Events of the past were undeniably simpler. Perhaps the events could still be considered cool, but with limited (if any) technology as we know it today, more basic food options, and even less creative event props, they were definitely simpler times for both event organisers and attendees. And this was OK as expectations were different. We didn’t know what we didn’t have so attendees enjoyed what was on offer.
Imagine yourself transported back to 1998. Your work’s end of season party takes place in a basic hotel conference room. Spice Girls are at the top of the DJ’s playlist. A nostalgic buffet of lasagne, chicken caesar salad and profiteroles takes centre stage, all to be eaten with single-use plastic plates and cutlery.
There are a couple of (now-retro) gaming devices, beanbags, and the main entertainment is a bit of karaoke, executed by women donning thick headbands and many men wearing either bucket hats or velvet suits. There is alcohol…and more alcohol on offer, with only Coca Cola or lemonade as alternative options. And now fast forward 25 years…
You are working within the food industry and have been invited to attend a new brand activation event. The event is launching a new brand character from a well-known frozen seafood producer and is to take place in a disused old lifeboat station. You registered for this event the week before using the event app, which had been completely personalised for you. With just a few clicks, organisers had created a personalised registration page, sent out an automated email to you with all the vital event info, and they were now tracking your attendee data in real-time.
As you arrive at the event you hear waves crashing into the seashore and realise the sounds are coming from very realistic pebbles and rocks, scattered around the edge of the entrance hall. You enter further in to the quirky building and notice a row-a-thon taking place in the corner. You are asked to sign up for a 5 minute row in the lifeboat-on-stilts as it turns out that the rowing can’t stop…it generates all the energy to power the event. You can’t possibly row in your pirate outfit (the dress code was very specific and you chose a hook and all), so you move along. As you walk around the event space you notice a vast array of event trends and props.
There are VR headsets installed to transport attendees to a world where you must fight pirate-like zombies in the depths of the earth’s oceans, in a bid to avoid apocalyptic inhalation.
There is a colossal pirate ship installed in the middle of the building (presumably where a real lifeboat once stood), which you are invited to board and have a go at making your own Pirate Grog (rum optional).
There are waiters dressed as pirates swirling around the crowd offering canapes such as vegan salted fish, gluten-free biscuits, and beer and thyme infused bread sticks, all served in biodegradable food containers.
There is a folk band entertaining guests with sea shanty songs, and as you walk past the musicians you remember to check the app, which has all the schedules, speaker bios, and venue maps right at your fingertips. The app has enabled networking opportunities pre-event by facilitating direct messaging between attendees, and you remember you have arranged to meet a potential new client in the breakout room in two minutes time.
You find the breakout room to be a quiet space with low lighting and a limited number of people in it. The space has clearly been designed with neuro-inclusivity in mind to ensure the event is accessible to all. Your meeting is successful and as you are parting you both comment on the impressive creativity and use of modern technology on display at this immersive brand activation. As you leave the room you notice a large balcony to your right being used for live streaming. There is also video conferencing technology to translate this live event into a hybrid event, enabling attendees to experience an event from the comfort of their own homes from anywhere in the world. It is truly a global audience being reached by this brand activation event, and you think that the client must be happy about that. It would never have happened a decade or two ago.
In the twenty five years between these two events, the landscape of the event industry has changed dramatically. Technology has revolutionised the way we do things and there is no reversing this trend. We can see the impact of technology in events in our back-end processes used to organise events, in the vast data we are now able to collect online for use in post-event evaluations, and in the event detail itself; the food, drink and entertainment, which we carefully choose to exceed the expectations of our clients and attendees whose exposure to the world is greater than ever before, meaning so are their event needs.
When we turn our minds to the future of the event industry, there is no escaping that technology will be ever-present. We will see hybrid events continuing to grow in popularity, with a direct impact on the number of events held by businesses, which will shift from the traditional established norm of one main annual event to multiple smaller virtual and hybrid events scheduled throughout the year. To support this prediction, the Executive Director of the ‘Event Leadership Institute’, Howard Givner, claimed recently that corporate events will shift “from [a] revenue source to [a] marketing vehicle…There’s no limit to the number of virtual attendees that can gain access to an online event…So in this way, online events have become a form of mass communication akin to PR.”
There is an agreed expectation within the event industry that the focus of organisers will continue to move towards curating live, hybrid and virtual events that provide meaningful connection with people alongside live and virtual experiences that are truly transformational.
While event organisers grapple with the possibilities offered by technological advances in delivering cutting-edge experiences to exceed client expectations, they are doing so with a mindset of wanting to upskill themselves to succeed within an increasingly digital events landscape.