The Chicago meetings scene continues to flourish with few signs of slowing down. Here’s what Chicago meeting planners are saying about events in the Windy City, and what’s trending in 2019.
Jody Solomon-Devins, marketing and client services director at Catalyst Ranch, an independent boutique conference center in Chicago’s West Loop, says meetings are becoming “less buttoned up” and planners are finding ways to make them more inclusive, less hierarchical.
“There is an influx of different kinds of venues and meeting add-ons to invoke a sense of adventure and experience rather than the typical sit and listen PowerPoint presentation,” she says. Solomon-Devins adds. “We’ve witnessed an evolution in the market research and focus group arena. These types of meetings have evolved from the typical mirrored observation room set-up to more and more co-creations, which is when the clients, researchers and respondents are all in one room.”
Solomon-Devins says that her corporate groups will often get out and do something together that takes advantage of the city and further fosters teambuilding and a wider appreciation of what Chicago has to offer. Activities range from scavenger hunts to dining tours, she says.
Jeff Russell is the conference center director at the Gleacher Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, steps from the Magnificent Mile. Russell says there is a strong interest in green meetings, a trend that continues to be prevalent nationwide. For Russell’s team, this includes a shift toward more recyclable products like biodegradable coffee cups and stirrers and recycled paper straws. The center also utilizes drinking fountains equipped with water bottle fillers and LED lighting.
“We’re replacing our paper files crammed with paper contracts and event orders with iPads, which is clean, efficient and very current,” Russell says.
He adds that there has been an uptick in more employee engagement-related topics.
“We’re seeing trends in work-life balance meeting agendas, such as starting at 10 a.m. to avoid rush hour, parenting breaks to check in with sitters, breaks for nursing moms, early end times avoid the afternoon rush and take home boxed dinners for the family,” he says.
Nicole Price, MBA, PMP, owner of Around Chicago Events, has seen a sustained interest in healthier food options, resulting in planners constantly evolving and enhancing their menus. “The trend of clean eating continues to grow and flexibility in banquet menus has become essential to the success of the meeting,” she says. “The best planners and venues go above and beyond to create delicious, creative menus that accommodate the most discriminating guests ranging from ‘I eat everything’ to vegan and gluten-free.”
Hanging Food and High-Tech Imagery
Lara Ziemba is the director of events, Chicago Cultural Center, MB Real Estate. This historic venue is popular for high-profile corporate events and nonprofit galas. Ziemba says that clients are requesting more creative and elaborate food displays, such as hanging pretzel displays and multi-tiered towers for hors d’oeuvres. Video mapping, or projection mapping, is also increasingly popular, she adds.
“With this technique, we can ‘map’ a projected image onto virtually any surface, whether it’s 3D object, screen, or exterior and interior walls,” Ziemba says. “This type of artistry really helps the images come alive to create a specific feel for the event and increase both excitement and engagement.”