We are living in a time of unprecedented technology change. How will these changes affect association meetings and tradeshows? Will they remain a central form of education, networking and marketing? Will virtual meetings and other communication technologies replace the need for face-to-face events and exhibitions? Although there will likely be very significant changes in these next few years, there are some strong drivers that bode well for the future of associations and events.

Here are five constants that will keep meetings viable in the future:

1. Human gregariousness

Humans are social animals. We like to get together. Indeed, there is a biological imperative to do so!  This basic drive will continue to bring people together for face-to-face events of some form for as long as we roam this planet. 

2. Social connectivity -- the desire to meet with people of like interests

Meetings can be considered the original social media and associations the original social networking platforms. The rise of social media tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, enhances our ability to connect with people of like interests – the same goal of many events! As our social network expands, this continuing desire to connect with these colleagues will keep meetings as an important method of doing so. Social media may expand our contacts; meetings will provide the opportunity to meet them face-to-face!

3. The value of tradeshow and exhibitions as important marketing vehicles

If a product is a commodity, there are opportunities to automate the sales process online. However, there are many businesses that are highly service oriented (such as the hotels, convention centers and meetings management to name a few) – they rely on people to deliver the product. Association tradeshows and exhibitions afford a great way to meet these service providers and gather information in a condensed, time-efficient and cost-efficient manner.

4. People like attractive destinations and are enriched by the travel experience

Travel broadens horizons and provides great ways to experience cultures, cuisines, new ideas and much more. Meetings often afford the opportunity to get away from their day-to-day business routine and to experience new horizons.

5. Live face-to-face events provide a much richer experience than virtual meetings

Webinars and other virtual meetings are great for short information exchange. However, in today’s multi-tasking and often distracting work environment, attention spans are short. Thirty minutes to an hour is usually the maximum you can expect someone to pay attention sitting in front of a monitor.

Face-to-face meetings, on the other hand, take people to a more focused location with fewer distractions. As long as people are informed, entertained and fed, event hosts can keep people engaged for days. At the minimum, there is a social contract to at least look like you are paying attention at an event. This is very different than most virtual events. The opportunities for networking, brainstorming, and relationship building are usually far greater at face-to-face events than online. To put it succinctly, there is no such thing as a virtual beer!

Association meetings provide opportunities for people to connect. Our gregarious nature, our desire to meet with people of like interests, our curiosity to experience new locations and ideas will be constant driving forces to keep association meetings a viable means on connecting, educating, and bringing people of like interests together for the foreseeable future.

About the author

Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP, DES is a speaker and independent third-party consultant focusing on events technology. He is an inductee into the EIC 2018 Hall of Leaders and a proud member of ICCA for the past 17 years. He can be contacted at his extensive web site Corbin Ball & Co. – Meetings Technology Headquarters and followed on www.twitter.com/corbinball

This article was originally featured in ICCA's latest industry report on the 55-year history of international association meetings, "A Modern History of International Association Meetings - UPDATE: 1963-2017". Download the full report from www.iccaworld.org/55years for more insights into the legacy of association meetings and how the market has grown since we first began tracking its growth.