What Will The Conferences of The Future Look Like?

Juraj Holub

What will the conferences of the future look like in 2016 (and beyond)? Are traditional conferences truly dead as some claim? How are delegates’ expectations and needs changing?

To offer you a sneak peek of what lies ahead and help you gear up for 2016, I asked 12 event professionals that make waves in our industry the following question.

What’s the future of conferences?

Some of their answers might surprise you. Take a look.

Context is god

Jan-Jaap In der Maur, Professional Moderator and Owner of Masters in Moderation

“Content will still be king, but context will be the god. In all kinds of shapes and forms, conferences will be intense workshops, where knowledge and cooperation will be put to practical use. We will never go home again, without having converted what we’ve learned into practical action.”

Making sense of the information flow

Michael Heipel, Owner Michael Heipel Concept & Consulting

“The future of events, conferences, and trade shows is a bright one – although they will be pretty different from how we perceive events mostly today. Conferences are less and less about providing information. Know-how is a commodity these days. Events can deliver perspectives, networking, bouncing ideas around. They are here to make sense of the endless flow of information that we are exposed to. ”

Giving the reins to the hands of delegates

Kristin Arnold, High Stakes Meeting Facilitator

“More interaction. If you can see the content on YouTube, why bother coming to a meeting? Attendees want an experience that they can’t get elsewhere: dynamic learning and sharing, networking, and connections.

Why not co-create the meeting agenda? The topics to be discussed? The questions that need to be asked? Who needs to answer those questions? As for meeting organizers, we make HUGE assumptions as to what they want…meetings of the future will not assume. We will ASK – either beforehand or as part of the meeting process.”

Transforming events into all year round communities

Mark Walker, former Head of Growth at Eventbrite

“They [conferences] have to continue their transition to becoming all-year-round communities and not just a single point in time during the year where people meet up. Those that don’t build strong relationships by engaging their audience 365 days a year will struggle with loyalty and retention rates.”

Ignore technology at your own risk

Dimitar Toshkov, former Head of Growth at Weemss

“Conference organizers cannot afford to ignore or, even worse, fight the use of technology and apps at their events. They must use event technology to their advantage, to create events and sessions that are more interactive and engaging.”

Finding new solutions to improve our lives

Magdalina Atanassova, Brand Manager at Kenes Group

“We will continue to explore, test, and ensure a bright future for our conferences, where we will strive to achieve the ultimate goal of each event – to support the stakeholders involved to grow and find new solutions to improving lives on our planet.

Involving more or less technology will be a matter of choice, but it will all be used seamlessly. Using alternative meeting designs will be key to creating future face-to-face meetings. So shortly – the future is bright and mighty and this is for sure.”

Indulging all senses to deliver the message of a conference

Miguel Neves, Senior Online Community Manager at IMEX

“Conferences will excite all five (or nine or twenty-one depending on that way you define them) senses. Not only visual and audio stimulation but also touch, smell, and taste will deliver the message of a conference around a specific topic. Even the most strictly formatted and content specific conferences can benefit from a diverse sensory experience to either reinforce the core message or distract from content overload.”

Moving from planning to meeting design

Maarten Vanneste, President of Meeting Design Institute

“It’s dead or alive. Dead is the conference of the association that is not moving. Alive are the ones that embrace the new and different ways of presenting, interaction, and participation both on-site and online.

It will take innovation, change, and learning on the planner’s side. And maybe moving from planning to meeting design and becoming a meeting architect. These new conferences will be highly dynamic, multi-faceted, and will generate a multitude of opportunities for learning and networking in contrast to what conferences do today.”

Generation Y in charge of the conferences

Rob Davidson, Managing Director at MICE Knowledge

“The people who will determine the future design of conferences are Generation Y, those born between 1977 and 1995, who are on the way to becoming the dominant age-group. By 2025, 75% of the world’s working population will be Generation Y and they will expect from the conferences a number of things:

Shorter presentations: Presentations of 20 minutes’ length will become standard in the near future.
More interactivity: Generation Y wants to be part of the ‘show’.
Immersion: Conferences will be multi-sensory, designed to appeal to all five senses, not only sound and sight.
Structured networking sessions: Networking sessions will have to be structured more creatively, in order to encourage mixing.
Effective use of technology: Generation Y grew up with the internet, and they want to see technology used in ways that enhance conferences.”

Tech developments will lead to an increase in live

Padraic Gilligan, Managing Partner at SoolNua

“The more technologically advanced we become, the more we crave human intimacy and interaction. For that reason, live meetings, conferences, and events are not going anywhere and have a bright future. The awesome wonder of technology is lame when compared with the magical enchantment of face2face so there will always be an equal and opposite reaction: developments in technology will always lead to an increase in live.

Conferences and events of the future will be more and more digitally powered for reasons of logistical efficiency but also around networking and audience engagement. Audiences will no longer be passive. They’ll be active participants in the conference and technology will facilitate this.”

Tailored to activities that bring people physically together

Gerrit Heijkoop, Online host and Social Media Expert

“The future of conferences will be less about single-direction information sharing since we do not have to travel the country or the world to hear what some guy on a stage has to say. We can do that from anywhere, any time at any device. A platform like TED.com is the biggest proof of that.
Yet people line up and pay massive fees to attend a TED conference. Why? Because of the people, they meet in the ‘white space’!

Conferences in the future must be more tailored to activities for which people have to physically come together: hands-on workshops, facilitated discussions, learning by doing, experiences, and social events. And yes, for the near future we might still need a good amount of speakers on our program to justify the ticket to our boss…”

More social and more measurable

Liz King, CEO of Techsytalk

“Technology has already impacted conferences in such a huge way, but that trend is only going to grow exponentially. In the future, conferences will become more social and more measurable as we implement technology with more intentionality and strategy.”

What are your thoughts on the future of conferences? Where is the meetings industry heading? We’ll be thrilled to hear your thoughts. 

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