8 Biggest Event Trends for 2017

Source: Planning Pod, December 2016

As the new year approaches, not only is it time to reflect on the past year and all the wonderful new people we met and experiences we had, but it’s also time to look to the new year and take a look at what it has in store for the events industry.

Our list of events industry trends for 2017 isn’t necessarily a scientific analysis or a compilation of industry pundits. However, we do spend the entire year listening to thousands of event professionals (namely, our customers and wonderful user base), taking notes on what trends and issues they are seeing in the industry, jotting down their needs, likes and dislikes. And this list is a summary of what event professionals and event planners have been noticing as we head into 2017.

Without further ado … the 8 biggest event trends of 2017.

1. “Niche” is the new black for events.

Up may not yet be down, and wrong is definitely not right. But small is definitely the new big when it comes to many types of events.

From events focused on smaller niche audiences to sub-events or tracks focused on select attendees to smaller sessions and audience sizes, events that are micro-focused will start gaining more momentum as attendees want more personalized experiences and seek out more intimate settings to learn and connect.

2. More “head up” tech … less “head down” tech.

For every event pundit who says that it’s impossible for attendees to stop looking at their phones, for every event blogger who says you must cater to people staring at their phones while your speakers and panels present, there are a dozen event planners and professionals who despise the distractions of handhelds and their interruptive glow.

Event pros may not be able to completely stop people using their smartphones, but in 2017 you will start to see lots more “heads up” tech, like large-scale interactive games where smartphones are merely the controllers. Or broadcasting polls and crowd-streaming content (using content shared live via social media) on overhead screens (again, where smartphones only supply the content). Or simply more dynamic video, audio and audience interaction (like using an app like Crowd Mics http://crowdmics.com/ to turn everyone’s cellphone into a microphone).

Basically, anything to get people to look up and attend to the subject at hand and not their Twitter feed.

3. More leisure activities built into the schedule.

In the past, most people attending an event exercised or practiced yoga or aerobics in their “free” time. Or they simply didn’t have time for any leisure activities so skipped this altogether to pack in more meetings and sessions.

But in 2016, we saw more and more events incorporating leisure activities into the schedule, and 2017 will see this trend blossom even more. This is a very good thing, as these interludes not only provide “brain breaks” for attendees but also give them a chance to interact with each other in more relaxed environments where they can recharge.

4. Events driven by political change and disruption will gain lots of attention.

We recently wrote a post on events in the Trump era, and although we recommended a measured, inclusive approach for events in the coming months, it is impossible to ignore two facts:
1. Groups and organizations that now find themselves on the outside of power will seek to regroup and use events to show their solidarity and resolve.
2. Groups and organizations who now have a receptive ear in government will use events to mobilize and influence leaders.

Simply put, we are in for a fairly wild ride in 2017 when it comes to our political sphere, and the events industry will certainly see our fair share of politicized events and themes.

5. Suppliers will have the upper hand for another year.

With the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Kiplingers all calling for steady and moderate economic growth, the U.S. economy will likely continue to ride the wave of the seven-year bull market into 2017, and the dollar looks likely to remain strong.

And just as 2016 was a year for suppliers as demand was high, so 2017 will continue this trend, with venues and hotels filling up, catering orders continuing to be healthy and rentals also in higher demand. With that said, it makes sense to build out your event budgets further in advance and consult your suppliers earlier on in the process so you don’t get any last-minute sticker shocks.

NOTE: My financial advisor has been telling me for over a year now that we are due for a recessionary period, so if that happens it may stunt growth and level out prices a bit.

6. Look for experiential moments sprinkled throughout events.

Yes, we have heard of (and seen personally) lots of experiential keynotes and main sessions in 2016 where gamification, holograms and virtual reality have taken the event experience to a new level.

However, in 2017, prepare for more touch-see-taste-and-feel experiences sprinkled throughout the venue. Like innovative breakout areas and lounges. Creative lighting and staging. Food and beverage tastings and haute cuisine offerings. Innovative giveaways and digital swag bags.

Just like with niche events, adding more experiential elements to events is part of a larger trend to create more immersive experiences that appeal to attendees’ desires for personalization and customization.

7. Content marketing and “owned” marketing assets take center stage.

Ah, we remember the days when putting an ad in the conference catalog, sending an email to the attendee list and dropping a promo item into the swag bag constituted a (somewhat) reasonable event marketing effort.

My how things have changed. Today, content is king and it’s vital to continue to create content not only to promote registrations and RSVPs but to offer useful information and data to attendees to prime the pump for all the additional content they will absorb at the event. Blogging and social sharing are now preferred marketing mediums for event professionals who need to connect with all generations, but especially Gen X, Gen Y and Millennials.

Not only that, but owned marketing assets like building your own email list will grow more and more important as people become more protective of their online identity and inboxes. It’s all part of building one-on-one relationships with your audience members and creating an exchange of information.

8. Event entrepreneurship will flourish.

The last 5 years have been witness to an outpouring of event tech like the industry has never seen. Part of this is due to the latest tech bubble and a lot of investment money pouring into tech companies in general. However, the events industry also has seen lots of non-tech entrepreneurship since the Great Recession, with many independent event planners, event management firms, catering companies and new venues putting out their shingle as the economy recovers.

In 2017, event entrepreneurship will flourish and start to mature. Older event tech companies (and by older, I mean 5-10 years old) will begin to refine offerings and build out their products to expand their customer bases. New event tech companies will look to innovate in areas such as event production, guest management and attendee interaction. And new event planning firms and venues will continue to flourish if industry demand continues its steady growth.

So that’s our event trends forecast for 2017 … have a productive, profitable new year and happy planning from the Planning Pod team.

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