Trade Shows

Behind the Curtain at HSMAI’s MEET National

Even meetings about meetings have to change how they're meeting.

And so yesterday morning, when the doors opened at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, people arriving for Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International’s (HSMAI) annual D.C.-based event for meeting professionals found that what used to be called Affordable Meetings National was now called HSMAI’s MEET National. That stands for Meetings, Events, Education, and Technology — pretty well capturing was was happening throughout MEET, which runs through today.

Indeed, the new name was the least of the changes on display yesterday, when I spent several hours looping through the convention center — catching up with colleagues and contacts, including the folks at Events DC, which is headquartered at Walter E. Washington, and checking out MEET’s sharp, trim show floor. During the afternoon, I sat down for coffee with Fran Brasseux, HSMAI’s executive vice president, to find out why, after 22 years of Affordable Meetings, HSMAI decided to create MEET.

“Things were changing,” Brasseux said. “We were seeing that [when it came to] our original philosophy — which is to bring bring together our planner members with our supplier members — we weren’t innovating enough in this day and age. We decided we needed to get back to our core.” HSMAI huddled with its partners — led by J. Spargo, its event-management provider — and came up with a host of new programs and features, including:

That new name. The brainchild of Tom Gibson, CEO of Coulter, HSMAI’s management company, the name “MEET” grew out of a realization that “Affordable Meetings” may have pigeonholed the event strictly as “a place to do inexpensive meetings,” Brasseux said. “We thought, if we were going to change everything up, we might as well change the name.”

Education programs. Asking themselves, “How do you do it a little differently, and how do you make it unique?” Brasseux said, HSMAI introduced speed-learning and peer-to-peer interactive sessions along with an education track for exhibitors.

A show within a show. Actually, it was a “reverse show-within-a-show,” according to Brasseux, and involved partners MaxVantage and ITAGroup. Called TEEM Up, the program ran today from 10 a.m. until noon, and reversed the hosted-buyer model by having planners — sitting at individual tables in a roped-off area at the back of the exhibit hall — taking 10-minute appointments with suppliers who called on them.

A virtual component. Working with Freeman and INXPO, HSMAI broadcast 12 education sessions live on its MEET On virtual extension — along with short tips from 25 different exhibitors on the show floor.

Final attendance numbers aren’t available yet, but HSMAI did hit its advance goal of 1,500 planner registrants — all part of its effort to bring together meeting professionals who have something to say to one another. “All of it does not work if the right connection is not made for business,” Brasseux said. “You’ve got to do everything you can to make sure that both sides walk away with business they want to do.”

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.