When Brian Cuthbert, group vice president, Diversified Communications, spoke about event trends at SIPA 2019 in June, he focused on a couple key areas. One was creating increased networking opportunities.
"We don't run a conference today that doesn't have peer roundtables twice," he said. "We make sure [our attendees] get a chance to network with each other. They love to engage with themselves. They love to have conversations. We tend to run 8-10 different topics [for the roundtables]. That part of it is a non-starter. You're talking about reinvigorating, it's building that community. You're encouraging them to connect with each other..."
That reminds me of something I heard from Elizabeth Petersen, product director, professional development, for Simplify Compliance. Their conference app allows people attending the event to have conversations before they attend.
"So the week before the session, people started posting who they wanted to meet and what they wanted to see," she said. "Then they started posting pictures of their dog wearing a conference tee-shirt. And a drink they were having before they got on the plane. So they were onboarding one another... That's a million times more powerful than me standing in front of folks saying, 'You must come to this session; it's going to be the greatest thing.'"
A recent article from Marketing Insider Group by Michael Brenner revealed some event trends for 2020:
Sustainability and responsibility. An "eco-friendly approach has spilled over into the world of events," he writes. It's a big change. "Just think about all the plastic water bottles and catering waste, not to mention the merchandise and freebies that often get thrown away as soon as the event is over." His suggestions include: digital ticketing systems; cutlery with biodegradable alternatives; seasonal, local produce in catering. I've also seen more events working with the community they're visiting on a project to help the people there.
Augmented Reality. "Augmented and virtual reality technology solutions are becoming more commonplace and affordable..." Brenner writes. "While VR has already been a bit of an event trend, AR is taking over [now], mainly because it's more accessible and offers more flexibility in the real world... VR can transport your event attendees to another world and can be useful for virtual tours and games, but its applications are limited... AR apps can be used on any smartphone and it offers a huge range of possibilities [such as] interactive product demonstrations, to help attendees learn more about each other and network, to create interactive venue maps, provide entertainment and opportunities for engagement, and more."
Mindfulness and wellness. I just read where the CEO of Celebrity Cruises, when asked her best habit, said "I try to respect people's weekends. All of us have such little time [with our families]." "2020 may be the year we say goodbye to a culture of 'hustle and grind'... in favor a more balanced approach," Brenner writes. "...What does this have to do with events? Well, packing back-to-back workshops and seminars into an exhausting schedule is definitely considered to be an outdated approach." Look for mindfulness and wellness activities placed into event agendas, he adds. "This may include meditation and yoga workshops, dedicated 'brain breaks,' 'unplugged' tech-free zones, outdoor activities and massage stations.
He writes that Salesforce's annual event, Dreamforce, partners with mindfulness organizations to provide guided meditations and mindfulness sessions during the four-day conference, as well as running yoga sessions and fun runs.
Show floor tours. From Cuthbert: "Walking tours [on the show floor] have been another piece that has been great for us. We pick the topics that some vendors fall into. A guy walks around with a Bob Barker mic, and vendors pay us to be on the walking tour. Attendees sign up via email, and we say we'll be visiting these seven vendors. Then each gets two minutes to talk about themselves in a non-threatening way. It's for the attendees who don't like to engage with vendors, who don't want to get into that one-on-one discussion. This has turned into a real good money-maker for us, and the attendees appreciate it. So it's been a win for everybody."
Smaller more intimate events. In the theater world, I find that more intimate venues are growing in popularity—as are intermission-less plays—and Brenner predicts this intimacy for events as well. "Demand is actually growing for simpler, smaller events with authentic opportunities to meet face-to-face... Creating more opportunities to speak with individual customers on a one-on-one basis makes your brand feel more personal and less like a faceless corporation. Smaller events also open up the possibility of using more unique boutique event spaces that are more appealing to attendees."