Is the meeting and event industry ready for more disruption, this time in a good way?

The answer was a resounding yes when association executives gathered for ASAE’s Annual Meeting & Exposition in Nashville under the banner of “Disruption = Opportunity.”

The meeting industry knows all about disruption in a not-so-good way as the COVID-19 pandemic all but shuttered meetings and events, resulting in the pivot or shift to virtual meetings as a way to maintain a semblance of face-to-face interactions.

Post-COVID, face-to-face meetings are surging while many associations and organizations have adopted new strategies and approaches, including work-from-home flexibility, expanded online education and resources, and mental health support to name a few.

Michelle Mason, who was named president and CEO of ASAE just over a year ago, was intent on expanding the conversation about disruption, using the first ASAE annual in three years as a platform to explore how to energize associations and meetings in new and innovative ways coming out of the pandemic.

“We just experienced two, three years of total disruption,” she said. “Now we have an opportunity, we have the ability, to create opportunities and when we think about that, with all the pivoting and shifting that we've done over the past few years, let's take that into the future.

“Now more than ever before, we need to take hold of decisions or changes and we need to experiment, recognizing that we don't have the answer to some of these complex issues that we're addressing. For us to accomplish that, we need to shift our mindset. We really need to start thinking about how we approach our businesses in a different way. We have realized that the past three years requires us to think differently about our approach; it requires us to think differently about our business models.”

Disruption, experimentation and even the courage to try, and fail, will be seen as launchpads for true innovation and change.

Marcus Whitney, author of Create and Orchestrate and founding partner of Jumpstart Health Investors, said that failure is essential when changing course.

“There is no innovation without failure,” he said. “Not only do you have to be ok with it, but you have to start to come to expect it. Remember that your power means nothing unless you have the courage to use it for good.”

The messaging is on point as the meeting industry works to gain a stronger foothold on recovery. For example, while total direct travel spending recovered 75% of 2019 levels in 2021, the job market remains behind in recovery of lost jobs and inbound international business travel is still lagging. Data shows that the return of normal convention center seasonality is building with expectations that the spring of 2023 will be a critical turning point.

Safi Bahcall, cofounder and CEO of Synta Pharmaceuticals, a public biotech firm, and author of Loonshots, offered five suggestions for experiential thinking.

·      Celebrate good fails.

·      Avoid the idea that the CEO is a singular leader who is the sole generator of new and good ideas.

·      Strike a balance between people with big-picture or unusual ideas with the more pragmatic, rigorous and detailed-focused people.

·      Manage a supply of experiments that are adjacent to your organization’s mission.

·      Create urgency around experimentation.

Mason added that partnerships are going to be crucial for success.

“The greatest opportunity is that we have partnered with other associations, strengthening our relationships with our industry partners and working together towards the greater good with that positive change,” she said. “For us to accomplish that, we need to shift our mindset. We really need to start thinking about how we approach our businesses in a different way.”