What will meetings look like in 2025? What are the biggest game changers and what new skills might meeting planners need? We asked experts from across the industry. Here’s what they said.
Marissa Torres, CMP, operations manager with COTC Events in South Florida, a Hosts Global member, believes tech’s impact on meetings will lessen. “Tech is reaching its peak in the meetings industry and the focus will be redirected as technology becomes a basic requirement. I think the redirection will be more ‘experiential’ ways of thinking and content will reflect that — no more cookie-cutter session formats.”
Lauren Buffington, CMP, CIS, senior event producer with PRA South Florida, says, “Attendees will have more input and control over the planning of events. The planner’s role will be responsive to the attendee’s wishes rather than determining meals, activities and even destinations from a corporate perspective. From marketing and creative design to the final execution, planners will have to consider every aspect of the event all while responding to attendees’ wants.”
Diversity will be important says Elizabeth Glau, CMP, director of strategy at Oregon-based EGCX Group. “Most events will consider all elements of diversity as basic requirements. Today, that feels like something extra planners must do. In the future, events will make each attendee feel included. We’ll move beyond ‘Who is my audience?’ to designing content that purposefully includes voices not in the room.”
“Attendees will have more input and control over the planning of events.” Lauren Buffington, CMP, CIS
According to Kristi White Cline, creative director with PRA Nashville, the rise in home-based employees will impact meetings. “In the past, meeting goals, objectives and content have been devised to accommodate attendees that worked in an office with their team.” With more employees working from home, she says, that will change.
Didier Scaillet, CEO, SITE, in Chicago, sees four major areas of change. “A more holistic approach with interaction and engagement; more informality, versatility and flexibility; increased use of nontraditional venues, meaning fewer hotel ballrooms and more art galleries, warehouses, car parks and co-working spaces; and shorter sessions.”
Cline’s colleague, Amy Nathanson, senior experience designer at PRA Nashville, believes social media such as Instagram will force changes. “Instagram has empowered clients and others to lean into design trends that go beyond the typical corporate rinse and repeat. They’re all hyper-aware of new developments in fashion, food and play and are willing to take risks and translate those experiences to their attendees,” she says. “Everyone can pull out their phones and instantly be a part of New York Fashion Week, the live feeds of celebrity planners and elaborate brand launches. They know our secrets now. Clients want us to put on our experiential marketing hats these days and I feel like that will intensify leading up to 2025. I can’t tell you how many of my conference calls start off with, ‘…So I saw this new thing on Instagram … ’”
Jessie States, CMP, CMM, director of MPI Academy, in Dallas, Texas, says information will be delivered differently. “Lectures won’t be in our vernacular. They’re a dying knowledge-delivery format that will finally no longer be considered a useful method for conveyance of applicable and actionable learning. In their place will be a burgeoning number of thoughtfully designed and curated educational experiences that encourage learners to practice and apply new knowledge and change behavior in positive ways.”
As meetings become more global, States continues, there will be answers to language differences at meetings as well. “Language will no longer be a barrier to entry or engagement for event participants. Artificial intelligence-based (AI) technologies that already exist will experience broad adoption. These will enable participants to communicate freely and in any language with each other via their own mobile devices and hearables.”
Environmentally friendly conferences will be a hallmark of the future says Scott White, global sales director with PRA Inc. in Washington, D.C. “The ability to reduce our carbon footprint is paramount. Everything will ‘go green.’ There will be no handouts, everything will be done in advance, information during meetings will come via apps. Venues, food and food/waste,” he adds, “will need to be eco-friendly. Hiring the right partners to achieve a balance on going green and successful planning will be key. Companies that get in front of this will have an advantage.”
Another change says White: As 3D representations of hotels and destinations gain traction, site visits will decrease.
Hillary Patriquin, DMCP, director of operations with Hosts DC and Hosts Baltimore, also emphasizes sustainability. “The importance of incorporating sustainability will multiply. We should expect a shift from its function as a component to successful events to a paramount role in achieving goals while simultaneously providing a measurement of meeting success. Attendees,” she says, “are expecting planners to integrate sustainable efforts into multiple facets of programming, from elimination of printed materials and bottled water to guarantees that florals are re-distributed or donated to a worthy cause.”
Additionally, Patriquin says, “Expectations will include incorporation of interactive technology and modernization of event spaces purpose-built to allow for flexibility and increased networking. Meetings will evolve to ensure there are multilevel experiences to meet the diverse generations and expectations of modern attendees. Planners will need to ensure they create opportunities of interaction for all — from the tech-savvy to the networking and social-media phobic.”
These issues are global. Padraic Gilligan, CIS, CITP, DMCP, chief marketing officer at SITE and managing partner at SoolNua in Dublin, Ireland, believes online meetings will increase “under pressure from the movement around climate change, and face-to-face meetings will decrease. However, face-to-face will be the preferred default setting where key decisions are made. Extra online connectivity will increase the appetite for face-to-face and render it ever more special and effective. Face-to-face may be less frequent, but infinitely more desired,” he says.
