Engagement + Marketing

10 Meeting Trends for 2014

What meeting trends will continue to gain strength into the new year? Here are ten we think that will come on strong in 2014.

•  Attendees want to be participants at events, not passive observers soaking in whatever is being served up like sponges.  New room set-ups and more use of interactive media will create a more experiential kind of learning.

•   Technology will continue to plug attendees into all aspects of a live conference, from pre-event (helping to shape the conference program and connect with fellow attendees) to on site (tweeting, posting pictures to Facebook, and videos to Instagram), to post-event (continuing conference conversations in online forums and discussion groups)

•   There will be more and deeper networking opportunities. Attendees come to events to connect with other attendees as well as to listen to “the experts.” Other attendees are the experts.

•   Mobile apps will keep getting easier to use and more accessible, with intuitiveness and user experience as priorities.

•   The number of apps incorporating geo-location — a virtual perimeter around a geographic location or locations — will grow. Read more about geo-location, also called geo-fencing, in our November issue.

•    Wi-Fi everywhere will be the new normal. Our mobile devices go everywhere with us and we now depend on being able to use them everywhere, too.

•  There will more personalization of technology. The meeting and trade-show attendee of the future won’t be getting the same messaging as every other attendee, but rather will get offers tailored to specific needs and interests. (Look for our story in the January issue about geo-location and personalization.)

•  Language translation tools will begin to be incorporated into apps.

•  Images are becoming the ruling media on the web, and we will continue to see tools that make it easier to create and share pictures and videos.

•   Risk will stop being a bad word. Successful planners will overcome their natural inclination to fall back on tried-and-true formats, programs, room sets, networking opportunities, and spaces, etc. to create new experiences for attendees.

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.

  • I agree with these. But saying that there will be deeper networking does not make it happen. Forever people have come for “networking opportunities”, but once they arrive they sit with co-workers and dive into their phones. To get past this we need more than more apps…. there has to be a culture for connecting – and that is more than an open bar at the opening reception!!

  • There are a lot of mobile app trends in that list! If you don’t have a mobile app yet for your conference or tradeshow and don’t know where to start. Let me know, I’m here to help.

  • Barbara Palmer

    That’s a great point, Thom. You have to create the right environment, meeting design, and culture.

  • Thom, we’re all struggling to figure out how to make our meetings more interactive and it sounds like you might have some ideas…care to share?

  • Right on – great list! Really think that Attendee Participation is going to be top of mind in 2014 … Solutions like Second Screen is going to drive engagement …

  • I’m a speaker, and one-way lectures bore me. I agree that participation is key, and I also agree with Thom Singer about culture. Create an environment and event culture that is conducive to conversations – actual people, face to face, engaging in meaningful ways — and not just at the reception and in the hallways between sessions, but in the sessions themselves, including the keynote/general sessions.

  • John

    Interesting article. One of the keys to creating effective networking is to have it follow first class interactive education. If people’s minds are inspired, then become anxious to share opinions and discuss ideas. I believe in the power of interactive meetings and giving the opportunity for people to speak their minds. We are a society of people who self-educate on a regular basis through our unprecedented access to information. the biggest challenge I see is getting people to open up during education sessions to express opinions and challenge existing ideas. Whenever this is accomplished, the networking that follows is almost always exceptional.

  • Rebecca….

    I love to share. Of course this is hard to write much value in a comment section…. but here are three things:

    1. You cannot tell people to put phones away (they wont do it), but you must establish a time and place for engagement with people and checking in with outside world. There must be long breaks and areas for both talking and doing work (if you need to check email go to the work area). This is tricky, as the phone has become a crutch.

    2. Make your networking and “hallway conversations” a priority. If you go on and on about how the “Content is King”… then they will believe you. But a live event is NOT the best place to give information. Send a white paper or have a webinar if the event is mainly about content. You must raise the human-to-human aspect of your event to the same level.

    3. Speaker selection matters (as Joe Calloway mentioned). There is more to a speaker than their resume. How often do they speak? (people get better with experience). Saying they are “interactive” is a current buzz word, but does not really mean much – as some are better at getting engagement than better. Also, in a traditional lecture, some are “handing down their knowledge”… others are “conversational”…(Conversational is better). Remember my mantra….”Just because someone is smart or has done something cool – it does not mean they belong on stage!! Vetting speakers is a lot of work, but a speaker is not a commodity to fill a slot. The right ones spur more engagement between people.


