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Big Trends Impacting Events in 2014

Lori Halley provided this guest post.  She is the Blog Writer (Engaging Apricot) at Wild Apricot, cloud software for small associations, non-profits and clubs. With a background in associations and non-profits, Lori offers tips and information to help the staff and volunteers of small organizations with day-to-day challenges. 

There can be a lot riding on your event. In fact, the findings from our Small Membership Insight Survey suggest that events are the second most important “critical source of income” for small non-profits and membership organizations. So whether you are planning a non-profit event or an annual membership conference, it might be helpful to take a look at some of the big trends that will impact events in the coming year.

To identify the top event trends, I read numerous posts and articles offering insight into the latest in meetings, conferences, tradeshows and events for 2014. (These included posts by Jeff Hurt, Barbara Palmer and Julius Solaris.) After reviewing these forecasts, here is my take on key trends impacting the events landscape.

Changing learning style

Research indicates that a peer-to-peer and hands-on learning formats are more effective than a traditional classroom or auditorium environment.  As a post on the AssociationsNow Blog suggests, you might want to try to create a “learning village”, with “decentralized learning formats where peers interact in smaller groups and more casual settings.”

Moving away from a solely “talking heads” format and looking at new ways of presenting information and encouraging different learning styles is particularly important if you want to engage younger generations in your events.  Millennials are particularly keen on a participatory learning style and want to be actively involved in the learning process.

This means that rather than having expert speakers talking at participants, events should start to incorporate, for example:

  • Discovery
  • Experiential learning
  • Bite-sized information
  • Interactivity

New networking opportunities that appeal to all generations

Networking with our peers is both a key reason most folks attend events and also why most members join organizations. Even web-focused Millennials recognize and embrace the value of face-to-face interactions. In fact, Jeff Hurt suggests that “peer to peer engagement before, during and after your event is critical to your conference success.”

But as many of the event trend blogs suggest, networking doesn’t always happen spontaneously in a traditional event or meeting environment. Event organizers need to find ways of creating a culture or environment for networking. This can be done through, for example:

  • Focusing on networking and “facilitating connections” – by allowing for breaks in between sessions to continue questions, discussion and knowledge sharing among participants
  • Offering gathering places – for networking and discussion of sessions (Check out the cool example of a meeting area or “onsite experience” included in Jeff Hurt’s 20+ Tradeshow Trends For 2014 and Beyond post.)
  • Including break-out areas and “pop-up” sessions as part of the learning structure
  • Virtual attendance – providing ways of connecting with and including those who are unable to attend to share in the learning

Technology-enhanced learning environments

We all know that technology is changing events and creating “a new normal”. Increasing use of Smartphones and mobile apps that enable remote registration and that help involve participants in your event are becoming the norm.  But embracing technology goes beyond mobile. Here are some trends you might want to consider incorporating into your events:

  • Live streaming and live slide sharing
  • Free wifi as “the new normal”
  • “Recharge stations” – that can also serve as community hubs (offering networking opportunities)

Behind the scenes changes for event organizers:

Along with all of the new technologies and ideas for the actual event, there are also some trends on the horizon for event registration and planning. These include:

Has your organization embraced any of these trends yet?  Are there any missed?  Let us know in the comments below.