Are you wondering what’s on the horizon for event and meeting design? Event professionals take a look at the future by applying their experiences and sharing their thoughts.
This past fall, we surveyed over 1,000 event professionals asking them questions about trends in the industry and what they saw as the biggest factors shaping things in the near future. We compiled these insights into a comprehensive report from which we derived these trends.
Most of the trends recognized by the event professionals in the survey revolve around giving attendees more of what they want and creating memorable experiences. The event planners surveyed also cited a variety of event design components, everything from lighting to decor, food to social media. Here’s what event professionals around the world see as the top factors affecting event design.
Giving Attendees What They Want
Most event professionals understand the importance of giving attendees what they want but what exactly is that? More unplanned time at events ranks high on that list. No one wants to feel overscheduled. More free time allows attendees to host their own events inside events. Linda Rosso, Executive DIrector, of the Santa Barbara Courthouse Legacy Foundation suggests there will be “more interaction among participants, less sitting in one place.” Another event professional agreed on the importance of, “more flexibility and 'spare time' for attendees to allow for gathering thoughts, ad-hoc meetings and catching up on work commitments/emails/phone calls.”
Anita M. Riley, CEO/ President, of PLANS Management Events, LLC., believes, “Meeting design trends (are) steadily changing in order to adjust to client needs. Set-up designs are breaking away from ‘classroom’ traditions and venturing out of the box in order to pull more ideas out of attendees. Set-ups are now easily transitioned from a group setting to team setting format.” Susan Kern from Grassi & Co., shares that view saying that she believes an open discussion design will grow in popularity. “You are going to get more of a draw if you have an open design than a ‘classroom’ style. Make it more informal.”
Attendees also crave personalization. They expect event professionals to understand what it is they want before they even ask for it. If an event pro carries out a request from an attendee, they’re merely doing their job, but if the event planner caters to them before they request it, they’re creating something special.
One innovative event professional suggested making meeting and event attendance easier for parents of young children by creating spots for playdates for their children in a room nearby their meetings. This would allow parents to attend the event with minimal concern over arranging for childcare. Down times could be spent with their children and other parents and children in a family-supportive atmosphere. Parents would be more likely to stay at multi-day events if they were able to bring their children with them and make a vacation out of it without concern of where the children would be while they were in session. This may also help stave off the trend of shortening meetings to accommodate busy schedules.
Attendees also now have a variety of diet restrictions. A vegetarian option may no longer be enough to cater to the needs of your group. Planners may want to consider healthy foods and drink including gluten free, vegan, and organic options.
Event planners need to offer unique set-ups to make an impression. One event industry pro suggested “moving away from traditional ‘sit and get’ experiences. (Become) more integrative with the audience.” Beth Hecquet, CMP, CMM, and Program Manager of Events for Scripps National Spelling Bee believes "’create your own adventure’ events where there is a lot offered and attendees pick and choose what interests them (not only) in education but in networking, after parties, receptions, meals, etc.” will grow in popularity in the next few years.
Creating an Experience
You can’t talk about event design without examining attendee experience. Many event people refer to it as the “wow factor.” Attendees don't want standard anymore. They want something new and different. This could involve interesting lighting, according to several event pros, or incorporating more health- and wellness-focused activities and features in a fun and unique way.
One event professional suggested an increase in self expression (i.e. graffiti walls, picture note taking, etc.) to “capture real time sentiments of the event.”
Part of creating an experience is destroying the old way of doing things. A very easy way to do that is through adopting a more casual approach to meetings and events. Dana Yurgosky, Marketing & Communications Manager, of the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges says, “I'm expecting to see more out-of-the-box designs: no more stuffy board rooms with a long rectangular table and no more seminar-style or theater-style seating. I'm picturing relaxed couches and more spread-out and open space.”
Another event professional echoed those sentiments in suggesting, “alternative set ups - using a mix of sofas, comfy chairs and then banquette seating and high boys with stools to give everyone the opportunity to be their own kind of comfortable for the event they are attending.”
Food also goes a long way towards creating a memorable experience. As one event pro added, attendees want “... much, much more creativity in terms of food presentation; guests aren’t looking for the standard breakfast and lunch buffets now. They want fun, interactive and engaging breaks to refresh the attendee.”
Many event professionals shared that 2017 would bring a continued move toward the experiential meeting event by moving away from the big, old-fashioned tradeshow model, with a refocus on personalization regardless of the size/type of event. Delina Alwanger, Managing Director of Call of The Wild Safaris expects more “user-friendly” design, “design that encourages interaction.”
Increase in Popularity of the “Un” Venue
One thing we’ve seen grow in popularity recently is pop-events and events in non-traditional spaces. Many event planners we surveyed expected this to continue with unexpected venues gaining in popularity and driving attendee desire to be a part of the event. Unusual venues are part of the event experience and it’s difficult to create a memorable event in a hotel ballroom without transforming it into something else entirely. While this can be done, it can be costly. A unique venue brings you there without having to transform the space. For this reason, many planners also saw virtual reality and projection mapping playing a big role in event design over the next few years.
Several event industry professionals desired more availability for smaller meetings throughout large conferences because attendees desire comfort and ambiance. People would rather meet at a coffee shop than in a boardroom due to its relaxed atmosphere and comfortable surroundings.
Reaching the Larger Audience
Today, events and meetings have two audiences: those filling seats and those watching virtually. Rhonda R. Ohnesorge, from The Event Team saw the “use of phones to capture and repost decor, entertainment and moments… and immediately post news in many online channels” as a growing trend in the industry.
Virtual meetings and streaming content were also popular responses in the survey. The audience following along either formally through a virtual ticket, or informally via social media, should experience enough of the excitement to want to join you in person next year. One of the ways to do that according to Simone Holst, Executive PA of Dypång Management, Denmark is through “the extended experience of presentation. No more PowerPoints.” These will be replaced by more engaging videos.
2017 is sure to bring a host of changes to the event and meeting industry as technology becomes more streamlined and costs go down. Event pros are recognizing the need to personalize meetings to attendee desires and create memorable experiences but how can we keep topping ourselves every year?