actually happened in this year’s survey.
Granted, anticipating the future — even a short window of 12 months — can be what one respondent called “a crapshoot.” But what Barbara gleaned from this is that the odds in the meet ings industry seem to be against things staying the same. They might get better or worse, but for most people they won’t stay just the way they are.
Which got me thinking about how meeting professionals approach change. If you look at the open-ended responses to the questions at the end of the survey — my favorite part of analyzing the results — you see a mix. Some planners resist change, some seek it out, and some see it as something that is thrust upon them. They cite everything from the “push and pull of the economy,” to sequestration, to new health-care policies as having an effect on the way they plan meetings.
And there are additional forces at work, inevitably reshaping events — including attendee demographics, social media, and other technology. Some respondents who want to make changes to the way their events are designed and executed are frustrated by the inability of their colleagues to see the need for it. One planner’s No. 1 on-the-job challenge: “Selling change to the team.” For another, it’s “working with volunteers who don’t want change.” One planner is tested by “the constantly emerging technology and demand for technology from our up-and-coming leaders — offset by the cost of this technology.”
While some changes are beyond our control, the one thing that isn’t is the way we respond. We all know there’s no point to resisting change, because it’s going to happen whether we like it or not. And, at their most basic — and loftiest — level, the goal of face-to-face events is to educate, change perspectives, grow business, and move society forward. To create change. The way they’re planned and conducted is a creative act, and keeping them “fresh and imaginative,” as another respondent put it, should be a constant challenge.