For many events, confirmed meetings with qualified buyers are a key indicator of success for both the Client and the Organiser.
However, there is essential groundwork and curation that underpins the effectiveness of a meetings programme. This will involve more than just inviting attendees to your meeting platform. Here we provide some insights into developing your offering into a true meetings product, which delivers the value proposition your delegates need.

Pre-scheduled vs. impromptu meetings

At the most basic level, you should ask yourself the question: ‘Are my attendees expecting to spend time before the event pre-arranging meetings?’ For some, the answer is 'no', since they only expect to start thinking about who to meet when they walk through the doors of the event. Those attendees may still value the option to formally schedule meetings on the fly, yet it is more likely that they will expect to walk the floor and have impromptu discussions with Exhibitors. For attendees who want to commit time before the event to research and planning, there is the question of how much time they want to pre-allocate to scheduled meetings, and how much time they prefer to reserve for discovery on the show floor and for conversations arising from inspiration in the moment.
Therefore the nature of your meetings programme should consider which of these journeys to cater for pre-show planning, at-show planning, and impromptu meetings.
When there is a significant portion of the audience expecting to plan, it is definitely worth looking into having a meeting scheduling capability in your website or app. This doesn’t necessarily have to be used by the majority, but it needs to be used by enough of the audience to make it worth the effort of the Sponsors and Exhibitors to engage with.
Your marketing campaigns should call out these differences in approach in appealing to each type of user, and your reporting should focus on metrics of when users engage with the platform; before, during and after the event. The platform must have as few obstacles to login and setup as possible, making it as easy as possible for users to engage in the moment, rather than putting it off until they ‘have some spare time’.
The key to success is matching the motivation of the user to pre-plan their meetings to the effort it takes to get a result and to clearly communicate this at the point in the user journey where they are most engaged. For instance at registration, or when planning travel. Be mindful though that this approach of allowing visitors to ‘opt-in’ to pre-arranging meetings can be challenging for Exhibitors. When a smaller proportion of attendees are scheduling meetings, the Return On Time for Exhibitors spent qualifying and sending invites can be low if most attendees are not active on the platform. Automated messaging from the platform to attendees when they have pending meeting requests can help with this. A good way to understand the level of attendee engagement is to monitor attendees proactively requesting meetings rather than just answering inbound requests. And if this number is low, it may be easier and more cost-effective simply to allow messaging between Attendees and Exhibitors via your App. This allows those who want to arrange a meeting to do so with a quick conversation via chat.
At the other end of the spectrum, your attendees may have very high expectations of pre-arranging meetings at your event. They see the event as a series of meetings with prospective suppliers who are conveniently located, and are much more focused on direct interaction than discovery. This is very much the domain of the meetings programme. Meetings programmes are best suited to industries where regular sourcing of components, ingredients, stock or services is part of the business cycle, and that coming together in one place to meet specialists and discuss requirements means you have to get the right people around the table.
For these events, there may be buyers and sellers, or there may be multi-party participants that need to contribute to structuring a deal. As the needs of participants become more advanced, then the needs of a platform become more complex.
  • Can the platform handle group meetings?
  • Is there a searchable participant directory?
  • Have participants completed a full profile?
  • Is there a limit on concurrent meeting requests for specific parties?
The specification of your platform needs to match the majority of users. So understanding what types of users you have as personas and then quantifying what proportion is made up of each is a good way to help you refine a set of requirements.

Meetings Platform vs Human Service Wrap

For advanced meetings programmes, there is a period of onboarding and preferences selection which informs the meetings scheduling process. Usually, events have a closed directory where contact can only take place within the platform. This is for the sake of maintaining privacy and some level of control by the Organiser. However, in some industries participants pay a high ticket price to access an open participant directory. This way participants can make contact before the event to ensure that the right people are around the table to discuss and finalise a deal onsite. This is true of multi-party events in high-value industries such as TV Rights and Real Estate.
Where technology can help is in matching participants based on preferences, and some platforms specialise in this kind of capability. Nevertheless, there is an element of concierge both in eliciting preference information from buyers and sellers, and in ensuring that meetings happen when they are meant to. It is possible to use event tools to assist with reminders and venue navigation, but the most effective programmes still often have human concierge with a phone and a meeting list.
In buyer-seller formats, it is important to recognise that the discovery of the needs of attendees / buyers is part of the matchmaking process just as much as the needs of exhibitors/sellers. Many Event Teams know their Exhibitors very well but rely on registration preferences to match attendees, which are prone to inaccuracy. The best platforms help build profiles of interests over time based on activity within the platform, and can even be matched to behavioural data taken from the show floor in the form of digital content collection, location-aware apps or lead capture. The best results come from using both declared and behavioural data as inputs, though many still resort to direct contact through outreach campaigns to ensure the accuracy of responses.

Taking it to the next level: AI and Machine Learning

Tools that use AI and Machine Learning use historical data to develop multiple models to predict good matches and adapt on the fly. The intelligent element of the algorithm can switch between different strategies for optimising matches depending on what it calculates is best based on the specific circumstances of the event. This can be used in making recommendations of who to meet, or in matching lists of preferences and turning them into optimal schedules for all parties. You can think of this as setting the AI the task of taking basic inputs at first (such as registration matches), but then building a picture over time based on activity and trying to work out whether for example, Investors prefer to meet Start-up Entrepreneurs, or they want to meet other Investors, or a mix of both. This will vary from industry to industry, event to event. Activity in the platform of who is selected to meet provides the AI feedback on whether a particular strategy was correct or not.
Meeting feedback and scoring play a significant role in this to optimise outcomes. To some extent, this can be automated within a platform, but it may be necessary to supplement this with outreach and campaigns. As part of your overall service model, this also makes sense for retaining business.
Whether it is worth investing in platforms that deploy this kind of technology will mainly depend on two things – how many people are you matching and how quickly do you need matches to be executed? If you have a large number of participants who need instant matches, then it may be worth the extra investment.


The success of a meeting programme depends on understanding the needs and preferences of attendees and exhibitors. For events where attendees prefer impromptu meetings, there is much less need for meeting tools to facilitate. However, for events where pre-arranged meetings are the norm, a fully-fledged meetings programme with a service wrap and a meetings platform may be necessary. Investing in platforms that deploy AI and Machine Learning may be necessary for large events where instant matches are required. The most successful 1-2-1 meetings events not only match the needs of the participants to the value proposition, but build a brand and culture to support this that pervades how Exhibitors and Attendees think about the event.