I live and work in Northern California, known worldwide as a hotbed of innovation. We’re used to being bombarded by cool ideas, many of which have little to do with function and are destined to burn out before ever taking hold.
The events industry is no different. We strive to find new ways of driving attendance, supporting clients’ goals and objectives, and most of all, developing engaging experiences that connect with an often diverse audience. From large complex conferences to small, exclusive incentive trips, our quest remains the same.
So what’s trending when it comes to innovation in events? I thought of many of the cool tools and ideas I’ve seen recently that may have strong applications in our space. Three major areas emerge: Mobilization, Customization and Creativity.
Mobilization – If you aren’t integrating a mobile app into your event in some way, you should be. Soon. In other words, now. Think about how most of us live our lives today—constantly connected through our mobile devices, using technology to manage more and more of our daily lives. If we need something, there probably really is an app for that. We are literally carrying our lives in the palm of our hands—whether it’s how we connect with others, how we manage our daily tasks or how we decide what to do and when. And demographics seem to matter less and less. My mother has an iPhone and (almost) knows how to use it. Mobile devices are being embraced globally every day. It’s critical to engage event participants through this universal, convenient portal.
What’s great about mobilization is its flexibility. There are many different ways to use it in support of events. You can simply make sure your event communications are optimized for mobile devices. Or create a more complex mobile app, optimized for everything from communications, registration and information collection to social networking, polling and feedback loops. Innovations come about so rapidly in this space that we haven’t even defined their best use in an event environment—such as geo-location and data gathering. But we do know the opportunities are exciting and endless!
Customization – Maybe because I am a marketer, I always seem to find an advertising slogan that encapsulates my thoughts perfectly. In this case, it’s Burger King’s “Have it Your Way.” This mentality is changing the way we approach event development. Consumers have become accustomed to having a voice. They’ll tell you why they love something and protest even louder when they don’t. Savvy companies are listening and responding. Typically, the feedback indicates people want choices.
Since events are about connecting people, allowing people to choose how they connect and what information they can access is critical.
- Conference Tracks – Look for more tracks with smaller, more targeted sessions that allow highly specialized content distribution.
- Content Development on the Fly – Social media feeds will be monitored to determine what attendees are favorably reacting to, and content will be adjusted on the fly as the conference progresses.
- Event Social Networking – Since networking is as much a driver for conference attendance as content, events will offer technology enhancements so attendees can connect with others who share similar interests or challenges. And event spaces and session structures will encourage interaction.
- Wide Variety of Activities – Group travel incentives will cater to a wider variety of demographic groups by offering more activities that target specific interests, such as adventure, culture or personal spirituality.
- More Downtime – Allowing more options to simply disconnect will grow in popularity, so attendees can fully absorb experiences and information.
Creativity – Since so many channels are fighting for our precious mindshare, look for a trend to develop for incorporating creative and novel elements into events.
- Setups and Spaces – Who said you need to choose between theater and classroom? More unusual and engaging room setups, such as theater-in-the-round or small groupings of individuals with similar interests, will become more common. The driver for these changes continues to be encouraging more interaction and holding an audience’s attention.
- Games and Technology – You’ve no doubt heard about how gamification can support your event objectives. Use of games will continue to grow, especially as mobile apps make their development more cost-effective. Group travel incentives will also take advantage of gamification to motivate individuals to meet goals. Watch for gamification to be used in keeping attendees connected and sending push notifications throughout an event.
- New Destinations and Venues – Since most companies wish to be seen as innovative, using unconventional venues—museums, public buildings and even outdoor spaces—to host events will become a trend. For group travel incentives, less-traveled destinations add interest for repeat attendees and create memorable experiences. The evolution of technology tools makes using these venues easier.
- Evening and Offsite Events – The sky is the limit. In fact, it’s often the budget that provides parameters. But a budget can be stretched with vision and imagination. Venue, theme, décor and entertainment will all be pushed to offer interesting and unique ways for event attendees to interact and feel appreciated or rewarded.
The pace of change makes it hard to predict what new ideas will pervade our industry in the next 12 months. However, a few things are sure to help you connect with your attendees in 2014: Taking events mobile; incorporating more specialized, personalized ways to interact and absorb content; and the use of creative venues and unique approaches to content delivery. It’s going to be a great year!