5 Trends That Are Changing the Face of Event Planning

Today’s conference attendees are demanding purposeful experiences.

5 Trends That Are Changing 
the Face of Event Planning - Douglas Magazine Oct/Noc 2023

Meetings don’t look the way they used to. Today, businesses and meeting planners alike are racing to adapt to trends that make conferences and events more engaging and dynamic than ever before. While the shifts are plentiful, there are five trends that stand out: 

1. Millennials are the decision makers now — and Gen Z is not far behind.

In 2016, millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) became the largest segment of the Canadian labour force. Because of that, they’re also now the largest pool of potential meeting attendees, and successful events have to cater to them. Meanwhile, Gen Z (1987 to 2012) brings even higher expectations.

So what does that mean for modern conference attendees? Everything has become more competitive in the last 10 years — and as a result, events have become a professional development pipeline, especially for younger workers.

That makes networking the most important part of any conference. But a successful event should also cater to a growing number of attendees who:

  • Value experiences over material goods
  • Want to share those experiences via social media;
  • Have high technological literacy;
  • Are much more likely to travel than in the past.

As their screen time increases, workers place increasing value on face-to-face interaction.

2. Attendees want more control over the agenda.

Gone are the days where speaker after speaker shuffles on stage while attendees remain seated.

Today, personalization is key. Attendees want fluid agendas with many options that appeal to different interests. In many cases, this means “crowdsourcing the agenda,” sometimes even in real time to present a personalized experience.

Letting attendees choose their path links them to the content at hand, whether it’s technology or real estate. When they can choose topics that excite them, there’s more energy and increased engagement.  

However, this shouldn’t just apply to content. Food, activities and even breakout sessions should give attendees an element of choice.

3. Meetings should be “purposeful” experiences.

The new generation of meeting attendees don’t want to be ushered into a ballroom to sit and listen. Today, the industry trend includes fresh event concepts and meetings with meaning, innovation and insight.

Just as important, attendees are looking for well-being, that elusive work/life balance and a connection to the world at large. In short, today’s attendees want meetings to have a purpose.

These “purposeful meetings” are a large part of why most event planners say that their jobs involve more experience creation than they did five years ago. As reported in Janet Sperstad’s white paper, “Purposeful Meetings,” the concept of “meetings with purpose” has become the focus of the events industry.

Trapeze chairs, a speakeasy, smoothie shots, Cirque du Soleil performances … Montreal’s C2 Conference is the benchmark for creative meetings. The list of attractions sounds more like a festival than a networking event. But make no mistake, intensive networking between creative types is there, in the form of more than 3,000 face-to-face meetings.

Stunts aside, C2’s innovative approach brings professionals together in an event that offers engagement and interaction around every corner. In fact, attendees had 11 different ways to spend every single hour of the event.

Fittingly, the theme of the event was “transformative collisions.” Sometimes, that meant a face-to-face meeting in a private room, other times it was an unexpected encounter with a ninja. C2 more than lived up to the theme, providing exceptional networking spaces and technology along with a heaping helping of the unexpected.

4. Technology helps planners pull off more than ever before.

Meeting and event planners are expected to design more complex, innovative experiences than ever before. Meanwhile, according to the Amex Global Meetings and Events Forecast, the number of meetings has only grown 5.4 per cent since 2009, but the total number of attendees has grown by 22.7 per cent.

Put simply, meetings aren’t just more complex. They’re also just plain bigger. So what’s a planner to do? Technology is the answer, and is evolving as fast as the industry itself. In fact, studies show using event technology can:

  • Decrease cost by 30 per cent.
  • Increase planners’ productivity by 27 per cent.
  • Increase attendance by 20 per cent.

Popular programs include Eventbrite, Slack and Whova. These technologies help event teams to market better, manage guests more efficiently, map out their events in detail, engage with the audience in real-time, track return on investment and more.

5. Where you meet matters.

The meeting industry has realized, at long last, that a destination is more than just geography. It’s a quintessential piece of the puzzle that defines meeting success.

Christine Shimo Shimasaki, of consulting company 2Synergize, sums it up: “The city serves as the backdrop for the content. It’s like designing the stage. What kind of feel do you want that stage to have when your attendees come out?”

Essentially, a purposeful meeting isn’t complete without a destination that reinforces that purpose. And today’s travel-happy conference attendees aren’t just looking for business — they’re in for a side of leisure, a.k.a. “bleisure.” So they’re consciously blending the two when they travel to conferences and trade shows.

New research from the Experience Institute shows that 78 per cent of attendees indicate destination is a top driver in the decision to attend. It’s also the fifth-largest barrier to attendance, coming in behind only time- and cost-related concerns.

Ultimately, attendees want to travel for professional purposes, but also feel like they’re on vacation. That desire drives demand for more appealing destinations and authentic experiences in the host cities.

One trend is that smaller cities like Victoria are becoming more attractive to meeting planners. In the past, first-tier cities like Vancouver and Toronto were planners’ first choice.

Today, there’s nothing “second tier” about Greater Victoria. In fact, it offers what experience-hungry attendees crave: convenience, knowledge economies, authentic culture and (just as important) cheaper prices.

Events will never be the same.

At the end of the day, these meeting industry trends are redefining what it means to design and execute successful events. Planners are being pushed to create bigger, richer, more engaging experiences than ever before. Meanwhile, technology is enabling them to actually pull it off.

While it’s tough to say where the meeting and events industry will be in five years, at this pace one thing’s certain: Being a part of the industry is as interesting and exciting as it’s ever been.