26 Ways Conferences Will Be Different in 2029

Conferences are constantly evolving and look and feel very different today than they were 10 years ago. But what changes can we expect to see from conferences in the next 10 years? What will conferences look like in 2029?  

ITSB17. Thought Leadership Centre, McLaren, Woking. Photo Credit: Andy Whitehead Photography.

I am passionate about conferences. Far from being an outdated format, conferences continuously push the boundaries and, if done right, can get results.

10 years is a long time in the events sphere and looking back 10 years ago, conferences in 2009 often involved a lot of people, lecture style presentations, minimal technology and excessive printing and paper!

Conferences nowadays are much more focused on getting results and approaching things differently. We can already see some changes in approaches, delivery, and production which we think will strongly shape conferences of the future, between now and 2029.

The inspiration for this post came from this article from Entrepreneur: Forget 2018, or Even 2019 – What Will Conferences Look Like in 2029?

Despite the hook of the title, I did, however, feel that this post didn’t really deliver any answers on what future conferences will actually be like and how they will be differ from today. The technology mentioned in the post was already available right now, so it didn’t feel very groundbreaking or fresh. I also feel that over the next 10 years it will be about more than just predicting the next big thing in tech, it will  primarily be about a shift in mindsets, delivery and understanding of what is most valuable to our delegates.

This is my take on what conferences in 2029 will be like with our top 26 predictions. We guarantee that many of these trends will be surprising and not at all what you are expecting…

1. Localised Roadshows and Pop Up Conferences Will Lead The Way With Smaller Focused Events

Bigger is not always better. By reducing the numbers down and making events more localised the value from the event can actually increase. Likewise, our attendees are crazy busy. Reducing the amount of time commitment needed to attend an event and taking the conference closer to them can often be a very appealing prospect.

For this reason, I predict that in 2029 many organisations will choose to focus on smaller events with a limited number of places, with the event format and content repeated in different cities or regions and tweaked slightly to give a customised and local perspective. This approach is likely to help keep the dropout and no-show rate lower by reducing the effort factor required by the individual.

2. Massive Stadium Conferences will Smash Expectations

In 2029, I predict that the middle market in terms of conference size will lose out in terms of popularity. It will be “go big, go small or go home.” The middle ground of 200 – 500 guests will perhaps become the least common event capacity.

We covered smaller events above, and at the opposite end of the scale, we will continue to see more stadium-style conferences. Conferences such as Web Summit have grown into events with 60,000 attendees in settings more suited to a huge concerts. On the one hand, this could seem impersonal, on the other hand, it is certainly an experience that won’t be forgotten and an opportunity to bring in a stellar lineup of speakers out of the reach of most conference budgets.

 

 

 
 
 
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3. Niche and Narrowly Targeted Content Will Bring People Together with Their Tribes

People attend conferences to share and bond with their tribe. At a B2B conference, delegates want to network with like-minded people, learn and challenge themselves and explore new business opportunities. At a consumer event, they want to interact with people that share their passions and feel like they belong.

Instead of broad subject areas, narrower event subject areas will emerge, to enable a deeper dive into the subject area and a closer affinity with other guests. Within larger events, there will be more choice and targeted tracks so attendees can personalise their event experience to their precise skill level or exact interests.

MLE Connect 2017. Bishopsgate, ETC Venues. Photo Credit: Masud Khan Photography

4. A Focus on Better Matchmaking Technology for Efficient Connections

Time limitations and practicalities can mean that it can be difficult to meet a large number of new acquaintances at an event. Meeting new people is often one of the most important and transformative results from an event so it is important to provide people with the opportunities, time and space to form new connections.

AI (artificial intelligence) technology is already available to accurately score and match-up people against criteria, such as objectives, expertise, interests and specific outcomes. This not only identifies the closest matches but also helps to hone in more quickly on the shared elements which brought them together to spark the conversation. In a time-limited event situation, such as a refreshment break, this efficiency is also important.   
Tech such as Grip are leading the way and getting results. In gigantic events, like the stadium conferences mentioned above, technology can be the way to effectively bring the right people together and avoid leaving networking to chance meetings and conversations.

5. An Exciting Mix of Formats and Delivery To Shake Up Expectations

Research shows us that participative conferences see greater results and long-term retention rates than events which encourage the audience to be passive, in a lecture style format. By 2029, expect to see a greater mix in delivery methods, with any lecture-style presentations counteracted by facilitated exercises and group participation and likely including attendee movement in between.

This could mean that a keynote presentation is followed by a deeper dive into some of the topics raised and work in pairs or groups to make it more relevant to every individual. Role play and forum theatre will be used more. Unconferences, or open space technology, can give greater freedom for events to explore the issues and topics as decided by attendees, rather than a static agenda.

