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December 7, 2017
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Sub-Saharan Africa: The Future of Business Events


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Photo by Martin Barraud/OJO Images/Getty Images

A glance through the recently concluded IMEX America programme leaves one wondering if it’s a day spa, a tech bootcamp, or a holiday retreat. Snappy titles for sessions like “Is Teambuilding Dead?”, “Guided Meditation: The Crystal Cave”, and “Powerful Learning In A World of Infobesity” dominate the menu. But what exactly does this mean for the business events industry? Are we turning into big softies? Or is this simply the future catching up with us?

In this segment, we analyse ten trends that are informing and shaping the business events sector of tomorrow, giving you some futuristic reasons why you should get your next conference on board.

1. Hip, Happening Session Titles

Ever wonder why so few people are attending your conference stream? Perhaps it’s because it looks boring. Yes, looks can be deceiving, but as we’ve learned in the world of marketing, an attractive name and lively presentation can make all the difference. Say goodbye to a drab programme and hello to an exciting, eye-catching conference people will immediately want to be part of.

Why it’s important

The event industry is changing to incorporate an increasingly younger audience (hello millennials), and you definitely want to be inclusive of this market segment. Not only is the world at their fingertips (read: they’re always sharing their experiences live and online) but they genuinely want to be engaged and interact – far more than generations before them.

2. Shorter Conference Sessions

Let’s be honest with ourselves. No one really enjoys sitting and listening to the same person drone on for half a day. Unless, of course, what they say is immensely interesting. These days, we’re seeing fewer and fewer 3 hour conference sessions and more 30-45 minute sessions. IMEX took it a step further and offered a lovely range of times to choose from (anywhere between 20-60 minutes), with some of the more pertinent ones repeating a few days in a row to ensure delegates aren’t missing out.

Why it’s important

As the world’s attention span gets increasingly shorter (unless the content is truly appealing) the need has arisen to not only cut long, waffling sessions down, but also to engage in more audience interaction. Shorter time spans ensure that you have someone’s full attention since they’re keen on absorbing as much as possible.

3. A Changing World View

What do sustainability, inclusivity, technology, and wellbeing have in common? These are the topics that are being covered more often and in more detail with every passing business event. Not only are they informed by the global state of society – equal pay and respect for women, recognition of the LGBTQI community, diversity in the workplace, and ways in which to save the planet while doing business, to name a few – but they also promote a healthier and far more educated outlook on business work ethic.

Why it’s important

Businesses are (finally) beginning to sit up and pay attention to more than their bottom line. They realise that change is necessary and unavoidable. They want to be more sustainable and inclusive. Often, however, they are not sure how to go about this – hence pertinent topics, like navigating the various forms of technology, being introduced. It also signals that more women, people of colour and of LGBTQI status are participating in the events community and want their voices heard in the same way that others are.

4. The How Is As Important As The What

There’s been a conscientious move away from the topic of a conference or session being a drawcard. That is, the way in which it is presented is as – if not more – important. Crowds want to be wowed. But they also want to learn creatively and efficiently. Gone are the days of the stale classroom-type streams, given up in favour of more immediate attendee gratification, and more mental stimulation in learning. This might come in the form of jokes, creating dialogue or discussion around topics, or doing audience votes among other things.

Why it’s important

As better content and presentations are offered, a unique trend has come out of it: the increased use of CMP (Certified Meeting Professional) points or credits. This is a huge motivator for people to attend conference streams where one can work towards being an internationally-recognised meeting professional. It’s also great for conferences as it encourages planners to look for content that can truly fulfill a delegate’s needs.

5. Dealing with Disruption

As the world undergoes the fourth industrial revolution, business events are increasingly offering streams on how to navigate these fast-paced changes. A large part of this includes dedicated technology sessions – from tech bars and the latest tech trends to more practical advice such as hosting hybrid events, how to spend less on AV, and mitigating risk with event data.

Why it’s important

Not only is the older generation finding it increasingly difficult to cope and navigate this strange new world, but even younger event professionals struggle to keep up with the sheer pace of development. This creates a need for continual adjustment and education across technology, marketing and related sectors.

6. Goodbye Gala, Hello Mixer

Expensive, formal gala dinners are increasingly being phased out in favour of more relaxed networking opportunities and mixers. One of the main reasons for this change is the current global economic climate, where purse strings are incessantly being tightened. Another reason is that the delegates of today are less inclined to enjoy a formal programme when what they truly need to do is maximise face-to-face meetings.

Why it’s important

This may be the digital age, but there’s still nothing better than meeting people in person. An event that understands that and facilitates as many networking opportunities as possible – sometimes even between conference sessions – is always going to come out on top because delegates need to meet in order to conduct those all-important trade deals that they ultimately attend your conference or exhibition for.

7. The Grouping of Events

Multiple events and conferences are now pairing up to offer extra value for money and to appeal to ‘binge’ attendees. We’ve seen this happen more often over the last few years, even in southern Africa, with prime examples such as Africa Travel Week that brings ibtm africa, ILTM Africa, and WTM Africa together, or Food and Hospitality Africa, which combines Hostex, IFEA, Tea and Coffee Africa, The Drinks Cabinet and Contract Furnishing Africa.

Why it’s important

Once again, as before, it’s value for money. Attendees get to widen their sales leads and broaden their horizons by learning about similar fields to the business sector in which they work. It also makes for an ideal way to partner with events that would otherwise be known as competitors, allowing planners to collaborate in areas they might not have considered before.

8. Sustainability is King

Most exhibitions and conferences now have sustainability programmes in place, as well as conference sessions catering to those who wish to learn more about being greener in the events industry. Even South Africa has jumped on board with a number of expos that now have Green Stand Awards. The Event Greening Forum has also created resource documents to assist trade shows in upholding the minimum standards for sustainable events.

Why it’s important

Events take a heavy toll on resources, society and the environment and can generate significant waste and put a strain on resources like water and energy. This is why, more and more, organisers are finding that it’s not only more cost-efficient to create a sustainable and eco-friendly event, but it also assists the local community and ecosystem in the long run.

9. Associations Must Deliver

Associations are under unprecedented pressure to deliver value to members in the 21st century. This can be seen in a number of new initiatives coming to the fore, including professional certification, hands-on practice, and tangible opportunities for business and development.

Why it’s important

This pressure comes as membership declines globally, with some associations reporting drops of 50% in their member base over the last decade. More consolidations are expected as associations partner and collaborate with other organisations, as well as private and public sectors in an effort to step up their member offerings.

10. Tech, Tech and More Tech

As a younger, more technology-savvy generation joins the events industry, we will see an uptick in professionals pushing for change in event design and the use of technology in this space. An example of this is the introduction of facial recognition, which is predicted to make a strong entrance into the events industry in 2018, impacting delegate management. Augmented reality for sponsorship is another avenue currently being explored, while the likes of app interpreters – live translation through apps – and feedback via chatbots are quickly gaining speed.

Why it’s important

Although we may not see these trends surface in Africa for several years, they will undoubtedly make their way here in the short to long term and it’s worth being in the know when that day inevitably arrives.

Other Trends of Note

  • An increased focus on health and wellbeing is apparent in the food offerings, conference streams and pre- or post-event programmes.
  • Cybersecurity – and security in general – is a hot topic on the cards for upcoming events, which will likely inform both destinations and the running of events.
  • As Destination Managers and Convention Bureaus offer similar services, there is increased pressure for differentiation and offer redesign.
  • Sexual harassment is a hot topic that continues to grow, and the events sector is an ideal stage for harassment or violence. A more active role is required to prevent such situations.

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