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The Future of Events: Expert Insights From Greg Topalian

American dollars and rising cost graph

Skift Take

Greg Topalian predicts an industry shake-up in the event industry—think events moving to secondary markets, outdoor venues, new ways to make connections, and fan-focused trade shows. Ready for the revolution?

“Don’t fall so in love with the way you do your business today that you are afraid to try new things,” said Greg Topalian, chairman of Clarion Events North America. He shared his predictions for the future of events at the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum (ECEF) on Wednesday. He also revisited the predictions he made 10 years ago at the same event in Washington, D.C.

High costs continue challenging the industry, leading some groups to opt for secondary markets. For those staying in first-tier cities, more cost-effective, nontraditional venues are being considered.

Costs Out of Control

“Costs are getting out of control. I might argue in fairness our expectations on margin are also out of control. Couple this with attendees expecting to do more cool stuff,” said Topalian. He predicts some gatherings will leave tier-one cities to try new destinations. In addition, untraditional venues in first-tier cities are more attractive than ever. Not only are they different, but they are often cheaper.

“I don’t want to be in a traditional building. Let’s try an outdoor venue. That’s coming,” said Topalian.

A Solution to Facilitate Connection Will Come from Outside the Industry

Connection will continue to be a focus of gatherings. “At present, 68% of our attendees want to set up meetings during trade shows and conferences. That number is going to rise to the 90%s,” he said. “It’s not going to be optional; people will expect it. Have to get better at it. It’s going to get solved at scale in a big way.”

Interestingly, he sees the solution for making connections easier and more streamlined coming from outside the industry. “We are too close to the action,” he said.

He also predicts an uptick in mergers and acquisitions. “The appetite to get deals done has never been higher,” he said.

Focus on Your Audience

Another of Topalian’s predictions is that business-related shows will become more consumer-focused. “Attendees expect to be delighted. They want connection, experiences, networking,” he said. “If you don’t embrace this, you will see more shows go away or radically reduce in size.”

His next prediction relates to the attendee or fan. He said that the audience has often been a forgotten part of the equation in the revenue mix. This comes at a cost.

NY Comic Con, a show he launched in 2006, focused on the fan with much success. This is something the B2B industry has missed. “What’s the industry’s version of a fan paying extra to be close to Bruce?” he asks.

According to Topalian, VIP conference packages will proliferate, with more revenue coming from attendees. The days of exhibitors and partners being the only revenue source are over. In ten years, a successful trade show or conference should earn 40% to 60% of its money from fans.

Events are a Trusted Source

Holding to Freeman’s recent research findings, Topalian agrees that events will increasingly be seen as the most trusted resource for content and news. Many feel this will only increase in a world of AI.

“The world is becoming a very mistrusting place. There is an awful lot of misinformation out there,” he said. “Shows are a source of trustworthy clarity.”

Coinciding with this prediction is the growth of e-learning. One of Clarion’s markets invested very heavily in the e-learning business. It is now bigger than its trade show, he said.

Another prediction is the continued evolution of relationships in the industry. “I see a new era of partnership between our core decorators, marketing agencies, and AV companies. Together we are crafting an experience. Will continue to see smarter conversations,” he said.

Evaluating Topalian’s Past Predictions

Before Topalian shared his predictions for the future, he reviewed the predictions he made at ECEF ten years ago when he was also a featured speaker.

One of his biggest misses from then was his theory that business-to-business events will open their doors to consumers.

“I was wrong,” he said.

Photo credit: FabrikaPhoto / Envato