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Blog article 13 min read

Missed the Future of the Event Industry Summit? Here are our takeaways.

Preslea Jane

Written on

A Virtual Summit from Skift Meetings

On February 22, event professionals from around the world tuned in to learn how innovative ways experts are envisioning and creating the future of our industry. With Skift Meetings running the show as an interactive discussion between industry leaders, and an engaged audience, the virtual summit itself embodied many of the elements discussed throughout the two-hour event.

As an industry observer and content writer, I felt inspired by the event and wanted to share a summary of the insights shared by moderators of Skift: Miguel Neves, Editor-in-Chief; Angela Tupper, Branded Content Editor; and Andrea Doyle, Senior Editor — as well as those from the professionals from each segment. You can sign up for their newsletters here to be in the know of any future events.

The overarching theme was that despite the challenges, it is an incredibly exciting time to be in the events industry. The collective shutdown of in-person events with the pandemic became not only a reminder of their value but an opportunity to intentionally design their future. And that’s what this event was all about.

Design events based on what you want people to do after them

Eric de Groot, Meeting Designer and Managing Partner at MindMeeting BV in conversation with Miguel Neves, Editor-in-Chief at Skift Meetings

The whole goal of meetings is to communicate. As social animals, there are certain signals essential to this communication that work best under the condition of proximity.

Eric de Groot spoke to the importance of distinguishing between a good and an effective meeting. Understand the core essence of meeting with others, which is communicating in person, and then decide what exactly it is that you are trying to communicate.

The key, de Groot explains, is to think about what you want these people to do after the meeting, and design your event backwards from that intention.

As well, he goes as far as to pay attention to how other elements may influence the communication of a certain goal. For instance, how having a meeting in a sports arena may inspire more action, making attendees feel like players, than sitting in a conference would.

The six reasons to meet according to Eric de Groot:

  • networking
  • learning
  • motivation
  • decision-making
  • alignment
  • ritual

Deciding which elements are a top priority when designing your meeting is essential. Many of these reasons are not well-suited to remote settings. Ensure you fully understand the issues and goals before you work toward a creative solution.

Dive deeper into the event knowledge of Eric de Groot with his recently published book, “Meetings, by Default or by Design.”

Differentiate yourself in a sea of virtual events and maximize potential post-event

Roi Kaufman, Vice President of Growth at Kaltura, in conversation with Angela Tupper, Branded Content Editor at Skift Meetings

According to Roi Kaufman, the value prop behind virtual events has shifted. From maximizing reach during the pandemic, it is now focused on precision targeting of potential customers.

Two elements are driving this change: economical change and the development of tech.

With tight budgets, ROI is top of mind. We’re seeing more virtual events as a result, and with each virtual event comes the pressure to deliver on its promises.

However, these improvements and the ongoing economical strenuousness has led to an overwhelm of virtual events that professionals looking to gain insights and connections from can hardly keep up with.

Kaufman suggests a few outreach strategies to target your audience and keep them engaged. It begins with understanding how you can differentiate yourself and create an experience that sets you apart from the sea of other virtual events.

One way to do this is by sharing your own story, your knowledge, your best practices. And if you’re creating an event just for the sake of creating one, head back to the drawing board. Focus on value, consider your insights you haven’t heard elsewhere, and include external speakers.

Kaufman advises planners to A/B test different channels to reach new audiences and to look at everything from a strategic perspective rather than an individualistic one: each event informs the next. He emphasizes the ongoing success of email communication in 2023.

Most importantly, he spoke to the necessity of maximizing the potential of your event once it’s over, “Don’t drop the ball after an event ends by not thinking about the ability to still squeeze the lemon and maximize the impact that you can still generate from the event.”

