Predicting the Future of Tradeshows

November 16, 2013

Tradeshows have undergone more changes during the past five years than in the preceding 100. The changes are due mainly to a fast-growing array of new technologies and tools, but also to changes in expectations and how people find information.

As John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid tell us, “The way forward is paradoxically to look not ahead, but to look around.”

Event planners have the daunting task of staying current on new and emerging trends and

always-shifting strategies to meet customer preferences. Looking into our crystal ball, here are some thoughts from Tim Patterson, co-owner at Communication One Exhibits, and myself on predictions for technology, mobile, social media and new and emerging trends.

What will the future hold for trade shows in terms of social media networks and mobile internet access? What about gamification, the data revolution, software automation, QR codes, and connecting attendees with the right tools to improve their experience?

Here are some highlights on what’s next–and what’s now.

Changing expectations of event participants

Event experiences for attendees, exhibitors, sponsors and speakers will have to become more personalized and customized. Event organizers will seek to delight these important event stakeholders. And so the organizers will harness the marketing power of the good experience. Only a truly good experience will turn event participants into advocates–and repeat customers.


Data revolution

How does gathering event data ultimately benefit event participants? Collecting data and making sense of it enables organizers to better predict what will engage participants.


What about QR Codes? They are not going away. I see the popularity of QR codes continuing to grow as a quick way to exchange information. For example, Apple has developed alternatives to near-field communication. With AirDrop and iBeacon, Apple has duplicated and improved upon the most useful feature of near-field communication exchanging data without the need for making physical contact.

Social media becomes more valuable

The power of face-to-face interactions will continue to have great impact beyond the event and within social media channels.  According to Tim Patterson, “Social media seems to have been designed with events and tradeshows in mind. Events are limited in duration and, to a degree, frenzied. Social media is superb at disseminating information.  It is also effective in guiding attendees to exhibits and sessions of interest to them.  Whether tweet-ups, contests, or just plain old-fashioned publicity, social media has impact because of its immediacy.


“Steering people toward specific platforms, such as Twitter, is an immense help in getting people involved. Other platforms such as Instagram or YouTube can also bring more engagement by offering content that is (here it comes again) immediate and shared in real-time,” Patterson said.


What’s next for social media? Patterson says, “Some new company with a new idea always throws a wrench into things. What was the world like before Twitter, Facebook, YouTube? Who will be next to force companies to adjust to a new reality?”

What future developments should we look forward to?

Wearable tech like Google Glass presents many possibilities for improving connections at events. Imagine looking at attendees and learning their names and job titles without looking at their badge. With advances in facial recognition, technology that’s emerging on Facebook and Google, we can imagine this would be extremely helpful (and, let’s face it, intrusive); How about Joe from Sheboygan that you spent a crazy night with at last year’s event and now you forgot his name? Simply access your CRM and the memories will come flooding back, or match him up with a Google or Facebook image search.


Yes, there is a lot that is feasible with new technology, but some of it, and I’d put Google Glass in this category, is downright creepy.

Get more valuable insights in the full report, learn about gamification and future developments in event tech in the report, The Future of Tradeshows, download it now.

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Partner Voices

Now, you’ll be able to seamlessly connect your virtual and in-person audiences and deliver enterprise-grade, fully integrated hybrid events - without the need to manage multiple vendors. The return of face-to-face experiences will raise questions about how to create the best blended event that combines in-person and virtual elements.