For many, technology is the game changer as use of AI, virtual reality (VR) and holograms ramps up. “Technology will be a large factor in how meetings change,” says Heidi Stevenson, CIS, global sales manager with Utah-based Destinations, Inc. “There will be more technological interaction and interface with social media or networking sites such as LinkedIn.”
New locations also will factor in. “So many businesses are becoming more global,” Stevenson says. “I see meetings shifting to a more global focus, opening up many more locations for meetings.”
Madelyn Marusa, DMCP, CIS, vice president of industry relations for PRA Business Events in Southern California, agrees. “There will be emerging destinations in second- and third-tier U.S. cities and more international choices.”
Anne Marie Rogers, CIS, CITP, director of meetings, incentives and events for Direct Travel in Minneapolis, Minnesota says, “Technology is improving every day and changing how we do business. Meetings are far more interactive now and more customized to the population.”
Wellness, she adds, is also a future factor. “It affects everything from length of sessions to integration of movement into meetings and healthy food options.”
There will be more use of flexible meeting spaces and alternative furniture to make things interesting, she continues, and adds her voice to the sustainability bandwagon. “What we do and how our behavior impacts the world and future generations is of utmost importance and will only get stronger.”
Rebecca Mass, team lead, customer success at Bizzabo, an event software company in New York, New York, underscores the impact of technology. “The future of professional events will rely heavily on technologies such as big data, analytics and AI to help create more personalized experiences for attendees and ultimately drive key business outcomes. While incorporating technology into events isn’t new, the impact it has on attendee experience will be different.”
For example, she says, “By using AI, organizers will see what content each attendee interacts with the most and can recommend sessions and future events based on that data. Technology will allow organizers to be more strategic. At Bizzabo, we raised $27 million after doubling our revenue last year. The new funds are being used to build capabilities in data science and AI, which will make it easier for event organizers to make data-driven decisions and further personalize attendees’ event experience.”
In addition to answering the demand for increased personalization and customization of experiences, Marusa says, technology will enhance security with better background checks and more personal information available on attendees.
Technology will also drive increased interactivity at meetings. “I envision increased use of touch-screen technology, gathering in-the-moment audience feedback or survey results, providing links or portals to more information and allowing attendees to interact directly with presenters and fellow attendees,” says Scott Goss, experience designer with PRA Events Inc., in Washington, D.C. “Imagine presenters not having to select a raised hand and pass the mic during a session. Instead, perhaps, they’ll select a virtually raised hand, allowing that attendee to use the camera feature on a device to project their name, face, company information and a live stream directly from their seat to the stage for questions or comments.”
The industry will see more inventive event apps for presentations and social gatherings, he says. “We’ll see more branded photo and gif apps, interaction with event entertainment — whether musical requests or virtually enhanced décor/lighting elements that change based on attendee activity or input.”
The key to future meetings will be creating ‘experiences,’ White says. “Things like 4D technology, increased car sharing and even hoverboard transport will increase. Large motor coaches will be less prevalent. Meetings will more likely be handled with hotels and venders via apps and online platforms. Few clients will need to access a central call center. Companies that show ease to streamline these new processes will be paramount.”
George Kun, founder and president, George Kun Travel & Incentives, in Dublin, Ohio says the future is already here. “The use of holograms will soon be commonplace. We’ll use them to bring a celebrity or key executive to a meeting, a potential cost savings,” he says. “AI, augmented reality (AR) and VR are all increasing and will be utilized more.”
Driverless buses? They’re coming, too. “We’ll have to determine whether we want to use that technology,” Kun says. “I also think it’s likely that space tourism will become a reality within five years.”
Kun says he’ll consider taking an incentive group on a space trip, “When it’s totally safe and totally incentive worthy. These things carry risks even if they’re cutting edge and that, too, is a factor.”
“You can’t get away from the key building blocks of what a good meeting or education session is about,” Kun says. “But, I think we’ll learn to be more efficient and creative.”
Most of our experts agree that the goals and purposes of meetings, including return on investment (ROI), networking and education, won’t change. Attendees probably won’t change either. They’ll still want something fresh or out-of-the-box, memorable experiences and that ‘wow’ factor. The demand for custom, personal and immersive experiences will remain strong.
In spite of the tech bells and whistles, face-to-face meetings will remain relevant. According to Bizzabo’s data, 85% of business leaders believe in-person events are a critical component of their company’s success. “I foresee change coming in the facilitation of making these meetings happen more frequently, more strategically and more efficiently,” Mass says. “The power of in-person events and experiences will continue far into the future.”
This is a people business, Patriquin says. “Your best ROI is always going to be your investment in the people: the people attending the event and your own team. If you take care of people and remain focused on the true nature of the business, the rest will come together.”
Ironically, according to Scaillet, technology itself will sustain face-to-face meetings. “Evolving technology will cause an equal and opposite reaction. The more high-tech we become, the more we’ll value face-to-face. AI, VR and AR will be important but we’ll appreciate TR even more — tactical reassurance, the unique magic that’s unleashed when real people meet in real places in real time. Only in face-to-face encounters can we trigger the trust component that’s at the heart of how we make decisions about the big things.”
