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January 13, 2015

PCMA Convening Leaders: What You’ll Need to Know for Your 2025 Events

Andrew Zolli

As PCMA’s 59th annual Convening Leaders conference kicked off in Chicago, two back-to-back sessions looked at the science of predicting the future, and at some key elements of what that future could bring.

Andrew Zolli, executive director and chief creative officer of PopTech and self-described "futurist," spoke first about the risks and realities of trying to guess what the future would bring, especially when it comes to peoples’ perceptions and values. “Taking advantage of new trends creates new products that are hard to predict or plan for, but must be wrestled with, especially in this industry,” he said. 

“We’re living in a world in which both challenges and the capacities to deal with them are both growing faster than we can comprehend them,” he continued, noting that while many people fear terrorism, climate change is much more likely to directly affect their lives. One problem seems easy to solve, however—while the other seems complex and time-consuming, and not nearly as exciting.  

The most important changes frequently happen where people tend not to look, he added, causing a dramatic shift that many might not notice until it’s too late. “We look where we expect to see change, especially as it relates to us,” Zolli said. “We’re designed to do that. We’re not designed to see change slowly.” But while fast-moving trends tend to get more attention, he added, quoting Stewart Brand, slow-moving trends have stronger staying power. Social media is the new normal, for example, but Friendster and MySpace fell by the wayside long before Facebook became dominant and blurred the line between socializing and doing business. 

“You can’t do something different until you make sense of the world,” Zolli said, “and this is a critical deficit, because most of us don't get trained in it.” 

Changing Industries, New Concerns

After Zolli’s talk, Vivek Wadhwa presented a session entitled “Next Wave Globalization: How the Western World Can Keep its Competitive Edge.” In spite of its name, the session focused less on the West and competition and more on new technology and services that seem poised to rapidly change several industries, including medicine, robotics and synthetic biology. As large-scale conferences for these industries can take years to plan, event organizers will need to be aware of what technology can (and likely will) be ubiquitous in just a few years.

The medical industry is changing far too quickly for doctors and industry professionals to keep up—but machines are able to instantly learn and apply new research and new techniques to help keep people healthy. A wide range of free apps on smartphones help gather and share health-related information, and inexpensive peripherals will soon do the work of lab equipment. “Medicine is becoming digital,” Wadhwa said. “Your smartphone will become an Artificial Intelligence physician.” Machines in operating rooms already aid surgeons with delicate operations, he added, and it seems very likely that the computers—which can move with greater precision than human hands—may soon take over operations altogether. Tiny robots are already used to explore the human body from the inside, and Wadhwa predicted that within a decade, nanobots will be able to perform tiny operations without cutting a patient open.

It is no accident that Watson, the computer system that famously won a game of Jeopardy against human opponents, is already being utilized in health care. As IBM notes, “IBM Watson for Oncology, trained by Memorial Sloan Kettering...analyzes a patient’s medical information against a vast array of data, including expert training from MSK physicians, cancer case histories, established treatment guidelines, and published research to provide individualized, ranked, evidence based treatment options at the point of care. Watson extracts patient case attributes and provides supporting rationale for the treatment options. Memorial Sloan Kettering trained Watson to synthesize vast amounts of data, such as physicians’ notes and reports, lab results and clinical research, to help community physicians identify treatment options for cancer patients.” 
Events for the medical and pharmaceutical industries are among the biggest an organizer can plan, and event professionals will need to be aware of these kinds of trends as they start looking for venues and speakers for their shows. App programmers may be necessary speakers at these events, and new space for new types of machinery on the trade show floor will be needed. 

With the increasing popularity of solar- and wind-generated energy, Wadhwa also predicted that the electricity industry will change rapidly in the next decade and beyond. “Within 16 years, we will have unlimited free solar energy,” he said. This will not only have a significant effect on peoples’ daily lives, but will also make it possible to purify water in places without access to clean liquids. This will give new regions a chance to thrive as lives are saved and health improves. Anyone planning events for the energy industry should be aware of these slow-growing trends and be prepared to address the concerns of attendees.

Self-driving cars are already a reality, and Wadhwa expects that they will become increasingly common as people see how safe they are. He expects them to become regularly visible on urban and suburban streets within the next decade—changing not only people’s lives, but the automotive industry. Officials at car manufacturing companies will, of course, be considering this new development (along with the ever-increasing growth of hybrid and electric cars), so anyone planning an event for the automotive industry will want to keep these in mind when planning functions in Detroit or elsewhere. 

In short, new technology seems poised to change the world dramatically in the next decade, and both event planners and attendees will need to remain up-to-date not only on what is coming down the road in their own industry, but in related fields. 

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About the Author: Jena Tesse Fox

Jena Tesse Fox





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