Meeting Curation: The Future of Professional Meeting and Event Planning

By Hugh K. Lee

Today, successful meeting and event producers live in the impact zone. Our role in the new normal has transitioned from traditional meeting professionals to meeting and event curators. Like museum curators, we creatively bundle new tools, information, relationships, and messages into one powerful story and experience. In doing so, we have burst out of the confines of rates, dates, and space to create valuable, meaningful, and beautiful events. Our new mindset is one of providing attendees with new value, new experiences and environments, and new connections, helping them escape the pull of the past.

More than 250 senior association executives attended the 12th annual digitalNow conference, co-produced by the Disney Institute and Fusion Productions. Disney also hosted an exclusive evening gala inside The Living Seas pavilion at Epcot. Pictured from left to right are: Hugh Lee, president, Fusion Productions and co-owner of digitalNow; Richard Yep, CAE, executive director and CEO, American Counseling Association; Don Dea, co-founder, Fusion Productions and co-owner of digitalNow; George Aguel, senior vice president, The Walt Disney Company; Pamela Hemann, CAE, FASAE, president, Association Management Services; Bruce MacMillan, CA, president/CEO, Meeting Professionals International; and Arlene Pietranton, PhD, CAE, executive director, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (photo courtesy: Disney)

One of our key roles as meeting and event curators is to recognize that “doing what we’ve always done will get us what we’ve always gotten.” Therefore we—you—must be willing to re-imagine your meeting in light of a new world where your biggest competitor is—complexity.

Everywhere your members and attendees go, every advertisement they see, every connection they make, every article they read, is a potential doorway into the digital world. And behind every one of those doors is a voice that beckons, “Come in here!” At the same time, changing demographics and other global trends are forcing you to deliver services and information in so many different ways that you may find yourself in the position of trying to be all things to all people. This results in a level of complexity that makes it nearly impossible for anyone to get what they really need. That’s why Steven Rosenbaum, digitalNow keynote speaker and author of the book, Curation Nation, stated at digitalNow, “Curation is King.”

What Is Our New Role as Meeting Curator?

On the first level, curation means working with your internal stakeholders to sort through the myriad and sometimes conflicting objectives of a meeting. (Give us wow, but don’t lose connection with our traditions, and by the way, don’t forget to stay within budget.)

On the second level, you must begin to curate the countless possible ways available for achieving those critical objectives, weaving it all into a story. Rather than throwing a bunch of cool local stock media at the wall, the story that you discover as you sort through your objectives helps you quiet the noise, making it possible to identify and select the best strategic options. From that discussion, the creation of experience and connections through technology such as mobile apps, interactive staging, living presentations, and creative use of the space and functions becomes more clearly linked to desired outcomes.

On the third level, you must curate the meeting experience for your attendees. A key element of that is telling a sound story, as well as helping your attendees understand why the content you offer is critical to them. Whether in your product and service delivery, in your meetings, with your supply chain or with your volunteers, as a meeting curator you need to provide the value proposition context to your audience. At this point, you are positioned to determine the best way to present that story as an experience with a beginning, a middle, and an end—the pattern necessary to all great stories. How is that accomplished? By designing and delivering relevant and engaging emails, social media communications, registration processes, general sessions, educational workshops, and each and every media experience, essentially acting as curators to what attendees see, do, and experience at any given touchpoint of the meeting process, from the first Save the Date announcement to the final post-conference survey.

digitalNow: An Example of Meeting Curation

digitalNow is an annual conference, which brings together CEOs and volunteer leaders from professional societies and trade associations and other nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. The conference is produced by Fusion Productions and Disney Institute, with input from registered attendees and a conference advisory board. digitalNow addresses the critical issues facing association leaders in the digital age, including: building brand; personalization; online community; AMS integration; lifetime loyalty; member relationship management; taxonomy/advanced search; content management; one-to-one marketing; elearning; and web 2.0 considerations. Let’s look at how Fusion Productions fulfilled the role of meeting curators in the design and production of digitalNow 2012.

  • Theme, look, and feel: More than an image of the venue, a generic crossing the bridge, destination photo, or an overused cliché motto, the phrase “Impact Zone” was crafted from several weeks of interviews, conference calls, and targeted surveys, and review of material on the issues, trends, and emotions members of our attendee community were facing. We used a combination of their actual words to describe the world in which they live and then allowed that to guide our creative discussions which led to the theme. As we presented the theme and its rationale in our conference opening, we used impactful and edgy images rather than slides with bullet points.
  • Curation of all content: A key role that we play in the production of digitalNow is to provide context for our audience. In a world of tiny sound bites, we help paint the picture from the spray of noise. Whether in our delivery, in our meetings, with our supply chain, or with our volunteers, as a meeting curator, we to provide our association leader audience with the value proposition context.
  • Branding and immersing attendees into the Impact Zone theme started with:
    • The selection of speakers and all creative for pre-event communications;
    • Design of the general sessions to include active attendee participation in the opening and during question-and-answer periods;
    • Going paperless and encouraging the use of mobile, tablet, and other digital tools, yet having digital assistants on site at our Impact Zone tech pods to help attendees load and use apps, integrate their tablets, etc.;
    • On-site media including signage, speaker slide templates, in-room messages, physical space (meeting speakers in the Impact Zone, for example), walk-in and speaker intro videos;
    • Coaching speakers to make sure they had a clear understanding of our community and that they were able to give relevant and meaningful context to their messages;
    • Designing contractual agreements for pre-con marketing videos provided to us by key speakers as a way to create buzz and warm attendees up to content.
  • Educational and sponsor models have permanently changed and to demonstrate new alternatives we took an old broadcast model (live webcasting), demonstrated the integration of live streaming, syndication, and social media into a learning portal to extend reach, create possible new revenue streams, and increase brand awareness (see
  • Meetings are about making connections with the right people, the right solutions, and the right community. Curation that fosters an environment that allows this to happen is a hallmark of digitalNow. One key aspect to consider is that each attendee connects, learns, and shares in different ways so our task was to integrate several options tailored for our audience, but integrated into one cohesive look. This then took the shape of:
    • CEO lounges for intimate conversations with key speakers;
    • Selected table discussions at lunch on keynote, plenary, and ad hoc topics;
    • Mini Impact Zone tech learning pods for small-group sharing and demonstrations of new technology;
    • Addition by subtraction: No booths or sales people. Only 14 technology resource partners are selected from areas that attendees have identified as “need to know.” This select group provided case studies, gave mini tech workshops, and participated as attendees

Producing a meeting with the power and value of digitalNow isn’t an accident. It is the result of strategic exploration, deep knowledge of the industry and of attendees, brilliant creative media, relevant speakers and workshops, and an engaged and active community. However, even with all of that, we know our attendees will only have the optimum digitalNow experience if we frame, present, qualify, and facilitate every aspect of the meeting from beginning to end—in short, if we fulfill our role as meeting curators.

Hugh K. Lee is the president of Fusion Productions (, and co-founder of the digitalNow executive summit, which is produced in collaboration with Disney Institute. digitalNow 2013 will be held April 4–6 at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Hugh is a past chairman of MPI, a past board member and Fellow of ASAE. He has been inducted into the ASAE Academy of Leaders and the Convention Industry Council Hall of Leaders. He is the author of more than 25 featured articles, information books, and section articles on Association Leadership and a past recipient of NYSAE's Associate Member of Year Award.