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What’s Hot in the Association Conference Sector in 2018?

It’s been a busy 12 months of conferences and the TAS team have enjoyed a diverse array of events this year. From colleges honouring ancient traditions to emergency medics taking over a big top, 2017 has been all about engagement and, as these top trends for 2018 show, it’s a theme that is set to stay!

Live streaming isn’t new but the practice of digitising a conference is making waves in the association sector. Whilst some early adopters have been extending the reach of their conference for a couple of years, the uptake of webcasting and live streaming has been significant. It is little wonder when you consider the fact that not only does it help reach non-attending members and delegates but also generates additional revenue.

Taking the digitisation of events one step further, associations can now share their speaker sessions with international partners with ease. Not only is distance not a barrier, but thanks to some handy new software neither is language. Services such as Interprefy will translate your key note sessions and workshops into any language of your choosing live in real time.

Combining live streaming options and translation software means the potential reach of conferences and their messages is unlimited.

Whilst convenors are extending the parameters of their events, sponsors are also breaking with tradition. The past few years have seen a growing push for a change in how associations package sponsor opportunities. In place of standalone opportunities at annual events, savvy associations are creating attractive ongoing opportunities that ensures the sponsor gains frequent exposure with members and delegates via a plan that looks at 365 days rather than just 2 – 3.

Sponsors, and exhibitors, in turn are also changing what they bring to the table – or lack thereof – when it comes to conference time. Bursting out of the standard 3 x 3m booth, many sponsors and exhibitors are now opting for mobile exhibitions. The notion behind mobile exhibitions is that by removing the formal boundaries, the conversation is more relaxed between delegate and sponsor and therefore potentially more valuable.  It also takes the exhibitor to the delegate rather than waiting for a delegate to happen upon them.

Increased interaction isn’t limited to the exhibition floor either. In 2018 we will see a big push towards interactive sessions that not only capture the attention of delegates but challenge them as well. Fishbowls, Campfires and Round Tables are amongst the buzzwords likely to be thrown around at upcoming conferences and planning meetings.

Each format allows for smaller, interactive sessions that encourage learning not just from a keynote speaker but also from peers. The process fosters a knowledge sharing approach whilst the small groups encourage tailored and personal education sessions.

Contrary to media advocating the use of artificial intelligence and augmented reality, the association conference in 2018 will only see small nods to this. Whilst the technology is exciting, a lot of it is cost prohibitive for the not-for-profit market and is likely to take time to infiltrate annual conferences fully. However communication based AI, such as the use of Chatbots is definitely on the rise and gaining popularity.

Chatbots are essentially a computer program that can be built in a variety of programs including Facebook Messenger and communicate directly with delegates. The software allows conference organisers to communicate directly with delegates advising of session times, directions and other critical information. Adding Chatbots to the mix is a great way to boost engagement whilst taking small steps in to the AI world.

They may not be new for 2018 but they are certainly hot, integrated marketing plans are still proving popular as associations see value in using an array of platforms to engage multiple delegates. Further, creating ongoing conversations by seeding information, running regular podcasts or even simple blogs is helping to build and maintain momentum between events.

Whilst the methods may be new and evolving, one thing that remains constant this year is the ongoing thirst for learning and networking. Keep the content new, the speakers engaging and the format fresh for success in 2018.