What are the biggest challenges facing the meetings industry today?

Bob Eddings: Many businesses want to work on big, audacious goals on their retreats or really get a chance to network with new contacts during a conference, but they find it difficult to get away from the day-to-day management of their organization. In this digital world, it can be impossible to truly unplug and focus on things like Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats analyses or strategic planning and other high priority efforts that take complete focus and attention. At Frost Valley YMCA, we provide a true retreat for corporate teams and conferences. We are located in the "Forever Wild" Catskills of New York, and, while we have all the amenities of home, we don't have cell phone service. Buildings, such as our dining spaces and conference facility, do have high-speed WiFi, but it can be password protected at a group's request or groups can even take meetings and sessions to the great outdoors on our 5,500 acres, where creativity really thrives.

Rebecca Linder: Content delivery. The traditional model no longer works; we need to be turning speakers into facilitators and turning audience members into participants. It’s about reorganizing the experience and environment to increase engagement. Events need to treat the individual versus the group. It’s important to take into account different learning styles in order to create a unique experience that increases the likelihood that content will resonate with each attendee.

Describe the power of social media on the business event space. Does it work? How do you effectively measure success?

BE: At Frost Valley YMCA, we rely heavily on social media to reach our guests and groups. For one, we are somewhat remote, so people aren't exactly driving by our location every day! Furthermore, we have found that social media allows us to target the precise audience that will appreciate Frost Valley YMCA, an audience of businesses and alliances that are looking for a unique experience with plenty of outdoor opportunities.

RL: Social media allows engagement from attendees and from those who can’t attend the event. It can expand the reach of an event that is otherwise constricted by physical space. Social media is an incredible vehicle to reach your audience and deliver your message, because it knows no bounds. In order to know how successful your use of social media is, you have to establish your metrics of success early on, and they need to align with your end goal. If you don’t take the time to set clear, relevant metrics, you may be looking at numbers that don’t contribute to event success.

What are the key benefits of business travel?

BE: When people get out of the office, they look at obstacles and opportunities from a different angle. The politics of the workplace are set aside so everyone can focus on a shared vision or goal, but it can take a location change to spark that attitude change. At Frost Valley, one of the first things we ask every incoming group is, "What are your goals for your retreat or conference?" We work with groups to create an environment that is aligned with what they want to accomplish, and, oftentimes, that can't be cultivated back at the office.

RL: Travel always has the unique ability to bring new people together, in new places, to create lasting bonds. It forces you to open your mind to a different culture and to be open to new experiences. The experiences you have in a new place, and the connections you make, have the ability to make a lasting impression that’s more impactful than attending an event with the same people in a familiar location. Every business requires inspiration to grow and succeed. Travel is one of the most effective ways to open yourself up to inspiration, because it forces you to look at the world with new eyes.

When it comes to events, conferences and expos, what should companies be doing to make sure they stand out and create a memorable experience for new business?

BE: Any retreat or conference center must understand what the group wants to accomplish during their stay — beyond just how many rooms, meals, and amenities to do they need. When you're hosting a group, you have a responsibility to partner with them and invest in their mission as if it was your own. At Frost Valley, we offer options beyond just three square meals, a bed to sleep in and spaces for meetings and presentations. We also offer customized programming to help teams reach their goals, including team-building activities and games; high ropes challenges to foster trust and confidence; hikes and camp-style activities to let your team bond and get to know one another on a personal level; and much more.

RL: Companies should focus on creating interesting sponsor activations and convenient ways to collect information. Utilize new technology to inspire guests and facilitate idea sharing as well as technology that forces content sharing. It’s about taking the familiar and making it a little different. Reimagine the traditional format and figure out how you can utilize technology to make the experience better.