The Future is Multimodal (Among Other Things), According to a New PCMA/Marriott Study

In a meetings world where attendee expectations are changing faster than the event app technology, anticipating the needs of groups is essential. PCMA and Marriott International joined forces to commission innovation consultancy Fahrenheit 212 to look into their analytical crystal ball and determine what trends would result in long-lasting shifts—and more importantly, what business event strategists can do to meet those evolving needs.

“The meetings and events industry’s future is being shaped by so many factors–from people’s desire to be part of a broader community to their expectations when they travel,” said Tammy Routh, senior vice president, of global sales at Marriott International. “This study brings a real-world and provocative lens to where planners, attendees and suppliers will be heading in the years to come.”

The team mined everything from data about tweets from The London Underground to layout of Google cafes and the impacts of weather on productivity, then interviewed industry leaders. The resulting report, The Future of Meetings & Events, was released at PCMA Convening Leaders 2019 in Pittsburgh in January. The five trends—and what that means for you—follow.

Related: Attendee Evaluations Ensure Better Meetings

1. Emotional Intelligence

“Business events will need to move past reactive adjustments to adopt a proactive approach to personalized experiences, understanding the needs of participants before they arrive.” That will require combining artificial intelligence and a human touch by setting up smart systems and then empowering staff to do the right thing in the moment, based on those insights.

What can you do about it? Imagine if participants could opt-in to a database and create profiles that would develop over time and suggest events catered to their specific interests, thereby making each event more personalized.

2. Orchestrated Serendipity


“Experiences must embrace freedom and surprise, freeing consumers from the constant constraint of schedules or agendas. By embracing the unexpected, we can engage participants and leave a lasting impression.” If one face-to-face conversation is equal in productivity to 34 emails, then setting the stage for lots of “casual collisions” could be the most effective way to improve the bottom line.

What can you do about it? Some programming could be designed with the intent of cancelling it, thereby creating free moments for participants to explore, or an agenda could function like a choose-your-own-adventure book, with participants picking their own path based on interests.

3. Multimodal Design

“Every event has a unique objective and audience, and a space must reflect each event’s specific personality and needs. Space is critical to any event and should be designed to adopt to the ways that participants will engage.” Flexible furnishings already allow people to move chairs and tables to fit the need of the moment. The entire space—meaning all the elements that effect the senses—must be adjustable so people can use it in different ways at different times.

What can you do about it? Matching the programming and experiences with the physical space based on individual preferences, or letting attendees adapt the environment for themselves, could result in the message resonating more clearly.

Related: Discover Your Ideal Convention Center Personality Type

4. Bigger than Oneself

“You can’t just provide content anymore. Every event must have a message. Participants want to understand what’s important to a business, and experience events that deliver that message down to the smallest detail.” From implementing zero waste to choosing sustainable venues, events are the perfect vehicle for companies to show their values by incorporating a meaningful message rather than simply talking about it.

What can you do about it? Consistency between what is said on stage and the details of logistics communicated in a visual way can make the message much more impactful.

5. Sense of Place

“The most memorable events celebrate local surroundings, enriching visitors, exposing them to the local culture and connecting them with the community to increase engagement.” By leveraging authentic geographic elements, business event professionals can help attendees escape daily routines and reach their goals—learning and experiencing new things in the real world.

What can you do about it? Off-site volunteer opportunities at schools, conservation areas or social nonprofits can make a visit more personal and offer a break from the conference setting.

Strategies for integrating the five trends into meetings will be discussed as part of Marriott’s new Mastermind peer mentoring program, which starts in March. “Mastermind by Marriott is an investment in the meetings industry. Our vision is to inspire, empower and connect planners with a collaborative community,” says Amy Popper, senior marketing manager of Marriott’s Convention & Resort Network.

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