The Bright Future of Meetings and Events

Three women sitting inside bathtub surrounded by rubber ducks

Skift Take

The best way to create the future of events is to create it. Skift Meetings met with several forward-thinking industry leaders to discuss innovation in events and share insights into making their visions a reality.

A virtual audience assembled Wednesday for the fifth edition of the Skift Meetings Future of the Events Industry 2024 summit. The event featured 11 events-industry leaders who discussed some of the core pillars dictating the future of events.

Register here to access the event recording on demand

Effective Engagement Strategies 

Martin Smith, who spins musical tapestries during events under the “DJ Graffiti” moniker, joined Devon Montgomery Pasha, director for North America of the Event Design Collective, emphasizing engagement’s critical role in event success. They discussed how engagement must align with the intended outcome of the event and be tailored to drive desired behaviors. By understanding attendees’ needs and desired behaviors, organizers can curate content and experiences that effectively engage participants without necessitating a large budget.

Smith highlighted the importance of two-way communication and responsiveness in engaging event attendees, drawing parallels between his DJing approach and re-engagement strategies. “You need an engaged audience for them to take the right actions for us to get to the successful outcome,” he said.

Pascha emphasized empathy as a crucial tool in event design, enabling organizers to identify stakeholders’ perspectives, values, and pain points to design experiences that resonate. “If you can really empathize from multiple perspectives […] you can identify where they are and design experiences specifically to get them to that desired end game,” she said. 

The general consensus during the session was that engagement strategies should prioritize inclusivity and attendee comfort. By preemptively addressing attendees’ needs, organizers create an environment where participants feel valued. This helps reduce engagement barriers and fosters a sense of belonging.

Ultimately, the success of an event lies in its ability to activate attendees and drive meaningful connections. We can create memorable experiences that resonate with participants and achieve desired outcomes by leveraging empathy, understanding desired behaviors and prioritizing inclusive engagement strategies.

Balancing Community and Sales

Liz Lathan, co-founder of the Community Factory, replied to a LinkedIn poll asking, “What one word will define the future of events?” with “Pipeline.” This sparked a deeper exploration of the delicate balance needed to nurture a community that drives a healthy sales pipeline. 

Lathan emphasized that while community and pipeline aren’t mutually exclusive, the purpose of community ultimately leads to pipeline generation. She underscored the interconnectedness of community and financial sustainability. Communities can do many things simultaneously, including fostering profitable relationships, enhancing professional networks, and driving revenue for organizations.

“I think that the entire purpose of community is pipeline, and we can argue over that, but if you follow any community, you’re going to follow the trail of money,” Lathan said. “I think when you look at events, people are not doing events just for fun – they are trying to make money, even employee events that are intended to create bonds, the plan is to make a stronger team so the company will make more money.”

The discussion delved into different types of communities – practice, purpose, and product. Lathan highlighted the importance of transparency and value delivery to avoid alienating community members. She shared insights on community dynamics post-acquisition, stressing the need for clear communication and continuity.

To conclude, Lathan highlighted the Exit Five B2B marketing community as a best practice case study worth learning from.

The Strategic Case for Virtual Events

Hadar Livne, senior director of marketing at Kaltura, explored the future of marketing through virtual events and webinars. 

Livne emphasized the increasing importance of online engagement due to shifts in remote work and globalization. According to a Kaltura survey, over 70% of marketers consider virtual events essential, recognizing their effectiveness in demand generation. The advantages are clear. Virtual events enable marketers to reach wider audiences, personalize interactions, and gather granular data on audience behavior.

However, challenges persist in calculating ROI, with 72% of marketers struggling to do so for their events. To address this, tools like Kaltura’s event ROI calculator are introduced to help marketers better understand the value of their virtual events. 

“When we ask [marketers] about the entire marketing mix and where they see events and webinars coming in, we could see that they actually see events and webinars as the most effective channels for demand generation,” said Livne 

Additionally, Hadar emphasized several metrics that are helpful in assessing ROI beyond direct sales. These include such as registration, attendance, audience engagement levels, lead generation and conversion rates. Also, interactivity tools like polls, chat, and gamification help keep audiences engaged while gathering valuable data on their behavior. 

Embedding Wellness In Event Design 

David T. Stevens, co-founder of Olympian Meeting, and Dami Kim, director at Body and Brain Workplace Wellness, highlighted some of the wellness challenges with standard meetings and events. Many encompass long days of one-sided learning, limited engagement, dark rooms, unhealthy food and networking opportunities focused on alcohol.

