Why sensory experiences are the future of meetings

 

Forget hovering desk chairs and hi-tech whiteboards, the meeting room of the future needs to offer a sensory experience in a space that feels like home.

That’s according to the 2018 Meeting Room of the Future report – a collection of surveys into the industry conducted annually by the International Association of Conference Centres (IACC).

This year’s insights emphasise the importance of experience creation as meeting planners strive to captivate the attention of an over-stimulated public.

Global venue operators surveyed as part of the IACC report, show that they are ready to support this objective, with 93% indicating that at least sometimes, if not always, their role includes experience creation.

And a greater number of meeting planners indicated their role not only involved more “experience creation”, but that it would also become more important over the next five years.

What are the crucial factors for creating an “experience” in this age?

Sarah Weller of Steelcase Event Experiences explains that a meeting experience is distinctly different from a basic meeting in its focus.

“The core of experience design is putting the human first,” she says.

Mark Cooper, CEO of IACC advises planners and venues appeal to the five senses in order to create memories and inspire delegates.

“We encourage venue teams to put in place a range of experiences that are unique and help meeting planners touch as many of the five senses; sight, sound, touch, taste and smell as possible,” he recommends.

Stimulate the senses

How exactly can a meeting appeal to these five senses?

Meeting planners, according to the report, are offering a variety of on and off-site amenities that foster “experience creation”, with an increased emphasis on on-site team building experiences.

Creative meeting rooms, outdoor spaces, and destination-based activities are being used to appeal to the senses of sight and sound, while the senses of touch, taste and smell are addressed with themed food and beverage offerings, ice-breaker activities and team sporting activities.

The IACC report notes, “Culinary team building remains a popular choice, with venues often using their own staff for food & beverage activities and experience.”

With the culinary arts appealing to almost all of the five senses at once, it’s no surprise that gastronomy plays a key role in experience creation for the meeting room of the future.

71% of venue operators surveyed already offer themed food and beverage options on site, with 79% incorporating locally sourced food and beverage items to create unique local experiences for meeting attendees.

Create a home away from home

“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,” notes the IACC report.

“Details such as lounge spaces that evoke feelings of home (i.e., accessories, greenery etc.) help build trust and comfort.”

Venues are investing in seating options that create a relaxed chat environment, for example, lounge furniture, as well as more adaptable options like wheeled furniture and foldable tables.

This kind of flexible, non-traditional meeting room furniture is becoming one of the biggest trends in meeting space design, helping to create a more immersive experience.

“Effectively switching between the three different modes of learning – auditory, visual and collaborative – is best supported with active learning spaces that support easy movement and reconfiguration without interruption,” says the report.

Sarah Weller explains that an intentionally designed space can help individuals and teams as they “move through the different stages of the creative process”.

The number of venue operators surveyed who had flexible furniture and equipment in 100 percent of their meeting rooms increased from 28% last year to 37% this year.

Enhance reality through technology

Virtual reality offerings by venue operators is on the rise, with a jump in venues that offer VR tech from just 6% last year to 24% in the latest IACC Report.

According to Jessie States, of Meeting Professionals International, this increase is no surprise.

“Meeting professionals continue to look for ways to use technology to enhance the learning experience, connect attendees in unique ways or even offer a Wow Factor that triggers an emotional response from their audience,” she says.

“Virtual reality is a way to accomplish these things, and venues that offer it will find themselves with a distinct competitive advantage.”

While virtual reality can offer a stirring experience beyond normality, the basic tech requirements continue to be just as important for creating a successful meeting experience.

The IACC report highlights research by tech company Barco, which shows that 67% of meeting attendees get irritated by tech-failures, and 41% say that tech-failures affect their engagement.

Because of this, more companies are investing in easy to use screen-sharing technologies, which offer one-click content sharing across all platforms, so attendees can easily share content from their smartphones, or laptops without interruptions to the meeting.

Andries Byrs, of Barco, describes these investments as “a zero-learning experience where new users can walk in the meeting room and intuitively use the technology”.

Of course, sufficient bandwidth and internet access can determine the success or failure of the meeting experience too. High quality internet infrastructure is viewed as the most important meeting venue element in the coming year by 71% of venue operators surveyed by IACC, and 90% of operators indicated they have invested in their internet hardware within the past two years.

Conclusion

For a meeting to become an experience, it doesn’t need to have a plethora of fancy gadgets, and flashing lights. The research conducted by IACC highlights the value of appealing to the senses that make humans human. Good food, comfortable seats, a relaxed environment and reliable wi-fi remain key factors in helping event attendees to feel at home and fully engage with the meeting experience.