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Engagement trends for live events in 2023 and beyond

A much-quoted 2015 Microsoft study by Canadian researchers found that the average human attention span had dropped from 12 seconds (frequently attributed to Millennials) to 8 seconds (Gen Z).  

This caused consternation in marketing and eventing circles - how would we hold our audiences’ attention? But, as McKinsey & Company’s Mind the Gap newsletter noted at the end of 2022, “It’s not true that Gen Z can only pay attention for eight seconds. For a generation adrift in an overwhelming sea of content, it’s less about paying attention and more about what breaks through the noise.”  

Growing up with digital technology at their fingertips and a flood of information daily, “Gen Zers” have honed their discernment filters. The rest of our audiences are catching up quickly. It’s not that we don’t pay attention; we choose to consume more of what interests us. 

Engagement volumes may suggest audiences prefer short content, “but that’s due to being choosier about where they spend their time. When they care about a topic, they’ll invest,” Mind the Gap concludes. 

These are the three overarching trends that are emerging in 2023 that facilitate and maximise engagement at events. 

 

Technology-enhanced experiences 

As Dr Maria Panagiotidi, Head of UX Research at Oyster and Senior UX researcher at CrowdSurf, writes in UX Psychology, “A number of factors dictate how much attention we pay to things (e.g. motivation, external distractions). Improving the quality of the experiences we provide and understanding our users and their needs is more likely to improve engagement and sustain their attention.” 

Technology is delivering new opportunities to improve the quality of experiences, and how we extract the correct data that shows us what audiences want. Going forward, virtual, hybrid and in-person events, conferences and meetings will incorporate more digital touchpoints, supported by technology. 

Expect to see more use of augmented reality and virtual reality, and even teleportation / holograms.  

In a recent collaboration with Realives, MCI France pushed the limits of digital events with Moët Hennessy’s World Purchasing Convention. 150 employees enjoyed an interactive mosaic experience and no less than eight speakers were teleported, live, to the same set from Buenos Aires, London, Reims and Cognac. All delivered in high-definition, with zero latency or lag. 

Initially designed and developed for B2B event use, the Realives solution makes it possible to optimise virtual presentations with new technology that brings speakers closer to their audiences, in conditions as close as possible to face-to-face. This includes a participatory mosaic of up to 300 people or 1 000 spectators; teleportation, multiple panels in multiple locations on screen together, and hybrid events that promise the same experience on site and remotely, with the ability to broadcast in several languages. Realives is a subsidiary of MCI. 

Other areas where tech can be used to improve engagement include wearable tech that can help attendees navigate exhibition halls via GPS, and monitor heart rates to measure how a presentation resonates with a particular audience. Conference apps that allow gamification and polls along with an improved experience, from registration to navigation, are another trend to watch.   

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Data and tailored platforms 

Bear in mind that the ability to sustain attention has been shown to peak in our 40s. Perhaps then it’s not such a surprise that Gen Z has a low attention span, comparatively speaking, and especially regarding topics that don’t engage them. This highlights the importance of knowing the precise demographics of our audiences.  

If data on audience demographics has become an essential tool, the interpretation of that data to produce relevant interactions tailored to a specific audience has become a defining factor. Immersive experiences that leverage new technology and curate content to audiences’ needs will generate extended interest, deep focus, and enthusiasm. And by measuring, ranking and scoring behaviour, organisers are able to target and act to enhance the experience of attendees. This data also leads to measurable outcomes and quantifiable impact. Data mining is therefore going to be increasingly critical going forward.  

According to Accenture, 83% of customers are willing to share their data to create a more personalised experience. “In this new environment, organisations are managing a more complex total event programme and they’re looking for deeper integrations between their technology solutions to gain a better understanding of attendee engagement across all their events — whether in-person, virtual or hybrid,” said Anil Punyapu, Cvent’s SVP of Sales & Partnerships.  

