The event planning industry is slowly evolving to catch up to new digital trends and social norms.

The recent PCMA EduCon conference in Los Angeles, hosted by the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), provided a good snapshot of what the sector is up to, particularly in terms of data and technology, as well as environmental sustainability, both hot topics for meeting planners at the moment.

Sherrif Karamat, president and CEO of PCMA, and Gregory O’Dell, CEO of Events D.C. and chairman of the PCMA board of directors, sat down with Skift to discuss how emerging technology could enhance events and what meeting planners can do to cut down on waste and give back to local communities.

Mobile applications created specifically for certain events or convention centers have the potential to be a double-edged sword, according to research conducted by the convention management association.

Apps were valuable because of the wealth of information they provided, as well as the potential they had for facilitating networking. They could give participants on-the-go information about the conference and any individual sessions they were interested in, and provide a quick way to ask questions.

“Apps can be used in real-time messaging, and they can be way-finding, telling you where to find certain events, and they can also have content about that event,” said O’Dell. “There’s even technology now where participants can actually start ordering food and beverages from their devices, or organizers can order exhibitor services that they need on the floor.”

“Before, you might be handing out the print-outs from the session,” Karamat added, explaining that panel leaders would often have to provide physical packets or brochures to attendees, to accompany the information in the panel. “Today, though, it’s all in the app. It’s changing the way we communicate.”

This change in communication expanded to networking, as well, he said.

“Apps can facilitate building community, because you can connect with like-minded people. This is something that PCMA has been doing a lot, we call it ‘brain dates.’ We have the technology to link people together that have similar interests, and they get together to talk about it.”

On the other hand, apps could contribute to information overload, leaving participants stressed and a little more confused than before.

“The PCMA app contributed to the feeling of overwhelm due to the amount of information and lack of understanding of the app’s features,” stated a June report conducted by the convention management association, which surveyed attendees of a recent PCMA event.

Connection to Local Organizations

As sustainability becomes more important to event organizers, reducing food waste has been a key area of concern. Giving excess food back to the local community is becoming more common.

“It’s interesting sometimes in that supply chain, there’s things that are broken about not just the food being available, but also transportation or access to others to get that food to the right people,” said O’Dell. “We all have to be very mindful of all those steps to ensure that it’s getting to the final person, or the people that are going to benefit the most. And that’s no longer just a byproduct, it’s actually part of our DNA now, as an industry, and how we should go about our business.”

When it came to fixing the broken parts of the supply chain, education and awareness were the most important things to consider, O’Dell continued.

Part of the problem is how closed off the events sector can be from the local community in a destination. Meetings and events, after all, pop into a city for a few days and then leave.

“Traditionally we had been so siloed as an industry. We didn’t really touch or reach out to adjacent industries or other people in our community to see how we could help each other. And so furthering our understanding of other organizations that might be a soup kitchen or otherwise that could easily take this food product off your hands, and they know exactly how to get it to the people who need it the most, and when and where. So we’ve just made sure that we’re part of a broader community.”

The more that event planners embrace technology as well, the more opportunity to reduce waste, Karamat added.

“Take digital signage for example. It used to be we would accrue a huge amount of paper, but now you’re seeing a lot of that go digital,” he said. “Even in instances where we choose to use paper, that paper will be 100 percent recyclable. And the ink that we’re using, it’s biodegradable. Often, when we can’t avoid waste, it becomes about what we can reduce, or reuse, or recycle.”

The events industry is finally having a legitimate conversation about its environmental impact. It will likely be some time, though, before widespread change takes place.

Photo Credit: A presentation at PCMA Educon 2019 in Los Angeles. PCMA / Twitter