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Event Trends to Watch in 2018

Event Trends to Watch in 2018

Last week the JW team got out our tea leaves, magic 8-ball, and fortune teller stuff to start figuring out the event trends to watch for in 2018. Our research is pointing to an “outlook good” for the following trends to watch in 2018.

We will take a deeper dive in the coming weeks on each of these trends in our blog. That said, let’s see what the future holds for event pros!

Attendee Engagement


Repeat after me, “attendee engagement is not the meeting message on steroids.” Amplified does not equal engagement. Instead, you want to approach attendee engagement as a more purposeful and conscious strategy that threads and layers your event objectives together to create a memorable and relevant experience for your attendees. This year we will continue to see teams place major emphasis on attendee engagement. Further down in this post we explain why!

While we anticipate more high-definition mixed reality experiences coming this year, we can also expect to see more events deliver a holistic experience by engaging all the five senses. Event strategists this year will be thinking beyond tech, audio and video, and incorporating taste, smell and feel into their attendee engagement strategy. A well-crafted multi-sensory event can provoke interest before, during, and even after an event.

Virtual Reality

TECH – VR, AR, Bots, AI and RFID

Will this be the year for AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) to really take off? Will Chatbots lead the charge in your communication strategy? Will artificial intelligence (AI) make your conversations faster and smarter? Will RFID (radio-frequency identification) move beyond the festival and into your meeting?

In a word, YES!

VR and AR

VR and AR will allow you to bring your meeting and exhibit hall experiences to attendees beyond your venue. As more event strategists begin to embrace the hybrid meeting model (Face to Face + digital) these two tech offerings will help event pros deliver more relevant experiences and increased engagement. In addition, we may start to see virtual speakers taking the stage (remember the Tupac hologram that blew our minds) as well as virtual destination environments to help set a sense of place for those connected via their screens. In F2F meetings, what happens between sessions is sometimes more important than the session itself; virtual hangouts and lounges will be key in creating connections and places to share ideas for those attending via a device.

Chatbots and AI

Chatbots and AI are all the rage in social media, websites and your favorite shopping app. We predict that event strategists will both start to use and see bots and AI play a larger role in their communication strategies. From a promotion and conversion standpoint, research shows that bots are extremely effective in helping convert prospects to users with relevant, focused and targeted messaging and content. The same will hold true on event websites and registration pages. Using bots to engage people who are on your site, or started their registration but did not finish, will also become more widely adopted. We predict we will also start to see venues, such as hotels and convention centers, use bots and AI to help with guest interaction. The virtual concierge is no longer an idea found only in the movies, it's coming to a lobby near you.

Similarly, this year we expect to see the rise of smarter AI driven matchmaking engines; think Facebook, LinkedIn, Tinder and Bumble all rolled into one for event pros. By interpreting data that attendees have already synced with your event app from social media profiles, AI will help your matchmaking efforts make better recommendations that suit your attendee’s interests.


RFID (radio-frequency identification) wristbands aren’t just for music festivals any longer. We predict in the coming year more event strategists will start to use RFID tech to enhance experiences, expedite flow and explain the value of the show participation to potential sponsors. How can a little wristband do all of this?

We expect to see an uptick in gamification via RFID technology. Many of us have used the show floor passport program to help support a steady stream of exhibit hall traffic. No longer do you need the messy stamps, just a simple wave of the wrist and your passport is marked. Match RFID and a virtual scavenger hunt in the hall or host city, and you now have a memorable experience to promote engagement. Link it to social and now you have a winning one-two punch.

Are lines at check-in and re-entry wait times at your event always polling low on your survey? We get it, no one likes to wait in a line. We expect to see more event pros tap RFID to help move people in and through their meetings faster and with greater ease.

We all know that CEU tracking can be a bear. We predict that we will start to see more RFID tech to help with collecting and communicating clock-hours and attendance. Say goodbye to sign-in sheets. Bonus benefit – RFID can help you reallocate your staff to roles and duties other than being the clock hour cop, which means, you can now assign them to activities that bring additional value to your program.

Quantifying the value of your exhibit hall in your prospectus will become easier and more transparent with RFID tech. Where are the hot spots on the floor? How much time do attendees spend in the expo? What are the traffic flows like at specific times and days? With RFID, event strategists will be able to present a more robust data-driven view of their show value to both sponsors and exhibitors. Show them the data, and they will show you the money.

Local Artist


The destination of your event is intended to be a huge attendee draw, that’s why we spend so much time finding the ideal city for our program. But when it comes down to the actual event, many times an attendee’s only opportunity to experience the destination is limited to evenings or a one-day pre or post. We expect to see savvy event strategists integrate not only the known local flavor and flair to their meetings, but also the hidden gems of a city.

