Meeting planners have long been aware that the environment they host their meeting in has a significant influence over the way delegates learn and communicate. In recent times however, what delegates constitute as an effective meeting environment and experience, who are increasingly concerned about health and well-being, has changed. The trend at venues is toward healthier food, less stress, and spaces that are more comfortable.
In the Meeting Rooms of the Future Report 2018, IACC – the international venue community committed to promoting venues that deliver exceptional meeting experiences – found that: “A greater number of meeting planners indicated their role not only involved more ‘experience creation’ but that ‘experience creation’ will become more important over the next five years. Planners pointed to the demands of incoming generations as the primary driver of this trend.”
In a nutshell, the increase in Millennials in the delegate population is driving change and, as has been well documented already, Millennials want to meet and work in places they enjoy being; places where socialising and relaxing comes easy. Millennials enjoy home from home environments – just look at the success of coffee-shop culture for proof of this – they work most productively in environments that feed creativity and innovative thinking.
To feed this trend, meeting venues are increasingly including neutral spaces for people to just ‘hang out’, sit with a laptop, or have a brief informal meeting. The Meeting Rooms of the Future Report goes on to say, “At the core of experience design is the ability to put the participant first, which means humanising the experience and focusing on their well-being and comfort. Details such as lounge spaces that evoke feelings of home (i.e., accessories, greenery etc.) help build trust and comfort.
Given that the future of work will be less predictable and repetitive and more about creative thinking and problem solving at every level and in every role of an organisation, there is a clear need for venues, and indeed other work spaces, to adapt to the new levels of dynamism required. The focus is on giving delegates the tools they need to think alone, cooperate creatively in groups and network to exchange ideas. And it’s about putting and keeping them in the frame of mind, body and soul to work at their best.
These modern delegates want to spend less time in session and more time networking in high quality social spaces. Some venues are even reporting that small break out rooms are being replaced with communal co-working spaces with no walls or doors.
When asked by the IACC survey to describe the physical characteristics of the ideal meeting venue in five words, meeting planners used the following words the most; Open, Flexible, Bright, Natural Light, Comfortable.
Studies show that natural light aids learning, and when given several options of room types and asked to rank their likelihood of using the room type, it was found that meeting planners were most likely to use flat-floored meeting rooms with flexible layouts and rooms offering homey lounge-style informal seating. Conversely, auditoriums and tiered-seating meeting rooms are out of favour.
A true experience of healthiness and well-being during meetings is completed by a considered food and beverage offering. Meeting Rooms of the Future 2018 finds that over the past two years meeting planners have seen an increase in requests to accommodate allergies, personal eating plans and preferences. They also claim that the food and beverage offerings links directly to attendee satisfaction of the personalised experience.
Andrew Taylor, Operations Manager at Warwick Conferences is quoted in the report’s White Paper as saying “Diets based on allergens, intolerances and lifestyle are becoming ever more prominent, there is an expectation that there is a good choice for those with dietary needs. Soya Milk, Gluten free options are expected as standard, options that show a lack of imagination are viewed negatively.”
Overall, meeting planners and their delegates are looking for healthier and more creative food options. There is a desire for food that is locally sourced, creatively prepared and served at bar-like food stations, but overall the demand is to simply provide lighter foods – more vegetables and less saturated fats.
Ultimately the underlying message in the report, from meetings delegates and meetings planners themselves is clear, ‘the more happy and comfortable people are, the more productive they will be’. Venues must take lessons from this simple fact to build meeting environments and create delegate experiences that foster well-being from start to finish.
If you’d like to read more about how healthy eating is impacting catering at events, we’ve got a whole article on it! Take a look.
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The need to rethink meeting room design must be met by an equal need to rethink the design of conference content. The vast majority of events still focus on the speakers. Delegates seem like bums on seats. Ten years ago I wrote a book, Seven Rules For Designing More Innovative Conferences to change what happens inside the meeting rooms. The biggest wasted resource at conferences are the delegates. Poeple arrive with experience, education, expertise: what do you we do this? Ignore it. Rule #5 was to harness the expertise of the delegates to create opportunities, solve problems, and so on. Even if this is one hour in a two-day design, many delegates will say it was a great experience. I cannot claim to be original with this idea. I found a 1945 book called Conference Leadership. Its theme was…conferences are opportunities for people to come together and “confer”. Most conferences offer no opportunities for people to confer. When they do, they will demand good spaces in our venues to do so.