By mixing up delivery, different learning styles will be stimulated and inspired and more attendees are likely to judge the conference to be worthwhile and taken action as a result of attending the day.

Together An Active Future Pilot Launch. Helmshore Mills. Photo Credit: Andy Whitehead Photography.

6. Personalised Conference Experiences Which Values The Individual

By 2029, conferences will see a greater degree of personalisation. Right from the start, the marketing will serve up crafted messages based on the attendees preferences and past history with the event. Digital signage and the check-in desks will enable the registration staff or robots to welcome the guest by name and share bespoke information, similar to the service you get at Disneyland with the MagicBand. The conference app will suggest content and downloads and the best sessions and speakers for each individual attendee to explore. The F&B team will be notified of any dietary requirements as the attendee approaches them so they can offer relevant options and speed up service.

7. Content Unlimited by Location, Giving Freedom to Roam the Floor While You Listen or View

By 2029, within a conference venue you will no longer be limited by walls or tied to a specific conference room to access content. If you want to watch or hear a seminar as you relax in a lounge, recharge your phone, grab some food or walk the exhibition hall you can do so freely, tuned in to any element of the programme that interests you. This is one of the ideas mentioned in the Entrepreneur blog post, however, the technology is actually already here and accessible through numerous event app providers and also through audio streaming services, such as auXala.  

Auxala Home Page.

Another interesting use of these services will be to provide an automatically translated feed of the content, available virtually in real time, in the languages needed by your event attendees. Virtual translation cuts down on the huge costs that have traditionally been associated with conference translation services and opens up more conferences to an international audience.

8. Tougher Attendance Criteria To Secure a Conference Place at Sought After Events

Expect events in 2029 to operate a stronger vetting criteria. More events are likely to need pre-approval before offering a place to ensure that the best people are there based on the specific criteria and in order to satisfy the event funders, sponsors and exhibitors. This might be a rating system according to your job role or seniority within a company, your answers to some specific questions to assess your suitability, or even your social media ranking.

Rather than conferences accepting anyone who is willing and able to pay for a place, by 2029, this will have changed, with the most popular and sell out events getting more selective and experimenting with different ways of satisfying their supporters and funding the event.  

Furthermore, if attendees fail to attend an event without notifying the organisers they can also expect to be blacklisted from future events. Taking this approach will not only focus on the most well-matched attendees, but it will also be useful in terms of security checks and keeping event details private. This also ties in nicely with the smaller and niche event trends and greater personalisation opportunities already highlighted.  

ITSB17. Thought Leadership Centre, McLaren, Woking. Photo Credit: Andy Whitehead Photography.

9. Nutritionally Focused, Sustainable Food Options and Brain Power Boosts

The event trend of 2018/2019 focused on street food, quirky food trucks and more conscious food choices. There was a 600% increase in veganism in America – 350% in the UK. The days of delegates attending a conference as a “jolly” and to over-indulge on sugary treats are becoming few and far between, not only for health reasons but also because some clients do not want to appear frivolous in the menu they serve up.    

The key trend delegates are enjoying in terms of food and beverage is choice – serving up a menu of items so there is something to suit all tastes. All the better is it is served up in a quirky way, such as a food station, edible display or quirky food truck.

In 2029, expect to see more plant-based and delicious vegetarian and vegan options on the menu. Meat options will be reduced to reduce environmental impact.

Nutritionally balanced food menus and more brain food will also become the standard at conferences to help delegates to get the most out of the learning opportunities at the event. More thought and effort will also be put into networking-friendly food options, such as bowl food. Instead of trying to juggle multiple items or having a formal seated meal service, attendees will be unencumbered to network and get the most out of every minute at the event.

MLE Connect 2017. Bishopsgate, ETC Venues. Photo Credit: Masud Khan Photography

10. A Move Away from Screen Time, Back to Pen and Paper

As a (fountain) pen and paper champion I might be biased on this one, but I feel that we are seeing a shift back to traditional way of doing things, and that includes writing things down by hand, rather than onto your laptop or mobile device. Screen fatigue is growing every day and more and more people are seizing every opportunity to switch off and give their eyes a break. In 2029, expect to see more audience members putting their devices down and scribbling on to notepads instead. This isn’t a bad thing, as learning and retention is much stronger when we write things down by hand.

11. The Rise of Free-to-Attend Conference Opportunities

Another shocker is that in 2029 I feel that more events will pursue alternative revenue models, which could make more conferences free or the cost to attend subsidised to ensure they are more affordable for more people. This might be through offering a percentage of the total overall places available (in the form of bursaries or scholarships) or a blanket policy for all tickets to make them free or low cost.

