5 Future Trends Affecting the Events Industry

A new whitepaper by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events reveals 13 trends that will affect its industry. Here are five that associations will want to keep in mind as they plan for 2014 and beyond.

It’s less than three weeks until the start of 2014, which means that a lot of groups are making predictions about what next year will mean for the meeting and event industry. Following in these footsteps is the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, which earlier this week released a whitepaper titled “Future Trends Impacting the Exhibitions and Events Industry [PDF].”

The goal was to create a picture of the next three to five years in the exhibition industry.

Compiled by the Future Trends Task Force, which was created by IAEE’s board of directors and chaired by Francis J. Friedman, president of Time Place Strategies, Inc., it identifies major trends the group anticipates will have the greatest impact on the industry. “The goal was to create a picture of the next three to five years in the exhibition industry,” said Friedman. While the whitepaper presents the 13 future trends, I’ll take a closer look at five I think have the most relevance to association meetings.


We’ve said it more than once (truthfully, we’ve probably said it at least 10 times): Different generations have different expectations when it comes to everything from learning and mentoring to membership and volunteering.  And with so many different generations in the workforce at the same time, the meeting and event industry must adapt to their preferences. The whitepaper points out a number of issues the industry faces, including how to

  • reach, engage, and show the younger generation—which is often more comfortable with technology and social media—the value of both attending and exhibiting at tradeshows
  • keep exhibitors, attendees, and tradeshow industry veterans from leaving the industry because they don’t understand “digitally enhanced” tradeshows
  • customize the exhibition experience for each generation.

Data, Data, and More Data

Another trend the task force identified was the concept of big data, which it defined as the “collection of every bit of information that can be collected relevant to customers, the community, and event.” The data is then “mined with advanced analytical tools to understand issues and trends that may not have been visible or considered with the use of more traditional, analytical trends.” The outcome: uncovering marketing and customer-development opportunities that result in ROI. The task force says that as big data tools become cheaper and more readily available, show managers will be able to deliver better products and services.

After big data is collected, it will then be up to show managers to decide how to integrate it into other things, such as pre-show marketing plans. After all, as the task force pointed out, “there is an increased demand among exhibitors to ask show organizers for more information that they need (and expect) in order to make good exhibiting decisions.” If organizers can’t provide potential exhibitors these numbers, they’ll likely lose out on business.

Year-Round Communities

As the task force points out (and as I’ve noted previously in this blog), the current structure of the exhibition and events industry is “episodic, in that a show or event takes place at one short time period … and is unavailable the rest of the year.”

However, with the growth of public and private social networks, tradeshows and events can participate in the conversation year-round, allowing them to develop and build a dedicated army of attendees and exhibitors. To make this happen, show organizers will need to understand content generation and curation—and even hire people to help them do this. It is good content that will drive those people to event-related sites year-round.

Experiential Tradeshow

“Currently emphasis is being placed on the attendees’ experience of the tradeshow,” writes the task force. Moving forward, organizers still need to keep this in mind and ask what tradeshow setups and structures will keep exhibitions and events as valued marketing opportunities.

The task force believes that show design and format “will be driven by assessments of engagement and onsite experience.” They ask if hosted-buyer formats will become the preferred model, if gamification will be a necessary addition, and if apps will drive the onsite engagement experience. “Creating outstanding experiences will be a growing show management consideration as the industry moves to the future,” says the whitepaper.

Non-Attendee Engagement

While non-attendees are not present in person at the event, it doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in what’s happening. Instead of ignoring them, the whitepaper suggests that show organizers consider how they can use social media and other technology to emulate the experience and engagement that occurs onsite. One way to do this is through a hybrid event, but the whitepaper also suggests that organizers look at search engine optimization and keyword search tools and techniques to help them discover new non-attendee audiences. These groups may then be used to test new show and marketing approaches, and show managers will be able to see how effective these approaches are in converting non-attendees to onsite participants.

The whitepaper explored other trends as well, including social media marketing, technology, and internet connectivity. What trends are top of mind when you think about your association’s exhibitions and events? Please share in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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