What does the future of events look like? For our November forecast issue, looking to go beyond the next few years or even the next decade, we asked four science fiction writers to envision the business event of the future. Not one of them could imagine a future in which face-to-face events will no longer take place.
“People will always want to gather together,” writer Seanan McGuire told Convene. Even if virtual reality becomes so advanced “that we can walk around in a room like a hologram and see everyone as if they’re there,” fellow sci-fi writer Tom Merritt said, “there’s something about just knowing this is the real person in front of me that I think is fairly exciting.”
Padraic Gilligan, managing partner at Dublin, Ireland–based event consultancy SoolNua, has a term for that “something.” He calls the real-time, real-person aspect “tactile reassurance” — TR for short. And Gilligan also doesn’t see the value of that experience disappearing at events of the future.
I spoke with Gilligan shortly after he had hosted the Event of the Future, July 20, in Croke Park, Dublin. At the event, 10 events industry leaders shared how they envision events will change in the coming years with an audience of 300-plus corporate, association, and agency event professionals.
Why an event that focuses on the future of events? It was an attempt to understand how “we’re in an industry that is evolving at a very, very fast pace,” Gilligan said. “It’s as if we’re kind of witnessing something that normally takes thousands of years and we’re seeing all that kind of change happening initially within our own lifetime. That’s quite an extraordinary thing.”
There’s no doubt that accelerated changes to the industry will be brought about by “more and more technology in the future,” he said. “But at the same time, the more technologically advanced we become, the more we rely on tactile reassurance.
The more technologically advanced we become, the more we rely on tactile reassurance.
In a post on his blog, Gilligan attributes the phrase to a Monocle magazine writer who was speculating on the growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR). “His point was the more technology insinuates itself into our lives, the more we’ll crave the human touch — hence tactile reassurance,” Gilligan wrote. “And of course, tactile reassurance is at the very heart of business events. As an industry, we talk about tech all the time and speculate how it will shape the future of our industry, but our MO is all about real people, real places, real time.”
When he spoke with me, Gilligan said that sentiment was echoed by all of the speakers at the Event of the Future as the “quintessential value that a meeting or an event brings.” In fact, he said, “all of the technological innovations were presented as nothing more than an additional means to connect people to each other and to the content that they came to consume.”