Asked to name the biggest non-tech trends in the events industry, 10 top experts provided a variety of answers (not a surprise). Yet there was broad agreement on the general direction of live events, which can be summed as: events are getting more personalized and intimate, with a focus on creating memorable, socially sharable experiences.
A few of these experts noted that greater emphasis on sustainability and diversity as well as security will be trends in 2020. There will also be increased use of non-traditional event spaces—away from hotels and convention centers, toward spots like repurposed warehouses, university buildings, stadiums, and smaller event centers.
But the four most commonly cited trends among these experts are:
Experiences Over Stuff
Swag bags aren't going to disappear, but event organizers will focus more on experiences than on tchotchkes in 2020 because of 1) environmental concerns, and 2) attendee preferences (particularly among Millennial and Gen Z guests).
Travis Stanton put this elegantly, stating "In-booth activities and experiences are the new branded giveaways." Pauline Kwasniak referred to the emphasis on event experiences as the "festivalization" of events, noting " Brands, associations and companies have realized that organizing boring events or conferences is not the way to go."
Personalize It for ME
Though industry and vendor customer conferences have offered different "tracks" of sessions at their events for years, attendees expect more than that going forward. They want to, as Paula Rowntree puts it, "walk away having felt they’ve been seen, heard, and valued, and as though the program was designed with them in mind. They want to feel connected on a much deeper level than we’ve seen in the past."
Serena Holmes adds that, "53% of consumers said they would be willing to share personal data for more personalized experiences...As an example, the C2 Montréal conference had 11 different ways for every attendee to experience every hour of the three-day event."
Smaller and More Intimate
Following from the trend toward personalization, attendees want—and planners will deliver—more smaller, intimate events where attendees will find it easier to make connections, feel as though they are part of shaping the event, and participate in the creation of content rather than passively consuming it.
This certainly doesn't mean large events with five- and even six-figure attendance numbers will go away. Big trade shows and conferences create an energy and excitement level all their own. It does mean, however, that within these large events, there will be smaller, special-interest gatherings and sessions where attendees can unwind a bit from the "big tent" experience and exchange knowledge in more intimate settings.
Attendees not only want unique, personalized event experiences—they want to share them socially on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and elsewhere.
Travis Stanton refers to this as conference hosts and exhibitors incorporating "Instagramable" elements into the event, "facilitating and encouraging social sharing by creating in-booth photo or video activations (many of which also check the experiential box) that give participants a digital reminder of their visit to your exhibit that they can easily share on social media."
And One More Thing
Finally, Brandt Krueger makes a noteworthy point, that even when thinking about non-tech-related trends, "almost everything has a technological bent these days—transportation, site visits, note-taking, communications, event marketing, media—even the humble drink ticket. All of them can now be created, distributed, processed, and tracked using technology."
So, perhaps the slightly longer-term trend will be that we approach what David Adler envisioned in mid-2018: "The biggest trend I want to see is making tech trivial. It should solve problems and not be considered an actual discipline. It’s part of the air and the sound and the light and every day life" for event professionals.
Here are the full responses from 10 top event professionals.
Editor, EXHIBITOR Magazine
In-booth activities and experiences are the new branded giveaways. Yes, there’s still a place in exhibitors’ programs for promotional products, but most attendees (especially Millennials and Gen Z) value experiences over logo-adorned pens and t-shirts. In particular, I think we’ll see a rise in gamification, from simple activities to full-blown escape rooms.
More and more exhibit managers are incorporating “Instagramable” elements into their exhibits. One way of facilitating and encouraging social sharing is by creating in-booth photo or video activations (many of which also check the experiential box) that give participants a digital reminder of their visit to your exhibit that they can easily share on social media.
Another is by keeping photo-sharing platforms such as SnapChat and Instagram in mind when designing your booth and incorporating elements that are so eye-catching that attendees start snapping and sharing. There’s value in being the most photographed booth on the show floor, and in terms of brand awareness, the resulting social-media impressions can be worth their weight in gold.
