by Alex Palmer | January 01, 2018

Tools & Technology
As with every year recently, new and improved technology is expected to have a growing influence in the planning and execution of events. Keeping up with the evolution of meetings technology was the most important issue for running effective meetings in 2018, cited by 65 percent of planners responding to Successful Meetings' survey.

CWT's report highlights data analytics as "one of the fastest-growing trends" due to the greater ease with which apps, iBeacons, RFID badging, and other tools are allowing for both the gathering and the actionable analysis of attendee information. It also spotlights artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and chatbots as top advances to watch.

But Ballin cautions that just because they are the coolest new things, planners must keep the emphasis on how tech tools serve an event's goals.

"Planners need to shift their focus from what is trendy to how the technology enhances the delivery of content, enhances the attendee experience, and drives cost savings," says Ballin. "Once a planner understands the desired outcome or attendee behavior, then the value proposition of the technology is easier to justify and budget for."

Meeting apps are an area AmEx M&E spotlights in its report, pointing to app adoption growth as one of the most significant tech developments of the last year, and one likely to grow -- in attendee management, in registration, and in furthering post-event contact. Of particular note, according to Jouaneh, is the level of engagement attendees are showing in their use of these tools.

"It has been much higher than anyone anticipated in terms of the interactions, content that's shared, and insights that are gained from attendees interacting with mobile apps," says Jouaneh. "We're seeing engagement of more than 150 interactions per attendee."

According to Successful Meetings' findings, the top priorities driving technology use at meetings are choosing tech that will be most useful at meetings (cited by 62 percent of planners), effectively integrating technology into meetings (53 percent), and getting enough Wi-Fi bandwidth to meet attendee needs (48 percent).

States stresses that technology use will be driven in part by the growing demand for more experiential, interactive events.

"One-way delivery of information and content at events is dead, and meeting professionals will focus on the technologies that help people engage, and find answers and solutions to their own unique challenges," says States. "Look for technologies that bring people together in new and unique ways, as well as those that provide artificial-intelligence-based translation services, curate individual experiences, make recommendations, and help users customize their experiences."

The leveraging of technology to enhance the event experience is happening on the property level as well.

"For years the meetings industry has been shifting toward a more digital experience. Our properties see this continuing," says Bree Brostko, managing director of Kindred Resorts & Hotels, which last month released its own meetings trend forecast, drawing on input from its 63 properties, at the beginning of last month. "From digital signage to digital document libraries, the attendee carrying around stacks of paper is a thing of the past. And, of course, meeting apps allow all relevant meeting info to be available at the touch of a button -- and, most importantly, updatable by planners in real time."

MPI's "Forecast" found that virtual attendance figures are expected to grow 2.6 percent in the coming year, compared to 0.9 percent increase in live event attendance. More than one-third of planners (34 percent) responding to Successful Meetings expect that the number of virtual meetings will increase this year (compared to just 2 percent who expect it to decrease), while 21 percent expect their number of hybrid meetings to grow (compared to 3 percent who expect it to drop).

Of course, this growth in technology and data gathering will put a greater focus on the need for data security, a point cited by BCD..

"We believe there will be a shift in attitudes around cybersecurity based on mandated compliance and the human factor," says Arnold Lagos, senior director of global security and compliance for BCD Meetings & Events. "Awareness around the protection of data will continue to evolve rapidly, not only by regulations and news of prominent organizations being breached, but also the continued education of employees."

He expects to see changes in process continue to occur over the course of the next several years to address regulations and shifts in data retention practices -- especially surrounding personal data. Lagos emphasizes that planners will increasingly be expected to be aware of systems that are collecting personal data.

Experience & Engagement
While memorable, unusual venues and activities are nothing new for events, this has been supercharged in recent years and is almost certain to grow in 2018. CWT's report says, "There are no rules anymore" when it comes to room setup and space design, pointing to the use of castles, museums, or car manufacturing plants to hold gatherings.

"The desire is to create a memorable experience in an unexpected venue," says Ballin. "Planners are forgoing the ballroom and convention center to take advantage of what the destination has to offer, including open-air spaces, rooftops, unique lounges, and industrial warehouses. Also, planners can leverage technology to livestream the event to build excitement and anticipation."

CWT cites a number of unconventional venues that planners can consider: San Francisco's Exploratorium "public laboratory," China's sky-high Shanghai Tower, or London's former newspaper factory The Printworks, to name a few. According to Ballin, the key factor driving this is presentation styles, which he says aren't always best suited to a classroom setup

"Also, the ability to leverage built-in décor in a theater, bar, or showcase venue as opposed to shouldering the costs of seating, staging, lighting, pipe and drape, and A/V required in a traditional ballroom, is a major driver for the change in meeting venues," Ballin adds.

Brostko says that Kindred's properties report attendees eager to break out of the traditional event space.

"We are seeing attendees wanting to be part of the location, and not sequestered; they want to participate in their meeting but still enjoy the vibe of the property as well as the locale they're in for their meeting," she says. "Planners should consider utilizing nontraditional spaces for breakouts such as areas by the pool, common seating areas, or the property's restaurant. I always think using available outdoor space for breakouts or white spaces is a great way to infuse something different."

Butler recommends taking a step back, and taking a fresh look at the audience for each event and each year, asking questions such as, "Is it the same people attending each year? Has the age/generation/nationalities of your attendees changed? Is your budget different? Is it a destination which is coming back into fashion where you get more bang for your bucks?"

"Changing this seemingly small and simple pre-planning step with these questions and focus will determine -- and often change -- your approach to engagement," says Butler. "The makeup of your audience is anything but small and simple; realizing this will drive your success."

Questions or comments? Email [email protected]

This article appears in the January 2018 issue of Successful Meetings.