Event Trends You Need to Know for 2020

Jill Anonson
Jill Anonson

People networking at an employee event

The need for live events is becoming more relevant than ever before, with 30% of marketing budgets expected to be spent on live events in 2020. And brands will likely invest in events as a marketing channel. In fact, in a recent event marketing survey, 52% of respondents said that event marketing drove more business value than other marketing channels. (Only 8% said it drove less business.)

Face-to-face meetings are critical to establishing connections between brands and their customers, and employees and their companies. Take a look at the trends we anticipate will be hitting the event industry in 2020.

Keynotes Must Engage—Not Dictate

You’ve likely attended a conference where you felt like the vast majority of time was spent listening to speaker after speaker after speaker. A majority of conferences have a need for the general session room to provide a powerful state of the union and other important messaging.

But to improve knowledge and engagement, event planners must incorporate opportunities for attendees to interact with what was just presented to the group. Different seating configurations in the room and longer breaks between sessions help to encourage discussion. Choose keynote speakers that will participate in conversation and drive dialog post-event.

Utilize technology’s interactive and facilitation features that will get attendees to share and collaborate. Micro mapping allows planners to turn any surface into a touchscreen, allowing attendees to change elements in the projection by interacting with them. It adds an interactive dimension thanks to the use of sensors and cameras that interpret and react to attendee input.

Related: Continue reading about our favorite keynote speakers as well as themes trending including storytelling, leaders in innovation, futurism, celebrities, value-driven speakers and diversity.

Networking Takes a Page From Online Dating

Events are a perfect venue for those desperate for opportunities to find new peers in partners in this face-in-phone world and networking lounges are not going to be enough.

Activities such as curated collisions, topic-based meetups and ‘braindates’—like the Tinder of learning—that deliver more meaningful connections will become mainstream at events. Inclusivity will top of mind with networking. It will be important to think about introverted, non-drinking, underrepresented audiences and change the way things have been done in the past. For example, cocktail receptions will adapt to the rise of mocktails and booze-free bars.

Generation Z Is Unique—Yet Somehow Familiar

The vast majority of Gen Z can’t recall a time without technology. They can trace every moment of their life on social media and you can bet advertisers are taking note. This is the most marketed-to generation of all time. Their shorter attention span isn’t an inability to concentrate—it’s a filter to help them quickly find content relevant to them.

Event planners are wise to note their strong interest in gaming and e-sports, and desire for creative expression. Your events should incorporate interactive and multi-sensory experiences and intentional collaborations to engage this generation.

It’s also important not to underestimate the importance of social awareness. Gen Zers are very socially conscious and inclusivity is important. They value diversity and fairness, and using their collective voice (and buying power) to champion brands that reflect their values. Utilize the opportunity to gain advocates as you build your event messaging and experiences.

Holistic Technology Delivers Comprehensive Insights

Download the app. Reply to our email survey. Go to our website. The siloing of technology can’t end soon enough. Thankfully we’re seeing interest in software that delivers a holistic solution. The tech needs to be able to easily integrate well with other programs that are an essential part of running your business—your CRM, project management tools, company chat/messenger and other event software. Having everything in one place also allows for readily available data from a multitude of different sources on one easy-to-read dashboard. Integrated event technology enables efficiencies, cross-department collaboration, real-time action and ROI measurement.

Better, Safer, Faster

5G cellular network technology will start to replace 4G LTE connection. Planners and their attendees will experience much faster download and upload speeds, making connectivity less of a concern at events. In addition, trends such as 3D technology and virtual reality will be easier to implement.

Accessibility for All—Increasing Inclusivity

Increasing attention on inclusivity, there is more focus on making events accessible for all abilities. The use of assistive technology can assist with this.

According to Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATiA),“Assistive technology (AT) is any item, piece of equipment, software program or product system that is used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.”

We are seeing the use of assistive tech help make strides in improving accessibility at events in the form of 360-degree audio (spatial audio), video captioning and even virtual reality (VR). Even though AT still needs to make a lot of progress before it can be implemented at events, in time this could be used to guide attendees through show floors or allowing attendees to be fully aware of their surroundings.

Let the Data Be Your Guide

Much like a website on desktop and mobile, your event needs to be responsive. And data can help in a big way here so don’t limit your collection—more is better. Feedback forms, app stats, website analytics and surveys are a good start, but don’t forget real-time data as well. Polling, Q&As and geolocation data (RFID and NFC data points) can allow you to adjust meeting content or can quickly help solve real-time event problems, like high-traffic situations that can be highlighted when too many people are in a certain area at a given time.

Event marketers are maximizing data to analyze attendee and customer feedback, inform event design (in real-time), calculate sales impact and tracking ROI to justify budgets and other investment decisions.

Proving ROI of events has never been more important. The survival of the industry may even be dependent on it. Experts believe only those planners extremely fluent in data analysis will be able to retain (if not increase) their budget allocation in 2020 and beyond.

Employee Events Deserve a Slice of the Budget Pie

Employee events are on the rise. Companies understand the importance of bringing their people together, aligning them to the company culture and keeping them motivated and loyal.

Interaction and engagement are key so take the occasion to have them workshop solutions to specific problems. Invite subject matter experts, inside or outside the organization, to share insights and best practices they can use after the event.

Related: Create employee events that not only bring people together but make people want to come together. 

Personalize the content, agenda and experience for the variation of attendees—it's not about the generational differences, it’s about the personality and objective divides.  Know why they attend and how they learn, share and interact. And don’t forget to measure. Behaviors, satisfaction and engagement can all be collected and analyzed.

Alternative F&B Is the Norm—What Once Was Scarce Is Now Commonplace

The importance of food and beverages at events shouldn’t be understated, so when an attendee arrives only to realize they can’t enjoy any of the offerings it takes away from the positive experience they have at the event as a whole.

Diets like vegan, keto, gluten-free, Kosher, Halal are no longer a specialty, but an expectation. Optional milks, plant-based ingredients and superfoods, as well as the use of unexpected ingredients like exotic peppers and unusual seeds help facilitate inclusive menus that cross cultural lines. Health-conscious dining is crossing over to beverages as well. Hard kombucha, botanical- and CBD-infused drinks and cold brew alternatives are growing more popular.

Sustainability and local cuisine continue to keep attention. Guests want transparency across ingredients—where items are sourced and how they’re produced.

Related: Read more about the event catering trends you can expect will make their way to the table in 2020.

Hotel Experiences Heighten Expectations

The hospitality industry is anticipating guests’ needs and expectations like never before. Keep attention to these trends that as they will influence event design: technology innovations, environmental sustainability, smart rooms, safety regulations and the gig economy—we know Airbnb, but what about hometels or mobile hotels?

The meetings and events industry is ever-evolving, with innovations and advances coming from within, as well as outside the industry. For event marketers looking to become industry innovators, it’s important to take a close look at the above event trends and incorporate them in your next event. And be sure to check out our immersive experiences ebook that boasts expert strategies to engage your people—customers, partners and employees.

Download Growing Your Brand Through Immersive Experiences Ebook by ITA Group

Jill Anonson

Jill Anonson

Jill Anonson has over 20 years of diverse experience in event management, incentive travel and sales strategy, and serves as the Events Strategy Advisor at ITA Group. Focused on continuous improvement and challenging standards, she consults clients and team members with impactful strategies and innovative ideas that deliver successful business outcomes. She is a Certified Engagement Practioner, and certified through Pragmatic Marketing.