President & CEO, Tigris Events
One trend is more personalization. In a recent study, 53% of consumers said they would be willing to share personal data for more personalized experiences and product recommendations. Event professionals can survey participants beforehand, and while that may mean more work, it allows them to better tailor their event to the different types of attendees. As an example, the C2 Montréal conference had 11 different ways for every attendee to experience every hour of the three-day event.
Another is creative, multi-sensory experiences. It’s no longer enough to just hand out free samples of your product. Businesses are thinking outside the box and creating things like live art installations, food samples with audio pairings that match each dish, and photo booths with a live social wall where you can share and see photos others have taken.
The festivalisation of events and community building via events are the biggest non-tech related trends in the industry at the moment. These trends are also evolving and gaining in popularity. Brands, associations and companies have realized that organizing boring events or conferences is not the way to go. Combining "serious" events with elements of fun and festivals is a huge trend.
My advice would be to tag along your major conference or event with a festival or big cultural event that is happening in your state, country, or community. I've attended a very successful event for a known German car brand that used Octoberfest as a marketing tool.
A second trend, especially evident with tech companies, is the use of events as a community-building tool. These events are often free to attend , with meaningful content and great snacks. The venue choice here is usually not a traditional hotel, but more youthful and funky. If you want to grow your audience, one of the best ways to do so is to host a series of community-building events and use social media to promote it for weeks if not months in advance.
Managing Editor, Corporate Event News
Personalization and experience design continue to pick up—the need to appeal to a wide variety of attendee ages, learning styles, and consumption preferences is finally gaining more traction (but still not enough!).
Head of Events & Experience, The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP)
Family, village, and tribe-based events: this is about understanding what the delegates want from the event and then building the event to the size and capacity that delivers that experience. We have our small group-based experiences (the size of a family), to the next level of a workshop or symposium with a slightly larger audience (that of a village) to the tribe size or larger conferences.
That’s not to say there isn’t a place for large conferences and exhibitions, but there is a shift towards delegates wanting to have what feels like spontaneous, intimate, and personalized experiences. They want to feel more connected to the content, the speakers and each other. They want to walk away having felt they’ve been seen, heard, and valued, and as though the program was designed with them in mind. They want to feel connected on a much deeper level than we’ve seen in the past.
Owner, Corbin Ball & Co.
The biggest non-tech related trend in events is the move for sustainability in events and venues in the face of increasing impacts of climate change.
Director of Strategy, EGCX Group
Most events will consider all elements of diversity as basic requirements. Now, it feels like something extra that planners have to do, but in the future, events will make each attendee feel included. We'll move beyond "who is my audience" to designing content that purposefully includes voices that are not in the room.
Editor, Event Industry News
Events are huge targets for both home-grown and international terrorism—the industry will start to pull together and lobby for changes to law which will help to further protect the billions of attendees that go to the events we organize as an industry
Founder & Chief Event Einstein, Endless Events
Hotels and convention centers are overrated, and it's time for alternative event venues to rise and get their act together. Wi-Fi, AV, and catering costs are going up while hotel commissions are coming down. Planners have traditionally focused on hotels and convention centers because they're big venues, and alternatives like event centers and warehouses often are just not as well organized.
The people aren't experienced enough, they don't have good Wi-Fi, they don't have good catering services, things like that. But I think it's time for them to get their acts together because planners don't want to be in hotels anymore. They're sick of the restrictions, unions, and extremely high costs.
Technical Producer, Event Technology Consulting
It’s hard to identify a "non-tech-related" trend because almost everything has a technological bent these days—politics, pop culture, entertainment, food production—they all are affected by our relationship with technology. Even meditation and mindfulness practices are being transformed.
Same with events, right? Transportation, site visits, note-taking, communications, event marketing, media—even the humble drink ticket. All of them can now be created, distributed, processed, and tracked using technology. Only events that are intentionally eschewing technology are immune to the influence, and even those are usually advertised… online.