The Evolution Of Onsite Conferences: 26 Trends Coming To An Event Near You

Evolution - The Ride

The traditional conference meeting experience is out!

People today are looking for unusual, new, innovative conference experiences.

They don’t want to attend last year’s annual meeting that just changed the filler. They want something that feels as fresh as their first conference experience. They want an original experience.

26 Trends Coming Your Way

Here are 26 conference trends coming to an event near you.

1. Increased Attendee Expectations

Average is not enough. Status quo is out. It feels like luke-warm, wet, soft, Melba Toast.

2. Innovative Spaces

Space is the body language of your conference. Your room set tells the audience how they are to act and behave. Design innovative spaces with attitude and behaviors in mind.

3. From Sponsor Levels To Customized Sponsorships

The metal and gem level cafeteria menu plan for sponsorships is out. You know that plan…our platinum sponsors are…If you sign up at the ruby level, you’ll get this promotion. Sponsors are looking for ways to be seen as thought leaders that help improve the attendee experience. They want customized sponsorship packages that also align with their goals. If sponsorships do not provide a win for attendees, they are considered a nuance by attendees.

4. Promotional Sponsorships Are Out And Exhibiting Is Losing Favor

Businesses sponsoring items in exchange for the number of eyeballs that see their logo is dead! The research is loud and clear that logos wrapped on poles, hanging from the ceiling and stuck on escalators no longer work. Exhibitors are also downsizing their booths and looking for customized sponsorship packages instead.

5. Smart Data

Using big data to design for and target segmented audiences. Economic buyers are critical to a successful business model.

6. @Work State Of Mind

The barrier between work and leisure has blurred. Often many conference stakeholders need to do work at the conference, so they are looking for quiet areas where they can have phone calls, Skype with clients and have access to free WiFi.

7. Consumerization of Conference Experience

Just as the public is driving the use of technologies in business, attendees are driving the technologies used in a conference. They are also driving the conference experience. Attendee experience always trumps staff efficiency

8. Participatory Culture

It is past time to move your registrants from attendees to active participants and from consumers to creators of the experience.

9. From Speakers To Facilitators

Attendees are seeking less experts at the front of the room lecturing to them and more experiences from their peers. The speaker’s role is changing to that of a more facilitator of learning.

10. Conference Education Abandons The Factory Model

The information transfer from the expert to the attendee model is dead. It only creates walking dead. The focus is now on designing learning experiences not a lecture.

11. Stealth Learning

Gamification was all the rage a couple of years ago and seemed to get a false start in the conference arena. However, the education field has perfected how to use it effectively for learning and it’s seeing a resurgence in conferences when designed and implemented appropriately.

12. Learning Anywhere, Anytime Including Tradeshow Floor

If your conference only provides lectures, attendees take learning into their own hands and set up meetings with others. They’ve adopted the learning anywhere, anytime and expect to find learning even on your show floor. Bite-size offerings and not pay to play are the winners hear.

13. Shifting Role Of Content

Content as the primary focus of the conference is out. The focus is on the customer, the attendee and helping them uncover content to meet their needs.

14. Disruption of Traditional Conference Education

The standard lecture model for conference education is facing disruption from FLIP-models, Ignite, MOOCs, Pecha Kucha, “Station Rotation Experiences,” Unhangouts and more. If you’re not providing an array of different models, you’re going to fail.

15. DIKUW Model

Attendees no longer just want information from speakers. They want practical takeaways that they can apply immediately. They are looking for understanding of the content and wisdom or application of it.

16. Traditional SMEs Out, SMEs (experienced) and SMNs In

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) as the sage on stage and focus of the conference is out. Subject Matter Experienced and Subject Matter Networks are now the focus for peer to peer learning.

17. Immersive Experiences

Attendees are looking for unique, full-throttle, immersive experiences that engage all of their senses. Conference organizers that can create these type of experiences will have the community buzzing and knocking down the doors to attend.

18. Accelerating the networking value through Connexity.

It’s about being more purposeful and intentional when creating experiences that combine networking, connecting and community.

19. Blending of Digital And Face To Face

While the hype has subsided, demand for hybrid events has not. If you’re planning a hybrid experience, remember to plan for three different audiences: the onsite, the remote and the social media click bys…those that find out in real time what’s happening and start following a hashtag.

20. BYOD

Attendees are bringing multiple devices to your event and the smart ones are looking for how to download the presentation and follow along on their own device.

21. Two Extremes Of Content Capture

Audio sync to PPT is dead, unless you’re in the STEM field. Onsite graphic facilitators and video capture with scheduled replays are in.

22. Aggregation Of Content And Speakers To Curation

Volunteer content committees are moving to more of an advisory role instead of having the final say. The shift is moving away from the Call for Proposals as an aggregation tool and instead to a curation model with purpose on high-level issues that need to be discussed and solved.

23. Invitation-Only VIP Experiences

Conference organizers are highlighting their differentiation by creating VIP invitation-only experiences during their conference for the C-suite decision maker and economic buyer. These education experiences are threaded one- to two-day events with specific speakers chosen to help the C-suite move forward, and not just private VIP experiences with the keynote speaker. They are much more intentional and focused.

Coming In The Future

Three more trends coming in the near future.

24. Recommendation Economy

The conference registration system recommends sessions, people to connect with during the event.

25. Internet Of Things

Sensors in clothing, rooms, booths that will detect our experiences and movement.

26. Conferences In English Or Chinese

Real time mobile language translation devices coming by 2020 and will make the primary conference languages in English or Chinese.

Which of these trends are you going to try to implement in your conference experience in the next year? What will it take for you to implement some of these trends?

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  1. william says:

    Guys, a seriously fantastic post. Wonderful summary of how things are already chancing and why we must not only keep up but be ahead of stakeholder expectations.

  2. Hellen says:

    Fabulous insight into how we, as event organisers, need to embrace the concept that our audiences are not a homogenous mass, but a collective of small communities, all of whom need to be addressed.

  3. Tahira Endean CMP (@TahiraCreates) says:

    Wow – 26 things to think about is a lot of shifting. I am happy to say we are seeing some of these happening in our day to day planning, and it is posts like this that I hope planners are reading to see not only what they can consider moving towards, but also how and most importantly WHY these shifts are happening. Let’s face it (and you said it) the shifts are already happening in the attendees, now we just need to stay ahead of and anticipate how they want to learn and connect, and then facilitate that. Thanks as always

  4. […] (He explains the slides in more detail at the Midcourse Corrections blog.) […]

  5. […] trends for 2014 have been written down in an excellent way by, amongst others, Julius Solaris, Jeff Hurt and Corbin Ball. Of course most of the trends are showing as technological implementations, but the […]

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