Of course, the overheads of putting on an event can be sizeable so the costs have to be covered by alternative income if the ticket sale revenue is reduced. One way to satisfy this could be increasing the commitment and number of sponsors, partners, and exhibitors to cover the expenditure and in return for generating a phenomenal additional reach, and bumper attendance numbers. Different ticket packages, tiers and exclusive VIP access can also be a way of shaking up the revenue model.  

Conferences such as Brighton SEO, run huge and fantastic, free, twice-yearly events, with places allocated via a ballot. Before the conference, paid training is available and sponsorship, exhibitor revenue and merchandise help to fund the event.  

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
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16. Attendee Accountability Will Increase for Better Outcomes

The Entrepreneur article suggests that people that attend conferences belong to one of three personality traits and that whether they take action or not after the conference is based on belief in terms of their own mortality. I don’t agree with either of these presumptions actually! I believe that a lot of internal and external factors will determine whether action is taken after the event and what degree of effort is put in. This is not just down to personal disposition and how hardworking a person is, it will be impacted by more complex circumstances, such as work deadlines, boss priorities and instructions and family circumstances. I detest stereotyping and generalising and I feel that this is doing a disservice to the individuals attending your events.

Far from it being a question of the attendees own mortality (a rather damning viewpoint!), I believe the biggest factor is actually the responsibility of the event partners to create a valuable event and provide the impetus for changes to happen as a result. An attendee might attend an event and have a perfectly pleasant and enjoyable time but if they are not inspired to do anything differently, has it been a success? Attendees should be leaving conferences fired up and eager to take action or better themselves. Without this initial enthusiasm there is no way they will put in the required effort to make long term change. If this is not happening it is the event that hasn’t achieved its objectives and is NOT the fault of those attending.  

Keeping these points in mind though, I do feel that by 2029 attendees will be expected to work harder. This could involve providing some data in advance of the event date and checking in or recording progress and outcomes after the event. Conferences that are serious about providing value want to focus support on those that are benefiting the most and by being more selective and demanding this can help conference organisers target the most dedicated and highest achievers, which in turn will create a high-performance group committed to pushing themselves.   

17. No-Shows Stamped Out Through Fast Tech

No shows are an issue for anyone that organises events. As much as you can predict and overbook places to try to counteract the dropout rate it can still be frustrating to see money wasted. 2029 will see registration systems make it easier for attendees to advise if they can’t attend, to give more accurate real-time information. Chatbots could be the way to do this directly from the attendees device and to remove the barrier of digging out contact details or hunting down an email to send apologies. This also means that failure by an attendee to notify of non-attendance will be charged or mean that you could be blacklisted from future events.

Venues will also show greater flexibility in their billing, encouraging accurate number reporting days before the event, instead of 7 days out, so they can focus more effectively on reduce food waste, rather than pointlessly over catering. Likewise, a more flexible policy on F&B will also mean that more bookings can be accepted right up to the last minute to capture last minute registrations and walk ups.

SchoolLed Conference 2014. The Point, Lancashire County Cricket Club, Manchester. Photo Credit: Andy Whitehead Photography.

18. Live Simulations to Improve Training Outcomes

By 2029, from a training perspective, events will be a lot more interactive. People learn better if they can see or experience for themselves first-hand. Events will use simulated situations more and more to better train and prepare attendees and improve customer service levels.

Medical conferences are already delivering live surgical demonstrations on patients, either within the conference room or live streamed from the operating room.

Virtual Reality (VR) is already being used for real life training scenarios too, enabling a group of people to take part in a shared experience within a safe and controlled environment.

Certainly training in this way is more memorable and effective than a PowerPoint presentation would be!


XBox Exhibition Stand. EventCity, Manchester. Photo Credit: Events Northern Ltd.

19. The Best Environments will Force Substandard Venues To Raise Their Game

By 2029, shoddy venues will have fallen so far behind their forward-thinking competitors they will be forced to raise their game or leave the conference market completely. Our attendees of the future will not be impressed by substandard surroundings. With so many great meeting environments to pick from, windowless rooms, beige walls, uncomfortable chairs, poor WiFi and bad venue customer service will no longer be acceptable.

ITSB18. Thought Leadership Centre, McLaren, Woking. Photo Credit: Events Northern Ltd

This will further differentiate and reward the most interesting, flexible and unique spaces. Event planners and attendees will appreciate well-equipped and functional registration areas, comfortable lounges and the wow factor. Furthermore, venues will work harder on ensuring their accessible DDA-compliant venue is truly accessible. Likewise, event planners will ensure this is clearly communicated in full on the conference website. We still need to do more to ensure that our events are welcoming and inclusive for everyone, removing any barriers to attend and providing the information and reassurances needed.

