Outside Inspiration


Vickie Mitchell
Published January 01, 2018

Being out in the world typically inspires new ideas; the trouble is, it can be tough for meeting planners to carve out time to go places — conferences and conventions or even local MPI meetings — where they might see and experience innovative approaches to their work.

One way to gather new ideas without leaving the desk is to peruse the websites of favorite or bucket-list conferences. Conferences designed for meeting professionals tend to be useful sources of inspiration because, generally, those who lead the industry strive to be innovative.

But it can also be smart to check out conferences and conventions held for leading-edge industries. Some of the most innovative fields, according to Inc. magazine, are green energy, mobile technology and biotechnology.

Here are a few interesting ideas I came across in a quick review of several conference websites. By spending a few minutes of your time checking out approaches being taken at some of the thousands of conferences held each year, I’m sure you, too, will come away with some new ideas.

Signing In, Then Brainstorming

Registration can be more than picking up a packet and a name badge. It can also be a time to engage your attendees and set a positive tone for your conference. Connect Faith did so at its conference during its Regiception, where attendees could visit a pop-up creativity cafe staffed by creative pros for brands like Disney, Costco and Apple. Those pros chatted with attendees, and together, using whiteboards and markers, they brainstormed fun themes for planners’ meetings and events.

Warmer Welcome for Newcomers

Engage!, a conference for wedding professionals, realizes how intimidating conferences can be for first-timers, so organizers hold a welcome session specifically for that audience. The session allows newcomers to ask questions they might not feel comfortable asking otherwise, and it gives organizers a chance to talk about conference traditions, give insight into ways to get the most value from the conference and share tips on transportation, dining or even what to wear. One first-timer who attended said the session was “incredibly helpful to calm my nerves and let me know that I was not the only one with a lot of questions.”

Problem-Solving Luncheon

BizBash organizers decided to dispense with small talk and make lunch a time for deeper discussions. During their Problem-Solving Luncheon, planners were encouraged to come to the meal with a problem they would like solved. Those at the table were encouraged to chime in with ideas and solutions.

New Twists on Cocktail Hour

Connecting with peers can happen in many ways during a conference, and many agendas also include dedicated networking events. Folks at the mammoth South by Southwest Tech Conference call these times “meetups,” topic-focused, moderator-led networking events for people with similar passions or interests. The conference’s dozens of meetups were organized by everything from geography to hobbies and professional interests. Among its meetups: Aussies and Kiwis, Bible Study, Data Nerds, Executive Assistants and Mom Bosses.

For Summit LA 17, a different approach was used for its networking hour: At its speed-dating-style networking session, attendees could meet 20 new people in 60 minutes.

Edutainment Puts Attendees on the Stage

The ASAE annual conference in Toronto in August featured fast-paced Edutainment sessions that put members in the spotlight. In one session, presenters told their stories with 20 slides in five minutes. Among the intriguing topics was “My Year of Courage,” “The History of App” and “When a Carnivore Loves a Vegan.” During the Story Slam version of Edutainment, storytellers/slammers had five minutes to tell a story based on a theme that had been chosen for the session. No notes were allowed. Among the stories were “It Started With a Plane Crash” and “How I Became Brilliant… (At Being Me).”