The Future of Conferences and Events

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To help prepare our feature on the future of conferences and events we turned to Fast Future, a consultancy which specialises in identifying and analysing trends and how they will shape the future. Rohit Talwar, CEO of Fast Future, specialises in the events sector and has recently published a major study, Convention 2020.

The study is based on an ongoing research programme and is a must read for anyone interested in the long term future of the sector.

Global Trends

Central to the work is the identification of five global trends which are shaping our personal and professional lives;

– Ongoing economic and political turbulence as the new normal
– An ageing society
– Citizens and customers demanding a greater say in all matters that affect them
– Transformational change in science and technology touching every aspect of our life
– Sustainability concerns forcing us to re-think our environmental footprint

Impact on Meeting and Events

While these global trends are universal, the impact they have will vary. Critically for the conferences sector, business meetings are seen as an increasingly powerful way of responding to these trends by;

– Facilitating knowledge sharing
– Providing a forum for organisations to creating new solutions
– Helping to accelerate internal change
– Driving business growth

While meetings and conferences will be an important tool in enabling organisations to respond to these trends, the way events will be designed, organised and commercialised will change dramatically, with significant implications for venues and event organisers.


The Shape of Things to Come

Over the next three years rising participant expectations will have a major impact on event strategies. These increased expectations will be reflected in;

– Sharp growth in the learning opportunities delegates will expect
– The anticipation participants have of the quality of facilities and comfort levels
– A desire to see a direct return on investment from events
– A requirement to see immediate results following attendance

Over the next three years, attendees at conferences, events and meetings will increasingly anticipate strong integration of social media and interlinking with external audiences

To meet these rising expectations delegates will expect a genuine dialogue between speakers and delegates and a much greater personalisation of topics and formats. Social media is seen as important in two ways;

– Increasing delegate engagement by enabling a direct dialogue between speakers and attendees
– Enabling the co-creation of events between organisers and delegates

Increasingly delegates at events are going to want to see events shaped around them and their requirements, using tools like social media to achieve this and expecting much more direct and tangible outcomes from attending events.

Mobile Devices and Personal Interaction as Standard

87% of those surveyed as part of the Convention 2020 study believed that smart phones, tablets and their successors will be become the delegate’s main interaction point, providing;

Social Media

– Programme guides
– Knowledge and contacts exchange
– Downloads of presentations
– Interaction and audience response
– Special interest group co-ordination

Ultimately, the availability of this technology will become an expectation and a minimum standard, rather than a point of difference and marketing advantage. Delegates will increasingly anticipate the availability of such services to facilitate their event experience. The actual decision about whether to attend a particular event will based on;

– The quality of personal networking available
– The opportunity to meet key people
– High quality speakers/content


The Growth of Niche Events

80% of those involved in the study believed that there would be a growth of smaller, niche events. The trend would be towards many more events, as the delegate requirement for greater personalisation and immediate results is met by more choice and availability.

In turn this will create more competition among event owners and pressure on traditional commercial models. As a result event organisers will increasingly seek to open up new revenue streams which will include;

– Pay per view live event streaming to the web
– Premium content and sessions available during the event
– Pay per view sessions available post event
– Sponsorship revenue model linked directly to additional business generated

The Impact on Venues

All of the venues involved in the survey had felt the impact of the changes, in particular the increased competition. The majority of venues commented on

– The challenges associated with differentiating themselves in the face of stiff competition
– The ability to be more flexible to meet the changing needs of event organisers
– The requirement to access new markets and emerging industry sectors

In the medium to long term venues will adapt by ensuring that

– The latest meeting technologies were available in venue
– There was a robust talent management strategy in place
– A more flexible operating model would be established
– There will be greater flexibility of how venue space can be managed

The importance of technology as a cornerstone of future events is reflected in the focus of venues in ensuring that the latest event technology is available. Survey respondents expected venues to adopt the following technology strategies;

– 73% expected venues to offer free Wi-Fi connectivity for delegates
– 63% anticipated venues to be offering 3D virtual world showcases and online venue ‘walkthroughs’
– 56% expected event intelligence RFID to be employed (for example on trade show booths to record visitors)

Past Present and Future

Future Demand

The task of predicting future demand is a notoriously difficult endeavour. However, what the 2020 survey does demonstrate is that the majority of participants feel that the sector will remain robust and relevant. Almost ¾ of those surveyed felt that their company or organisation would continue to invest as much time and money into organising events and conferences over the next ten years as they currently do. Furthermore, 66% believe that they will be investing more money and resource than currently.

Despite the challenges the industry faces, the prognosis is positive. Meetings, conferences and events will prove to be an important way in which organisations can effectively begin to respond to the global trends that are shaping our future. While demand appears robust, expectations will change and the time to begin to address this is now.


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