MCI’s OneSystem Plus leverages the benefits that Cvent offers as a comprehensive event marketing and management platform to help organisations manage the entire event lifecycle. It has been called “the industry’s most flexible and customisable event housing and registration platform”, as it combines best-in-class SaaS technology with cutting-edge customisation.  

The OneSystem Plus platform promises consistent reporting, business rule implementation, integrations and user experience (attendees, exhibitors, speakers) features. In March 2023 new AI-driven features were added. “AI has the power to transform the way exhibitors analyse their sales leads in real-time at trade shows, providing valuable insights and predictive analytics that can accelerate the sales process and increase revenue growth,” said James Kelley, vice president of registration at MCI USA. 

Further features being added in 2023 include certain aspects of MCI’s contact centre being fully automated using ChatGPT for live chats and emails, plus session and exhibitor recommendations for each attendee to build an agenda and trade show floor tour based on their interests. The platform will summarise post-event survey responses and provide recommendations on how to improve the next event, and using the attendee feedback, will help generate an agenda and content for the next event. 

Creativity and innovation are essential for engaging events, but these must be infused with insights to amplify that engagement. The use of data to execute virtual and hybrid events, as well as track audience engagement, is critical to delivering impactful experiences that resonate with our audiences. 

As the future of audience engagement takes shape, such platforms will evolve to provide a unique and ever-more personalised experience that is tailored to the individual participant. The ability to make real-time adjustments based on a deep understanding of the audience will drive strategic outcomes that deliver the best experience possible.  

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Content strategy 

A new phenomenon emerged during the Covid pandemic and grew in subsequent years: meeting fatigue, also known as Zoom fatigue and video-conference fatigue. It has been covered by, among others, the Harvard Business Review, the BBC and the Wall Street Journal. By November 2021, the phrase “Zoom fatigue” had already attracted more than 600 000 hits on Google. 

A number of research studies have been published, including Professor René Riedl’s The stress potential of videoconferencing: definition and root causes of Zoom fatigue.  

In it he notes that “Longer video sessions such as online lectures should have breaks of approximately 10 min every hour. Second, short breaks should be made between consecutive virtual meetings. In the business context, it can be frequently observed that the end of one virtual meeting comes along with the immediate start of the next meeting. Recent research refers to this phenomenon of missing or little time between two consecutive virtual meetings as burstiness, and it has already been shown that burstiness and videoconference fatigue are positively correlated…  

“Imagining virtual scientific conferences or distance learning where the quality of argument cannot be processed properly due to limitations of cognitive resources that result from videoconference fatigue readily reveals the potential for a fatal scenario.” 

If audiences of all ages are now adept at filtering for, and prioritising, content that engages them, and if we accept that video-conferencing fatigue exists, it’s not surprising that content strategy is key to a successful event. Here are some thoughts about trends to consider when developing your content strategy: 

Data analytics will facilitate customised pre-event content that can be delivered directly to those who have bought passes or indicated interest, to create a compelling case for attending.  

Content created during the event will enhance a sense of community through tailored experiences, social meets with peers, 1:1 breakaways and collaboration opportunities.  

Sessions will be shorter, keynotes will be delivered in immersive formats, or switched to conversational formats where the audience can participate by supplying questions in advance.    

Going forward, we expect to see demand for content that drives engagement beyond the end of an event. The digitisation of even in-person events means that, with a little planning, there should be a wealth of relevant clips to repurpose once an event has concluded.  

Audiences expect video content, and as US Campaign notes in 2023 Event Trends, “One way to drive engagement is to repurpose and reuse the content from your events in other marketing channels. Through channels such as webinars, virtual events and on-demand video content, marketers can build a constantly engaged audience and extend the duration of an event long after the event itself has ended.” 

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In conclusion 

2023/24 promises to bring about dynamic changes in the way event organisers approach audience engagement. We will see more collaboration to achieve strategic outcomes.  

Digital communication will play a significant role, but it's not just about technology; it's about creating meaningful and relevant experiences for the audience, and solutions that bring people together and strengthen communities.  

Katerina Tolmacheva - Marketing Director