Earlier this month, from January 7 to 10, over 4,500 meeting and event professionals gathered in Nashville, TN for the PCMA annual Convening Leaders conference. I was fortunate to be able to go this year. It was my first time attending, so I had no idea what to expect. But after experiencing four high-intensity days, I’ve come away impressed by the caliber of content, people, and effort that goes into executing this unforgettable annual conference.
The biggest takeaway out of my experience at PCMA’s Convening Leaders is my new insight into how technology will shape the near and long-term future of the events industry. I had the opportunity to attend event technology-focused sessions that discussed everything from general event digitization trends and design innovation to specific technologies like VR and AR. In addition to the interesting sessions and discussions, I also got to experience Nashville’s brand new digitally-enhanced Music City Convention Center.
At EventMobi, we believe that sharing is caring, so I’m going to share with you the insights that I gained from the sessions I attended at the conference, show you photos of the beautiful venue, and describe some of the fun tech I got to play with!
PCMA Education Sessions
First and foremost, the education component of this event is unrivaled. One thing PCMA takes seriously and does incredibly well is educating their members and attendees. This was evident in every presentation that occurred at Convening Leaders. Sessions really focused on providing opportunities for attendees to engage with one another, ask questions, and for speakers to end their session on ‘So what?’, giving attendees concrete takeaways they can use in their event planning. The sessions I attended that really stand out to me are related to innovation, the future of event technology, and technology trends.
Everybody Wants Innovation (But No One Wants to Change)
In the presentation entitled ‘Everybody Wants Innovation (But No One Wants to Change)’, university professor David Owens spoke to the audience (which was so popular that it overflowed into a second room) about how to encourage, and not stifle, innovation in an organization. He started off by going over the six most effective ways to stop innovation. Do any of these sound familiar to you?
“Not generating good ideas”
“Unwillingness to take risks”
“Poor execution and scaling”
“Ignoring needs and markets”
“Not satisfying users’ aspirations”
“Poorly functioning technology”
Then he spoke about ways to make innovation work. The key is to identify and address the biggest innovation constraints, which are commonly related to individual, emotional, group, organizational, and industry constraints. The entire audience was fully engaged and by the end of the session, we were all ready to start trying new things, explore creative ideas, and take advantage of technology to create novel attendee experiences.
Future of Face2Face: Transforming Our Industry and the Professional Deep Dive
I also had the privilege to hear from industry experts Hugh Lee and Donald Dea from Fusion Productions in a session called ‘Future of Face2Face: Transforming Our Industry and the Profession Deep Dive”. They discussed the future of technology with respect to events and did a deep dive into the challenges of digitization to our industry.
An audience member asked how technology would impact elements of the event set up – like placing napkins, plate settings, and glassware. Simple and easy tasks that take up a lot of time. The response was an example of how in agriculture, technology is already being implemented through the use of small robots and drones working together to monitor fields of crops. They determine which crops need more fertilizer, and which ones are ready to be picked. The robot on the ground has enough finesse to pick strawberries off the bush without bruising the berry. So it made us think…wouldn’t it stand to reason that this duo could be programmed to fold napkins and align plates, cutlery, and glassware?
Future of Face2Face: Deep Dive Into a Futurist’s Toolbox
The last session I attended was called “Future of Face2Face: Deep Dive Into a Futurist’s Toolbox”. The speaker was Amy Zalman, a global security futurist and founder of the Strategic Narrative Institute. Her job involves examining the future and generating strategic approaches to manage complex change. She described it as how a historian analyzes the past – leveraging evidence, trends, and a variety of factors to predict what will happen. Applying this thinking to events, she implored us to think about the future of events by understanding trends of the last 20, 10, or 5 years, and understanding the rate of change that has occurred, especially within the technology realm. You can try it yourself – ask the question, “What if we didn’t have X in 5 years? How would that impact my events? What would we do instead?” You may be excited by what you think of.
As an example, think about how quickly the on-site experience has become digital. It’s now common to have online check-ins, event apps, and digital signage. Some organizations have advanced so far as to move their entire event online. We’ve arrived at a huge generational divide: Baby Boomers vs. Gen Z. The Baby Boomers, who grew up with printed handouts and pen and paper note taking reflects one attendee audience. Gen Z, the digital natives who have grown up with digital exposure, is another. What might happen in 5 years when the majority of event attendees will tip the scale towards Gen Z? How will that affect the event experience of Baby Boomers?
PCMA Convening Leaders took place at the Nashville Music City Center. The venue is a true marvel. The building opened in 2013, and it’s clear that the architects understand what’s needed in a modern building and event space. The building has free Wi-Fi throughout, so in addition to the conference Wi-Fi PCMA provided, 4,500 attendees experienced fast and reliable internet connection, which was especially useful because so much of the event revolved around the event app. It was a simple luxury, but also crucial for navigating through the 2.1 million sq.ft. building, to get between sessions!
As I walked around, it was great to see that digital signage was not an afterthought in the venue design. It seems that there was a lot of intent for where the digital signage was placed, and how it was used. Large screens were always near entrances, and hung from the ceiling and along the walls, providing directions and schedule updates.
There were also large screens near high traffic areas (ie. restrooms), that PCMA used to promote sponsors and provide additional event information. Digital signage also acted as a helpful wayfinder, rotating through a map page with a “You Are Here” pin.
If this isn’t something your event venue offers, or you want to personalize your available digital screens with content from your event app, learn about technology options to make this happen.
Finally, during conference wrap-up, I got to play with a few cool new tech tools on display. They all have great potential to add very cool elements future events. I experimented with a virtual reality headset, touring Pompeii, Amsterdam, and even my parent’s house in Toronto on Google Earth! I also played a Star Wars game on an augmented reality headset, battling droids with a lightsaber as fellow events professionals cheered. These two tools open up so many possibilities to show off destinations and venues, and for planners to create immersive, themed, and accessible experiences that completely augment the event experience.
Last but not least, one piece of technology was slightly less “high tech” in grandeur, but just as exciting and cool – paper. There were a few iterations of notebooks with ‘smart paper’ – pages that upload the page content to a smartphone and the cloud via Bluetooth, and then allow you to erase and reuse the pages. As pages sync to the cloud, they enable collaboration across cities, states, countries, and even oceans, as well as provide a backup for planners if they misplace their notebook.
Overall, I had an incredible experience at the PCMA Convening Leaders conference. I’m inspired by the role technology will play in the future of the events industry. PCMA is well known for having their finger on the pulse on the events and meeting space, and this conference was no different. The people I met prove that there is a huge interest in and discussions revolving around technological innovations. I saw how technology is already heavily integrated into event design to create a seamless and easy attendee experience. If you’re an event professional, I highly recommend attending the PCMA Convening Leaders conference. It’s an experience you’ll never forget.
Are you interested in learning how event technology can be used at your next event?
Schedule a demo now with an EventMobi consultant to learn more.