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Exploring Trends in Events for 2020

Nichole Mullen

Hotwire has over 20 years of igniting possibilities for tech businesses. Hear our expert views and insights from our team on the latest developments in the industry.

While business is increasingly digitized and workforces distributed, in-person events are enjoying an unsuspected surge in popularity.  With more events happening every year, and existing events experiencing year over year growth, we decided to take a look at some event trends to help you find the best opportunities and stay ahead of the curve in the event space. Despite all the advantages of technology, there really is still magic pixie dust in real experiences. Here are the top 5 trends we saw in 2019 that we expect to continue and grow in 2020.

Understated Brand Presence

Brands are finding ways to be everywhere at an event in subtle but powerful ways.  For example, Amazon at CES used “works with Alexa” signs all over the conference to subtly remind everyone that they were enabling many of the show floor products without the over-the-top large signs that others displayed. Other brands are using their sponsored speaking spots to host a speaker who does not work at their company but who aligns with their values or message. RBC put Angela Ahrendts onstage at C2.

And as simple as it may seem, clean, consistent “instagramable” photo opportunities are still driving media coverage and shares of an event.  No one wants a picture with your company logo, but they do want a fun photo that they can tag you in.

Humanizing Conferences

People attend conferences primarily for business purposes. But it is no surprise the activations that get a lot of press are acknowledging the other parts of us that are important.

The mindfulness and wellness trend is everywhere and is pretty much a guaranteed aspect of most events. Dreamforce had monks onsite and many conferences bake meditation into the main agenda. Goat yoga and puppy zones, while still popular, are no longer new ideas.

Brands are now taking a stand on certain social, political and environmental issues and this clearly is resonating across the events landscape. Brands are making big splashes at events whether it is through outside keynotes speakers, the overall theme of the event or incorporating activations at the event that show your brand is socially responsible and thinking about the greater good of people – rather than just sales for your company. This plays into a larger trend we are seeing across the country where people now want brands to take a strong stance against societal wrongs. (Brands Behaving Badly, Trend Report by Canvas8) Consumers and businesses want to engage with brands that are tackling large-scale social issues and making a difference.

Immersive Reality

Using dating app technology to create networking opportunities, incorporating play, and creating a festival atmosphere are all strategies events are using to bring attendee experiences to the next level. They are moving away from the traditional event conference where you sit in a chair and listen. Some examples include: Salesforce Dreamforce encourages exploration throughout the conference and is reminiscent of a festival, adult playground; Forbes’ Under 30 Summit which hosts 7,000 entrepreneurs will host large performers like Marshmello and Wiz Khalifia; and The Unreal Garden at E3 will blend the use of art, entertainment, augmented reality, soundscapes, and technology.

Technology Revolution

Attendees don’t just want technology to enable the event, they want a better experience because of it.  Virtual attendance and live streaming of events is becoming common. Not only does it increase accessibility, it decreases carbon footprint which supports the new norm of sustainability we are also seeing. Augmented reality is also becoming commonplace and is expected to grow in accessibility and decrease in cost. At SXSW Snapchat did an entire AR activation around Game of Thrones that was very popular with attendees.

 The New Norms

Many topics across the event landscape this year have evolved into the “cost of entry” for event participation and are more prevalent on event agendas than ever before. Topics include:

Built-in Diversity and Inclusion Diversity is no longer just an activation or one female keynote speaker.  Conferences are looking to build it into the fabric of the event and are making decision on key note speakers and earned spots based on it. Shoptalk is allowing ONLY female speakers to present at the 2020 conference and beginning in 2021, Shoptalk’s speaker roster will always be split 50/50 between men and women. Some events are being inclusive by offering family rooms with on-site child and pet care, gender neutral bathrooms, and dietary options. GDC’s dedicated Diversity & Inclusion page is a good example of this trend.

 Altruistic Sustainability Environmental impact, climate change, and clean energy are all examples of sustainability related topics filling the session rooms and mainstage presentations at today’s industry events. At the same time, event organizers are integrating sustainability into every detail of their backend and attendee facing experiences, in response to both audience demand and brand value alignment. 85% of consumers agree that their perception of a brand is positively impacted when they take measures to be sustainable onsite. At the Google @ NEXT conference the installations and stages were made of recycled material and they had multiple sessions on sustainability.  Dell was Sundance Festival’s official technology sponsor (for the second year) and sustainability partner of the Sundance Institute to drive social and environmental good at the festival and beyond.

 Trust and Transparency. Events are becoming less about marketing opportunities and more about a chance to engage better with your audience and build trust. There is a demand for brand authenticity with a growing distrust of large companies. “Trust, ethics & transparency” was one of the ten key themes for 2019 at Cannes. Cannes Lions Chairman, Phillip Thomas, talked about this at the event and about the role brands play in people’s lives and how building this trust is step one in the ecosystem. At C2, artist and entrepreneur spoke on one of the main stages about how companies and people are going to move past the disruption phase, predicting that trust is the currency of tomorrow”. At SXSW this year, programming highlighted a list of ten significant trends, one being “Conquering an Era of Digital Distrust”.

If you would like to learn more about event trends and level-up your understanding of measurement, reach out.