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Conference Trends for Live Event Professionals

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Images courtesy of Kennedy Creative Events

This article was originally published by ILEA member Kennedy Creative Events.

In the ever-evolving world of conference and convention planning, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve. When hundreds or thousands of attendees converge in one space for the span of several days, the same-old, same-old just won’t do. That’s why, as event producers, it’s our job to know what’s in, what’s out and what’s never been done before (but should be). Here, we present five conference trends that emerged in 2019 and show no signs of slowing down in 2020.

Change of Venue

Even when you’re hosting an event at a beautiful hotel or resort, attendees can develop a case of cabin fever if they’re forced to stay in the same place too long … no matter how swanky and comfortable it might be. So, off-site adventures are now very much an expected part of the itinerary for a multi-day event.

From dine-arounds and cultural excursions to customized activities tailored to suit each group, getting out and about is smart. Some of your guests may be traveling to your event’s destination for the first time, so if you’re in a vibrant city like Austin, Nashville or Seattle, make it worth their while and let them explore a little.

Sitting Pretty

Considering a seating plan for a massive crowd may seem like a no-brainer. Conventional wisdom would seem to say: “Just make sure to have a bunch of matching chairs!” But in reality, thoughtful seating options can change the tone of a room entirely, even in a space as cavernous as a keynote ballroom.

Even if you’re just getting creative with the front portion of the audience, introducing soft lounge seating and coffee tables can help the venue feel more conversational and informal. Speakers, for one, love looking out into a relaxed crowd that feels more like a big living room get-together than an auditorium assembly. So, consider adding some couches and coffee tables into the mix. Variety is the spice of life, after all, so have fun with the layout. Those conversations and connections will be better for it.

Excellent Expos

Say the word “exhibition hall” and the same old image tends to spring to mind: rows of pipe-and-drape booths with uniform signage, where everything matches and blends into itself. That doesn’t have to be the case! Out-of-the-norm expo setup has become more popular than ever, trading out traditional booths for creative structures, standalone islands and extra lighting to make everything pop.

Even the simple act of going diagonal instead of straight up and down the hall can help things feel fresh and unexpected. From Genius Bar-inspired help stations to interactive islands, a few small changes can have a big impact on the experience of walking through an expo hall and connecting with what’s inside.

Shareable Moments

When people are investing their time and energy in an event for days on end, everyone wants a takeaway. Photo booths, for instance, are nothing new when it comes to a closing party, but when attendees are networking, learning new things and enjoying themselves throughout the week, why not offer more opportunities to capture the moment? Photo opportunities in general are huge lately, from custom murals to live activations and interesting activities captured for social sharing.

An interactive wall with a prompt and a bunch of markers can make for an inspiring work of art by the time the event comes to a close, whether it’s asking guests to share their main aha moment from the conference or to commemorate their favorite quote or moment of the week. Of course, don’t forget that conference hashtag — crucial for keeping up with everything that’s happening, even after the event is complete. 

Community Giveback

With so many humans gathering together in one place, finding a way to do some good is a logical and effective use of downtime. Giveback activities are trending in place of standard city tours, and they can take the form of anything from on-site donation centers for toys, nonperishable foods and needed supplies to boots-and-gloves activities like community gardening. Time after time, post-event surveys come back with overwhelmingly positive responses to activities through which attendees are given an opportunity to make the world a little better.

At one recent event, our client asked guests to bring towels, sheets, diapers, a monetary donation or unused hotel toiletries (with the hotel’s permission) to a conference luncheon featuring a speaker representing a local nonprofit benefiting military service people. The donations were presented to the speaker during the luncheon, and an activity was hosted on-site to assemble the donations into military care packages. Similar giveback projects can benefit a vast array of nonprofit organizations in the local community serving underprivileged populations or addressing a common need, and the project can be voluntary, no matter how big or small.

Tags: event planning , trade show , live events , conference