There is an old adage that all the value taken from a conference will be gained from outside of the main meeting rooms (in the bar mostly!). And while this does present a very outdated and patronising view of the industry, the people that once said these words may have been gazing into the future to one extent. Because the reality is, these communal areas are taking on more and more importance as part of a modern-day event.
When we say communal areas, we’re not talking about bars, we’re talking about open networking areas that are increasingly being more intelligently designed for modern delegates to use however they wish to. As streaming and digitisation rises, these areas are quickly becoming a more personalised space to watch content online. Regardless of it taking place just next door.
This is all about inclusion. The reality is that many delegates coming to events do not like the standard set up of a main plenary. Be they neurodiverse, sensorily disadvantaged, or just dislike being crowded together in a room with a bunch of strangers. They want to consume the content in their own way.
This may be through accessing streamed content digitally, on a laptop either 100 miles or 100 meters away. It could be via a phone or tablet while sitting on a bean bag next door. It could be as part of a smaller group in a breakout room. It could be while sipping coffee in one of the onsite dining areas. It’s about comfort of body and mind and it’s a positive thing that ensures the content is more widely seen.
Forward thinking event organisers are seeing this trend and taking full advantage of it. Building smaller networking spaces, individual tables, expanding coffee areas and even creating breakout rooms where main content is being streamed from big to small and vice versa. These areas are designed with the neuro diverse in mind, ambient in some places, artistic and stimulating in others.
This trend also links in with another area of the Meeting of the Future, the growing incidence of workspaces within the event. This trend allows delegates to go and log in, connect with offices, families, or just the outside world, put headphones on and disengage. It also means though, that for certain times during the event they become a digital delegate, taking advantage of the benefits that come with viewing the meeting though a multi-dimensional screen, augmented with information, further reading, and engagement techniques.
It’s not uncommon for contemporary events to create giant screens within these communal areas, like the one we show in our Meeting of the Future visualisation. Screens can simultaneously show the main event, breakout sessions, and behind the scenes content. By logging onto the digital event, delegates can sit in front of a coffee and a screen and ‘surf’ the event content while sharing the viewing experience with other guests in the communal areas. It’s a hybrid of retreating from the event, sharing the experience, being a digital delegate or a physical one. It allows attendees to sit, kneel, or recline as they take in the information at their own pace and in their own way.
The main trends that this points to is personalisation. It’s about the delegate choosing, from the menu of options – by they content, room, or F&B – what they want and when they want it. It’s a continuing of the event decision making moving from the planner to the delegate, it is no longer the organiser’s event, it’s the attendees, and they want it their way.