Events 2050: The future of events and exhibitions

Topic: Insight / / by Paul Denny

The pace of change – both technological and sociological – has never been faster than it is today. VR, AR, AI and robotics are still in their early stages, yet look to set to define generations to come. Meanwhile, as tech moves, so do the generations attached to them. Millennial mindsets, for instance, are geared towards personalisation in meaning, technology, storytelling, community. We design events to appeal to these trends.

But what about the generations after them? And after them?

30 years from now our events and exhibitions will be attended by Generation Alpha. To appeal to these, organisers will need to rewrite the exhibition rulebook. Will physical spaces matter anymore? Will the nature of networking have changed beyond recognition?

Here are the five main trends we think will shape the events and exhibitions industry in the year 2050.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

By 2050, AI will no longer be discussed in excited tones as a concept, add-on feature, or hot topic. It will be a pervasive technology, underpinning almost every aspect of the event experience, from the logistical – ticket sales, venue and transport booking, and attendee management – to the experiential.

Intelligent facial recognition software – using deep learning algorithms – could completely transform the exhibitor/attendee relationship matrix. Hosts could immediately know who a delegate is, their professional histories, hot and cold points, and whether they’re just dropping by to say hello, or in the market for business. No more squinting at name badges, no more pre-show VIP lists to swot up on. AI has the potential to make the interpersonal experience seamless and constructive for all parties.

Furthermore, almost everything a delegate does during an event will be measured. What stands they visit, how long they spend at each, even how much coffee they drink and what subjects get their hearts racing. Using this data, predictive analytics will be able to predict what your consumers want before they ask for it. The event feedback loop will be instantaneous, meaningful and inherently implementable.

Chatbots (a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the Internet) already offer a great deal for customer service; but artificially intelligent chatbots will be the norm in 2050.

Conversational AI platforms targeting consumers and marketers set up conditions for conversational agents to interact with each other as proxies for their end users. This will happen on the tradeshow floor, allowing attendees to choose when and where they access learning during their busy agendas

The Internet of Things

The web of everyday ‘smart’ devices is increasing all the time – from toothbrushes to televisions. We predict that by 2050, almost every object we encounter at an event will be intelligent, connected, and designed to anticipate and respond to attendee’s needs.

From signposts that offer personalised directions (reactive traffic signals are already in development), to invisible touch points that remind you when your next session is and how long it will take to get there (even now, some venues use Apple iBeacons to send this information directly to participants’ phones), connected technology will remove any element of manual scheduling and labour – a factor that often turns an otherwise immersive event experience into a cumbersome logistical one.

Smart buildings that can adapt and accommodate changing attendee needs throughout the day – such as intelligent atmosphere controls adjusted by occupancy levels – are perhaps only a few years away from becoming commonplace. By 2050, we could see this advance to intelligent systems making minute adjustments in lighting, background music – even scent – through connected sensors that respond to an audience’s changing mood.

With comfort and convenience covered by smart devices, delegates will be able to focus their sole attentions on the social and business experience of the event.

Robotics

According to the International Federation for Robotics, the demand for service robots is expected to increase turnover to $46 million between 2016 and 2019. By 2050, a significant proportion of on-the-ground events and exhibitions jobs could be staffed by robots.

At this year’s CES conference (the world’s largest tech exhibition), robots moonlighted as booth attendees, bartenders, and entertainment. In 2016, our own award-winning stand for Daiichi Sankyo at the European Society of Cardiology Congress was partially manned by the robot Pepper, who was on hand to answer attendee questions and disseminate information. Pepper will be returning as a guest speaker at the ICS State of the Art Meeting later this year.

How close are we to Westworld-style events populated, staffed, and run by realistic humanoids? It’s hard to say, but the robotic revolution may be closer than we think. While driverless cars are yet some way from dominating our roads, we think it is realistic to assume a 30-year outlook where VIP pickups are booked automatically, and driven autonomously from airport to venue.

