Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington, April Koury and Helena Calle of Fast Future explore a world of possibilities in store for how we organise and interact in our meetings
There are key driving forces in technology and changing expectations shaping the emerging future of business meetings, conferences and events. The next five years promise to bring fundamental changes, to the extent that one could say that everything is ‘up for grabs’.
Here are some changes with the potential to become major industry trends over the next five years…
1. Next Generation Meeting Scheduling
The intelligent assistants (IA) on our phones, apps or desktops will book appointments and meeting locations for us, based on the types of people we say we want to meet. The IA will scan the attendee list, find the people who fit the criteria we’ve defined, and then contact their IA to request and set up meetings. Google Assistant anyone? Yes please.
2. Silent Conferences & parallel sessions
Conferences will become less linear. Participants will be able to tune in to every parallel session via their personal devices, and listen through their headphones from wherever they are in a venue. So, if the current session doesn’t appeal, you can simply switch to listen to or watch another parallel session without leaving your seat.
3. Thinking Hubs
Meeting venues will have interactive technology that will enable creative thinking and idea testing. Interactive technologies such as virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) will allow participants to visualise data or ideas developed in a workshop session in a more tangible way. Participants will be able to test different ideas in VR/AR software and compare their possible outcomes to make better decisions.
4. Integrated Events Apps
Users will not have to download individual apps for each event – instead, we will integrate systems that present content for multiple events, which may even become standard features on many smartphones. App developers will create more cohesive systems that merge the information and presentations all the different events that sign up to use them. Users will have the opportunity to browse for the most interesting and useful information across a range of events and conferences – perhaps making micro-payments to access content for the events they didn’t attend.
5. Big Brother
Events that gather large numbers of participants could become attractive to proponents of the growing Internet of Things (IoT) and smart city movement. Attendees of large events might earn rewards, discounts or actual money for agreeing to use tracking devices during business conventions or meetings. Attendee data would provide key insights to exhibiters and non-participating marketers, for example those aiming at the business traveller.
Marketers will place ever-greater value on knowing how participants spend their time, which stands they visit, what they look at on specific exhibits, who they talk to, and how long for. Of course, this might all seem very intrusive, so it would need to be the choice of the individual attendee as to whether they are tracked or not. For event venues, large exhibition spaces might provide the perfect venue for IoT vendors to set up demonstrations and smart city simulations.
6. Robot Realms
Events will make greater use of robots as mobile customer service assistants, kitchen staff, baristas, waiting staff, security guards and porters. We’ll also see more robots featuring presentations and even delivering them. Within facilities, we might see drones capturing videos of the sessions, transporting goods, and even moving people between sessions.
7. Digital Twins
Early adopters of technology could soon be able to send a digital stand-in to attend face-to-face conferences. The participant’s digital twin would be a software incarnation of the person, embodied (or not) by a hologram or device that can see, hear and observe the event in real time. The digital twin could engage with other participants in virtual space, or on social media during the event, leading up to scheduled face-to-face meetings with interesting contacts at later points in time.
8. Paradise Unplugged
Some meetings will be elevated to a luxury experience by adopting technology-free policies that demand unplugging, disconnecting, powering down and ‘off-gridding’ for all participants. Events will set a tone of intimacy and authenticity by discarding the free Wi-Fi and discouraging conference hashtags, for example. The venues would provide a facility at check in, where participants can drop off their devices for the day and unplug, putting a total focus on the experience at hand.
With the rising profile of digital currencies like Bitcoin, the next five years could require the meetings sector to adapt to customers interested in paying with cryptocurrencies. Being prepared to accept payments via Bitcoin and other digital currency would be an important step; there may also be new risks at hand when it comes to having anonymously paid fees, which is the nature of Bitcoin, but unconventional in terms of event planning.
There is likely to be a massive expansion of events about and related to cryptocurrencies, as investment interests grow and the public becomes more and more curious about their potential. A growing number of industry conferences will also look to add content about the potential impact and use of cryptocurrencies in their sector.
In addition, conferences will have an increasingly interdisciplinary focus; in many sectors, participants will tire of hearing the same industry speakers and vendors saying roughly what they said last year! In the search for inspiration to maintain attendance levels, organisers will invite inspiring people from different fields – arts, science, music, business, education or engineering – to share their ideas with participants. The convergence between people coming from different fields will contribute to more creative solutions for the complex problems of the future of business.
The meetings and events sector is facing some dramatic changes – perhaps more change than since the sector emerged. Some will act fast to be ahead of the curve, and use these impending changes as an opportunity to innovate in advance of the competition, while others will inevitably wait until they are forced to by customers and competitive pressures. The choice over when to act is down to the individuals involved, but panic and crisis-driven strategies rarely provide sustainable business advantage.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington, Helena Calle and April Koury are from Fast Future, which publishes books from future thinkers around the world, exploring how developments such as AI, robotics and disruptive thinking could impact individuals, society and business and create new trillion-dollar sectors. Two new books from Fast Future are Beyond Genuine Stupidity: Ensuring AI Serves Humanity, and The Future Reinvented: Reimagining Life, Society and Business.