What’s over the horizon for small meetings?

This is a question that is more relevant than ever and it is right to firstly ask why? Well, small meetings are not new of course, but in the healthcare sector we are seeing an increase in both their volume and their complexity. Most meetings now include a significant - and arguably unsustainable - level of complexity in terms of logistical planning or the creation of content. Sourcing processes, venue selection, approval, financial flows, HCP contracts, invitations, attendee preferences and reporting are just a few areas from an extensive list of tasks required to deliver any definition of small meeting.

In the healthcare sector we are seeing an increase in both the volume and the complexity of small meetings

To explore this increasing trend, we organised a roundtable consultation of meeting experts to discuss “the future for small meetings in the healthcare sector” - bringing together the complimentary perspectives of meeting stakeholders, 3rd party agencies, technology platforms and meeting venues. Such a collaborative approach is vital, as an industry-wide solution to the ‘small meetings’ issue cannot be achieved in isolation.

This blog follows the roundtable consultation, exploring the question of what is driving the recent trends in small meetings, and what a new approach to small meetings will look like.

What is driving recent trends, and what will a new approach to small meetings look like?

The author Rudyard Kipling said “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind” and this is where we start - with words - and the often not-so-gentle argument about definitions.

What actually, in this meetings context, does “small” mean? Is it about size, meaning the number of people attending, cost or defined through the complexity of the event? A meeting stakeholder may consider an 8-person advisory board to be business critical and very complex, based on the time required for logistics planning, contracting and the development sophistication of content as just a few examples. For a venue, quite understandably, this would be considered simple with less complexity of delivery. An intermediary agency might need to ensure the involvement of senior team members and a planning process that might be more complex than a meeting for 100 healthcare professionals.

This pre-occupation with words hides the reality that small meetings are changing; evolving into something different. The habits of the past are being challenged, and a new bright shiny thing is emerging, bringing small meetings into the modern world, making them more fit for purpose, and reflecting their importance to communication, education and training objectives.

Agreeing definitions is critical to building a solution with global potential, rather than struggling with fragmented best practice and no clear, shared understanding.

Montagues or Capulets – do you favour small or simple meetings?

The use of words is one area we could discuss all day, but definitions can get even more complex. From a meetings and events perspective, anyone who has had to define ‘smart casual dress’ for a meeting will empathise immediately.

So, definitions are important, but who makes them and – even more importantly - why?

Take for example an advisory board, positioned as mission critical, with the participants and outcomes having a high value. Doesn’t sound “small” does it? Yet a meeting venue would just see the spec of 8-10 participants, a single meeting room, perhaps not even an overnight stay, and understandably categorise this a ‘small meeting’. Whereas a corporate planner or specialist third party agency would probably assess the time for delivery and see 8-10 participants as just as complex as a far bigger meeting. What we learn here is the need to identify the complexity of any meeting, regardless of the number of participants, and be prepared to adjust our solutions accordingly.

Small can be big and big can be small, depending on your perspective.

We can see the problem: a lack of alignment, across all parties, on the substance behind the definitions of small or simple meetings.

Is this problem of alignment impossible? Can we really develop a shared perspective for all parties? When we start to look beyond the words and talk as a community, we see that small meetings can have a shared range of criteria which can be applied to enable representative categorisation, and practical value in our day-to-day strategies and actions.

We are part of a really complex meetings eco-system which needs strategic change

René Proske

At the heart of this new criteria is a recognition that there is emerging a new meetings eco-system which is very different to the past:

  1. Corporate meeting buying has matured – sophisticated meeting programmes are increasingly commonplace, driven by transparency, reporting, compliance and a focus on best practice.
  2. Complexity is treated differently - the world is at our fingertips, accessible and simplified in a way that we have not seen before. Time-intensive administration is not acceptable to the modern meeting planner.
  3. Technology has changed the game - the ability to share data, securely, across technology platforms means there is the potential to simplify the event management process, open up new marketplaces and deliver efficient, transactional style solutions.
  4. A different experience – healthcare professionals consume information differently. They want engaging content delivered in the formats they need.

When considering these factors, it is possible to formalise definitions, even with different regional and cultural differences. The common factor? A recognition that small as a label is unrepresentative and not a true reflection of a definition with any practical value.

The experts round our table felt that the term “simple meetings” was a far more flexible label, achieving that which the term “small meetings” fails to do: full integration of modern-day factors.

