Times are changing in the meetings world. How can you be sure that you are delivering what today’s attendees want when they sign up for a conference? Mark Cooper, CEO of International Association of Conference Centers (IACC) has been watching the shift in meeting trends as part of an annual survey of his members and shared some insights on innovations in everything from food and beverage to virtual reality with Smart Meetings webinar attendees.

Personalized Food Options

According to the IACC survey, an overwhelming majority (79 percent) of venue managers were asked in 2017 to display nutritional information at food stations as a response to a marked increase in dietary requests compared to two years ago. Just about every respondent received requests for gluten-free alternatives last year and 83 percent reported an increase in vegan options.

Staying ahead of these trends is essential, Cooper explained, because food and beverage links directly to attendee satisfaction and personalized experience—a one-size-fits-all solution is no longer the answer to attendees’ requests.

Creative Breaks

The breathing spaces in your agenda are prime opportunities for creating new relationships, but breaks are no longer solely for networking. They have become extremely valuable to attendees constantly on the move, as they allow time to connect with their office peers and loved ones back home. To encourage team bonding during that time, consider staging activities. One chef taught attendees how to make their own pastry filling, encouraging them to work together while giving attendees a chance to catch their breath.

Cooper suggests taking into consideration how busy the day is going to be and how attendees will feel when scheduling. A longer break may be more beneficial to networking, while shorter, more frequent breaks throughout the day can help attendees digest large amounts of information.

Technology and Communication

Planners are still struggling to find meaningful ways of integrating new technology in their experiences. A majority of respondents (64 percent) said they expect virtual reality and augmented reality technology will play a greater role in the near future. Cooper predicted that holograms will take off as the technology becomes more affordable than keynote speakers.

Other advances in interactive communications, including polling has already been adopted by more than nine out of ten respondents. Just under half (48 percent) had used event apps and 45 percent had implemented social media campaigns.