Friday, August 19, 2011

The Current Economic Problems and the Meetings Industry

Three years ago the housing market melted down and we experienced the beginning of the worst economy in generations. Some companies were too big to fail and received billions of dollars, while other companies were apparently the right size to fail and closed their doors. People were laid-off and others were fearful.  Uncertainty was, and is still, the word of the day.

About the same time I started my career as a professional speaker and corporate trainer. The down-side was that internal employee training meetings were cut from budgets and travel to industry conferences was no longer in the "approved" column for many professionals.  The up-side is that I have succeeded in growing my business and witnessed first-hand the hard work and ingenuity of all those event professionals who work in the a variety of careers that make up the meetings industry.

The meetings business is a major industry: According to Landmark Research the U.S. meetings industry directly supports 1.7 million jobs, a$106 billion contribution to GDP, $263 billion in spending, $60 billion in labor revenue, $14.3 billion in federal tax revenue and$11.3 billion in state and local tax revenue.  This is not small potatoes and reminds us that there are millions of families that are paying their bills from these jobs!

Even with the economic problems, humans are still experiential beings and require the face-to-face interactions.  Meetings are never going away.  There is always talk about doing training online, and there are many people trying to create spectacular internet "events".... but while the communication tools have changed, how we are wired in our brains is still the same (yes, there are studies that our electronics are causing changes in the wiring of the brain, but these are so minor they will not show major impacts for generations). 

As the stock market is again in free-fall situations and there are people predicting a double dip recession, there is always a risk that the knee jerk reactions will impact the meetings business.  Three years ago many politicians made political statements about corporate meetings that hurt the industry.  These ill-informed statements made it seem like all corporate meetings are extravagant and have no ROI.   The reality is most meetings are conducted on a strict budget and deliver boost in productivity to those who attend and gain new information and inspiration from their participation.

The success for many experienced meeting planners has been that they have worked to create better meetings over the last few years.  With limited budgets and tougher competition to attract the audience, I have seen a strong emphasis on creating a conference culture.  The development of meaningful content and an environment where people can network and make meaningful connections with others in attendance must go hand-in-hand.  

Content alone means a lot of boring presentations.  While people get the learning they desire, they are left hating the conference.  A fun party that is just fluff has no results.  The continuation of tight budgets means that ALL events must be orchestrated to be an interesting "happenings" or they will quickly fail.

During the past three years the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference (March in Austin, TX) has almost doubled in size.  The event transcended the economic slow down because the organizers understand their audience and delivered an "experience".  The TED Conference phenomenon and the extension of the TEDx franchise has exploded in popularity in the same time frame.

Other conferences have also flourished during these dark years because of they have created more than just the same old meeting atmosphere.  I have presented at several industry conferences, including tech industry events hosted by Computerworld and CIO Magazine, that have been spectacular experiences.  Many company "Users Conferences" have filled the gaps and gone beyond company events and become must-go meetings in their industries.

While the uncertain economy will continue to impact the meetings industry, we must all remember that when events are providing value, the people find a way to attend!!!

What meetings do you attend that provided value and grew in size during the turbulent economy over the last three years?

Have A Great

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. 

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