The Evolution of Events: From the Roman Forum to Virtual Conferences

Events and conferences have a rich history that goes back thousands of years. In this post we take a historical perspective on the evolution of events and discuss some of the new trends emerging.

Roman Forum
Photo by Chad Greiter on Unsplash

In ancient times, Greeks and Romans held grand public gatherings, like sporting events and theatrical performances, with one of the earliest conferences being the Olympic Games in 776 BC. During the Middle Ages, religious gatherings, such as pilgrimages and crusades, drew large crowds over long distances. In the 15th century, trade fairs emerged in Europe, evolving into today’s modern trade shows. With industrialisation in the 19th century, conferences became more formal, highlighted by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The 20th century marked the formalisation of the conference industry, focusing on professional development and networking. In 1984, the first TED conference laid the foundation for popular TED talks as a means of sharing ideas and knowledge.

Today, events and conferences are a multi-billion-dollar industry that spans every industry and interest. From Comic-Con to COP28, these gatherings continue to shape our culture and inspire new ideas. Virtual events saw a surge in popularity during the covid-19 pandemic, with platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams being used for virtual conferences and webinars. In fact, according to Grand View Research, the global virtual events market is expected to grow from $78 billion in 2020 to $774 billion by 2030.

So, what does the future look like?

The future of events and conferences will likely be shaped by the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as ongoing advancements in technology and changes in consumer behaviour.

Here are some trends that we may see in the coming years:

  • Increased Use of Technology: Technology has been instrumental in sustaining the events industry throughout the pandemic and is poised to remain a driving force in the future. Anticipate a heightened adoption of technologies such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence, gamification, and mobile apps to elevate the event experience, fostering increased interactivity and engagement. The surge in virtual events prompted many organisers to delve into hybrid event models, seamlessly integrating both in-person and virtual elements. This approach not only enhances flexibility and accessibility but also broadens the reach to a more extensive audience. The trajectory of future conferences is likely to centre around the creation of more interactive and immersive experiences, harnessing technologies like augmented reality to amplify engagement and create lasting event impressions. The conventional networking dynamics of conferences are set to transform with the advent of sophisticated digital networking platforms, enabling meaningful connections and collaborations across virtual and physical realms.
  • Personalised Experiences: As consumers increasingly expect personalised experiences in all aspects of their lives, the events industry may need to adapt by offering more customised and tailored experiences for attendees, utilising data and technology to enhance individual engagement. AI may play a significant role in tailoring content, suggesting sessions, and providing personalised recommendations based on individual preferences, making the event experience more relevant for each participant. The use of data analytics and insights to inform decision-making in event planning and execution will likely become more prevalent, helping organisers understand attendee behaviour and preferences.
  • Sustainable Practices: Traditionally associated with significant waste and environmental impact, the events industry is undergoing a crucial shift towards sustainability. Increasing awareness of environmental concerns is driving initiatives to reduce waste through strategies like reusable materials and robust recycling programs. Moreover, there’s a growing trend toward embracing renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, to minimise the carbon footprint of events. Sustainable transportation options, like public transit promotion and carpooling, are also gaining prominence. These measures not only align with contemporary environmental values but also set a precedent for fostering a collective commitment to responsible practices within the broader global context.
  • Wellness and Well-being Focus: Events are increasingly recognising the importance of attendee well-being, paving the way for a more comprehensive and positive experience. In addition to mental health breaks, fitness activities, and wellness sessions, organisers may explore diverse well-being elements. This could involve the inclusion of mindfulness sessions, meditation corners, and relaxation zones aimed at providing attendees with opportunities for rejuvenation and stress relief. Collaborations with health and wellness experts might lead to on-site health assessments, nutritional guidance, or even access to alternative therapies. Moreover, events could integrate physical activities like yoga classes, group exercises, or wellness workshops to cater to various preferences and promote holistic well-being. By prioritising the physical and mental health of attendees, events can create an environment that not only fosters learning and networking but also supports overall personal and professional growth.

Overall, the future of events and conferences is likely to be shaped by a combination of new technologies, changing consumer expectations, and a greater emphasis on safety, sustainability, and accessibility.

Events and conferences have come a long way since the ancient Greeks and Romans, but their core purpose remains the same: to bring people together to share ideas, connect with others, and create new opportunities.

To find out how EMS could help with your next event, take a look at our services, and contact us!