Award-winning director of events, Caroline Medcalf, shares her insights on what is shaping the future of the events industry.
In a constantly evolving industry where no two events are the same, trying to meet the expectations of customers, and deliver a few surprises along the way, is enough to give any event planner sleepless nights. Caroline Medcalf is our director of events and has more than 20 years of experience in the sector. Last year, she won Meetings & Events Manager of the Year at The People Awards. So, who better to reveal the top five trends in the events industry right now?
1. The rise of interaction
The days of sitting in a meeting room and watching presentations all day are long gone. We now recommend to our customers that a plenary should be no more than an hour long and, within that, any PowerPoint should be limited, because otherwise, people start to lose interest and focus on something else – a shorter time slot will keep them engaged.
We’re encouraging and seeing far more interactive sessions. We believe that if you are spending time and money on getting a group of people together, then you should be listening to their opinions and feedback in order to understand how to progress. Ideally, we suggest companies do not simply have a ‘show and tell’ style presentation anymore; they can benefit so much more from getting instant feedback from the audience. It doesn’t have to be complicated – things like live polling during sessions, Q&As regularly throughout the day and, where appropriate, having a bit of fun with some of the content will keep delegates entertained and engaged. It also makes the event memorable.
We’ve enjoyed a huge increase in the number of people using our Events hub app in the past six months. It means people can network with colleagues prior to the event taking place and we can send push notifications to delegates, create bespoke agendas, offer live polling and make the whole experience much more personalised.
Ultimately, we want people to go back into the workplace with a clear focus, understanding and feeling that their voice is being heard.
2. Tech and disruption
Technology and digital solutions are moving so quickly it’s important to stay in touch with suppliers and attend industry events to keep abreast of all the latest developments. We have a select group of three production partners and, for the larger events, we’re going out to all three providers because this is a fast-moving industry and we have to be delivering the latest technology solutions to our customers.
Stage sets and production are important and very relevant, but it’s also about what we’re doing in the main event room. Traditional theatre-style or cabaret layouts are not as fashionable right now, and we have seen a real shift towards mixing up the layout of a room, perhaps having a stage in the centre of the room, or an LED Catwalk stage. We work with some of the best teams in the country that help us to continually come up with ideas and suggestions to surprise our customers and delegates alike.
Rather than just doing the same conference every year, it’s about trying to do something different. If you can disrupt delegate expectations, they become more switched on to learning and focusing on the content.
3. Leisure and downtime
Traditionally, schedules have been jam-packed and offer little or no time to speak to colleagues and interact, and there is so much more to team building at an event than the traditional treasure hunt! I have seen an increase in the charitable style of team building, which also links in with companies’ own CSR programmes, such as the Charity Bike Build or Apprentice-style challenges, with all the money raised going to the companies’ own preferred charity. This makes for enjoyable and fun team-building sessions, which also make delegates feel they have achieved something worthwhile and that they are giving back to the local community. And our delegates are SO competitive!
The companies we work with now recognise that it’s really important to include a good amount of time within their agenda to network, socialise or team build – all of which feature in some form or another in the longer events that we run, and we are getting really positive feedback from delegates as a result.
4. Wellness – before, during and after
More downtime is being allowed in the agenda, and there is also a big push towards overall wellness and wellbeing across all levels of the businesses we work with, including the events they run. We support this by suggesting ways in which we can provide quiet areas for delegates to take time out should they need to, and working with the venues we use to ensure we are providing healthy options at every mealtime. Even in corporate gifts we are asked to source things like fitness trackers and personalised filter water bottles.
Forbes magazine ranked the role of an events coordinator as the fifth most stressful job in the world and, as an events company, we are aware of the pressures that managing multiple events can bring. We ensure we are doing all we can for our teams by ensuring they have adequate breaks and plan ahead so that they are not running back-to-back events. We also make sure we have fun while we are working – it helps that we love the job we do!
#Eventwell is a resource for wellbeing and support around the events industry, and we are huge supporters of what it is doing. It has a week of promoting the issues surrounding the industry to raise awareness. You can find out more at Eventwell.org and you can read our own event workplace health and wellbeing tips here.
5. The sustainable conference
Sustainability has been a hot topic for some years now, but with the recent EU plans to make all packaging reusable or recyclable by 2030, things have accelerated in this area. Venues are really getting on board with initiatives such as removing single-use plastics like straws or plastic stirrers, and offering Hydration Stations for delegate breaks; some venues are even providing reusable cups and mugs. We are asking venues not to put notepads at every seat in the conference room and to ensure there are adequate bins in the rooms for people to correctly dispose of any rubbish.
Use of our app and technology is also working well to assist sustainability, so there is no longer a need to print out paper agendas or location maps, as these, along with all the information the delegates need, are stored in the app. When on-site, we are encouraging delegates to take notes via the app, rather than on paper. All these little things add up in the end.