Definitions of simple and complex meetings:

Simple Meetings

  1. Likely to have transactional qualities
  2. Number of participants defined by the organisation as simple.
  3. Beneath a financial cost threshold.
  4. Short meeting time – 1 day to a limited number of overnights.
  5. Low project management touch.
  6. Low level of compliance.
  7. Short time to deliver from booking – management to meeting end.
  8. Can be face to face or online in format.
  9. Likely to be focussed on the booking of the meting venue with little or no other meeting services. e.g. outside dinners

Complex Meetings

  1. Likely to be held over multiple days with overnight stays.
  2. More likely to be affected by changes to the content or logistical needs of the meeting.
  3. Requires a high touch in the planning and management of the event.
  4. Can be face to face or online in format.
  5. High level of importance to the meeting stakeholder due to the level of the participants or strategic outcomes. E.g. advisory board.
  6. High level of compliance risk.
  7. Requires an RFP to define needs.
  8. venue e.g. registration, on-site management, HCP contracting, TOV.

“Simple meetings” does not of course cover all of the meeting types common to the sector, such as those from the research environment including investigator meetings and launch programmes. These, by their size, multinational make up and programme complexity, were felt to merit their own category of “Complex Meetings”. Here we must embrace the stakeholder view, where a meeting taking place over a single day but high in importance in terms of the participants or level of business outcomes would be considered complex. For an agency, a key opinion leader advisory board may require a high level of touch by experienced meeting planners which for a meeting of 8 persons might not normally require. The transactional approach is much more difficult to apply in these more complex meetings, where often a far higher degree of human project management costs is incurred to ensure complexity does not negatively affect the success of the meeting.

“The benefit of definition.”

Definition leads to categorisation, which in meetings and event terms allows organisations to better understand what they are actually buying. This enhanced clarity allows meeting space providers, booking platforms, intermediary agencies and meeting stakeholders to really understand the scope of the solutions, align appropriate resources and supply a relevant solution.

So, we have a defined meeting class – ‘Simple Meetings’ - but in an increasingly digital world is there still a demand?

Research from Ashfield Meetings and Events (1) shows consistency between 2016 and 2018 data that face-to-face meetings are still important, with 87% of HCPs surveyed using medical meetings as a critical way of gathering medical education and information.

Of 197,000 meetings booked via TheVenueDirectory.com in 2018 over 50% were simple meetings

Michel Begley

We now see a trend towards smaller meeting sizes, fine-tuned technical discussions often replacing mass gathering style briefings. This move to quality of engagement is reflected in how digital meetings complement face-to-face engagement

Recent research (2) has revealed that HCPs regularly visit independent websites and journal websites, with more than two thirds doing so at least once per week. This demonstrates that it's more important than ever to adopt a multi-channels communication approach.

The result? An evolution towards a blended environment with face-to-face and digital forums finding their place in this new eco-system of high-quality, smaller, scientific meetings.

How is this likely to impact the volume of meetings?

Short Term < 1 year

  • Stability - and in some areas growth - in the number of meetings planned by healthcare and life science companies for healthcare professionals.
  • More focus on getting the face-to-face vs virtual meetings mix right.
  • Increase in research and development events linked to increased levels of products in development.

Long Term > 1 year

  • Increase in the number of specialised simple meetings for healthcare professionals.
  • Reduced access to healthcare professionals by healthcare and life science companies.
  • Reduction in the number of external meetings for healthcare professionals.
  • Focus on understanding HCPs preferred engagement channels leading to tailored communication strategies.
  • Stability in the number of high science meetings.

What is clear is that increasing regulation of the sector and the evolving communication preferences of Healthcare professionals could lead to the number of healthcare and life science meetings reducing, and a change in the role that industry plays in providing medical information.

With this in mind, where did our group see opportunities and challenges?

Opportunities and Challenges

Top opportunities in simple meetings models

  1. Efficient meetings – planning and delivery process
  2. Development of a free market economy - driving cost efficiencies and choice
  3. Creation of definitions – aligned to consolidation and project planning processes

Efficiency is a clear result of an evolution towards a new simple meeting model. Time-poor organisations can re-deploy this time saved into other activities, reduce cost, and access solutions in a transactional format. The real vision is for a menu of simple meeting services and solutions in an end-to-end process within an internal marketplace for meetings, with risk management, compliance, meeting visibility, data and reporting at its core. A lower cost of sale - or cost of purchase - encourages innovation and investment, opening new methods and sources of supply through technology solutions. These new transactional-style solutions are profitable and scalable to match meeting stakeholder needs.

Reporting and data transparency drives corporate decision making which definition and automation supports.

Arran Cruickshank

Meeting stakeholders benefit from a wide range of cost-efficient solutions integrating seamlessly into procurement and meeting planning solutions. Third-party solution providers maximise headcount deployed to client solutions, and project manage strategic solutions for small meetings, driven by management fees, freeing the perceptions created by a commission environment. Meeting venues open new channels to market, sector-aware and aligned to market needs, and technology providers underpin the new future with flexible technology supporting each part of the simple meetings chain.

There are no opportunities without challenges!

