Last week, M&I Forums USA, part of London-based Meetings & Incentives Forums (M&I Forums), held its 4th annual event at The Breakers in Palm Beach hotel. In two separate sessions (Tuesday-Thursday and Thursday-Saturday), hosted buyers had an opportunity to identify and connect with the 25 exhibitors with whom they most wanted to meet.
Cvent had an active presence as a sponsor and exhibitor, with Cvent CEO, Reggie Aggarwal, delivering the keynote address at both sessions.
On Thursday evening, hosted buyers and exhibitors mingled in a lovely garden setting for the opening reception and dinner at the Brazilian Court Hotel and Beach Club. A delicious gourmet menu featured the cuisine of Chef Daniel Boulud.
Connecting on a personal level paid off in huge dividends during the scheduled business appointments that took place over the next 2 days. Interaction flowed easily as hosted buyers and exhibitors did not experience the awkwardness of meeting for the first time.
As Reggie Aggarwal reminded the group in his keynote the next day, this works as buyers are more likely to do business with people with whom they have a personal connection.
On Friday, hosted buyers picked up their itineraries and the bag with their Show Guides (which were actually diaries), which featured one-page profiles for each exhibitor with a photo of the representative, key facts and figures, USPs, Internet coordinates, contact information and space for notes. The exhibitors’ version had similar one-page profiles for buyers, with information about the focus of each business, types of events offered and even a map depicting a geographic breakdown of the number of meetings and events that each buyer had conducted in the past year.
At 8:45 AM, buyers went to the first of a series of 20-minute appointments. The room layout was similar to a speed dating event with seating for 2 representatives for each exhibitor and 2 representatives from the hosted buyer organizations.
It was easy for hosted buyers to find their appointments as exhibitor tables were arranged in alphabetical order and each table was also assigned a number that corresponded to the listing in the diary. A countdown clock was projected on the wall so that exhibitors could manage their time effectively. There was a minute to transition between each appointment.
Appointments were long enough for hosted buyers and exhibitors to connect on a deeper level. There was an opportunity for exhibitors to ascertain the specific requirements for each hosted buyer and present highly targeted information. Hosted buyers were able to explore the range of services provided by each exhibitor in much more depth than at a typical trade show.
Next door to the meeting venue, networking continued informally over lunch. After lunch, the tables were literally turned. Each buyer was assigned a table and the exhibitors were given scheduled 4 minute appointments with buyers. Mid-afternoon, participants again headed next door for Aggarwal’s keynote. (Stay tuned for a summary later this week.)
M&I Forums built some fun into the agenda. When it started drizzling, a beach sand castle competition in teams was replaced with the back-up plan, team Olympics in one of the ballrooms. Teams integrated hosted buyers and exhibitors, providing another opportunity for informal interaction. There was ample time to relax before the reception, dinner and dancing at The Breakers.
The dinner setting was elegant and the conversations that started earlier continued in a relaxed atmosphere. When the dancing started, we got to see a different side of the attendees. My votes for best dancers go to Chris Lynn from London & Partners, Nico Timmermans from Gran Melia Don Pepe, and and Velmir Burazor from the Crowne Plaza Zurich.
Scheduled appointments continued on Saturday and the forum ended with the final networking lunch buffet.
Buyers indicated that they returned year after year as there were able to conduct business in a fraction of the time that email takes. Suppliers walked away with RFPs and those who have returned from other years indicated that they generated more than enough business to make attendance worthwhile. Many suppliers and buyers also indicated that, after connecting at M&I Forums, they found Cvent of great value in managing the RFP process.
Photo Credit: MICE Events, Executive Oasis International