Adrian Bell, executive director of Action Impact, examines seven event trends that have come to prominence throughout 2014, and how they look likely to influence the future of the industry.
The year is almost over. When I look back at all the events I’ve attended in 2014 — not just our own projects but also top global exhibitions, meetings and conferences — several trends clamour for my attention. Some of these are universally applicable; others are unique to the Middle East. But they all have one thing in common — they represent significant and arguably monumental change.
The field is always evolving, but rarely on so many different fronts all at once. The fundamentals of how we approach, plan and experience events are being completely redefined. Here are seven trends that I feel will be most influential for Middle East events in 2015.
Mobile event apps are becoming the norm
Once regarded as gimmicks with questionable value, mobile event apps are starting to come of age. The evolution is supported by the Middle East’s high rates of smartphone penetration coupled with its excellent mobile data speeds. Event planners are finally beginning to understand how a well-designed event app can be integrated into the event experience to significantly improve audience engagement. However, much of current event app development is focused on digitising conventional event collateral (printed event programmes, agendas, exhibition guides, event notes, maps and even directional signage). But there’s a whole world of untapped potential just around the corner — providing entirely new services and novel event experiences.
Social networking is transforming events
Just one meeting with the right contact can make a huge difference to your ROI when attending an event. For many years the printed name-badge was the principal networking tool, but today mobile social apps and stand-alone apps are quickly gaining ground. Participants are signalling their need for faster and more intuitive event networking — sadly, most event planners are still not listening. When they do, we’ll see custom-made event apps feature more robust social integration — and become the preferred way to network during an event.
They’re not “attendees” anymore; they are “participants”
Gone are the days when audiences sat inertly through numbing PowerPoint presentations. The entire dynamic of the event experience is evolving — instead of a prescriptive top-down approach, event participants are expecting a greater say in content and also opportunities for active engagement. The powerful combination of mobile and social media technology is simultaneously enabling and driving this transformation. Additionally, mobile polling devices are being used to provide real-time feedback during events and guide subsequent strategy.
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Audience analytics is evolving fast
Onsite meetings or conferences used to be the black holes of event data — planners used technology before and after events, but everyone went analogue with paper surveys during the event itself. But now, mobile event apps are offering unprecedented access to a wealth of audience analytics — a feast of useful, compelling and real-time information that can be used to improve and enhance the event experience. Every tap is a trackable gem of insight.
Crowdsourcing is infiltrating events
The same tools and techniques that allow eccentric inventors to raise instant capital from complete strangers they have never met, are enabling event participants to exercise greater control over events. Benefits include lower costs, greater choice and full transparency — across all of an event’s dynamics. Participants are not only co-creating event content, but are also helping to fund and promote events! They’re also leveraging group buying power to arrange better deals for accommodation, transport and hospitality.
High-performance venue Wi-Fi is no longer an option
If it was once an optional add-on, high-speed WiFi has now become the lifeblood of event communications. Hundreds of mobile event apps, live content and video feeds have redefined onsite connectivity. The good news is that technology has kept pace — even if the Middle East is somewhat lagging behind in implementation. However, there’s no doubt that a venue’s ability to provide reliable and reasonably-priced high-speed WiFi is increasingly a key decision-making factor for event planners.
Attention spans continue to dwindle
We’re increasingly saturated with non-stop flows of information — and they show no signs of abating! As we frantically multitask in order to keep up with the world’s constant demands, our attention spans dwindle, forcing events to evolve in response. Key transformations include:
• Short, punchy presentations — TED talks and similar styles
• Big, bold and beautiful content — photos, infographics and HD video; not endless text
• Consistent audience interaction — two-way dialogues during sessions
• Active use of engagement tools — keeping the audience involved.