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Six-minute appointments prove fast, efficient way to make connections

The Small Market Meetings’ Marketplace was applauded by meeting planners and industry representatives as a welcomed departure from the traditional tradeshow.

In a postconference survey, 94 percent of the meeting planners who responded to the on-line survey said the Marketplace’s format of one-on-one appointments was excellent or very good.
“Usually, you hand out business cards, and say ‘Hi, how are you,’” said Nedra Sneed, a meeting planner from College Station, Texas. “With this format, you have time to visit.”

Industry representatives agreed that Marketplace was a more effective way to network.

“I love it,” said Renee Fought, sales coordinator for the Alabama Gulf Coast CVB.

“I don’t think I ever want to go back to standing behind a table at a tradeshow,” said Kristin Brinson, a sales manager for the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center.

Marketplace gives meeting planners and suppliers time to meet one-on-one at prescheduled appointments. Other conferences use a similar format, but the Small Market Meetings conference tweaks the idea further by having meeting planners sit in booths and industry representatives move to visit with them. Each prescheduled appointment lasts six minutes.

“This was the first time I had done the speed dating-marketing format, and I liked it better than having a booth and trying to lure someone in,” said Terri Henson, director of the Nolan Center in Wrangell, Alaska. “At least with this format, I got a chance to give them my spiel. Some went from thinking that Wrangell was undoable to ‘That might be a neat thing to think about.’ ”

Appointments are based on requests made by suppliers and planners.

During two Marketplace sessions, one held for two hours on Tuesday morning, the other on Wednesday morning, most meeting planners met with 40 suppliers.

“We have been doing scheduled appointments about 25 years,” said Charlie Presley, partner in the Small Market Meetings Conference. “We find it is an extremely efficient way to meet people. The average time people spend in a tradeshow booth is four minutes. This gives you 50 percent more time to talk to meeting planners.”

Meeting planners expressed surprise and pleasure to learn they would be the ones staying put. “I’m liking this that the suppliers are coming to us,” said Melody McGinley Whitelaw of the Main Event by Melody in Morristown, N.J.

They were also happy to learn that suppliers are not allowed to distribute marketing materials during the appointments.

In the midst of the first session of appointment, Kimberly Stewart, sales manager for the Stillwater CVB, felt confident that several appointments she had had with planners would yield future business. “There are three that I have no question will really work out,” said Stewart.

About 30 percent of the appointments are perfect matches; about 15 percent are random fills. The remainder are either requests that a meeting planners made to see an industry supplier that wasn’t reciprocated or vice versa. “Eighty-five percent of the appointments are because one person requested another,” said Presley.

Six minutes seemed like a short time initially, but many attendees covered a lot ground in that length of time.

“I was shocked at how fast my mouth could move,” said Henson, who added that she would have liked the appointments extended a minute or two.

Some surprising discoveries were made as well.

Nicole Kever, sales director for Camden on the Lake, Lake Ozark, Mo., was prospecting a lead after the conference. “I am a little surprised that some of the planners from the West Coast are interested in coming to the Midwest and Lake of the Ozarks,” she said.

Sneed found new possibilities for the scientific programs she helps plan for Bioactives World Forum, Division of Filtration and Membrane World. Among them were Gulf Shores, Ala.; Wrangell, Alaska; and Sieverville, Tenn., home to Dollywood, a country music theme park operated by singer Dolly Parton.

“Some of our attendees are from Japan, and they enjoy country music,” she said.

“There are places we had never considered because we didn’t know anything about them,” said Sneed. “You educated us.”