By Robert McGarvey
By now it’s cliche: meeting attendees are ever younger (think Millennials – born 1981 through 1996 – and a sprinkling of still younger Gen Z) and, therefore, meetings have to evolve to satisfy new expectations.
But have they evolved? Really?
Are they that much different from what they were in 2009, 1999, or even 1989?
Reading an interview in Meetings Today with Mark Cooper, CEO of IACC (International Association of Conference Centers), I was struck by how often I agreed with him – but also how often it seemed to me that meetings I attend fall very short of what Cooper put out as necessities of a well run 2019 meeting.
For instance: Cooper said, “Today’s delegate seeks an enriching and memorable experience from all aspects of the venue, from design to features.”
He then ticked off some essential features and he started with WiFi. I am so with Cooper on this – good WiFi is a sine qua non for me at a meeting.
But often we are talking non because the WiFi isn’t there.
Question: when was the last time you had adequate WiFi at a large meeting? I cannot think of any time which is why, typically, I create my own hotspot and connect via my phone. Partly I do that because I am wary of public WiFi – remember the fake free WiFi network erected at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
But I started doing it because in most hotels and meetings facilities I have used, the WiFi sucks. It’s slow, the signal sometimes drops, sometimes I cannot connect at all (a problem that seems chronic with an iPad Air 2 I commonly bring to meetings).
For years I have whined about inadequate hotel wifi and, sure, they keep upping their capabilities – but we keep connecting more devices. And the hotels never really get ahead because they do not want to spend the money it would take to offer truly adequate WiFi. They are pinchpennies when it comes to broadband and we pay the price in woeful connections.
Next on Cooper’s must list is: “Inspiring and healthy food and beverages (including interesting alcohol-free options).”
Agreed at my end.
But I cannot say I typically see that at the meetings I attend. The food is neither healthy nor inspiring. It is same old. A blah chicken breast with a few roasted potatoes and a handful of carrots and green beans or maybe it’s a blah salmon fillet on a bed of rice with some peas.
Hotels have talked about upping their meetings food game for as long as I can remember and that’s a commendable goal. But this is aspiration. Not reality at most venues.
There are exceptions. I recall a lovely Beard House dinner or two with chefs from Benchmark’s conference centers.
But for most meeting venues tasty, smart food is all talk, no action.
Cooper’s next point leapfrogs off the food grumbles because he said attendees “will also be watching the waste that comes from their event and will not tolerate full buffet tables of spent food being swept into the trash bag.”
Except, very typically, that’s precisely what happens to food waste at meetings: it goes to the dumpster and from there into the landfill.
Two years ago I wrote a column headlined: “It’s up to you to stop food waste at conferences.”
It still is.
If you know you won’t be eating the meeting lunch – and there often is good conversation at those lunch tables but good food not so often – tell the meeting planner and ask that your lunch be donated to an organization that serves the needy. In many big cities such groups exist and they will accept the donation. Most won’t take food that has been plated and put on a table – but if it has stayed in the kitchen they will be glad to have it and it will help fill a hungry belly.
A last point made by Cooper that interested me regards wellness at meetings. He said: “Personally, I think more can be done for delegates during break-out sessions and refreshment breaks, whether that’s hosting food demonstrations, yoga sessions or giving delegates the chance to enjoy a group meditation session to re-energize ahead of the afternoon agenda. I’d also like to see more events promoting walking meetings to help attendees get in their 10,000 steps a day.”
I definitely agree with him but I also agree that most venues are more talk, not much action, when it comes to building wellness into meetings. And attendees know this.
Bottomline: I strongly agree with IACC’s Cooper. Meeting attendees want better WiFi, better food (and more vegan options!), they want reduced waste, and they want more and more convenient wellness activities available at meetings..
I just am not seeing many facilities that are delivering on these priorities. Do you?