Skip to main content

The conference has been forever changed since the rise of social media, and now a second-wave of low-cost, high-impact technology is disrupting the circuit once again. The three major trends that seem to be on the rise on the conference scene are beacon-based personalization, virtual experiences and gamified networking. Let's have a deeper look into each.

1. Beacon-Based Personalization It's not enough to have a conference app that displays all your event has to offer. Attendees expect a tailored experience, and that's just what beacon technology has allowed conferences to do more successfully than ever before. A technology conference held in Melbourne called, Pause Fest, made use of iBeacon by pushing alerts to their companion app that notified attendees of everything from keynote speakers performing near them to providing them with more information on things like installations they're viewing.

It's not just technology-specific events that are using iBeacon to create a more meaningful connection with consumers. The official Cannes Film Festival app as well as the SXSW app by Eventbase also leveraged this technology similarly sending highly localized and relevant push notifications directly to attendees' phones. The feature also allowed them to find content most relevant to them based on recommendations based on their profile, what's popular and what their network of contacts has "favourited".

2. Virtual Experiences Virtual reality is being integrated into conferences in a big way. The yet-to-be-released Magic Leap technology is valued at $3.7-billion (U.S.) and Facebook has made a $2-billion bet on Oculus Rift by acquiring it in 2014. Zuckerberg says he's "getting ready for the platform of tomorrow… Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever."

While technology this hasn't permeated most events, it is only a matter of time. Trend Hunter's Future Festival, which takes place in Toronto this year from Oct. 5-7, focuses on immersing consumer insights and innovation executives in upcoming trends. It's a hard group to wow, but in its first year, the research organization recorded the entire event with Bubl Cam. This camera lets users capture and experience events in 360 degrees. Trend Hunter sent attendees home with a VR headset and a link so that colleagues who could not attend the trend safaris around the city or TED-style presentations, could do so virtually. There were also various VR experience areas where guests could learn about the technology, going on virtual roller coasters, visiting far-off lands and even having a close encounter with a dinosaur.

3. Gamified Networking There is nothing worse than attending a conference by yourself and feeling alone during networking breaks or after parties. While throwing more booze at the situation can help, a better solution is to use conference apps to encourage attendees to engage with one another in a way that makes strangers eager to meet one another.

Apps like Eventmobi lets conference organizers create games based on their own objectives, whether that's to increase social interaction on the app, getting people to have face-to-face meetings or meet with vendors. Check off the objectives, and see your avatar climb the leaderboard. Eventbase sends notifications when you have LinkedIn contacts nearby and also shows what interests you have in common. And lastly, SummitSync is a new Tinder-like app that seeks to be a "universal connection app" for conference networking. There are a ton of options out there, and it's important that you choose the app that works best for the style and attendees of your event.

Beacon-based networking, virtual experiences and gamified networking are huge movements that are just getting started. Aside from these three major trends, event companies themselves are beginning to understand the implications of what digitizing conferences means for them and their bottom line. They can now have real-time insights delivered on attendance and engagement, identify key influencers and advocates, and measure ROI for sponsors.

Shelby Walsh is the president of Trend Hunter, a website tracking industry trends.

The Globe and Mail Small Business Summit brings the brightest entrepreneurs in Canadian business to Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto for an inspiring day of keynote talks, workshops and networking. Full lineup at

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct

Tickers mentioned in this story