Having just come back from a speech to the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributor’s Executive Council meeting, I’ve got meeting attendance on the brain. It’s down, in case you hadn’t heard. It’s way down in some industries, and not just because of the recession. Conventions, trade shows, conferences are becoming a commodity for a lot of industries. For the wholesalers, buying groups were already stealing their thunder and now are adding networking in ways that really undercut their value propositions as premier networking venues.

The business model was already pretty wonky. Matt Rowan, executive director of the Health Industry Distributors Association is trying to change the 80-20 model where 80 percent of revenues are eaten up by shipping, logistics, booth companies, AV providers, etc. and only 20 percent ends up in the association’s pockets. He’s coming up with packages for his biggest exhibitors which save them 20 percent and allow the association to keep 50 percent of the revenues. “We’ve gotten into the booth-building business,” Rowan said. That was only one example from his “power package” idea that will give exhibitors what they want: “not more relationships but deeper relationships.”

“We were slaves to the number of attendees, the number of booths, the square footage,” Rowan said. “Now the metric is how many meetings exhibitors hosted. There’s meeting space in each booth along ‘Main Street’ plus private meeting spaces around the periphery of the hall. Exhibitors want to know who they’re meeting with even before they come to town.”

The makeup of HIDA’s attendees fit the dance card approach very well. Buyers can select sellers they’d like to talk to and vice versa so that everyone’s dance card fills up and HIDA has a basis for pricing.

John Garfinkel, executive director of the International Sanitary Supply Association, has managed to maintain attendance at or near the same levels as prior to the recession by opening the doors to service providers and end users through alliances with other associations.

These are only two ideas. I’m part of a major study that will look for more.

Fast Future Research’s Convention 2020 just kicked off and will look at the future of live events, venues and meeting destinations. The study’s site allows anyone to contribute their thoughts via a Trend Wiki. The study will run through October so that meeting planners can make better decisions this year for future meetings. After we gather everyone’s input, participants will be able to vote on which trends they see as most likely. I hope you’ll join up.

[This post originally appeared here.]