The Future of Conferences: Ten Things Great Conference Organisers Do Differently

 31st May 2018 by gihan

Videoconferencing, online meetings, telepresence and other collaboration technology are gaining traction. That doesn’t mean the in-person conference is obsolete – but its role has changed. Some of the benefits of coming together for a conference can be achieved just as effectively in other ways.

As a conference keynote speaker (and somebody who has been in the industry for over 20 years), I have seen major changes in the way conferences and events work. Especially in the last few years, because of technology, changing demographics, and global connectivity.

If you’re in the MICE industry – as a speaker, conference organiser, speaking bureau, association, event sponsor, or anybody else who’s involved in events – download my new special report “The Future of Conferences”.

In this special report, I look at ten trends affecting professional conferences and events, and how conference organisers take advantage of them. Good conference organisers adapt to these changes. Great conference organisers embrace them to create transformational experiences.

I wrote the first edition of this report in 2015, and I’ve now rewritten it completely to bring it up to date for 2018. This is not just a minor revision – I’ve completely rewritten it!

The first edition is only three years old, but that’s an eternity now in this fast-paced world.

In that time, we have seen rapid growth in technology such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, online collaboration tools, personalisation and customisation, social media, and much, much more. It goes without saying that much of this technology affects the Meetings Incentives Conventions & Exhibitions (MICE) industry, but not always in the most obvious ways, and not always to the same extent. This revised edition reports on the latest trends and their impact, especially in the Australian market.

As with the first edition, I wanted to make this more than just a “white paper”, but also a source of practical ideas for great conference organisers. So, as before, I have included practical ideas for you to created more compelling event experiences. In fact, I have gone much further than the previous edition, including more in-depth ideas and more references to external sources.

For example …

We look at the three different types of people in your audience – based on their age and demographic profile:

Not surprisingly, each group wants different things, and there are so many ways now to deliver. For example, we look at audience interaction tools like a live word cloud:

Or what about an online bulletin board for audience members to share their biggest takeaways from a panel discussion?

Yep, there’s a lot of tech – but it’s not all equally useful!

Meetings industry peeps in Australia were asked which technology would be important in future conferences and events, and their answers might surprise you. These were their top five:

Some others that have gained a lot of media hype didn’t make the cut, including holograms, heat maps of foot traffic, artificial intelligence and robotics, and facial recognition software.

But it’s not just about technology.

It’s easy to focus on technology alone because there’s always a new Bright Shiny Object to capture our attention! But events are changing in other ways as well – as meeting professionals predict about the nature of sessions:

That’s just a small sample.

Anyway, that’s just a small sample of the research and resources you’ll find in the 2018 edition of “The Future of Conferences”.

So go ahead – please download it!

Download Now

And, of course, you have my permission to share it far and wide with colleagues and friends in the MICE industry. The more we all learn about how to be fit for the future, the more useful and compelling we can make our events.

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Artificial Intelligence Works Best When Combined With Our Own

 29th May 2018 by gihan

There is a lot of discussion about the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in our future. But it’s still early days for AI, and the best uses of AI happen when we combine it with our own human genius. We need strong leaders who push for change and strong work cultures that embrace it.

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Engage in Lifelong Learning with Online Courses

 24th May 2018 by gihan

In our fast-changing world, you can’t afford to stop learning when you finish formal education. If you truly want to be fit for the future, making lifelong learning a habit – and tap into the awesome power of online courses to keep feeding that habit.

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Think Deeper About How to Leverage New Technology

 17th May 2018 by gihan

Did you see Google’s recent demo of its AI software, Google Duplex? It’s been doing the rounds on the Internet in the last week, as people marvel, critique and parody it.

In case you haven’t seen it, it’s a demonstration of the Google Assistant software making a phone call to book an appointment at a hairdressing salon. The software actually makes the phone call, understands the person on the other end, and responds appropriately to her responses and questions.

Watch the video here:

Impressive, huh?

I’m always wary of product demos, because they don’t always reflect the full capability of a product. And Google especially is well-known for showing – and even releasing – incomplete products (Gmail was in beta release for five years!).

But, leaving that aside, this is impressive!

