All meetings great (and small!)

There’s an interesting stat hiding in ICCA’s data on international association meetings that should be pushed into centre stage and told to perform a grand jeté under the spotlight.

It is this: almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of international association meetings attract 250 or fewer delegates. In other words they are small. A large room full.  A lecture theatre, perhaps.

In fact, only seven per cent of the 12,563 meetings in ICCA’s database welcomed more than 1,000 delegates and a tiny fraction – a mere 1.3 per cent – attracted 3,000 people or more.

For those at the sharp end of winning association business – the suppliers to the meetings industry – this probably comes as no surprise, but to casual observers of the sector it probably does.

That’s because we hear so little about these meetings.

If you were to soak up the industry hype about international association meetings you might be forgiven for thinking they typically involve 4,000 scientists in a convention centre.

The image projected to the world is of vast plenary halls packed to the rafters, multi-tracked meetings on several floors, with satellite symposia. And cities raking in millions.

What is this obsession with big? Does size really matter?

For cities and convention centres the answer is obvious: yes! Big meetings can raise the profile of a city in key areas – and help under-pressure venues balance the books. Why host twenty meetings for 250 people when you can roll out the red carpet for 5,000 delegates in one glitzy, headline-grabbing hit?

And yet we shouldn’t ignore the fact that, across the board, small meetings, often taking place in hotels and universities and attracting very little fanfare, are the industry’s bread and butter.

The science can be just as cutting-edge, the learning just as lofty, and the knowledge transfer every bit as crucial to a city’s economic development. Small meetings might not mean big bucks in terms of delegate spend – but, then again, they don’t mean big damage in terms of carbon footprint, either.

So, enough of the big-hitters for a change, let’s hear it for the silent majority.


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