20. Festivalisation of Content to Pick and Mix Your Own Programme

By 2029, instead of having a defined agenda of plenary sessions and break out sessions or tracks happening at specific times, more conferences will embrace a festival of events under one umbrella brand. This allows a pick and mix approach and is already popular at events such as SXSW. Whether it is a one day event or a month-long programme, this approach can give a more experimental approach to content programming and enable attendees to be as immersed and dedicated in their event attendance as they choose. It also utilises a variety of venues so there is no limitation in terms of the environment limiting the vision or scale of the event idea.  

SXSW Schedule 2019.

21.  Less but More Thoughtful Swag

Swag for the sake of swag is not cool and in these environmentally-focused times, reducing waste is the only stance to take unless you want a potential corporate backlash. The days of plastic-freebies and worthless corporate gifts have gone forever. By 2029, thoughtful and sustainable swag will be the only viable option. Expect gifting expenditure per head to increase as gifts have a greater degree of personalisation or luxury but the frequency that swag is offered is likely to be reduced. The materials used in the products and even the packaging will be biodegradable or made from recycled content.

22. Sales Pitch Free Conferences

By 2029, all speakers and sponsors will realise that cringeworthy sales pitches slipped into their presentation is not the best way to gain trust and credibility from the audience. Instead, to gain sales and build reputation they need to build a rapport with the audience, be honest, freely give away expertise and get the audience thinking. Giving the “hard sell” is not the way to be recognised as a expert. Authenticity must be earnt.

23. On-Demand Access to Virtual Content

More events are filming the conference sessions and offering the recorded content post event, either for free or for a small cost. This can also be a value-add for event tickets that offer this perk. If you want to revisit any element of the event or if you missed a particular speaker or session, an automatic privilege of your pass could be to watch back the content when you need it, or within a limited timeframe. By 2029, more events will be offering this option.

Even with live streamed content, technology allows viewers to pause, rewind and save content to access on their terms, rather than within a narrow timeframe of the live broadcast. By 2029, event organisers and attendees will have a stronger belief in the infallibility and power of face-to-face events and the confidence to invest more in virtual tickets. Today many organisers are still reticent to offer a live streaming ticket, fearing that it will reduce attendance at the actual conference.

24. New Event Communication Tools and Channels

By 2029, I expect that there will be stronger communication channels and options to be social and share learning around the event. Instead of relying on event specific LinkedIn or Facebook groups or a private chatroom within an event app, a new tool or social media channel will emerge that satisfies all attendees, inspires conversations and enhances the event experience.

Slack has already been used at some conferences to encourage discussions with some success and I envisage that a new platform that will emerge by 2029 could have a similar look or feel. It would include general channels and very specific discussion groups allowing those that want to to explore very niche themes and topics. The key would be that it can grow according to the needs and interests of the attendees and boost the intellectual stimulation before, during and after the event.

Slack Amazing Teams Tour 2016. Photo Credit: Clive.co.uk

25. Tiered Access Packages to Suit All Pockets

Attending events can be expensive. Not everyone is willing or able to afford high-price tickets and this gives opportunities to differentiate the ticket offer to provide different options to suit different budgets. Conferences are taking inspiration from festivals and concerts to offer multiple ticket types, rather than just the standard early-bird and “normal” event rates that that every event seems to follow. From no-frills tickets in the “cheap seats”, to luxury and exclusive VIP packages, taking this approach offers benefits in terms of widening your core market and also psychological triggers that can make your event tickets more desirable or increasing the opportunity for up-selling.

26.  Daring Sponsorships That Add True Value

Between now and 2029, event planners and sponsors both need to work harder to make sure sponsorship agreements reach their full potential and break new boundaries. Rather than conference sponsorships focusing on meaningless thanks, sales pitches and pull up banners, they need to be willing to take more risks, understand their audiences better and do things differently then they have ever done before. Without a doubt this will include more participative and ground breaking experiences that gets people talking.

Between now and 2029, event planners and sponsors both need to work harder to make sure sponsorship agreements reach their full potential and break new boundaries. Rather than conference sponsorships focusing on meaningless thanks, sales pitches and pull up banners, they need to be willing to take more risks, understand their audiences better and do things differently then they have ever done before. Without a doubt this will include more participative and ground breaking experiences that gets people talking.

Conclusion

In 2019, conferences are still a valuable part of the marketing mix for many organisations. Over the next 10 years we expect to see many of these 26 developments and changes in event thinking and approaches coming to the forefront. One thing we know for sure, conferences in 2029 will evolve and offer even more exciting opportunities for individuals and businesses.

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