There’s a lot of talk in the media and society about how AI (artificial intelligence) like this and robots will replace humans. And you can easily see how this could replace a human personal assistant’s role in many ways.

But don’t limit your thinking!

The most extreme – and most limited – mindset is to see this completely replacing a human’s role. But that’s not the only way to think.

Broadly, you can think of any new technology at four levels:


The new technology replaces the need for a human to do that task. The human simply disappears from the equation, and goes the way of the lift operator, typist, telephone operator, and other roles that have been replaced by technology.

Thinking this way isn’t necessarily negative. It might be negative for the person whose role is replaced, but it could be very positive for their employer – who can do more, faster, and for less money.

Of course, there are important ethical and societal issues here, but that’s a completely different topic. I just want to point out that the “replace” mindset is not inherently “good” or “bad” – it’s just limited.


The next level is where the new technology helps a person do the task better – more effectively, more efficiently, with fewer errors, or in some other useful way. It helps them leverage their time and brainpower by automating whatever it can.

Of course, we see this in hundreds of small ways now – such as a spell checker helping a writer, cruise control helping a driver, even a remote control helping a couch potato!

If a smart personal assistant saw Google’s demo, instead of saying, “Oh, no – I’ll be out of a job!”, she would say, “Oh, great! How can this help me do that task better?”


The next level is where the technology elevates the human to do higher-level tasks. So, in this scenario, the technology might replace the human in that task, but frees her up to do something more important.

For example, in education, enlightened teachers and schools adopt the “Flip the Classroom” model, where teachers delegate the routine task of presenting content to technology – in the form of things like online courses, videos, and (now) virtual reality experiences. When the students are in the classroom, the teacher helps them with problem solving, collaboration, ideas generation, and all the other things that technology just can’t do yet.


Finally, the highest level is to leverage the technology to do something completely different. Instead of asking only how this technology will affect a specific role, we ask “How else could we use this?”

In fact, if you watched the Google demo video to the very end, you would have heard the presenter talk about one such scenario: determining the opening hours of a shop on a public holiday. Instead of dozens of people calling the shop, the Google Assistant could make just one call, understand the response, and record the information, so that everybody who searches Google finds that information directly.

I bet you that wasn’t the first idea you had when you saw the demo, right? But it’s an excellent exmple of leveraging an innovation to solve a different problem.

What’s YOUR mindset when you see new technology?

Do you automatically go to the most limited scenario – where the technology will just replaces a human?

Or could you be a bit more open-minded, and see how it could assist or elevate them?

And what about being a real possibility thinker, and imagine how you could leverage it into something completely different?

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Think Like a Futurist

 15th May 2018 by gihan

Futurists aren’t fortune-tellers! They simply look broader, deeper, and further than most people, and help you find new opportunities to apply what they find. As writer William Gibson said, the future is already here – it just isn’t evenly distributed. In this webinar, I’ll teach you four practical skills that futurists use, which you can use yourself to enhance your personal and professional life.

You can watch the recording here:

After the webinar, I asked participants “What was the most useful thing you learned today?” Here are some of their answers:

“be open-minded even in what seem obvious areas”

“4 things to improve decisions”

“Interesting ways of looking at the future”

“To widen your scan”

“Broaden the scope of thinking – widen the possibilities”

“The “Yes, and ” way of thinking!”

“Steps to better decision making

The Future Proof Webinar Series

The Future Proof webinar series will keep you in touch with our future – what’s ahead, what it means for us, and how to stay ahead of the game.

In each webinar, I’ll cover an important topic about the future – for example, the shift of power to Asia, the changing workplace, healthcare technology, the shift to customer-centric business, big data, and more. This is not just theory; I’ll also give you practical examples and ideas for you to future-proof your organisation, teams, and career.

Register here

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The Future of Conferences

 8th May 2018 by gihan

Videoconferencing, online meetings, telepresence and other collaboration technology are gaining traction. Does that mean the in-person conference is obsolete? No – not by a long way! But its role has changed. In this podcast episode, discover the top trends affecting our professional and personal lives, and how great conference organisers use them to create transformational experiences.

Listen To the Episode

The Future of Conferences

The Future of ConferencesAs a conference keynote speaker (and somebody who has been in the industry for over 20 years), I have seen major changes in the way conferences and events work. Especially in the last few years, because of technology, changing demographics, and global connectivity.

