The Top 7 Event Industry Trends for 2024
To say the event industry has undergone a significant transformation over the last five years would still be an understatement.
In fact, we’ve seen it all, from overflowing budgets in 2019 and near-zero activity in 2020 to the rise of hybrid events in 2021, business-almost-as-usual in 2022, and inflationary pressures causing businesses to rethink their budgets in 2023.
As we inch closer to 2024, we expect this rate of rapid transformation will only continue — and perhaps even accelerate further. To learn more about what’s on tap for the event industry next year, our very own Will Curran, Head of Klik, hosted a webinar that brought together seven Event Experience leaders:
- Adam Parry, Cofounder and Editor, Event Industry News
- Greg DeShields, Executive Director, Tourism Diversity Matters
- Lauren Olerich, Senior Director of Corporate Events, Gainsight
- Christine Renaud, CEO and Cofounder, Braindate by e180
- Bob Johnston, Founder and CEO, The Executive Council
- Nicola Kastner, Founder, The Event Strategist
- Brandt Krueger, Senior Production Manager, EideCom
In this post, we highlight seven of the critical trends these experts are keeping their eyes on.
1. Collaborating on Sustainability and Sharing Wins Together
According to Bizzabo’s State of in-person B2B conferences report, nearly 40% of event organizers agree that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) and sustainability are some of the biggest challenges they face. At the same time, 58% of event attendees say that DE&I and sustainability are two of their chief concerns when choosing which events to attend.
Curran kicked off the webinar by asking Adam Parry, cofounder and editor of Event Industry News and cofounder of Event Sustainability Live and Event Tech Live, what events teams can do to move beyond “greenwashing” and implement actual sustainable practices.
While Parry agrees that “implementing sustainable practices can be really challenging and feel really daunting,” he doesn’t agree that the industry is actively trying to mislead folks about sustainability through greenwashing, or the act of conveying a false impression about just how sustainable an event really is.
“I think what we actually as an industry have to be really careful of is more of greenhushing,” Parry said, adding that “an increasing number of companies aren’t shouting about the excellent initiatives that they’re doing on any scale.”
In other words, don’t hesitate to sing your own praises and tell the world what you’re doing to build a more sustainable event strategy.
Additionally, Parry believes the industry needs to collaborate and share more about all the “micro-movements we’re making regarding sustainability practices.” After all, sustainability doesn’t happen overnight; it’s the cumulative result of many efforts.
No matter where your organization is with sustainability, Parry suggests you start measuring your efforts so you can take a data-driven approach to enacting change.
“Try to make one small change,” whether it’s with food, the venue, logistics, or your own travel,” Parry said. “Look at them on a week-by-week basis.” Together, “they add up to a big change.”
2. Maintaining a Commitment to DE&I and Measuring Impact
As the executive director of Tourism Diversity Matters, Greg DeShields is laser-focused on helping the industry create more diverse, equitable, and inclusive events. Looking ahead to 2024, he encourages organizations to begin measuring the impact of their DE&I initiatives to determine what’s working and where improvements need to be made.
“There needs to be some sort of measurable, results-oriented way of articulating the case of why this is really good for what we do,” DeShield explained.
When he thinks about DE&I trends that will play a significant role in changing the industry in 2024 and beyond, four key points come to DeShield’s mind:
- Maintain a commitment to DE&I. The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to evaluate what you’ve been doing and reaffirm your commitment to DE&I initiatives. For the best results, DeShield suggests periodically reviewing your DE&I efforts throughout the year and making any necessary adjustments to ensure those efforts are making an impact.
- Review local legislation. According to DeShield, 2024 is shaping up to be a tumultuous year. To keep pace on what’s happening, he encourages event teams to keep tabs on local legislation being developed in their area, including what’s been proposed and what’s been passed. “Wherever you are, review legislation being developed in your area,” he said. “This will allow you to be a lot smarter.”
- Be mindful of the language you use. DE&I language is evolving. To build truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive events, your language needs to evolve accordingly.
“If you’re still using the same words as 2020, you’re not staying contemporary. We have to be able to change our words to speak appropriately and engage with professionals accordingly,” said Greg DeShields, Executive Director of Tourism Diversity Matters.
- Get involved in local communities. In today’s busy world, it’s not hard to get distracted and lose sight of the bigger picture. Getting more involved in local communities makes it easier to focus on what’s most essential and achieve your DE&I goals.
3. Prioritizing Networking Over Event Content
Traditionally, event teams would focus sharply on the content of each event and treat networking more as an afterthought. According to Lauren Olerich, senior director of events at Gainsight, that’s no longer the case; event teams today are increasingly prioritizing networking over content.
“A lot of conferences and event organizers are reorienting how they’re structuring their events to give attendees more options for networking and connection,” Olerich said.
Each year, Gainsight hosts Pulse, an event that draws some 4,000 people from around the world. Historically, the Gainsight team strongly emphasized the power of their content.
“I think the extent of our networking in the early days was a networking lunch,” Olerich explained. “We hoped people would strike up conversations.”
Such a passive approach to networking “absolutely doesn’t cut it anymore.”
“We are really pushing ourselves to infuse more moments of connection in our events,” she continued. “If you create a bit of whitespace in your agenda, it allows for more spontaneous networking opportunities. But you also need to guide your attendees to find those networking spaces more easily.”
One way to do that, Olerich said, is to look at your venue’s footprint and make sure there aren’t any silos — that networking opportunities and sessions are fully integrated.
