A study on the future of business meetings commissioned by the Melbourne Convention Bureau has determined that the sector will continue strongly into the future.

The Future of Business Meetings study by McCrindle Research and released in Melbourne in February reports that online meetings have not disrupted the core desire of people to interact face to face.
The report is the collation of qualitative data gained through 14 in-depth interviews with industry experts. Quantitative data was also collected through a survey launched through the Melbourne Convention Bureau’s contacts, with 206 responses and 147 completed responses.
“Four in five respondents (86 per cent) believe that attendees will continue to place a strong importance on meeting face to face” over the next 25 years, the report says.
“Many experts expect the time for networking at meetings to increase, with content becoming less information focused and more interaction focused”, allowing delegates to get to know each other better.
“Plenary sessions and interactive sessions are expected to increase in length. This reflects an increasing desire of attendees to move from passive to active participants in the event experience,” the study reports.
“Audiences went from wanting passive experiences in which they were listeners, to wanting to be active participants; learning and applying what is being taught to them.”
The McCrindle study reports that the event experience is evolving, with attendees desiring an immersive experience.
It also found that the destination experience is extremely or very important for promoting a conference/business event, and will continue to be in the future.
“Industry experts also suggest that voluntourism will soon be incorporated into business events. This provides attendees an opportunity to experience the local culture and give back to the community as part of the meeting,” the report says.
“Customisation and personalisation are a growing expectation among attendees. In the future attendees will have more ability to go and see exactly what they want to see, so instead of doing it in four days are doing it in two days, but they have far more flexibility in what they want to do and see, so it’s personalising the experience for each delegate.”
The study also found that technological changes have been integral to the evolution of the conference and will continue to be an essential tool for the future of the business events industry,
“It [technology] will be integrated into every aspect of the event, enabling customisation of the program for the delegate, facilitation of active participation, enhancing interactivity of presentations, and the opening of a whole new world of exhibition halls.
“To facilitate this interactive and technologically advanced meeting, venue architecture is required to adapt. Experts expect meeting spaces to become increasingly flexible, purpose-built for connection and networking, with break-out spaces to encourage active participation and collaboration.”

Attendees of the future

Industry experts suggest there is a shift in conference attendees – from the traditional top-tier executive to a broader range of employees.
“Companies are beginning to see the value in sending not only their top executives but also a wider range of their employees to be upskilled, networked and inspired.”
Other key findings were:
Younger generation of meeting attendees are increasingly tech-savvy
Social responsibility at meetings will grow
Environmental responsibility at meetings will grow
People will attend fewer events as they become increasingly time-poor
Attendees will expect to receive greater learnings/acquired knowledge from events
Attendees will want to be active not passive at events
Attendees will want digital matchmaking to help them network
Attendees will want a wellness aspect to the event
Attendees will want greater collaboration, not just information
Attendees will want to provide instant feedback at events
One interesting finding was that survey respondents believe plenary sessions will get shorter. Ten years ago the average plenary session was between 65 and 91 minutes. In 10 years’ time, 27 per cent of respondents believe plenary sessions will be 24 minutes or less.
The length of networking time is the only area of business events expected to increase, with three in five respondents 64 (per cent) indicating that it should go longer. This correlates to expectations that networking time will increase as human connection and interaction continues to rise in value.

Greater fun

As people are increasingly time-poor, they are often merging their conference experience with a holiday. An attractive destination is therefore increasingly a key to enticing delegates to attend events.
Four in five respondents (85 per cent) believe that the destination experience is extremely or very important for promoting a conference/business event in the future.
One expert said: “I do see an increased demand for more than just the convention centres; things to see and do in and around the events.”
“Respondents agree, with three in four (76 per cent) at least somewhat agreeing that creating a conference experience and ensuring fun is integrated throughout is not just `nice to have’, it is essential for conferences today.”

Radical shift in venue design

Experts interviewed for the study believe that a radical shift needs to take place in venue architecture to facilitate the changing program structure and desires of attendees.
“Most of what is used at events nowadays, and most events, should be completely erased and started from scratch. Things like trade show floors are miserable experiences for everyone, they need to be reinvented,” said one survey respondent.
“There are things that are being sold on the concept from the 40s and the 50s and that just don’t apply to the modern world.”
Experts suggest that open and flexible spaces are desired features of new conference facilities.
“They will be far more open space related, recognising the one on one interaction that can take place.”
To facilitate connection and attendees desire for social interaction and networking, venues have “got to [have] private business conversation space, particularly in large venues or convention centres. Networking is important, but also to have business conversations, so [need to have] more sort of intimate networking spaces, in these large venues… those will help maximise peoples’ attendance.”
Other suggestions were to extend the venue space beyond the four walls of the conference centre.