This year, the name CEIR’s Annual Exhibition Industry Outlook Conference has always gone by — Predict — couldn’t have come any closer to describing what event professionals are looking for in today’s uncertain and unchartered times: a sense of what’s to come next and how to prepare. A handful of presenters and a CEO panel drew on trends from outside and within the exhibition industry to explore what’s ahead at the virtual Predict conference on Sept. 22.
“This year’s program focused on what the near future may hold for the B2B exhibitions industry given the impact of COVID-19,” CEIR CEO Cathy Breden, CMP, CAE, CEM, said in a release after the event. “Proprietary research conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of CEIR was discussed, as well as economic data and trends with actionable insights on what companies should be considering now.”
More than 160 exhibitions industry executives attended Predict to view presentations and participate in the Partner Engagement Hub. Futurist John Gerzema, CEO, Harris Insights & Analytics/The Harris Poll, gave two presentations, kicking off the program with “How to Think Like a Futurist,” in which he provided an overview of how American consumer behavior has been shaped by the pandemic and provided the results of a Harris poll conducted among event participants in April, and then again in September.
Gerzema said that the poll results bear out the fact that virtual business events are making progress in key areas. When asked to identify the challenges of online business events, a lack of personal connections and interactions was at the top of the list — cited by more than half (52 percent) of 579 event attendees polled in April but down to 45 percent of 701 event attendees polled in September. Zoom fatigue must have set in during the five months between the two polls, because 39 percent said in September that it was difficult to maintain attention for long periods of time, vs. 35 percent in April. At the same time, a lower percentage in September said it was a challenge to recreate the experience of in-person events (39 percent vs. 44 percent in April), and to build community (31 percent vs. 35 percent in April).
The results indicate that attendees are experiencing fewer technical glitches during online events — 44 percent in April vs. 39 percent in September cited technology challenges during the broadcast as a problem, which may indicate that over those five months of producing more digital events, platforms have become more seamless and proficient. But as digital events have proliferated, attendees seem to be having more difficulty finding truly relevant programs. The biggest spread in percentages between the two polls? “Content is not right for me” was a complaint made by only 10 percent of respondents in April; by September it was 18 percent.
The next slide Gerzema shared were the results from the two polls in answer to “Which of the following would you be interested in for future online business events you might attend?” Topping the list for both polls: Interactive “ask me anything” sessions with subject-matter experts, which has grown in popularity from 41 percent in April to 47 percent in September. Attendees also are increasingly seeking “online content guides or ambassadors who are real people” in their digital event experiences. Thirty-one percent of attendees were looking for emcees in April; by September, it had risen to 40 percent.
But just as a growing percentage is looking for the human element at digital events, they also want technology to work for them. In April, 23 percent said they were looking for AI to personalize connections at digital events; by September, it was on the wish list of 34 percent of attendee respondents.
Additional insights were provided in presentations by Alex Chausovsky, economic advisor, market research and future trends analyst, ITR Economics; Nancy Drapeau, PRC, vice president of research, CEIR; and Sam Potolicchio, Ph.D., president, Preparing Global Leaders Forum; distinguished professor/vice dean, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.
For Predict’s closing session, a panel of industry leaders — Lori Anderson, president & CEO, International Sign Association; Aaron Bludworth, president & CEO, Fern; Greg O’Dell, president & CEO, Events DC; and Yancy Weinrich, COO, Reed Exhibitions — discussed emerging trends in the exhibitions industry.
Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.