Game on! 5 In-person Event Trends

Growing up in Canada, street hockey was a sport played year-round regardless of weather, the number of kids available to play, or traffic patterns. After a few long years – not that they were actually longer, they just felt that way – it seems like someone has yelled \”GAME ON!\” for life to resume. The same goes for conferences.

Whether hunkered down in the middle of nowhere, sequestered between four walls shared with neighbors, or somewhere in between, people worldwide are busting out of their five-letter-C-word shells and starting to gather again. According to Forbes, business travel is resuming, as reflected in a 33.8% increase in business travel spending from 2021. But interestingly, the same study indicates we won\’t see the equivalent of 2019 corporate travel dollars spent until 2026.


This is great news on so many fronts. As a consulting and analyst firm, TCA’s business thrives when we get the opportunity to meet people, make connections, and go tête-à-tête on #allthingscontent. In-person events are the perfect platform to make those connections. People from around the world, across roles and industries, come together with a common interest. It is so great and easy, even for an introvert like me, to start conversations and make new acquaintances that often turn into industry friends over the two or three days we are together. And while, like so many of us, I love my 50-step commute and regular uniform of Lululemon and fuzzy slippers that virtual conferences allow, screen-based events just don\’t even come close to enabling the face-to-face connections events to provide, or the takeaways from listening to someone live and in person.

Like so many of us, while a little rusty, I am getting my groove back when it comes to being physically present with so many other people. My most recent practice was at Content Marketing World in Cleveland and Dreamforce in San Francisco. And while some things remain the same – badges and lanyards, lineups for keynotes and lunches, and event apps that don\’t quite do the job. There have also been some significant changes – both planned and not- impacting attendee experiences in a big way. Some of the most notable changes: 

#1 – Everything is scaled down

From food to the vendor floor, everything is just a little bit less, including bodies. The average attendance from 2019 is down by 36% in 2022. There are so many things factoring into this particular shift:

  • The Great Resignation/Retirement/Job Switch creates a significant disconnect for potential attendee outreach. It makes dutifully created, curated, and coveted targeted attendee email lists virtually useless as those addresses and attendees no longer exist.
  • The corporate travel restrictions hangover is not entirely cured. Many organizations, large and small, realized significant savings, Amazon claiming that the coronavirus pandemic saved it $1 billion in travel expenses.
  • People just aren\’t ready for a crowd.

#2 Health Awareness

Spurred on by COVID protocols we\’ve all become accustomed to, these are a few changes that I am happy to see stick:

  • \"Dreamforce Increased use of contactless interactions. Whether picking up your badge, getting scanned into a session or sharing your deets (Image 1), conference organizers are making (much) better use of long-had technology like QR codes and contactless payment options.
  • Proof of vaccination or negative test. I don\’t see this one hanging on too much longer; it influences many\’s decisions on whether or not to attend. On the flip side, it also accounts for some of the declines in registrants and ultimate attendees (not the same thing, but that\’s for another post), as well as conference coordinators\’ ability to secure speakers.
  • Hand sanitizer stations are everywhere. Again, another good thing. Image 1: QR code embedded with attendee\’s Google search page results.
  • Grab-and-go versus buffet. \’Nuf said.


#3. Safety

We all accept by now that this is everybody\’s responsibility, but events seem to be taking this more seriously to some degree or another. From incrementally more facility security guards to multiple metal detectors, SWAT-like patrol teams, and screening canines. More attendee education/awareness with signage like – \”If you see something, say something.\”, \”If it looks suspicious, it probably is, so report it.\”, and other warm and fuzzy directives. I am unsure if this is meant to ease attendees\’ minds or put them on high alert, but it does bog things down and creates unnecessary crowding – neither of which, particularly in these times, is a good thing.

#4. The Environment (and other CSR commitments) are front and center

From food wastage to water conservation, to ACK! – no swag, more and more events are putting stock into their CSR (corporate social responsibility) commitments. Really, who needs another conference t-shirt – not my husband, that\’s for sure.

#5. A much Tamer Crowd

Call it the vibe, atmosphere, or maybe more aptly, the energy, but something has shifted. This has been the most impactful change I have noticed. And it\’s not just me; in a completely unscientific survey of several attendees and host staff of some of the events I\’ve attended this year, they noticed it too. An eerie quiet during sessions and keynotes. A lack of chatter at group lunches and networking breaks. So, while those of us for whom events are a resumption of practice, there is a whole new set of attendees for whom this is new, as is face-to-face, in-person, no-screen-between-us interaction, and they seem somewhat at a loss of how to get in the groove. Rather than engage at breaks, they were off in the corners on their devices. Rather than raise their hands during a workshop, they emailed the facilitator after the session was over. Perhaps we need a virtual event to teach people how to attend an in-person event.

Considering the good, bad, and ugly events, CMW and Dreamforce events were fabulous, well-run, informative, and worth the travel, time, and COVID stress of being around so many people. And as mentioned earlier, even I, as a poster-worthy introvert, am digging getting back to in-person events (with the appropriate solo, recharging time blocked off), so I can only imagine how the extroverts in the crowd are feeling – gleeful, giddy, positively jubilant!

By the close of 2022, I will have spoken at/attended 11 in-person industry-related events (nine more than in 2021). But after almost two years of remote or hybrid online events, returning to in-person events, even with the healthy mix of excitement and concern as new COVID variants make media headlines, it is going to take some time for everyone involved – event hosts, speakers, and attendees – to find their way back to their former, but renewed and improved, conference glory.

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