Kaufman’s post-event engagement tips are as follows:

  • ensure sales and marketing alignment to populate data into the CRM
  • monitor and measure the post-event marketing funnel
    • how much engagement did we get during the event?
    • how much of that actually converted into a marketing funnel?
    • can you attribute conversions to a specific event component?
  • be able to reuse the event as a lead generation after the event ends such as keeping it as an on-demand site

At the end of the day, as an event professional, you first want to have a great experience. But that's not enough today. You want to be able to go to your manager and say, ‘Hey guys, look, I had the most amazing event.’ And if you don't have that ability to measure and monitor that post the event, you don't have the proof.

- Roi Kaufman, Vice President of Growth at Kaltura

Go into growth mode by tailoring events to next-generation event-goers

Ken Holsinger, Senior Vice President of Strategy at Freeman, in conversation with Andrea Doyle, Branded Content Editor at Skift Meetings

In his latest attendee research, Ken Holsinger has found that audiences’ priorities have shifted.

Throughout the conversation, he refers to NGEGs, which means Next Generation Event Goers. Prior to the pandemic, Gen X was the largest segment of the event attendee population. With the Great Resignation, and the accessibility of virtual, Holsinger notes the significant changes in audiences. There was an increase in the presence of women and minorities, and the values of younger generations are finding their way into event agendas.

Holsinger, after a study of over 2 million attendees researched over a number of months, identifies the two key influences at play within each audience as generation primarily, and gender secondarily.

With so much influence coming from gender and the younger generation taking the lead on the development of understanding gender, Holsinger points out that not enough groups address the question of gender well enough.

The number of people responding with ‘other’ or ‘non-binary’ to the question of gender has risen from less than 1% to almost 4% — a massive shift from a marketing standpoint, Holsinger says.

With this new audience, the shifts appear in other areas as well. These audiences are willing to talk about sustainability, geopolitics, and local political issues as well, topics that other audiences have generally shied away from.

Attendance levels are changing, too. The growth from the fall of 2021 was about 15%, which has now slowed at the end of 2022 reaching 87% of previous attendance — an average from large events in the industry.

“I think it’s time for us to really dig into a growth mode and get out of recovery mode, because this remaining audience, we’re going to need to go get. They’re not just automatically going to come back.

To accomplish this, he suggests a net zero planning cycle as a way to start anew, and not simply repeat the previous years tactics.

Holsinger’s questions for a net zero planning cycle:

  • what needs to be shared?
  • what is resonating with our audience?
  • what are they responding to?
  • what are the trends telling us?

“…and let's design an event experience that really reflects the audience, the current time and context of what we're doing, and build an experience based around that each year.”

Work with your attendees to create the events they truly want

Yvonne deFuria, Event Production Manager at Webex Events, in conversation with Angela Tupper, Branded Content Editor at Skift Meetings

“Attendees are looking for connection, collaboration, and networking opportunities. And they need to be easy and meaningful for them.”

Yvonne deFuria divulged tips for creating events attendees want to attend in depth. She simplified what sometimes becomes overcomplicated, with a reminder that the easiest way to find out this information is to ask, whether that is through social media or email.

To ensure attendees have the peer-to-peer interactions with potential business partners they’re looking for, deFuria says to focus on aspects of the event that are singular to in-person.

The way networking is embedded in events has shifted since the pandemic, now more incorporated throughout the agenda as opposed to only occurring afterward. Her tips? Encourage coffee break conversations, have dedicated expert booth hours, and include network activities within the session. Give attendees the opportunity to network with subject matter experts, as well as with other attendees.

As for engagement, deFuria shared a statistic that 64% of event industry professionals find it challenging to identify the right content to keep their attendees interested in engaged.

The key to ensuring engagement is to create the right content and source the right speakers, which happens when you know your audience, she says. “Know what they’re interested in, where they go for their inspiration, and really, what inspires them.”

Yvonne deFuria’s ways to generate better engagement:

  • lean into event tech with Q&As, third parties such as Slido, letting virtual audiences speak, gamification
  • collaborate with sponsors as partners to deliver value to the attendees
  • showcase events with video to prolong the impact of your event and reach other audiences
  • create an FAQ blog to answer questions that couldn’t be answered at the event

“As important as it is to have different collaboration tools and opportunities, it is even more important to think up that entire experience,” deFuria emphasizes.

