Top 10 Issues for Meeting Planners in 2020

By Rayna Katz

A meeting planner’s job can be a juggling act. Managing site selection, bill reconciliation and the many steps in between is a high-wire feat that gets more complicated with time. As the new year—and a new decade—approaches, Meeting Spotlight asked several planners what lies ahead in 2020, and for advice on how to tackle the issues.

Here are the top 10 concerns: 

1. Recession and preparation for reduced budgets: “I’m expecting a recession because what goes up must come down, and it’s time, according to stock market trends,” said John Nawn, founder/CEO, The Perfect Meeting. “If planners aren’t collecting data that demonstrates the value of events they will be at a disadvantage when asked to defend their meetings, budgets, and jobs.”

Added Dahlia El Gazzar, who runs Dahlia+, “Next year will be all about outsourcing so look at expertise around you. There are many great people available for whom you won’t have overhead and there’s no learning curve. Also, planners must be more creative with sponsorship/exhibitor packages because those dollars will shrink.” 

2. Wellness: With an endless array of choices for wellness—such as incorporating healthy food, morning yoga, or more—how do planners select the right activity for their group? “Wellness isn’t just about ticking items off a list; it’s also about the ease of the experience to reduce anxiety and make attendees comfortable,” said Laurie Sharp, principal, Sharp EXP. “That makes them more willing to listen to, and engage with, content or a brand.” 

3. Technology: While there’s no shortage of tools or possible types of systems, meeting industry technology consultant Corbin Ball stated, “All but the smallest meetings need an attendee management/registration system, an integrated customer relationship management system, a mobile app, and a project management system such as Slack or Base Camp.” He also recommended having an audience engagement tool, systems for managing marketing and, “I’m a huge fan of room diagramming programs.” He rejected the notion that such tools reduce human interaction. “Technology streamlines the process but face-to-face events are about learning from each other and connecting. Technology isn’t an isolator, it’s a lubricant for a meeting.”

4. Becoming a business event strategist: “We have to speak up for ourselves,” said Eisenstodt. “Too many planners literally say ‘anyone can do it.’ Start documenting when you save money on a meal, if you find a hotel room when a property is sold out, etc. Logistics support meeting outcomes. Remember that we do an important job.”

More broadly, added Sharp, “Logistics are a given, but ask yourself ‘what’s the differentiator for planners and what value do I bring?’ Make sure you’re asking the right questions in terms of why a group is having an event and what the objectives are.”

5. Event safety: “We, as an industry, act as if there’s nothing to worry about in a hotel or convention center, but it's our responsibility as planers to keep everybody safe,” said Joan Eisenstodt, founder, Eisenstodt Associates. “Planners must know what’s happening in the world, and in their meeting destination, that can impact their group. Thinking about what could present the most harm to a meeting and its attendees leads you to think differently about everything.”

6. Keeping attendees around until a meeting’s end: “If you stack your agenda so there’s a kick-ass speaker and a ‘surprise and delight’ element at the end, it’s a win-win,” declared El Gazzar. “And if you have an interactive format, there’s a better chance of attendees saying, ‘I don’t want to miss out.’ How an event is marketed also is key, particularly when trying to retain Millennial audiences, she said. “If you can connect your event to a bigger mission, or there’s a wow factor, that’s compelling. Also, use peer-to-peer marketing. Just like when you binge a show on Netflix, when you’re going to an event you want to tell the world.”

7. Cybersecurity: “There are many things planners need to know,” noted MaryAnne Bobrow, president of Bobrow Associates. “They should look at their hotel contracts because many new ones try to push [responsibility for] data privacy to planners. People aren’t paying much attention to data privacy but they should be.” Also, Borrow noted, “Everything that allows a breach to occur must be investigated.”

8. Sustainability: “The biggest challenge is for planners to find sustainable vendors,” said Sarah Shewey, CEO and founder, Happily, a network of freelance independent planners. More specifically, she advised, “Eliminate or reduce meat on your menus; select LEED-certified venues; add livestream or local events to reduce international travel; and eliminate single use plastics.” She also offers clients and suppliers a pledge to reduce waste, represent diverse voices and reinvest event budgets in communities. 

9. Operating in the MeToo era: “Every conference needs a code of conduct that states what behavior will not be accepted,” said Courtney Stanley, co-chair, Meeting Professionals International Women’s Advisory Board. ”Meeting planners also should create communications that inform attendees what to do, and who they can speak with, should an incident occur on site.”

In terms of adding alcohol or spaces like hospitality suites to events, added Sarah Soliman Daudin, president & CEO, Soliman Productions, “Someone with bad intentions will exude that behavior regardless of whether alcohol is controlled. It’s more about how we deal with event attendees who don’t conduct themselves appropriately. Rather than brainstorm ways to restructure our events, let’s consider creating strategic and preventative measures ahead of time. Those start with buy-in from stakeholders to work collaboratively on a code of conduct tailored to sexual harassment."

10. Work/life balance: “I schedule meetings on my calendar for everything: lunch, actual meetings, errands, kids activities, etc., and I review my schedule the night before to help with time management,” said Tara Vice, president and creative director, Any Reason to Plan. “I plan ahead too when I have to travel. This allows me to arrive and leave efficiently, without having to spend excessive time away. I also do a lot of prep work at home so everyone knows where to be and what’s going on while I am gone. The preparation helps me better achieve work/life balance.”

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