In January of 2019, I set out to predict what the new year would bring for the conference industry. Since we are halfway through the year, I thought I’d test my accuracy with a review. Spoiler: 5 of 7 ain’t bad! (But I’m clearly biased)
1) A continued focus on AI content/conferences. Many tech luminaries are predicting that 2019 will be the year AI grows up or becomes more applicable to a broader group of people and businesses. If that is the case, there will be plenty to talk about and conference agenda will continue to include AI case studies and debates. I predict that most of the conference material will be focused on real world applications, illustrating how others are actually using this technology.
True – In addition to new events focused on AI (like the AI Government Summit which was held in DC in June and the TC Sessions: Robotics + AI, which was at UC Berkeley in April), several large conferences are hosting AI tracks. These include CES and Mobile World Congress LA.
2) An increased focus on Quantum Computing sessions/conferences. Last month, U.S. Congress passed the National Quantum Initiative Act, a bill aimed at accelerating the development of quantum computing. This technology has the potential to transform many industries, but also poses security risks. Business leaders are interested in understanding its impact and how they should prepare. Expect to see more tracks and standalone conferences dedicated to Quantum Computing in 2019.
False – While some events are still featuring talks on Quantum Computing, including recent sessions at both the WSJ Future of Everything Festival and Fortune Brainstorm: Tech, we have not seen a significant uptick in this topic at conferences nor have there been a lot of events (outside of the academic world) devoted to Quantum. We were pleased to see that Technology Review is hosting a one-day gathering in December focused on the topic. Perhaps 2020 will be its year?
3) More companies creating their own conferences for customers and partners. There are several long-running events in this category, hosted by industry giants… IBM Think, Salesforce Dreamforce, RSA Conference. Hosting a conference is a great way to control your message, generate buzz around product launches or announcements, and combat the shrinking keynote timeslots at industry conferences (now averaging 15 – 20 minutes). 2018 saw even more company-run conferences, such as Magic Leap’s LEAP event in September. 2019 will bring much of the same.
True – This trend is one that will likely continue until that next major economic downturn. Snap held its inaugural Snap Partner Summit in April; Amazon added re:Mars and AWS added re:Inforce to their conference lineups.
4) Another big conference bites the dust. I expect one of the big trade associations will end a long-running conference. This typically happens when established conference groups – either media publications or an overseas conference producer swoops in and draws away attendance and sponsorship dollars. We saw this in recent years with the demise of NCTA’s Cable Show and NRF’s Shop.org. Who’s next?
True – Even though this was one of our predictions, we are still often shocked when we hear that a conference is postponed or cancelled. There were a few of these examples…The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) is taking a break from Innovate Celebrate in 2019 to focus more on its Unveiled series in Europe. DLD will not host the DLD conference in New York City this year but will continue to host gatherings in other ‘hot spots’ around the world. No word yet on whether these US events will return in 2020. Business Insider Ignition changed its format from an annual conference to several topical one-day gatherings.
5) Fewer one-on-one fireside chats at business and technology media conferences. Audiences want variety and interaction. They want insights into what executives are thinking and doing with regards to new trends and technologies. For this reason, conference managers have limited the number of single speaker sessions and have increased the number of mini-panels and expanded fireside chats – two execs and a moderator on stage. This provides varied perspectives on a topic and seems to keep the audience more engaged.
True – Attendees want to be entertained and adding new voices to the stage seems to do the trick. Web Summit is using ‘super fireside chats’ to include two execs and a moderator. Most of the RSA Conference sessions in 2019, had two speakers sharing the stage and presenting on a topic together.
6) A resurgence of the more convenient conference locations. New Orleans and Miami had been gaining in popularity as conference locations over the past few years, but ease of travel will become even more important in 2019. New York, San Francisco, LA and maybe even Chicago will be popular as ever as busy executives try to maximize or decrease their travel time.
Undecided – The jury is still out on this one. Many of the conferences we track have stayed in their regular location, but many signed multiyear contracts or simply negotiated to lock in a good price for the following year. This is another that may not change until the economic situation forces conference managers to reconsider where their attendees will travel.
7) Media publications continue to increase their conference presence. Businesses tend to follow the money, and print publications are not as lucrative as they once were. There is money to be had in the conference industry, however. For this reason, we will continue to see media companies increase their conference lineup in 2019, utilizing their established brand/connections to sign up attendees and sponsors and their market knowledge to build relevant and timely agenda.
True – In addition to annual events, media groups are creating bespoke conferences and event series. Bloomberg continues to create topical bespoke events; TechCrunch introduced Sessions this year; and CNBC created the Evolve series after their @Work series fared so well in 2018.