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June 27, 2013

PCMA Education Conference: The Future of Meetings and Events

At PCMA’s Education Conference in Denver, Colorado, the keynote speaker for the second day’s breakfast session was Mike Walsh, a self-described “futurist.” With a strong focus on technology, Walsh looked at growing trends that are affecting the meetings and events industries.

Walsh began his presentation by clarifying the concept of the future, noting that it is always growing from the present. He cited famous advertising agent David Ogilvy’s quote, “The consumer isn’t a moron. She’s your wife,” but rephrased it: “The consumer of the future isn’t a statistic. They are your kids.” 

The next generation of meeting and event attendees will have a different mindset and communication paradigm shaped by a childhood of disruptive technology, he continued, and meeting planners of all generations will have to know how to cater to that mindset. “Don’t let technology teams drive your innovation strategy,” Walsh advised. “Set up a youth lab. Ask kids to imagine the kind of meeting or event they would like to participate in.” And don’t be afraid to work outside your comfort zone, he added: “If they don’t come up with things that frighten you, they’re not trying hard enough.” 

Five years ago, when the iPhone was brand-new and the iPad didn’t exist, technology seemed poised to disrupt the entire basis of the business travel industry. “We were told we’d travel less and meet virtually,” Walsh said, then asked the room how many attendees travel more in 2013 than they did in 2007. Most of the people in the room raised their hand, and Walsh noted a concept called Jevon’s Paradox: Sometimes technology can increase the use of the very thing it is meant to replace. 

“We’re more connected now than we were 10 years ago,” he explained. “We can engage with more people more often. We’re more addicted to networks than we’ve ever been.” And while working from home is easier than ever, most people seem to crave some kind of office environment, perhaps if only for the ability to communicate face-to-face on a daily basis. Perhaps, he suggested, the right environment can foster better working habits, whether in an office or a boardroom. “What kind of meeting space drives collaboration and creativity?” he asked rhetorically. 

But as vital as face-to-face networking is, virtual networking is the new normal, and Walsh believes that events of the future will be even more networked. “More information will be shared. How big a ripple will your event have on the broader organization, the broader industry, the world at large? That will be the benchmark for how successful an event will be.”

Another significant trend will be adjusting services depending on data from the consumer himself rather than from focus groups. As pure data about spending practices becomes more readily available, businesses can change their practices to attract more buyers. Amazon, for example, creates different landing pages whenever changes are proposed to the template, and the design that results in the most purchases will become the new default. “Data can sell experiences,” Walsh said, “but there’s a fine line between Big Data and Big Brother.”  

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About the Author: Jena Tesse Fox

Jena Tesse Fox





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