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Smart Conventions and Meetings Are Redefining Face-to-Face Events

Skift Take

The convention of the future is a co-created hybrid mechanism of live and virtual engagement, fluidly connecting more people through more channels over longer periods of time to leverage the collective knowledge of the community.

— Greg Oates

Earlier this month we launched our latest report in our Skift Trends series, The Future of Conventions.

Below is an extract. Get the full report here to get ahead of this trend.

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There is a surge of advocacy for face-to-face meetings spearheaded by the Meetings Mean Business Coalition (MMBC), sponsored by many of the largest brands in hospitality, theme parks, cruise lines and a variety of large DMOs. The MMBC’s mission promotes the value of face-to-face meetings as the best vehicle to drive business growth, supported by a comprehensive website with research, case studies and testimonials.

Meanwhile, the advance of event technology is a juggernaut, with sizable venture funding, that’s only just beginning to grasp the capabilities of how large groups will interact in the future. Many established tourism brands fear that event tech will cannibalize convention business, which is only now in 2014 recuperating from the global economic crisis, because people might decide to stay home if they can watch convention content online.

Members of the event tech sector, however, portray their products as additive to face-to-face meetings. They promote the idea that event apps and web streaming drive more engagement and reach to convention stakeholders and attendees. In turn, they assert, that is creating wider global networks that drive more attention, and ultimately attendance to the physical events themselves.

That debate today about face-to-face versus virtual is going to dissipate in the coming years as companies and organizations discover the business value and sponsor dollars that event technology deliver. Technology adoption rates are increasing year over year to facilitate more hybrid events marrying live and virtual experiences, but the challenge for everybody is calculating the economics to determine the best balance of the two for each individual group.

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In an October 2014 report produced by the DoubleDutch event tech company, based on research provided by Meeting Professionals International (MPI), data compiled from nearly 1,800 meeting planners shows that 63% of planners are using event apps. The report goes on to state: “In the next 6-12 months, it is expected that we will see an 85% or greater mobile app adoption rate among event professionals in a variety of industries.”

Nothing is going to slow the growth of hybrid events. What the industry needs is a neutral voice with access to significant research to nullify the face-toface versus virtual conversation.

One candidate for that role is MPI. In 2012 and 2013, MPI partnered with Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK to produce a comprehensive series of white papers revolving around industry trends, including meeting design, social media and event tech. In the final Future of Meetings report last year, the data showed that just over 50% of those polled believe, “Virtual meetings will be used in addition to face-toface meetings.” The rest were split evenly between believing virtual meetings will “enhance” or “replace” face-to-face meetings.

CT Business Travel in the UK unveiled another study in Q4 2014: Why Face-to-Face Communication Won’t Disappear. Defying conventional wisdom about Millennials being less enthused about in-person events than older generations, the study reports that 80% of Millennials prefer face-to-face events, while 78% of Gen X feel the same way.

“The fact that Millennials get online and use their devices creates new reasons to get together, and creates new groups,” said Paul Van Deventer, CEO of MPI, at the IBTM America industry conference this past summer. “So that’s actually driving the progression of [live] meetings, and the advancement of meetings. But it has also changed the way that meetings have to be put forth…. So technology, when you’re in the live event now, has to be used to provide a different experience.”

Much more of this type of research is needed with so much disruption happening so quickly to provide an unbiased, up-to-date roadmap for meeting owners and organizers. In 2015, expect to see more thorough case studies with reliable data to back up claims about the ROI and deliverables surrounding hybrid meetings.

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