“We want people to go and learn and come back energized, yet we don’t give people enough time to sleep,” Stevens said. “We don’t feed them good food, and I don’t want to say we bore them, but we try to push so much information into their head that they end up leaving exhausted instead of energized.”

Stevens stressed the importance of providing attendees with agency at events and healthier food options. He also stressed the importance of a balanced agenda incorporating movement, natural light, and reasonable start and end times. According to Stevens, these are all proven to enhance participant experience and learning retention.

“So there needs to be a lot of education incorporated with experiences,” Kim said. “They should feel good about it and it’s not just intellectual, it needs to be experiential – then I think meetings will be more productive when people feel fulfilled.” 

Kim echoed the importance of intentionality in wellness events. She advocates for educational and experiential components to empower attendees beyond passive activities like massages.

Both speakers urged planners to find healthier food options by engaging with hotel chefs to align with wellness objectives. Fostering wellness requires deliberate planning and a comprehensive approach, which ultimately leads to higher attendee satisfaction and productivity.

Leveraging Data for Success

Nicola Kastner, founder of The Event Strategist, and Linda McNairy, global vice president of strategic meetings and travel at American Express GBT Meetings and Events, discussed leveraging data when creating event strategies. 

Kastner, a former global vice president at SAP, recommends shifting from a post-event data analysis to defining success metrics upfront. McNairy echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the significance of using data from events to inform future strategies.

The role of data has evolved, partly due to the impact of the Covid pandemic. The disruption accelerated the adoption of data-driven strategies in the events industry. American Express GBT Meetings and Events recently released its 2024 Global Meetings and Events Forecast, which revealed some of these shifts.

Session feedback can help determine the effectiveness of speakers, especially during multi-day events. Tracking attendee behaviors can help refine speaker selection. Data is also crucial to optimize budgets. “If you’re scanning and seeing when people are coming in and out, then you know for future years [what] your numbers are in terms of who actually consumes that food,” said McNairy

Regarding the overwhelming volume of data available, Kastner advised starting with clear objectives and tailoring data collection accordingly. The discussion also touched on the role of artificial intelligence in data analysis. While acknowledging the potential of AI to streamline data processing, both Kastner and McNairy agreed on the continued necessity of human interpretation in extracting meaningful insights.

Crafting Inclusive Event Design 

Kate Patay, vice president of engagement at Terramar, a DMC network company, and Katy Mull, vice president of creative strategy at Storycraft Lab, discussed the importance of belonging and how it applies to meetings and events.

“Belonging – when you look at it at the core, it’s that feeling of feeling safe, secure, supported, that you’re part of the event, you belong at that table, just being accepted for who you are authentically,” Patay said. “That is real belonging in my mind.”

According to Mull, belonging has emerged as a fundamental human need, crucial for overall well-being and productivity. “Belonging is an extension of DE&I that reduces attrition and improves productivity,” Mull said. “So the data tells us that 40% of people say that they feel isolated at work, and the result has been lower organizational commitment and engagement – this basic need to belong is a key missing ingredient in the DE&I conversation.” 

Practical approaches to incorporating belonging into events require thoughtful planning to accommodate diverse perspectives and learning styles. Mull introduced the “Wheel of Belonging,” a framework developed through research collaboration with Google Xi, aimed at mapping out belonging journeys and integrating them into event touchpoints.

Patay and Mull envision the future of events that reflect evolving societal values and expectations. They see them as more inclusive, meaningful and tailored to individual experiences.

The Value of Immersive Experiences 

Vince Kadlubek, founder and director of Meow Wolf, discussed the essence of creativity and immersive experiences. Meow Wolf is an art collective turned entertainment production company specializing in transformative, open-world walkthrough experiences. The company’s permanent venues encourage participants to explore, interact, and question reality.

“We build these massive, immersive alternate realities that are completely explorable, full of story and interactivity and subversion of reality,” Kadlubek said. “We create the opportunity for people to kind of take themselves out of the known parameters of life and enter into a whole new context for a couple hours or however long they would like to stay.” 

“We’re trying to disrupt people’s default mode network, and from a neuroscientific perspective, this system within our brain that has been identified as the default mode network – and this is directly linked to depression,” said Kadlubek. 

Kadlubek elucidated how Meow Wolf disrupts individuals’ default mode network, fostering attention and activating creativity through immersive engagement. By suspending conventional identities, participants are liberated to explore and rediscover themselves in fantastical environments.

Meow Wolf venues offer a unique setting for corporate events seeking to break free from routine and foster team creativity. The company’s commitment to inclusivity and accessibility ensures everyone can enjoy these mind-expanding experiences.