#RotterdamExperiment 1 – How global transformation in technology, organisations and values will impact the future of events

To explore the future of the events industry and help event planners prepare for what it holds for the global events industry, Rotterdam Partners Convention Bureau has launched a new series of hybrid events called The Rotterdam Experiment, which comprises seven ‘experiments’ that will take place on a bi-monthly basis, and each edition will cover a new topic. 

The COVID-19 crisis has brought our industry to an abrupt halt. It is necessary to explore and experiment with new event formats and seek creative solutions. But this is not enough; we also need to look more deeply into the global trends that involve technology, organisational structures, generational shifts, learning, values, leadership, etc. The entire world right now is in transformation, and businesses are being disrupted. We don’t know what the future holds, but through experimenting and the direction of Rotterdam futurist and bestselling author Yuri van Geest, we can educate and prepare ourselves, our businesses and organisations for the new normal. 

The first experiment took place on 3rd December 2020 and was about ‘Mixed Reality: Let’s Meet in VR!’. The event took place at Postillion Hotel & Convention Centre WTC Rotterdam and was moderated by Mirjam van de Kamp, Account Manager Convention Bureau at Rotterdam Partners. It offered both online and offline audiences a theoretical and practical glimpse into the world of mixed reality using virtual reality (VR).

The event was divided into three parts: 1) a keynote by Yuri van Geest called ‘The global perspective for the path ahead’, 2) a VR demonstration by AltspaceVR and Q&A with VR expert Freek Teunen and 3) a table talk with event industry leaders who shared their experience from the past months leading their events and organisations as events moved into the virtual space. There were highly useful insights from Marjan van der Haar, managing director of International Film Festival Rotterdam, Carola van der Hoeff, who is the Chief Operating Officer and Congress Director at International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) and Kris Stabel, who works as a Senior Educationalist and Head of Educational Advice and Training at Risbo (Erasmus University Rotterdam).

Innovation is in Rotterdam’s DNA

During the opening remarks, Mirjam van de Kamp shared, ‘We are going to learn and find out what VR technology can do for us in the future. Will it influence the way we create our events? We’ll find it out through the visionary talk and a practical example.’

‘Why are we doing this? The world as we know it is in transformation; there’s a shift in consciousness, and there’s a need to change. We need to be more aware; we are more aware, and it also influences our decision-making process. How do you adapt? How you go about all those changes around us, and how you prepare for the future we don’t have the answers for—we don’t know what’s going to happen.’

‘Through experimenting, that’s one way to find out. That’s why here, we wanted to discuss with you what options you have and what you can take into the future. And we want to do that the Rotterdam Way because we believe that in Rotterdam, there’s truly innovative DNA, and we believe in the power of collaboration. Bringing those two aspects together can create an environment for us together to experiment, and to try to learn how to walk. Because if you want to learn how to walk, you need to learn how to fall as well. That’s what we are doing today—we can make mistakes as well. Pretty scary but exciting.’  

‘We are all experimenting every day. We are using new platforms, creating new types of events: hybrid, online, luckily also live again in small groups, but we are all attempting to adapt, and we are experimenting without even knowing it.’ 

The first experiment is part of a series of seven experiments, and every time, a different challenge the industry is facing will be addressed. Mirjam continued, ‘The theme of every experiment will vary, and we’ll be experimenting with a different platform every time. Next to that, the venue will be different, and our panel of experts will differ. So, the total experience will vary every time.’ It will be highly valuable to join the entire series. 

Some things will stay the same. ‘We’ll be sharing the knowledge that we gain through every experience together with you openly on our website, and that’s for you to share, to use to your advantage—we want to really develop our industry and help that push forward and accelerate the change.’

The first experiment included particularly valuable lessons. So, I will share it in two blog articles with you, starting with part one here and the second part to follow shortly. In this first part, I’ll share with you the highlights from Yuri van Geest’s keynote about ‘The global perspective for the path ahead.’

Will technology influence the future of events? I hope by the end of reading this and the follow-up article, you can draw your own conclusions.

Inspiration: The global perspective for the path ahead – Keynote by Yuri van Geest

Yuri van Geest opened the event to outline the shift happening right now in society and list key trends in society and events. 

‘We are living in an extraordinary time. We are experiencing a systemic transformation that is holistic in nature: technology, organisations, values and leadership. The last time a similar phenomenon was lived through was 150 years ago in my view—the second industrial revolution.’

Right now, our world is disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yuri shared, ‘Corona is an amplification of all the trends that were already there. It’s accelerating everything in terms of value shifts, new technologies, digitalisation, climate and nature.’

There are three types of transformations occurring right now and these include: technological transformation, organisational transformation and shift in values. 

Technological transformation looks at technologies that will accelerate change in the next years, such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, robotics, biotech, nanotech and quantum computing.