While technology is important, Gilligan says, “Planners will still require the ability to read situations and people and know how to communicate effectively with the full spectrum of personality types.”
For States, it about what meetings are. “Meetings will continue to bring people together … to meet. This will be an ever-more important focal point as digitization, remote work and online networks increasingly drive the need for people to actually come together in a common space to connect.”
By 2025, Nathanson theorizes, “I think sitting down and talking to someone new without the assistance of an app or screen will feel like a retro-style luxury.”
With increasing specialization and globalization in the industry, planners will have to become competent in multiple areas such as: expertise in emergency preparedness, security and crisis management. “These will become requirements for planners,” Torres says.
Buffington adds, “An ongoing, working knowledge of dietary statistics, social responsibility, wellness and global sustainability will be part of decision-making for events. Planners will need to consider the remote attendee as much as those attending in-person.”
Marusa believes meeting professionals will “need better technology marketing skills, website content development capability and speedy access to information.”
But planners may not be alone in skills acquisitions. “Research, customization and personalization will be needed to draw participation,” Marusa says, “So there may be growth on both the supplier and planner side for this skill set.”
As the planner role evolves, States says some ‘re-skilling’ may be necessary for meeting professionals, putting greater emphasis on graduate-level programs such as those at San Diego State University and MPI’s Certificate in Meetings Management, offered at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. “As we gain access to executive-level roles, greater emphasis will be placed on problem sensitivity and problem solving, change management, persuasion and emotional intelligence — future-ready skills and cross-functional abilities that will ultimately shape the future of what it means to be a meeting professional.”
Stevenson believes certification will be increasingly valued. “As clients become more savvy, they’ll look for planners and third parties to be well qualified and have certification to prove it. We’re seeing a lot of interest from clients in our CIS, CITP and CMP certifications,” she says.
Echoing Stevenson, Rogers notes, “It’s important to stay on the cutting edge of knowledge and change. Certification establishes a benchmark to learn and document this.”
Those who don’t keep up may face consequences. “With new technology, new regulations on data and security, new global requirements,” Kun notes, “if you don’t keep up as a planner, your opportunities will be more limited.”
Nathanson agrees. “If you don’t stay current on technology, trends and experiences you’ll be making yourself obsolete. I look forward to walking into a ballroom in 2025, pulling out my device of choice and projecting my designs across the room from floor to ceiling.”
Certification itself will also evolve. “Certifications may change drastically with old processes and platforms quickly changing or emerging,” Goss says. “With more tech suppliers vying for a seat at the table, it’s likely organizations will have more choice of registration, planning, exhibit, marketing, presentation and content platforms, requiring a mastery or certification in those systems. There could also be an uptick in companies requiring staff who interact with large groups of people to take on more social, interpersonal and diversity training.”
But it’s not just about certification. “The focus may shift to include the significance of education on a broader scale of comprehensive project management,” Patriquin says, “including developing emotional intelligence skills to learn to direct projects with a focus on how to manage the people responsible for deliverables.”
Not surprisingly, expertise in technology will be critical. “Three words,” Cline says. “Technology, technology, technology. In the age of instant gratification, planners will need to have the most up-to-date, most efficient way to build proposals and costing. We’ll need to be fluent in multiple software platforms to accommodate each client and the way they assimilate and communicate information.”
The typical toolbox of the planner, notes Scaillet, will have to include in-depth knowledge of technology and the advanced ability to use it. “This includes tactical matters such as connecting laptops to screens and managing audience engagement platforms. It will also include awareness of ongoing developments in technology, particularly the crunching and interpretation of big data that’ll be available and enable us to personalize the participant experience and make it truly meaningful.”
Planners, Gilligan says, “will need to have agility and nimbleness with technology. They’ll need to acquire the millennial ability to move deftly and efficiently across platforms on a mobile, handheld device. Data will be a mere click away and planners will need to be able to access it in real time.”
On the good news front, planners may already have skills for the future. “I’ve been studying the philosophy behind human-centered design,” Glau says. “I think many planners already have this skill but we’re often derailed by competing priorities from stakeholders and our events end up missing the mark with attendees. As more organizations start to value human-centered design in everything they do, planners will be poised to help facilitate that conversation.”
Gilligan believes the movement around climate change will profoundly impact business events, bringing “scrutiny of the entire meetings and events process from the perspectives of sustainability, care for the environment or use of fossil fuels.”
Goss says planning of the future “will be the same — but faster, more tech savvy and more client-competitive.”
For Torres, future planning will require shifting perceptions about the job itself. “As planners, we wear many hats and have to juggle the level of importance each of those hats carry. The job description is going to get larger; key performance indicators will become more detailed. This industry is far behind on transparency and how to convey the value of our services as something greater than commissions on a program,” she says. “We need to equip ourselves with knowledge and research to ensure that the job of planning corporate and incentive events is found worthy and respectable across all levels in the hierarchy.”
No one is likely to disagree with that. C&IT