Top challenges to simple meetings models

  1. Maturity of technology solutions – live availability and booking
  2. Complex eco-system – mentality of meetings community to share
  3. Definitions – lack of shared definitions to support new solution development

The next stage of technology development will define the speed of development of simple meeting models. Significant investment over the last few years has set in place a firm foundation; however, live availability - the interaction between booking platforms and meeting venue booking systems - will develop significantly, to enable this efficient transactional environment. Change will require meeting venue systems to talk to a wide range of intermediary platforms; growing the inventory, respecting yield management needs and providing a wider range of venues than ever before to meeting bookers.

A sector traditionally slow to change will demonstrate its growing maturity by embracing this new way of working, integrating technology with increasingly automated venue compliance, and financial processes adapting to support an end-to-end process to simple meetings, without compromising either discipline. Change will come in the form of corporate stakeholders adapting how they define suitable meeting venues, integrate the booking of internal meeting space, and manage payment with efficiencies to payment processes to maintain, control, visibility and manage risk. We ought to remember that we managed this successfully with transient models, and should apply similar thinking to simple meetings.

The Simple Meetings Solution of the Future

Value in business invariably requires change and it is no different in the case of simple meetings. Change involves recognition by meeting stakeholders and the meetings supply chain that small meetings in the healthcare sector are unsustainable in their present form, and a willingness to embrace new partnerships and flexible thinking without compromising on cost, compliance and quality. The dam blocking the live booking of meeting space will inevitably burst, creating simple meetings models based on a transactional model and enabling an end-to-end marketplace that was previously impracticable due to high levels of administration and cost.

The technology is there to enable simple meetings it now needs meeting venues to open up their systems and we have a solution.

Michael Begley

An end-to-end marketplace can be realised, offering corporate organisations the choice, efficiency and cost-effective solutions they want

This could all sound a lot like blue sky thinking as to what may be coming over the horizon. However, we are already seeing the green shoots of change in the growth of sophisticated live online booking platforms, the evolution of meeting market places, and a broader recognition that high-quality, simple meeting solutions can undergo a much-needed revolution to match the needs of the future.


  1. Define your simple meetings: without this you cannot create and access the solution of the future.
  2. Create blended approaches to simple meetings: integrating face-to-face and online solutions.
  3. Use technology to create choice and simplicity.
  4. Develop strategic partnerships harmonising and developing complementary solution providers for sourcing, planning and compliance ,to tick all the boxes of effective simple meeting solutions.
  1. Ashfield Meetings and Events - The Science of Healthcare Professional Meetings 2018
  2. EPG Health - The Evolving Role of Websites for Healthcare Professionals 2019

Michael Begley, Managing Director at venuedirectory.com

Heading up the UK’s no1 venue finding website is something that Michael takes in his stride and developing new opportunities and innovations is something he thrives on. Michael’s passion comes through in everything he sets his mind to, working with the leading venue groups, meeting planners or technology partners and working together to move the MICE industry forward and break new ground.

Founded in 1993, venuedirectory.com has rapidly progressed into the UK market leaders of online venue data with over 60,000 venues worldwide and when Michael Begley took over in 2008, it was his vision to add to this well-established cornerstone of the venue finding world with the cloud based booking tool GRATIS, and their newest product Live Availability which have since gone on to be a huge industry success. With over £225M of confirmed Meetings and Events revenue going through their distribution channels, venuedirectory.com has established itself as the go to platform in the MICE industry.

René Proske, CEO of Proske

When it comes to strategic meetings management, René is the one to know. He's worked his way through all touchpoints, be it operative, marketing, strategy or HR; René really knows what makes a business tick. He's poured into Proske years of passion and sustained a productive and collaborative environment for all employees.

Before joining Proske, René studied travel and tourism and worked with DER Travel Agencies and Tour Operators as well as landing key roles in global marketing and sales functions within the finance industry.

Outside of Proske, René engages in key philanthropic activities that promote a culture of respect and appreciation for individuals and different cultures.

René is a skilled industry speaker who combines his deep knowledge of how it all works with a profound understanding of company needs. As member of the GBTA Meetings Committee he has an active share in furthering the interests of the industry. René also serves on the Radius Travel Member Advisory Board representing the Meeting & Events Division.

Under René’s leadership Proske has become one of the leading privately-owned European businesses in the industry.

Arran Cruickshanks, Account Director at BCD Meetings and Events

As Account Director at BCD Meetings and Events, Arran Cruickshanks covers a wide range of responsibilities, from account management to operations and client growth. This has given Arran in-depth understanding of all elements that go into building long- lasting, meaningful client relationships and creating the most valuable, memorable results. Arran has delivered events across the globe for some of the world’s largest organisations, particularly in pharmaceuticals and healthcare.

Local expertise, global mindset

Manage compliance while still providing an experience to remember for your attendees.