What’s in Store for 2024? Captivating Attendees – Not Holding them Captive

6 Ways to Help Learners Connect at Conferences

By Melissa Ashley

As we embark on 2024, the business landscape is shimmering with the promise of innovation, challenge, and transformative change. 2023 was a whirlwind of advancements and unexpected turns, setting the stage for a new year that could rewrite the rules of the events industry. In a year where “AI” surpassed “Bitcoin” and “crypto” in Google searches, where Barbie was the highest-grossing movie of the year, and where virtual and real worlds continued to collide, it’s clear that as much as consumers are actively embracing new technologies, they will also continue to crave old-school fun and togetherness.

The events industry is poised for significant growth and innovation in the coming year. Our team reflected on key findings from reports by American Express, CEIR, Freeman, Skift, and others to analyze the trends and direction of the industry and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Aligning Sponsorship with Attendee Needs

As opposed to replacing in-person gatherings, tech advancements will contribute to and help streamline the event planning process. Almost all reports anticipate substantial growth in the events industry, with American Express’ 2024 Global Meetings and Events Forecast noting that 77% of North American survey respondents say attendee numbers have already returned to 2019 levels. And that meaningful, high-quality content is the most important tangible benefit to attendees.

But as the latest Freeman Trends Report cautions, there is a misalignment between attendee preferences and sponsorship priorities. Now more than ever, sponsorship opportunities must deliver on attendee wants – unique experiences that create strong connections. Buzzwords like “activations” and “experiential” will continue to be bandied about in 2024, with the idea of captivating attendees as opposed to holding them captive taking center stage in strategic event planning.

Delivering More, With Less

Live events continue to be a pivotal driver of brand loyalty and trust. Younger generations are actively seeking out professional development and are attracted to experiential learning that delivers connection and inspiration. According to the Hilton Trends Report, more than 1/3 of Gen Z and Millennial business travelers said they plan to extend a business trip in 2024 to enjoy leisure time, adding an additional consideration to site selection for meeting planners.

That is not to say that the industry won’t face some headwinds. Budgets are expected to increase but not at the rate of inflation. Staffing shortages within the hospitality industry will make rate negotiations more challenging. And the overall state of the economy will play a role in challenging event organizers to create more with less.

Adding Substance to Buzzwords

Interestingly, with all the hype around DEI and sustainability, efforts are largely in principle as opposed to practice. This is expected to change as more organizations share white papers and actionable checklists, and as venues invest in supporting both neurotypical and neurodiverse customers. But for now, the emphasis seems to be more on attendee well-being with attention to event design that includes longer breaks, self-care activities, etc.

Meaningful Engagement Over Mere Numbers

Finally, one of the most important ideas gaining traction is crafting event strategies to deliver specific outcomes as opposed to relying on traditional metrics of success. Organizations that dig deeper into the data and look beyond the basic metrics (e.g., number of attendees, job title, etc.) to deliver on attendee objectives (e.g., number of meaningful connections made, personalized journey, interactivity, aligning sponsorship deliverables to match attendee needs, etc.) will set themselves apart.

By embracing a forward-thinking approach that prioritizes meaningful engagement over mere numbers, event professionals can not only navigate the evolving landscape but help to reshape the definition of success in our ever more interconnected world. (For more thoughts on this, watch our recent interview with IAEE President & CEO Marsha Flanagan.) Technology will continue to affect how companies facilitate engagement, market opportunities, and design their events, but there doesn’t seem to be any indication that it will negatively impact growth.