So how do you leverage local flair to the next level? Think beyond the normal tourist traps of a city, and instead tap into the local artists, niche food and drink scene, musicians, and hometown heroes as speakers. Harnessing the vibe of a city – the sights, smells, tastes, sounds, feels, the heartbeat – as one of your engagement and experience strategies and it will help elevate your next event from meh to memorable.

Global Travel Changes


Travel bans and restrictions (both local and global) will impact event strategists this year. These are fast moving trends with significant ramifications and will need to be monitored monthly, and perhaps even daily. Here are the policies and laws we believe will have an immediate effect on your programs.

Does your event draw a crowd from the EU regardless of where the event is held? If you answered yes, then you will need to be prepared to meet the May 25, 2018 start date of the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) policy and laws. This new regulation WILL impact how you manage your attendee data in your CRM, apps and registration site(s). It is a major global issue and one that is vital for event marketers and strategists to learn about, as ignoring it could lead to some very serious financial consequences.

The US travel ban will, and is, having an immediate impact on events. NYC & Co., the tourism and marketing group for New York City, forecast 300,000 fewer international visitors this year compared to last year. The drop would be the first since the recession of 2008-2009.

For those who work in the medical event industry (both US and abroad), you will see federal and international regulations have a significant impact on funding for attendee travel and approvals to attend your meeting. We may also see these changes having a ripple effect in exhibit halls and revenue generated by this stream.

In addition, discrimination laws such as the Bathroom Bill, will impact programs and contracts this year and into the future.

We will continue to monitor the global, federal and state policy changes that are impacting our industry, and will have an update in our mid-year policy post.

Event Safety


#VegasStrong #PrayforManchester - event safety and security was not only a global conversation last year, but also an important wake-up call for all event pros. Event safety and security is no longer an afterthought. Couple this with the wild weather around the globe, keeping your attendees and exhibitors safe during your meeting will be top of mind in the coming year for event pros.

In addition to an increased focus on ensuring your event is set up to withstand the elements, we will see event strategies focused on building more robust and comprehensive risk management plans for their programs. We will also see wider adoption in 2018:

  • Better coordination with local emergency response teams and weather experts to properly gauge safety measures.

  • Increased focus on event security planning, contracting and documentation.

  • Increased visibility with attendees on emergency processes and procedures.

  • The widespread use of technology like in-app crowd trackers, people counters, heat maps that show foot traffic, as well as, opt-in strategies for emergency text communications on personal devices.

Personalized Experiences


Attendee and member demographics have shifted for many associations and events. Boomers are making plans for retirement and Millennials and Gen Z are taking their place. Not only does this shift in audience pose a challenge from a content delivery standpoint, it will also impact how and where you connect with your attendees. Experiences (be they unique, memorable or personalized) will start to play a larger role in how program content and environments are designed this year and beyond. If you are thinking a one size fits all approach will work for your event, don't be surprised if you find your program on the clearance rack.

Teams that are consistently crushing it on their experiential-based strategy are industry leaders such as Dreamforce, SXSW, Comic Con and Burning Man. While we probably don't have a 10th of their budgets, we can still take cues and lessons from their inspiring work.

This new generation wants (really they demand), and will gladly pay for experiences. They are searching for authentic, organic and shareable moments and movements they can be part of. This year we anticipate event strategists will look beyond the go-to photo booth, and instead will start to define and develop their programs as one continuous experience linked by smaller niche events and engagement areas. From social media to registration, from check-in to the live event and beyond, the attendee experience will be front and center.

Personalization will also become more prevalent this year in how experiences are formulated for attendees. The right info, sent just in time, tailored to peoples likes and interests, will play a larger role in pre-, during and post-event communications. In addition, we anticipate AI and machine learning will elevate personalization in event app design; personalized recommendations for what to do, what to see, who to meet, and where to chill will start to become the norm.

Finally, as part of the experience movement, we will see smart event pros building spaces into their floor plans for attendees to recharge and reflect. Rather than fleeing to their hotel rooms, attendees will see more comfy seating, Zen retreats, and device-free zones to provide them with a much needed respite from the noise of the show while keeping them on premise. Work/Life Balance achieved!

Our Predictions

So there you have it, these are our 2018 event trend predictions. It will be interesting (and dare we say a bit fun) to watch how they change and propel our industry forward this year.

In the coming weeks and months, we will continue to report on event engagement, experiential marketing, tech, event design, security, regulations and policy. We would love to hear from YOU as to the trends you are watching or how you have already started to implement them in to your programs in the comments section below!

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