If you’re in the MICE industry – as a speaker, conference organiser, speaking bureau, association, event sponsor, or anybody else who’s involved in events – download my new special report “The Future of Conferences”.

This is the brand-new 2018 edition, based on research and trends in the industry, and tailored especially for the Australian market.

Download Now

More Resources

The Fit for the Future Podcast brings you regular ideas, interviews and insights about how you, your teams and your organisation can become fit for the future.

More ways to engage with me:

Add Foresight To Your Ideas to Make Your Innovation Really Hum

 3rd May 2018 by gihan

Many organisations run innovation programs, but it’s hard to get traction when your innovation doesn’t have any direction. The missing ingredient is foresight – the skill of looking into the future, so you can pull your innovation from the future, not just build on the past.

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We’re Getting Innovation All Wrong

 1st May 2018 by gihan

I’ve been speaking to a lot of organisations recently about innovation, and I reckon we’re getting this whole innovation thing wrong.

Smart leaders know they need to change and innovate, but their efforts just don’t get traction. Why?

We’re not talking about the simple and obvious reasons – like:

  • Change for the sake of change (“shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic”)
  • No management buy-in for the change
  • A toxic workplace culture

Let ’s assume you don’t face these obstacles. You have a team that ’s willing to change, you have the support of your management team at all levels, and you’re not just doing change for the sake of change.

So, we’re talking about essential change/innovation efforts designed to keep your business current – or even ahead of the game.

And yet they still fail. Why?

Most people think it isn’t their job.

Even in a positive workplace, where people find their work interesting and would engage in innovation or change, many of them just don’t recognise it as part of their work.

Many (perhaps most?) people think of “innovation” as something big, like inventing a new iPhone, creating a nanotechnology surgery robot, or sending a commercial rocket to Mars. These major world-changing innovations capture the world’s attention, but everyday innovation, continuous improvement, or “kaizen” (as the Japanese call it) is just as important. One small idea might not have the same impact as one big idea, but thousands of small ideas building on each other might!

That was the strategy behind the British Tour de France team, Team Sky, in 2012 when their rider Bradley Wiggins became the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France. Their coach, Dave Brailsford, adopted the approach of making “marginal gains”: a series of seemingly small improvements that cumulatively led to ultimate victory.

For example, they colour-coded the drink bottles the riders picked up during the race. A bottle with a white top was water; a blue top was an energy drink. That simple change saved a few seconds each time a rider reached for a drink. That might not seem much over 3,500 kilometres, but it was just one of many small changes that all added up.

But this method wastes time and energy.

The problem with this kind of innovation is that it often wastes time and energy.

With a clear goal like winning the Tour de France, it’s easy to direct these small innovations where they matter most. But without direction and clarity, it’s easy to put excessive resources into “improving” something that shouldn’t be a high priority.

This is known as Parkinson’s Law of Triviality. It’s also informally called “the bicycle shed problem”, where people leave complex design tasks to the experts, but spend endless hours debating the design of a simple bicycle shed because everybody has an opinion about it.

Don’t get me wrong – I know continuous improvement is important. But it needs to have direction and focus.

Innovation needs to start from the future.

Before you start any innovation or change program, you need to know where you’re heading.

Futurists call this skill “foresight”, and it’s the missing element from most innovation and change programs.

This might seem obvious, but most innovation programs don’t work this way. They operate without direction, as if the next big idea is just going to pop out of nowhere.

Pull from the future, don’t push from the past.

The key difference when you start with foresight is that you start with a future focus. Instead of pushing change from the past, you pull it from the future.

When you think like a futurist, you can then act like an innovator. If you really want to create compelling change, first learn how to see into the future so you can design a path to success.

As a team, you stay ahead of the game. And as a leader, you can feel proud and excited to be leading this motivated team.

Discover the missing piece that dooms most innovation programs to failure.

For more about using foresight to drive your strategy, innovation and change programs, download my free white paper Think Sharper and you will learn:

  • Why most innovation programs don’t work
  • How to add a crucial first step before you start any innovation or change program
  • How to make innovation a habit – not a burden – in your team and organisation

Download Now

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