21 Feb 2018 | by Anthony Kelly

Myriad factors determine whether your conference is a success or a snooze-fest, but ensuring attendees are engaged goes a long way. In 2018, these are the trends event organisers need to keep an eye on, to ensure delegates sit up and pay attention.    

In recent years, experience has been everything in the world of conferencing. Attendees increasingly shun cookie-cutter conferences and look for something unique, memorable and share-worthy. One of the big challenges this year will be how you set your event apart from the crowd.

Last year saw the proliferation of consumer VR and live-video tech, so now anybody with a smartphone can enjoy new levels of interactivity and participation. In 2018, you should feel empowered to add little interactive touches that make a huge difference to visitor engagement, with these experiences now as accessible as they are immersive.  

This year, if you’re aiming to grab attendees’ attention in a truly meaningful way, these are the trends which you’ll want to back:  

1. Extending the Conversation Beyond Your Event

A conference doesn’t only exist for the handful of days it takes place. In fact, the months preceding and following your event contain hundreds of opportunities to engage your delegates. One of the popular trends we expect to see continuing this year is organisers utilising technology to remain in attendees’ minds long before the doors open and long after they close.

Push notifications from event apps and dedicated social media accounts are a great way to ensure people are talking about your event all year around. Revealing your programme using tactics borrowed from music festival marketing can help create a buzz, while pre-event briefings or Q&As are a great way for attendees to ask questions.

Once the event is over, it’s just as important for you to keep the conversation flowing. Social sharing of event content, especially attendee-generated content, is a good first step and making follow-up calls to VIPs in the audience often leads to repeat business.

Social media, online forums and even real-world meet-ups, are also exceptionally useful tools for building a conference community. This is particularly important for millennials, 80% of whom say they attend live events to connect with a wider community.

2. Extraordinary Venues for Extraordinary Conferences

In recent years, event organisers have been making conscious efforts to tackle the misconception that conferences are nothing more than a series of cut-and-paste, PowerPoint-driven pontifications. One strategy we expect to be popular this year is dazzling delegates with engaging themes and creative venue choices.

Click here to engage, educate, and inspire your delegates, with our infographic  guide to conference trends in 2018

 This trend builds on last year’s 3.8% growth in demand for unique and non-traditional event spaces, as organisers attempt to engage and impress attendees before they even get through the door. A key strategy if you want to grab the attention of delegates who attend many events throughout the year.

It’s also a huge opportunity to promote your brand’s personality and values in a unique way, which is an idea we’ve thrown our weight behind at Penguins, having managed  a wide range of extraordinary events – everything from events at airports and the  Science Museum, to Brazilian-themed whisky tastings and a vampire-themed Twilight Ball.

3. Breaking Down the Barriers of Time and Space with Remote Conferencing

Thanks to social media, and the internet in general, we’re never more than a few clicks away from someone on the other side of the planet. Not only does this expose your conference to a truly global audience, it also means nobody is ever really excluded from attending – thanks to the widespread accessibility of live video streaming and VR technology.

This is interactivity at its most meaningful, empowering individuals from far-flung locations to engage with your event.  

The live video movement was huge in 2017 and is only going to get even bigger this year because it speaks to that instinctive fear we all have of missing out. This is reflected in the incredible responses to a survey conducted by a survey conducted by Livestream and New York Magazine:

  • Viewers spend 8X longer with live video than recorded video
  • 81% of internet and mobile audience watched more live video than they did in the previous year
  • 80% of respondents said that they would prefer to watch live video from a brand than read a blog
  • After watching a live video of an event, viewers are 67% more likely to buy a ticket to that event or one like it

Mixing livestreamed video with other immersive technology, like VR, drone cameras, and 360-degree videos, not only creates experiences anybody with a smartphone can enjoy, but also creates a range of evergreen content that can be recycled after the event.  

4. More Interactions = Better Reactions

Sitting in uncomfortable folding chairs and listening to a “thought-leader” speak at you is no longer considered an engaging experience by modern audiences. This year, you should move as far away from this experience as possible and find ways to make events more interactive.

This reflects the idea that partaking in a presentation, not just listening to it, enables delegates to better remember and make use of the content, as well as simply increasing their enjoyment.

One simple way of facilitating more interactive experiences is by giving delegates better ways of asking questions, taking part in discussions and participating in votes. Social media is one method, but this can all actually be done in real-time through an event app – turning a lecture into a conversation.  

The rapid advancement of augmented or mixed reality technology is another huge opportunity for conferences to increase engagement by making everything more accessible. You can empower attendees to simply point their smartphone at a stage to discover who was speaking at the time or direct you to a certain location just through scanning an AR code on a sign.

A real crowd-pleaser could be the creation of bespoke selfie filters locked to your location, to provide something unique and fun for attendees.

5. Engaging Conference Attendees? There’s an App for That

Event-specific mobile apps aren’t a revolutionary idea. In fact, 80% of respondents to a recent Bizzabo survey say they use one for events they organise. However, they’re a great way to communicate with your audience, whilst stamping your brand on their phone. This is especially effective if you can give attendees a reason to use it before, during and after your conference.

Simple uses of your apps could be providing timetables and detailed information on events, informing attendees of changes or announcements, selling ancillary products, and connecting delegates.

Perhaps the most meaningful function your app has though, is its ability to capture attendee data from every tap, scroll and swipe. This will provide unparalleled insight into delegate behaviour and enable you to make more informed decisions for your next event. 

6. Say “Hello” to the AI Chatbot

2017 saw AI chatbots enter the mainstream, with more than 34,000 bots popping up on Facebook Messenger alone. They’re taking over the world of customer service so swiftly, it’s predicted that by 2020 AI will handle 95% of customer interactions.

Integrating your own AI chatbot into your app or website could free up time for customer-facing staff to perform more engaging roles. And what’s best of all is these bots can easily be developed to align with your branding and ethos.

A great example of this technology in practice is Abby, the offical chatbot for last year's trend-setting SXSW. She answered more than 56,000 questions over the week, helping attendees find their way around, get answers to frequently asked questions and even decide which events they want to participate in.


In conclusion, too many organisers aim solely to create headline experiences that get people talking about their event, but these are quickly forgotten among numerous other big moments, high-profile talks, and exciting demonstrations across the calendar.

Instead, you can guarantee your conference lives longer in people’s memories by improving their overall experience, ensuring attendees are never wondering where they should be or what’s happening next.

The key to success is ensuring the experiences aren’t interactive for the sake of showing off your technological nous. Instead, you need to implement solutions that create meaningful experiences, including:

  1. Improve the experience and ease of access for attendees who can’t be there in person
  2. Empower attendees to participate in your event, not just see and hear it
  3. Ensure the conversation about your conference exists all year around
  4. Increase accessibility of your event

Click here to view our new infographic and discover the key conference trends that'll help you engage, educate and inspire your delegates in 2018.

Discover the top conference trends to prepare for in 2018

Anthony Kelly

By Anthony Kelly

Anthony began his marketing career back in 2008 after studying business management & marketing at the University of Stirling. He joined the events and incentive travel industry in 2015 after spending a number of years in the engineering, oil & gas and transport & logistics industries.More articles by Anthony Kelly