“If you're going to incorporate a poll, make sure it's tied to the content… Don't just ask a question to check a box. Be intentional. asking the right question at the right time, creates meaningful engagement.”

Use artificial intelligence for idea generation rather than content generation

Liesl Perez-Leary, Fractional Chief Marketing Officer at Axis Integrated Mental Health, in conversation with Miguel Neves, Editor-in-Chief at Skift Meetings

AI has been headlining everything, everywhere lately. For some, it seems like the innovations have happened overnight. For Liesl Perez-Leary, it came as no surprise.

Three years ago, Perez-Leary wrote “The Five Future States of Content” predicting generative AI. This became not only the content campaign of the year for the company, she says, but the product roadmap for the company.

The common challenge for everyone is creating enough content, says Perez-Leary, noting that this has been a huge challenge for her as a marketer. “Now, I can’t do my job without AI,” she says.

With new AI tools abound, she outlines ways of using them that can help professionals with heavy workloads, without sacrificing truly valuable content.

Perez-Leary’s guidelines for using AI to create content:

  • use generative AI as a way to generate ideas, instead of creating content
    • work with prompts to come up with writing ideas
    • ask AI to take on various event personas to identify wants and needs
  • be aware of the racism and bias embedded in AI, and always do further research
  • consider using imagery generation of events for content, or for envisioning and planning events

Perez-Leary addresses the concern that many are having when it comes to creativity in content by saying, “If you want to be exceptional, this was always true: You need depth of knowledge and creativity.”

The presence of AI will not eliminate the possibility of creativity. It is and always has been a choice.

“I think people should start thinking of AI less about content generation and more about idea generation. And then using your own creativity, your judgment, your experience to hone it down to something that is unique to you, and valuable to your client.”

Source: Inavate - The 'holograms' revolutionising digital communication

Holograms are providing new ways to bridge the gap between virtual and in-person

Andrew Dorcas, Senior Vice President at ARHT, in conversation with Angela Tupper, Branded Content Editor at Skift Meetings

A hologram presenter at an event beams through to their audience, “It is a way that you can really extend your presence beyond a team's call or a zoom call. This is immersive, the audience feels connected to you, engaged, and you can hear them, you can see them. It is truly a different experience.”

With the futuristic awe of the audience, Andrew Dorcas addresses the intimidation that some may feel when it comes to the idea of actually using a hologram to beam a speaker in. He says the tech has become more user-friendly in recent years and goes on to explain the elements of the holographic experience.

The capture is where the hologram is created. The display is where it’s visible to the audience.

With a transmission speed of 0.3 seconds, the high-quality experience of a virtual speaker made to appear in-person lets people do what they’ve always dreamed of, being in multiple places at once.

With green screen studios set up in 30 locations worldwide, event planners can access these or even install the products in their own studios for virtual events. Whether it’s for a smaller conference, a tech conference, or large interactive content, they have solutions for it, Dorcas says.

Dorcas' details on the various holographic solutions:

The ARHT Screens:

  • projection through a transparent mesh
  • the mesh captures the hologram image
  • creates the illusion that the hologram is essentially standing on stage

The ARHT Capsule:

  • an interactive touchscreen display
  • all-in-one solution
  • suitable for pre-recorded or live content

The ARHT Virtual Global Stage:

  • up to five different individuals from five different studios onto a common stage
  • individuals can interact live and in real-time
  • streamed through an event streaming platform
  • powered through the 30 studios worldwide or set up on site

For an end-to-end solution that includes the display, the capture studio, as well as the live transmission, the cost is $25,000 USD, says Dorcas.

He calls it the turnkey solution to event planners, AV companies, and more.

