Though we live in a virtual world, gatherings of all shapes and sizes continue to be part of the annual strategy for businesses and nonprofits. Our research shows that we live events and meetings are here to stay for the social reach and financial growth they generate. And we love to go to them to learn, connect, and have a great time. 

Studies show that over 1.8 million large meetings are held each year and over 225 million happily pay significant registration fees to attend.  Though it’s impossible to know, estimates suggest over $1 trillion dollars are generated by these events. That’s equal to 67% of the entire GDP of Canada and exceeded by only 26 countries in the world.

At the same time, few organizers can articulate what the return on their investment (ROI) is for the work they do on the event. Millions of dollars are spent on marketing, registration, and programming, but little attention is given to understand whether the event is a success and what effect it has. Most event work is done at the front end and within days of an event wrapping up, the focus is on what’s next. Little is known about the trends and outcomes that will shape the next event’s success (or otherwise). And research shows that over half of the people who attended one year won’t return the next. And few know why. But it happens.

Why People Attend Events

The top two reasons people attend large meetings are for educational programs and networking. All other reasons pale in comparison. Unfortunately, most of the effort involved in planning and executing these events is focused not on enhancing the value of these formal and informal learning opportunities, but on logistics (transportation, housing, food & beverage, audio visual, etc.) and other elements. If the color palette is spot-on and the sound system flawless, but the content is a “miss,” the programming team may be happy while the attendees will attend something else next time around.

And it’s a crowded space. There are a LOT of meetings and events!

Trade shows continue to grow at a rate that seems to out-pace what’s needed. Over 13,000 were held last year with over 2 million entities exhibiting at these events. Yet few exhibitors truly understand which elements of their exhibit and trade show experience delivers the most value. They gauge success by conversations and orders received, but most attendees walk right past exhibit booths based on reasons that are often unknown. In fact, at most conventions, about 30% of the audience is disconnected from the event by the end of Day One.

Get Ahead of Future Trends

There are three realities that will shape events and meetings in 2019.

  1. The Economy. No one is sure how the coming economic downturn will affect their industry. Tariffs, farm bills, and rising interest rates will trickle down and affect local businesses and families. It will be easy for organizations to freeze budgets on nonessentials. If an event isn’t seen as a “can’t miss,” well… it can be missed.
  2. Technology. Technological changes have disrupted how we live, work, teach, and gather. It’s been a boon to events too, but its role and benefit may not parallel or exceed its cost in time and money. And yet some event planners have found a way to use technology to provide a seamless learning and networking experience (the two main reasons people attend gatherings!) for attendees with significant effect long after the event.
  3. Competing events. We all know of organizations that lost a lot of money over an event. That year numbers dropped and the sponsoring group was left holding a bag empty of cash that was needed to finish paying the conference hotel for the promised number of rooms. Or the meeting that booked an expensive speaker only to discover he/she didn’t have as much of an attractive “pull” as anticipated.

The reality is that most event organizers don’t really know what’s going on with their target audience. The focus is on creating the event and not evaluating it. Evaluations actually trigger our insecurities too – we don’t really want to know if what we just had planned for 18 months missed the mark. We like our work and want to keep our jobs.

Another factor is that often events are planned by a handful of people and sometimes one or two seem to get their way about certain things while the others go alone. Silently. But hesitantly.

The Importance of Knowing

Event organizers can’t afford to not do evaluation well. And that’s what we at Arbor do, usually for less than three dollars a person (plus any travel/expenses). More than that is spent on registration systems. Arbor Research Group provides a group of experts in evaluation who each has over 20 years of event and organizational leadership. We provide a cost-effective third-party evaluation that will give you the depth and quality of data you need to help make future events even stronger! Send us an Email today and let’s get started talking about what you need.