The future of conferences

10 11 2010

A while back I blogged about the effectiveness of B2B conferences as a marketing channel  and I recently came across a study from the Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University called, “The Future of Meetings: The case for Face-to-Face”. The report was written by Christine Duffy and Mary Beth McEuen from The Maritz Institute and it looked at the impact of technology on conferences. You can download it here.

Like Christine and Mary Beth, I obviously have a vested interest in face to face meetings (probably more than them!). Through the experience of launching our IQPC online communities (, and others) and delivering our face-to-face events I have come to believe combining technology and face-to-face meetings can provide the ultimate blended learning opportunity. The fusion of the two ensure the community get the most out of the experience and the sponsors’ message reaches the most people.

The report does a great job pointing out that face-to-face meetings are the most effective at achieving these three objectives:

  1. Capture attention for change
  2. Inspire a positive emotional response
  3. Build human networks and relationships

It’s a great report, worth the read, they also make the point that a combination of technology and events can be very effective but I think the report stops short of the real issue.  This is in my opinion, that the real future of the meetings industry (and I include trade shows, exhibitions and conferences in that) relies on the effective integration of technology to provide the ultimate customer experience.

In my mind, technology includes webinars, virtual conferences, virtual trade shows, social networking, and even A/V on site. That said, incorporating online or virtual elements to your conference or tradeshow are critical to the success of your event and meeting the objectives of all stakeholders. 

From a delegate point of view, leveraging technology to provide a deeper, blended learning opportunity, creating more networking opportunities and allowing for more collaboration or sharing is becoming more and more essential. It also helps boost interactivity pre event, at the event and post event.

From an exhibitor point of view, leveraging technology to improve their reach or brand position and enhance their thought leadership status in the community are key. It’s essential to help sponsors go beyond just the people who attend the event.

The effective use of technology builds on customer experience and creates social objects that are key marketing tools for any sustainable event. The technology doesn’t compete with face-to-face meetings, it facilitates them and makes them more effective. The emergence of mobile ap’s, smart phones and tablet PC’s will only help make the product of face-to-face events stronger. The successful events will be the ones that leverage technology to provide a better customer experience.