Honour business and humanity at the same time with multi-sensory event experiences

Megan Henshall, Global Events Strategic Solutions Lead at Google, in conversation with Andrea Doyle, Senior Editor at Skift Meetings

When the events industry went through what Megan Henshall called the collective period of triage in 2020, “I had gotten really curious about what lasting effects the pandemic and work from home and digital transformation could, would, should have on our industry and how we show up as designers,” she explains.

As a leader in designing creative events at Google, Henshall’s interest lead to quiet research with three other people, findings which grew their momentum as they introduced their ideas to others.

Essentially, in collaborating with experts from plenty of other industries from around the world passionate about “the domain of human experience,” they noticed the intense shift the world was experiencing toward looking at everything more holistically.

This lead to thinking more critically about what a holistic experience means for everyone on individual levels, and how the events industry can get closer to creating events that are truly inclusive.

As Henshall puts it, “We can do things that both honour business but also humanity.”

“And so we've been comparing our process a lot to alchemy. And we're combining elements and getting really speculative and experimental, in order to try to create experiential gold.”

She added a personal note to explain how she came to care so deeply about this inclusion by design. “My son is autistic, he's almost five, his name's Otis and he is perfect in every possible way. But we also have acknowledged that a likely future we believe, and one that we want to support, is the actualization of the authentic self. So, a future where we move from ‘bringing your whole self to work’ moves from performative to reality. And Gen Z is making huge strides in pushing us toward that future.”

“Designing for a spectrum of full personhood, we noticed a gap around neurodiversity and inclusion. And I don't think I would have noticed it as quickly had it not been for my beautiful son.”

Henshall emphasizes that the attention to design being neuro-inclusive not only benefits those who are neurodivergent, but everyone else as well.

“When I present the new project to new groups, I often start by asking people in the audience to raise their hands if they themselves or someone that they love is neurodivergent. That's autistic, ADHD, OCD, Tourette's, sensory processing differences, hands always go up in every room. We're surrounded by neurodivergent people we work and live with. They're in our families, we interact with them every day. And I always say the new project is a love letter to you. And then I ask questions about how many times have you been in an event? Or have you ever been in an event where you disappeared into the bathroom to look at your phone to just have a moment of rest and recovery? Every hand goes up? How many times have you been in an event and you Googled a word that someone said, because they weren't using simple language that was easy to understand, almost every hand goes up. And so then I say the new project is also for you. It's for everyone. The potential for … and for creating more welcoming, loving spaces for everyone, by accommodating neurodivergent people, it's literally limitless.”

XI days stands for Experience Institute, which is an event being put on by Google, starting today, February 28. As they experiment with new resilience and recovery spaces embedded into events, they hope to understand experience by observing it in action, experience being something that cannot be properly analyzed on paper, Henshall explains.

With a range of differentiated resilient spaces, from a fully quiet space for one person, nook pods for one to two people, or the Liminal Lounge for many but little to no talking, as well as one day with no agenda at all, they are taking risks in an effort to explore the options for designing inclusive events.

Henshall says she is prepared for some of her assumptions to be wrong, “and for some of the things that I want to be true, to not be true.”

However, the main goal remains: “to inspire collaboration within this community, to spark new ideas for how we can show up differently, and maybe even shift some mindsets or paradigms for our industry where we really should be moving in a different direction.”

Designing for a spectrum of full personhood, we noticed a gap around neurodiversity and inclusion. And I don't think I would have noticed it as quickly had it not been for my beautiful son.

- Megan Henshall, Global Events Strategic Solutions Lead at Google

You can access the recording of the event here.

On the whole, times are changing, and in many ways, it seems like for the better. Values have become more clear, intentional design is being emphasized, and the events industry is experimenting not only for better business, but for more humanity.

We at Planned, for one, can’t wait to see everything that comes of it.

Thank you to Skift Meetings for putting on such a fascinating, engaging event. And to those of you who missed it, we hope you learned a little here. We’ll see you at the next one!