    • Barbara Palmer

      The comments can be the best part, Thom. Thanks for yours.

      Maybe instead of “deeper” networking, I should have written “more intentional.” I did an interview a couple of years ago with David Rock, who is a founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, and asked how they designed meetings for maximum impact. Two things really made an impact:

      Every sessions was “chunked” — divided into short segments, and between them, meeting attendees had a chance to talk to one another about what they had just heard.

      And secondly, their breaks lengthened as the day went on — to as long as an hour in the afternoon — to give people a chance to meet together if they wished.

      The story is here: http://convn.org/david-rock

  • Krys Slovacek

    Great article, and wonderful additions via the comments! Thanks for sharing your additional insight, Thom!

  • Thom, would you not also say that #2 and #3 start to blur together when done well? So that content starts with the co-creation of content during a conversational session. You say something interesting that adds something to the session, I add to it, a third person takes it in another direction… in the hallway afterwards we spot each other, start to chat about it, a fourth person joins us, the third person from our original session is in another conversation with others who were there a little ways away… and then we all go into the next session with those ideas percolating and on it goes…

    If you ask us later what the benefits of that event were, you might think of it as content, the ideas that were shared among great people. I might think of it as networking – I met new people who had great ideas. We’d both be right.

    But the event has to be actively designed to make that happen, or at the very least get out of the way of that happening.

    • bpalmer

      I love this comment. It really speaks to how meeting design and skilled presenters can combine to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts — it doesn’t work to have one box labeled “networking” and another labeled “education.”

  • Excellent article. More interaction and dialogue at events, excellent content and having good wifi available throughout the event lead are key for success.

  • For me interactivity is key, as is knowledge sharing and collective learning. I’ve actually coached presenters during a session to get them to allow participants/us to talk in our small groups 🙂 (and the presenters thanked me afterwards when they saw the energy level zoom up!) So a few ideas:
    1. Structured networking
    Put people in groups and give them a question to discuss, such as:
    what’s something you learned about yourself in 2014?
    what workshop (or book) did you attend in the last 2 years that had a deep impact on you?
    What’s an assumption that you held for a long time about 1. groups; 2. organizations 3. people; that you came to see differently?

    2. Working in small groups
    If you have a presenter (not a lecturer), coach them in advance to give participants time to discuss their content in small groups. Have the presenter give the small groups an exercise, for example: how would you use the model that I just presented in this situation? how would you design an organization using the theory that I just discussed?

    3. Open Space
    Ask participants in real-time about the topics they would like to discuss. Post them on a matrix on the wall. For each time slot, you might have 4-5 different/concurrent topics, and people can choose which topic/group they want to attend. You might have 1 hour/topic, and 2-3 hours. People go to another topic at the end of the hour (or not, if they’re having an engaged conversation).

    4. Samoan Circle
    Put 6 chairs in a circle in the middle of the room. You might label each chair with a role relevant to your topic. For example, if you’re talking about “how do we improve the quality of high school education in urban areas?” you might have: a teacher, a parent, a student, a counselor, a college admissions person, a hiring manager. Participants can come and sit in a chair; after they’ve said their piece, they leave the chair and someone else comes to sit in it. It’s an ongoing conversation, and lots of people get to participate.

    Will those help you get started? 🙂
    I think if people are fully engaged they might put their phones away!
    Meeting designer and facilitator

  • Interesting article and comments. Thank you, Thom and others. Conferences are the perfect places to emphasize, non-technological, old school, face to face interaction which probably 95% of us fear. Because I often speak on humor, people come in expecting something a little different, but are also a little on guard. I begin by telling the audience that there will be some interactive exercises, but nothing really “weird.” I also tell them I believe in positive humor, that I don’t single people out or try to embarrass anyone, and that they are free to opt out of any exercise. I start with some activity that’s very non-threatening and humorous, so I ease them into it. I believe that sometimes our reliance on technology and mobile devices has left people starving for personal, face to face interaction. I agree with you, Thom. We cannot make attendees put their phones down. We can only do our best to help our audiences feel comfortable and make our presentations interesting, informative, engaging and fun. Then, hopefully, the presentation will distract the attendees from their phones, instead of the other way around.

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