Yesterday, I was catching up with a friend who plans international events and she asked me, "What are you excited about right now? What do you think the big trends will be?"
Lucky for her, I am in the midst of cool-hunting for our 2013 PYM Annual, so I've been ruminating about those very things since August.
There's a million things I could have told her (and you). But for this column, I'll boil all of of my thoughts on the topic down to two big ideas.
Chances are you have no idea what UI/UX means but you've already started to integrate them into how you work.
UI is "user interface." It's a design term that programmers use to describe the visual look of a website, game or app. For example: We'll put the play button here; an image will be there, the color scheme will be these three colors — it's basically how they put together the design elements to be functional, logical and pleasing to the eye.
Then there's UX, or "user experience." That's how the user — or in your case, the attendee — experiences what you've created for them. It's how you make an idea sticky or irresistible. It's the key to engagement and repeat business.
For example, if you were to go to Threadless.com right now and put a $9.99 T-shirt in your shopping cart, an animated version of said cart would pop up and personally thank you for putting cool things in its tummy. The informality and unexpectedness of it makes you laugh a little and want to feed it more (by buying more shirts).
If you were to cancel your order, your friend the shopping cart would pop back up, remind you of how hungry it is and ask you to reconsider — maybe you could find something else to feed it? You become emotionally invested in the transaction.
You don't get that at Amazon.com.
Since the meetings industry first came under intense media and governmental scrutiny in 2009, the focus has been on logistics. And rightly so. We had a lot of waste and inefficiencies we needed to question.
We still do.
But people are tired of austerity. Anything that might have been considered fun has been labeled "frivolous." But there are a lot of fun, creative things planners can do to engage attendees and enrich their on-site experience which don't cost anyone anything. Because of that, there's a backlash brewing against the notion that fun has no place at events. Especially because those unexpected little touches are what's making face-to-face events more vital and enjoyable than ever.
From the attendee perspective, they've had to make hard choices about which events they would attend and which ones they would skip for four long years. It doesn't take a deep data analyst to see that they've abandoned conventional events in favor of ones that use social media to engage them and which have enhanced the conference experience by using new formats, content and technologies to help attendees network and learn better.
You can create irresistible events, too. But to do so, you need to stop focusing solely on logistics.
I'd recommend that the first thing you do is stop calling yourself a "meeting planner." You're more than that. You're a meeting designer. An architect of experience.
Your job now is to determine the stakeholders' goals and then design your events to achieve those goals.
Ask yourself: What is the overall experience you're constructing from registration to departure? How do you need to arrange the various components so they work together and form a seamless experience for your attendees? How do you create activities, education and meaningful points of contact that continuously reinforce the meeting objectives? Does the marketing collateral reinforce the emotional call to action you will fulfill on-site?
That's UX and that's the future of the event planning process.
Prediction #2: Despite how thoroughly we've botched up the planet, people will start to feel optimistic again
It's official: If we manage to outlive the end of the Mayan calendar on Dec. 21, people will be over their apocalyptic fantasies. No more zombies! (Although we'll still be haunted by LOLCATS, cause they make us feel good.)
There's a real push to end the sky is falling Great Recession mindset and learn to make the best of what we've got. Need proof? Take a look at what's popular on TV.
In the 1930s entertainment largely consisted of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney musicals; today we've got "Glee" and a panoply of gay-friendly sitcoms like "Modern Family," but the zeitgeist is the same. To paraphrase an old song, "We ain't got money honey, but ain't we got fun?" Obviously, there's a mainstream desire to escape and live in a world where something as simple as a song can fight cancer (or at least really mean people).
Despite their non-traditional family values, these shows display a by-the-bootstraps, scrappy can-do attitude that is played out in a multi-cultural, pansexual way on network television. And that message of forgiving, albeit counter-cultural, happiness through diversity is infiltrating the business world.
This perspective is gaining traction because, despite all evidence to the contrary — racial tensions, seriously incompetent government, sky-high debt, school shooters — we want to believe in the innate goodness of our fellow human beings. We want to believe that skin color, religion, sexual preferences and gender don't matter anymore. We want to believe that misfits are just as important as popular kids and that everyone can work together to overcome their differences to make something of lasting worth.
If you can create a culture of inclusion where distinction-blind collaboration could happen at an event, how cool would that be? Well you can, but it requires being hyperaware of diversity. Not just black-and-white diversity, but diversity of physical abilities, comfort levels with technology, learning and communication preferences, dietary restrictions, gender and generational challenges, religious observances and cultural taboos, too.
Meeting designers will need to take these diverse needs into account in a way they never had before so they can circumvent things that might make people feel uncomfortable or discourage them from participating. This is beyond being "politically correct." This is about the having the opportunity to create a mini utopian society where people truly all do "just get along." And how awesome is that?
So those are my big fat predictions for 2013.
If you want more detailed advice on how the above will affect everything from the design and application of your conference apps to your room sets, negotiation tactics and menus, you'll need to sign up to receive the 2013 PYM Annual or follow the discussion on the Plan Your Meetings site. But all that's free for meeting and event designers.
Now, quid pro quo Clarice: What do are your predictions for 2013? Are you feeling optimistic? Or are you still stuffing cash into your mattress? Let me know!