There’s a famous mantra in real estate that also applies to meetings and events: location, location, location. Whether they’re planning a small conference or a massive convention, planners choose destinations based largely on where they’re located. Is the destination convenient to reach, for example? Is there adequate airlift? What’s the climate like? Such questions are the bread and butter of destination sourcing.
But meeting destinations aren’t just about place. They’re also about people, says Sue Wilkes, international business development manager in charge of European business at the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre in Alberta, Canada.
“The global business-event industry supports broader agendas -- in particular, building knowledge economies, encouraging industry innovation and enhancing community well being,” notes Wilkes, who says those tasks demand that planners carefully consider destinations’ human resources when choosing where to locate their meetings. “Business events are all about economic, academic, professional and community-enhancement outcomes. Working with local human capital in the city of choice for the event will pay dividends for the conference organizers, their delegates, their speakers and their sponsors through the knowledge and business exchange created at the event.”
Calgary, for one destination, is teeming with human capital, according to Wilkes, who says planners regularly find intellectual assets that they can leverage for their meetings, including local thought leaders who they can utilize as speakers, sponsors, consultants, committee members, content advisors, marketing ambassadors and, of course, attendees.
“Oftentimes, attracting a meeting to Calgary would not be possible without having the intellectual capital that is aligned to the clients’ goals,” concedes Wilkes, who says valuable sources of intellectual capital in cities like Calgary can include local universities, chambers of commerce, economic development boards, corporations, associations and even business incubators.
But human resources can only buoy your meeting if you know how to find and exploit them in the first place. Following are four steps that will help you do it.
1. Ask for introductions
You could spend hours, days, even weeks scouring a city for local scholars and business leaders who are well positioned to contribute to your meeting. Save time by consulting those who already know who those folks are: the people at the local convention and visitors bureau.
“Make initial contact with either the convention bureau or the convention center in the city. They will provide the background information and introduce the meeting planner to the right contact in the right organization,” Wilkes says. “The research conducted and connections made at the various institutions by the convention bureau and/or the convention center will make life very easy for planners and will provide a one-stop-shop introduction avenue and partnership.”
2. Schedule strategically
Especially if you wish to leverage resources from local universities, you’ll need to keep the academic calendar in mind.
“Be aware of academic holidays,” Wilkes advises. “Professors will always want to be home or [at least] not at speaking engagements during these times.”
Likewise, make sure your meeting does not conflict with other major events either in your own industry or in the industries of the people you’re trying to recruit for your event. For example, say that you’re planning a meeting for the restaurant industry in a destination that’s known for agriculture. You probably made sure that your event did not conflict with another food-service happening. If you wish to recruit an agricultural scientist from the local university as a speaker, however, you’ll also want to see that your meeting doesn’t overlap with any major agriculture conventions.
“Ensure your smaller national event does not clash with an international event that may be held elsewhere globally. You will not achieve your delegate numbers or projected sponsorship targets, and your academic speakers will most likely be speaking at another event,” notes Wilkes, who also stresses the importance of long lead times for speaking engagements. “Last-minute requests will most likely be declined due to work commitments, student commitments and other speaking engagements.”
3. Seek synergies
The fact that it’s taking place near their home or workplace will automatically make it easier for local thought leaders to accept invitations to your meeting. But convenience isn’t enough. To persuade local scholars, scientists or business leaders, you’ll also need to prove that your mission aligns with theirs.
“Planners really must understand their meeting topic and objectives before approaching academic partners,” Wilkes says. “Have clearly defined conference objectives that can be communicated concisely to economic, academic and innovation partners. Planners need to clearly connect all the partner dots to ensure all parties understand the clear objectives of being part of an event.”
With academics, in particular, it helps to highlight the ways in which your meeting will help them raise their profile or promote their scholarly work. “There is a passion within academic communities. Tap into this passion, build a rapport with professors and scientists, and research their key sectors to understand what really ignites their interest,” Wilkes says. “Do not be afraid to speak to them. They understand not everyone speaks on an academic level, but if you do background research on their specialties and to whom they are connected globally, it will stand you in good stead for a prosperous discussion."
Finally, make sure you get the most mileage out of local human capital by deploying partners in multiple places. “If you want your delegates to benefit from the knowledge exchange provided by these speakers, use the speakers in more than one format during your event,” Wilkes advises. “Maybe you can use the presenters for a plenary session, then for a workshop and a panel discussion. They might even be happy with chairing sessions or hosting a Q&A session specifically on their area of expertise.”
You’re already using the local venues and vendors that your destination has to offer. If you think about it, it only makes sense that you should take advantage of local brainpower, too.