Trends, technology, and preferences in the events industry change fast. If you're planning events based on research from even a couple of years ago, you may be behind the curve.
Fortunately, a new study from the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC), the Meeting Room of the Future Report 2019, provides up-to-date findings on trends and attendee preferences for event venues, food & beverage, technology, conference design, and more—and even highlights what's changed over the past two to three years. This 39-page report is a must-read for event planners, venue managers, and industry suppliers, particularly tech vendors. Here are four (of many) key insights from the IACC report:
Insight 1: New Generations, New Expectations
The days of lecture-style presentations to auditoriums full of passive listeners and one-size-fits-all event experiences are disappearing. Millennials, and quickly on their heels Gen Z, bring different expectations to live event experiences. Four of the most significant impacts of future generations on the format of meetings are:
- Increased integration of new technology, especially smartphone integration (85%)
- Greater emphasis on the overall "event experience" (80%)
- Shorter attention spans requiring more interaction, more stimulation, shorter sessions, etc. (76%)
- Experience personalization rather than just segmentation (74%)
Expectations are changing in terms of the physical aspects of meeting venues as well. Compared to 2017, there is now greater importance placed on the availability of high-quality Internet (not a surprise), meeting room lighting and acoustics, and the flexibility to change room layouts during the day.
Conversely, including the use of outdoor areas in meetings is now viewed as somewhat less important.
Insight 2: Events and Technology: Like Oil and Vinegar
Properly mixed in, technology enhances the attendee experience at events, much as oil and vinegar (plus a few spices) properly combined enhance the flavor of a salad.
But just as oil and vinegar have a tendency to separate when left on their own, technology doesn't always mix well with the live event experience. Event tech that is too difficult or cumbersome to use is a distraction for event planners and organizers. Among numerous references to technology in the IACC report, three notable points are:
> Smart Boards should actually be smart. Per the report, as an alternative "to traditional flipcharts and paper in all meeting rooms, SMART Kapp uses app technology to capture everything written on a flipchart-like whiteboard, saving to the event app for future reference and delegate sharing."
But if all that the smart-board-plus-app combination does is transfer the white board jottings to the user's phone directly (as opposed to taking a photo of a physical white board or flip charts), it's providing only a small, incremental benefit.
The real value of moving from physical whiteboard to smart boards is integration with other event data, such as enabling users to add their own notes to white board capture, combining these with responses from session feedback or survey apps, and eventually moving this up to the corporate CRM system.
> Just do it for me. Event planners prefer to spend their finite time and attention focused on optimizing attendee engagement and the event experience. So it's not surprising that more than half would like to outsource event technology (implementation, management, and support) and digital media capture (i.e., video streaming and social media).
> Technology yes, but not that technology. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they use hybrid event technology (applications that enable "remote participants or remote presenters to join the conference") at their meetings. But of that group, nearly 20% said the technology actually hinders rather than improves communication, due to the frustration and distraction among live attendees.
Half of planners have not embraced live event streaming. 71% don't use live slide sharing (to allow participation with information about the conference, catering, topics, etc.).
And a whopping 83% have not implemented beacon/GPS delegate tracking technology, which is vital for capturing attendee data and answering questions about which sessions were (really) the most popular, which had the most attendees arriving late or leaving early, and which captured the attention of specific guests.
Insight 3: Balancing Security with Personalization
Top event professionals have shared insights on balancing personalization with privacy here previously. The IACC report also touches on data and event security. Event organizers and attendees alike expressed concerns about security at three levels:
- Cyber security: protection from malicious actions which may cause the loss or theft of data, or disruption of Internet access.
- Physical security: protection from theft of belongings (particularly cell phones and laptops) and physical harm.
- Data security: concerns over what data is collected is about attendees and who has access to that data.
The challenge is that security and privacy are often at odds. To provide cyber security, the venue or their technology partners need to know who is using the network and what they are doing on it.
Physical security often involves video surveillance, facial recognition technology, and access control (tied to attendee badges). The technology that enables quick recognition and interdiction of bad actors or actions is also watching every move of every attendee.
Data security is vital, but event organizers need to collect and share lots of information about attendees in order to personalize the event experience, continually improve event content, and meet special dietary needs (which involves sharing information with food service or catering staff).
The best venues have sophisticated systems and practices in place to provide cyber and physical security. The best event organizers are open with attendees about what data is being collected, why, how it is used, and who it is shared with.
Insight 4: Event Venues: Established or Unique?
A final trade-off event planners need to consider is which type of venue to host their event with: an established, purpose-built facility (e.g., a convention center, event center, or large hotel) versus a more unique venue (e.g., a converted warehouse, Victorian mansion, or microbrewery). This decision also extends to the host city—whether to host the event in Las Vegas or Orlando (again), or choose a less-traveled destination. Established venues can offer certain advantages with technology infrastructure. While "better WiFi" has topped the wish lists of planners and attendees alike for the past several years, it's no longer just about speed.
The IACC report offers the following observations:
Meeting planners, once again, agree that their dependency on internet/Wi-Fi at a venue has increased, and will continue to increase in the next five years. Approximately 44 percent of meeting planners, indicated that they would not even consider shortlisting a venue that did not have the guaranteed internet capacity to support the needs of their event.
Internet (access) is vital to delegate experience...dedicated bandwidth" (as important as that is) is "still not offered by as many venues as it should be. While good quality attendee Wi-Fi (free or affordable) is a baseline expectation, there is also a higher level of expectation (dedicated bandwidth, security considerations etc.) that venues need to provide the infrastructure for."
A Few More Observations
The report further notes that venues will need to take into account the increased security and bandwidth requirements related to GDPR, wearables, and VR/AR as they upgrade their Internet infrastructures.
Established venues (again, often though not always) have an edge in terms of food and beverage variety, physical security, the ability to accommodate and manage the traffic flow of large crowds, and easy accessibility.
Unique or non-traditional event venues, on the other hand, are often competitive with more established venues in terms of food and beverage options, WiFi capabilities, and cost. In addition, they generally have a real or perceived edge in:
- Providing a new experience;
- Flexibility; and
- Feeling more "homey."
The challenges facing event planners aren't getting any simpler. But being armed with the latest intelligence about trends and preferences, such as that provided in the IACC Meeting Room of the Future Report 2019, enables event organizers to sharpen their focus on how to optimize the event experience for today's event attendees.