Last week's Singapore MICE Forum offered a jam-packed schedule of education and networking opportunities over its day and a half of programming. Many themes emerged from the panel discussions and presentations, including the need for members of the industry to collaborate between each other and outside the MICE industry. But these five key lessons stood out among the wealth of insights discussed at the Resorts World Sentosa Convention Centre:
TEND TO BUSINESS RELATIONSHIPS
Collaboration and the importance of working closely with industry partners and customers was a theme emphasized throughout the show, in presentations on wide-ranging topics that included drawing on attendee input to design "community-based" event programming, and earning the "social license" of consumers in creating digital spaces.
But the point was perhaps best driven home by Ray Bloom, chairman and founder of IMEX Group and longtime industry sage, in a session titled "Confessions of a Trade Show Organizer," in which he shared the ups and downs of his experiences pioneering the hosted-buyer concept for business events dating back to the 1980s.
"We can't do anything on our own," Bloom explained during a Q&A after the talk. "Trust was talked about quite a lot, and I think relationships are built on mutual trust — treating people as you would like to be treated yourself." He specifically pointed to his efforts in Asia, where "it took time to build up trust. It has to be worked at and never taken for granted."
DON'T FORGET THE DATA
While the benefits of face-to-face meetings are all but impossible to replicate virtually, planners should be doing a lot more to bring digital tools into their events, particularly when it comes to understanding attendees, their behavior and preferences.
This was a point highlighted by a number of speakers. Gianluca Bernacchia, analytics chief technologist, Asia, for IT services company DXC Technology, looked at the opportunities presented by artificial intelligence to help enhance events, security and attendee behavior. Will Kataria, director of sales for Cvent, discussed ways to better track "your attendee journey."
"We don't invest enough in technology at events or after events, even though we spend millions of dollars planning events," said Kataria. "Ten years ago, registration was a big deal, but increasingly planners are looking for insight to make better decisions about data, and to help make actionable decisions."
TO SUCCEED, FIRST KNOW WHO YOU ARE
Unsung Heroes Honored
SMF also featured the second annual Their PASSION MADE Your Event POSSIBLE awards, honoring "unsung heroes" of the business events industry and presented by Northstar Meetings Group and the Singapore Tourism Board. Read about the winners and watch their stories here
Some speakers and industry leaders emphasized the importance of setting out a clear mission statement for one's organization -- or, for those that have a mission statement already, reviewing and rethinking its focus. Oscar Cerezales, COO, Asia Pacific, for MCI Group, discussed how his organization revamped its business model over an afternoon with the assistance of some 30 members of the business-events community, generating a tangible "Day Zero" business plan the day before the SMF conference.
Didier Scaillet, CEO for the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence, discussed his organization's development earlier this year of the Bangkok Manifesto, which re-examined SITE's identity and goals for the future.
"If everyone knows why we exist and what we serve, then everyone can make decisions based on that," said Scaillet. "And these decisions will be the brave ones and the right ones."
ENGINEER THE UNEXPECTED
While planning events is often about working out every detail so that the program runs just as the agenda says it will, meeting professionals also should not forget the power of surprise. A number of presenters highlighted this point, including Gaurav Modi, CEO, South East Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan, for digital consulting firm Capgemini, who discussed how companies can create "serendipity by design" in their events and digital experiences.
"Our lives are over-programmed, demanding, over-controlled; it's the unexpected moments that create lasting memories and drive meaningful impact," said Meredith Rollins, chief community officer of the Professional Convention Management Association, during the business-events industry panel, pointing to "orchestrated serendipity" as one of the key trends cited in a recent survey her organization commissioned. "How do we intentionally design and engineer for surprise?"
SACEOS (aka the Singapore Association of Convention & Exhibition Organisers & Suppliers), with the help of Resorts World Sentosa's partnership with Universal Studios, gave an example of this in the first moments of the conference, when actors dressed as the Transformers characters Optimus Prime and Bumblebee popped out from backstage to welcome attendees. It was an unexpected moment that helped alert those in the audience that they should expect the unexpected.
SELL THE DESTINATION, NOT THE INFRASTRUCTURE
A common mistake made by sellers is an overemphasis on selling the infrastructure and not the destination. That, according to Rajeev Kohli, managing director of Creative Travel India, is a missed opportunity.
At a panel discussion called "Global Buyers Insights," Rajeev said he has come across several sellers whose sales pitch centers around the infrastructure that their organizations have to offer. "But no buyer will buy into [it] based just on that," he said. "Destinations are selling themselves short. There are so much more sellers can offer beyond the number of conference rooms you have."
Rajeev added that what appeals to buyers are the unique experiences the destination is able to offer through its culture, cuisine, and people.
Matthew Oster, the head of enterprise events at National Australia Bank, agreed. "Sellers are always selling infrastructure and not selling the soul of the destination," he said. "Sellers should be selling the appeal of the destination first."