by Matt Alderton | January 17, 2018
In the year 2018, political, social, and technological unrest isn't the exception. Rather, it's the rule. How the current landscape will shape industries and professions over the long term is anyone's guess. In the short term, however, it's clear that trade associations and professional societies must continue to evolve in order to stay relevant in tumultuous times.

Against that backdrop, association management company SmithBucklin this week released its 15th annual Circuit publication. Designed to provide news and insights that are useful to association boards and staff as they engage in strategic planning for their organizations, this year's publication features SmithBucklin's "20 for 2018," a series of 20 commentaries highlighting the issues, trends, and developments that will impact associations most in the coming year.

"One of the unique aspects of the work we do as a company is our ability to observe -- and then share and discuss within our walls -- the topics, strategies, and opportunities that are common across organizations that serve different industries and professions. This allows us to stay current, and also creates value for our colleagues and the client organizations we serve," said SmithBucklin President and CEO Matt Sanderson. "But our intention in creating Circuit is to synthesize our learnings from both inside and outside the association world with the hope that associations can use this information to grow and evolve. We hope this industry resource will contribute to the success of associations everywhere."

SmithBucklin's "20 for 2018" includes numerous insights of interest to meeting and event planners. One observation, for instance, points to increased adoption of collaborative technology -- including video conferencing.

"Video conferencing can connect small or large groups," SmithBucklin reports. "While this technology isn't new, great advances have been made thanks to cloud platforms and high-speed internet connections. Rather than trying to connect by phone, video conferencing -- provided by companies such as Zoom -- can enable better connections simply by providing the opportunity to put a face to a name and read expressions, even when there are numerous people on the call at once. The Zoom platform can execute video conferencing and webinars across mobile, desktop, and room-based A/V systems, making it a straightforward solution for board and committee meetings that don't require in-person attendance."

SmithBucklin also predicts the rise of:

1. Brain dating

"C2, an annual conference for executives that is designed to provoke 'collisions' (productive disagreements among attendees) and generally spark new ideas on how to do business, has created a new way to enable meaningful networking interactions: Brain Dating," SmithBucklin reports. "When registering for the conference, C2 attendees create a list of topics they want to learn more about, as well as those with which they have expertise they want to share. Attendees then use an online hub to schedule one-on-one or group meetings during the conference with people that have the knowledge they are seeking. At C2, these Brain Dates are held in unique places such as a Ferris wheel, or chairs suspended from convention center ceilings that hang 18 feet off the ground with a safety net underneath … While that aspect likely isn't replicable for many associations, they can still provide attendees with similar matchmaking services -- and clever meeting places perhaps a little closer to Earth -- to help them have the most stimulating and productive networking interactions possible."

2. 'Festivilization'

"'Festivalization' is the buzzword-of-the-day for large conferences and corporate meetings that create community-like atmospheres in order to engage attendees through collective experiences," SmithBucklin says. "Examples abound outside the association world, including the Murmuration Festival in St. Louis, a three-day event that brings together artists, musicians, innovators, scientists, and entrepreneurs to engage the public and share their work. Murmuration functions less like a conference and more like a music festival with education. While it isn't feasible for most associations to move their events outdoors in order to create a festival atmosphere, it is entirely possible for them to focus on less all-encompassing engagement activities that still unify attendees and exhibitors. Such activities can include anything from volunteer opportunities that support the local community, to organized attempts for attendees to try and break a world record."

3. Augmented Reality (AR)

"AR -- which involves using technology to superimpose a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world -- is rapidly becoming more accessible and cost-effective, and event planners are noticing," SmithBucklin observes. "In recent years, the technology has made its way onto tradeshow floors. For example, a sponsor at the 2017 New York Comic-Con used AR to allow attendees to interact with Wonder Woman. Sporting events are also adopting it. At Citi Field during New York Mets games, attendees can use their smartphone to bring the iconic Home Run Apple -- a statue located just behind the outfield fence -- to life."

Concluded Sanderson, "These thought pieces may reinforce or challenge opinions already held, or they may provide new insights. Either way, we hope that this forward-focused content will help encourage thinking, discussion, and action that will matter to associations."

SmithBucklin's 15th annual Circuit is available is a shareable, digital version at www.smithbucklin.com/circuit2018.