To help attendees make the most out of networking experiences, she suggests leaning heavily on matchmaking solutions like Braindate, which enables event attendees to have more intentional conversations with folks who share similar interests or work in similar industries.
At Pulse, the Gainsight team set up several different persona-based networking lounges, which made it easier for attendees to find like-minded people to chat with.
“It’s all about customization and personalization,” she continued.
Additionally, Olerich suggests embedding health and wellness into your agenda to increase the chances attendees make the most out of it. While you’re at it, think about the people attending for the first time and do what you can to ensure they have a tremendous inaugural experience.
“Proactively communicate with them before your event so they don’t feel lonely,” Olerich said.
4. Building 365-day Event Communities
As the CEO of Braindate, Christine Renaud knows a thing or two about how to build meaningful relationships. As event teams look to 2024, she believes the smart ones will do everything within their power to transform their events from day- or weeklong engagements into 365-day digital communities.
How exactly do you do that?
“A strong online community starts with a strong onsite community,” Renaud explained, adding that a community is a group of people who care and share a purpose, where “people want to learn with each other and have a sense of belonging.”
While event teams are quick to focus on DE&I, Renaud encourages them to not overlook the letter B, which stands for belonging.
“To transform the impersonal event spaces into a place of emotional safety and true meaningful connection — that has to be rooted in belonging,” she said. “For first-timers, it’s so scary to be alone in a group of 5,000, 10,000, even 300 people. People need to feel valued for who they are.”
If you want to build a 365-day online community, you need to deliver unforgettable and supportive event experiences.
“The way we host people onsite will have a tremendous impact on the way people will want to stay connected with each other post-event in an online community,” she said. By fostering meaningful connections and encouraging attendees to be their true selves at events, participants will be more likely to stay connected throughout the year to support each other in their challenges and enable yearlong learning — maximizing the impact of each event.
5. Overcoming Budget Constraints by Making Events Worthwhile
Event budgets are tightening as travel expenses, material costs, labor costs, and venue prices have all inflated heavily since the pandemic. At the same time, sponsor dollars are shrinking as organizations scramble to determine how they can get the biggest bang for their buck.
While Bob Johnston, cofounder and CEO of Executive Council, believes that budgets may be a little more relaxed in 2024, he encourages event teams to focus on adding as much value to their events as they can to convince folks their events are worth attending.
“The challenge the past 12 to 18 months is that we don’t have the budgets we had from 2009 to 2019, and the scrutiny is far worse than it ever was,” he said. “Maybe we’ve got 50% of the budgets we had in 2019, and we’re only going to spend it on targeted types of sponsorships that we think will drive a return on investment. And that’s a game-changer in this industry.”
In response, event teams are tasked with figuring out the best sponsorship targets, and they also need to figure out which cities work the best (e.g., for bringing 20 CMOs together in a room).
“There’s a lot of trial and error in trying to figure out the right geography, who are the targets, how do you get these folks to get out of their pajamas at night and show up at a dinner event or a conference,” Johnston said.
Event teams can solve this by giving their target market something as opposed to making an ask.
“Think about what we should be giving them, what kind of gift or piece of knowledge — a white paper, a blog post, anything — and have that leading to the event itself,” he said.
Once you’ve convinced folks to show up, you need to ensure you’re having the right conversations with them.
“When the event is over, that’s when you can have the conversation about the business stuff,” Johnston concludes.
6. Implementing a Data-driven Events Strategy
Making the most out of your events strategy is only possible when you use data to guide your decisions. In today’s data-driven age, event strategist Nicola Kastner believes event teams can stop making decisions based on gut instinct and instead let data drive every decision.
“There should be no more trial and error because there are so many data points about events,” Kastner said.
While the criticality of data is increasing across the entire event space — Kastner said there are 150 different data points you can measure around events — teams still need to be able to analyze it effectively.
“We have more data than we ever know what to do with, but we have to know what to do with it,” she said. “Today, what’s super exciting is that data exists to help attendees make the right connections, too, so it doesn’t seem so one-sided.”
For example, wearable tech — like Bizzabo’s SmartBadge™, which allows attendees to exchange contact information by bumping badges together — can help make events more memorable for participants by offering them a unique networking experience.
“Wearables are a game-changer,” Kastner said. “Everything is changing so much that we just need to lean into it and experiment.”
7. Embracing Generative AI and Modern Event Tech
Over the years, many tech trends have come and gone. The way Brandt Krueger sees it, the rise of generative artificial intelligence is a trend that has lasting staying power.
“This is actually something that you do need to pay attention to,” said Krueger, senior production manager at EideCom. “It’s not that AI is going to come and take all our jobs. It’s that people who know how to use AI are going to come and take our jobs. It’s a tool for making us more efficient, making us better at our jobs.”
According to Krueger, AI will have the biggest impact on the creative side — things like blog posts, event marketing content, and even stage designs.
“What AI really does is help you get over the blank page,” he explained, adding it’s a great tool for getting “the juices flowing.”
As an example, the team at EideCom has started using generative AI to create prototypes for stage designs.
AI is “not going to replace the human eye, but it’s definitely a way to start overcoming a lot of hurdles,” he concluded.
Learn More About Event Industry Trends From Our Experts
As we head into 2024, the event industry is evolving rapidly, and event teams must keep up with that evolution to successfully execute their event strategies.
While the wisdom shared in this post should give you some great ideas about what you can do to enjoy event success next year, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
To learn more about conscious conferencing, event economics, and the power of technology, watch the on-demand webinar today.