As an organization that facilitates connection, learning, and collaboration among impact-driven conveners from around the world, Conveners.org recognizes the transformative power that convening, when done right, has to positively change the world. Through our engagement with our powerful conveners community and our own advisory service work designing and facilitating all types of impact-focused convenings, we are in a unique position to see what works (and what has not) in the art of bringing people together.  

Based on our broad exposure and knowledge of the impact convening space, here are seven trends we foresee for 2017:  

  1. Paradigm Shift Towards Experiential Models of Convening: Over the past few years, we’ve been hearing from conference participants that their limited budgets, combined with the increasing pool of impact conferences to choose from, has forced them to reconsider where to invest their conference dollars. As a result, conference goers are choosing convenings that focus on the experience and aid them in building relationships that advance their work and lead to partnershipsand this trend will continue into 2017. Those conferences where the caliber of the people in the room create such a valuable experience are the ones that have seen a growth in attendance. Here are a few examples of what some of these conferences are doing differently:
    • This year Skoll World Forum is inviting other organizations to host experiential content during their conference, creating an opportunity for more connection
    • Opportunity Collaboration offers “office hours” for entrepreneurs to connect with investors during their the week-long gathering and has fully embraced the unconference format
    • Catering to its Millennial crowd, Thought for Food Global Summit opens its second conference day with a morning Rave to energize the crowd and show that it’s ok to let loose and have fun while tackling critical issues
  2. Non-traditional Venues: The tradition of hosting conferences at a hotel (with corresponding hotel room blocks) has shiftedsoulless hotel conference rooms no longer entice participants to want to come back. Hotel conference rooms do little more than make people fall asleep. Participants are looking for venues that are engaging and memorable with plenty of space to connect with others. We have been seeing very different environments in which conferences are being hosted:
    • Legoland theme parks are no longer just for kids; they host conveners looking for a place to spark creative and innovative thinking
    • With its minimalist and modern architecture, the House of Sweden, home to the Embassy of Sweden in Washington, D.C., provides a unique event setting integrating water and lots of natural light
    • Locales surrounded by nature, such as Play Big at Cavallo Point and Opportunity Collaboration at Club Med in Mexico, are also increasing in popularity 
  3. Fight for Relevance: Longevity is no longer enough to guarantee you a seat at the table. There’s an increasing number of impact-focused conferences, making the competition to be heard more challenging than ever. Participants are looking for something new—beyond the innovations brought about a few years ago, such as TED’s specific presentation format, the World Economic Forum’s ability to attract a certain caliber of leaders, and the Clinton Global Initiative’s advancement of commitments. More and more, Conveners are staying relevant by focusing on who they bring to the table:
  4. Shift in Sponsor Engagement: As many conference organizers can share, you can no longer take for granted that sponsors will pay again simply because they’ve sponsored your convening in the past; just like participants, sponsors are looking for a deeper level of engagement. We at Conveners.org are exploring and speaking with sponsors to see what they’re looking for, and we look forward to exploring this topic at greater depth in another post. For now, we see these trends on the horizon:
    • Sponsors are looking for increased brand value and awareness. They are concerned that sponsorship packages don’t always address how their sponsorship will achieve these two things for their organization. Conferences that can figure this out will reap the rewards.
    • There will be an inevitable shift from “pay to play,” where it’s assumed that you pay for stage presence time, to more effective ways to provide value to sponsors
  5. Growing Interest in Engaging in Impact: Another mega-trend we’re seeing is the rising interest in impact-focused convenings. SOCAP, for example, has witnessed a 50 percent growth in new participants year over year, and the Global Philanthropy Forum received enough interest and support about a specific region to spur the creation of the African Philanthropy Forum. This type of expansion indicates a new stream of investment, policy, and corporate professionals who are getting on the impact bandwagon. With this growth, the impact convening ecosystem has an important increasingly important role to play in helping new members of our community understand the historical narrative of impact convenings, as well as help shape the efficacy of their convenings.
  6. Desire (and Need) for Increased Diversity: During our Convening the Conveners co-hosted session at SOCAP16, we heard from a number of convening organizations about their desire to attract more diverse voices to their conference. This remains an issue that all conveners are trying to solve, and will certainly be evermore important this year.
  7. Localization: Another trend we’re tracking is the shift to super local events. SOCAP now offers SOCAP365 to engage its community 365 days a year, and now the Neighborhood Economics Conference, in partnership with SOCAP and BALLE, and SVN are organizing local gatherings to create more personal ways for their communities to stay connected throughout the year.

We hope these ideas and trends shape your convenings in 2017. We invite you to share your thoughts on convening trends by joining our conversation on Twitter: tweet us @theconveners and use the hashtag #2017conveningtrends.

Image Credit: Benjamin Horn via Flickr Creative Commons