Organisational transformation looks at moving from a digital platform and exponential organisations towards digital ecosystems. ‘Ecosystems allow people to have a larger impact on the world in a faster way and insource innovation and ideas from the outside in in a more efficient and effective manner. Ecosystems are mass collaborations that are also necessity for events because we need to accelerate our collaboration globally’ Yuri commented. 

The third transformation that happens is a shift in values. This can be seen with Gen Z for example, who are 20 years old and younger and who are called the “we” generation, not “me”. The shift in values means that we have to move away from “me to we”, from “competition to collaboration”, from “freedoms to responsibilities”, from “rights towards obligations”.

Event trends

Shifts in technology, organisation and values have implications for events and also for technologies within events, such as VR and augmented reality (AR).

1. Shift towards ambitious events. The middle will be disrupted.

According to Yuri, ‘B2B and B2C events build significant change. We won’t go back to the old normal. What I expect and assume, after corona, let’s say the end of next year after the vaccine has been broadly introduced, we’ll see a shift towards higher, ambitious events; mostly hybrid, high-quality speakers, and the middle will be diminished. The lower end of events—B2B and B2C—will also grow like the high-end events. The middle will be disrupted as in other business sectors. 

2. B2C becomes B2B

‘The second trend I see is that B2C will become B2B. Consumer trends will become increasingly business trends. More rapidly than before. In the past, it was B2B trend events, and then you had the consumer trends. Now, it’s converging. The values and experiences people have as consumers they will expect or require increasingly over time at business events.’

3. Event content: show vulnerability 

The next trend is about content, ‘I see a shift in what kind of content people appreciate. People will crave vulnerability inside events and conferences. Talking about your weaknesses and mistakes, your troubles, deeper feelings and soul experiences. These are about small, intimate events online and offline that enable discussion of these areas.’ 

4. More authentic, deeper content and deeper conversations through co-creation 

‘Further, we’ll see more authenticity, deeper content and deeper conversations—no shallow talks for five minutes about one topic but probably longer sessions and more co-creation. It’s no longer one person broadcasting a story; increasingly, it will be about unconference styles, co-creating wisdom and knowledge together and using the collective intelligence. Online and offline. We co-create wisdom and unity insights together. That’s a big shift from “competition to collaboration”, from “me to we” and from “mind to heart”. We co-create on a level playing field.’ 

5. Value of online events for rational aspects, value of offline events for emotional, social or spiritual experiences, with future of events becoming hybrid 

Next, I see the value of offline and analogue maybe even more than ever before because of corona, but I also recognise the value of online. The online aspect is perfect because you can experience more. You have less travelling and walking; it’s very comfortable, and you can switch rooms. But the biggest insight for me is the value of data and interactions online. It’s mostly valuable for rational aspects.’ 

Here, Yuri highlighted the difference between online and offline events. ‘If you talk about emotional, social or spiritual experiences, then probably analogue or offline events are better in the future, also for B2B. I expect a shift between the two and, of course, hybrid will dominate online and offline combined because some people won’t be able to travel. They want to stay at home and protect the climate; they don’t want to fly as much as they did in the past in order to heal the planet. Because hybrid will become the norm, some people will prefer online, some will prefer offline and, most likely, local people will attend the live events. There’s value to both.’

Use of new technologies at events 

What about new technologies such as VR, AR and mixed reality (MR)? Yuri shared an example of an event that combined the three trends: technology, organisational and values and collaboration. It’s an event created by Rutger van Zuidam and called Odyssey where participants collaborated within an ecosystem in a VR environment. They were highly successful and empowered, engaged and committed. Gen Z loved it the most because they’ve grown up in gaming and the Internet, and they come to those events to collaborate and heal the planet. They perform their actions virtually to build solutions together and then implement them offline. For me, this is a particularly inspirational example, and it’s happening globally—all these VR examples at events, massive collaborations, driven by new generations mostly but also by older generations because they increasingly see the value in this. It gives me a lot of hope and perspective.’ 

Next event – save the date!

This discussion outlined a highly inspiring and innovative approach to what event planners should look out for when planning their future events, be it live, virtual or hybrid. Planners will be able to better understand their audiences, design more appropriate content and allow more space for collaboration and co-creation. 

In the next part of the article, I’ll share with you more about the VR experience and the insights from the panel discussion that took place with industry experts during this first experiment about ‘Mixed Reality: Let’s Meet in VR!’

In the meantime, you can already explore all the future topics of the #RotterdamExperiment and block the dates. It’s worth attending all the experiments, trying different platforms, seeing new venues in Rotterdam and getting introduced to thought leaders. By following all the experiments running up to November 2021, you will have a steep learning curve and will be ready for what the future holds.

The next experiment is on 18 February 2021 and is entitled Gaming and Building Communities. The website will be updated on a regular basis. So, make sure to revisit it regularly, and be back on my blog to read the second part of the first experiment and learn further how technology will influence the future of events.

Watch the after-movie:

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