Currently, robots and drones are still controlled manually (through a smartphone or wearable), if remotely. By 2050, this will seem a clunky and unnecessary process. If Mark Zuckerberg’s predictions on augmented intelligence come true, and Elon Musk’s work on ‘neural linking’ prove fruitful, then all it will take is for an attendee to think about how welcome a cocktail after a busy day networking would be before one is delivered, mixed exactly the way they like it. This is a frivolous example of course – the implications of this kind of brain-computerization are vast, with the potential to change the very nature of how our internal processes are communicated externally.

Augmented Reality

According to Facebook – not to mention the global phenomenon of Pokémon Go – AR is the next transformative technology, with every major company in the world interested or involved in its development and application.

At the moment, our physical and digital worlds are, for the most part, separate entities. AR has the power to merge the two by overlaying our daily lives with a digital experience.

What could that mean for events? Location-aware branded hologram characters could materialise when you are nearing a particular stand, encouraging you to stop by. Meanwhile, icebreaker networking sessions could be transformed, bringing participants together in a treasure-hunt style mission. The real value of AR for events lies here, in the gamification of an otherwise work-related exhibition – in other words, making the experience fun.

Virtual Reality

In contrast to AR, which concerns itself with the meeting of digital and physical, VR promises to take users to an entirely alternative space and time. As a technology, its application to the event experience is thrilling. It has the power to transport delegates outside the conference hall, completely altering the dynamics of product demonstrations.  

For example, an aerospace manufacturer wishing to impress an international delegation with a tour of their latest model will no longer have to rely on 360° videos displayed on a screen. Instead, they will be able to offer visitors the opportunity to walk around the aircraft, touch its engine (because, by 2050, haptic technology will be widespread too) and take a VR test-flight, all from the exhibition floor, thousands of miles from the factory. Currently, VR requires users to don a headset, and while untethered versions are now available, in the future, there will be no barrier to immersion at all.  

On a more practical note, VR could also transform the democratization of events. In cases where it would be beneficial for an entire department to attend, but a company can only afford to send one key delegate, an entire team could experience the event remotely, perhaps even appearing as and interacting with other delegates via intelligent avatars.

With Facebook’s recently announced social VR programme, it is completely feasible to think that by the time Generation Alpha are launched into the world of business, they will be as used to communicating and interacting in a virtual world as millennials are on social media. If this kind of virtual ‘second life’ does become the norm, will events even need a physical venue? If not, then the future is limited only by our imaginations. In 2050, might the keynote speech at an Astronomical Society convention be hosted on the moon, or a wildlife conservation meeting in the middle of the Kalahari?

Events act as the intersection between commerce and communication. As such, the fundamentals of a successful event are twofold: the right people and the right information.  Whatever technological developments occur in that time, we don’t think that is likely to change in the next 30 years. In the 2010 survey ‘Convention 2020’ participants were asked to envisage life in 2020, and select which factors would encourage them to attend a conference or exhibition. ‘Quality of networking’ (76%) and ‘seeing the very latest developments in my sector’ (69%) came out top.

What we do believe is this. For events to compel and connect, organisers need keep up with the pace of change, and contribute to its conversation. Technology has the power to accelerate, not alter, the fundamentals of an outstanding event experience.

Interested in future proofing your event technology, why not get in touch and see how we can help?

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About the author

Paul Denny
A Board Director since 2004, Paul specialises in client service and currently leads the exhibition division of the agency following 20 years’ experience across the turnkey delivery of high profile, face to face communications. These include launch events, exhibits, conferences and internal communication deliveries in the financial, automotive, technology, medical, infrastructure, and aerospace, defence and security sectors. A business communications thinker with diverse experience, Paul confidently directs in-house and external teams to develop, articulate core value propositions and promote tactical campaigns. A gregarious natural leader and motivator, Paul is recognised in the industry for an excellent track record in delivery, innovation and ensuring the team has fun at all times. Paul is adept at pairing the right people with the right tasks – securing a reputation for excellence delivered, every time. He also once appeared on Magnum PI.

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