June 05, 2023
By Mike Fletcher

This year, IMEX Frankfurt hosted almost 3,000 exhibitors from over 100 countries and more than 3,500 global buyers.

Facilitating business by driving thousands of appointments (55,000 in 2023) between buyers and exhibitors has always been at the heart of the show. But, for the first time, the event app offered free lead scanning for those important moments of serendipity.

Also of note was the IMEX education programme. With its own dedicated ‘Inspiration Hub’ hall, well away from the one-to-one meetings taking place on the exhibition show floor, the programme featured an impressive 150 sessions across six curated tracks:

  1. Technology and Innovation
  2. People and Planet
  3. Business Practices
  4. Experience Design
  5. Event Marketing
  6. Trends and Research.

With so much to experience from the show, here are some key takeaways and trends from the event.

1. Sustainability

The ‘People and Planet’ content track was packed with well-attended sessions aimed at helping planners to reduce carbon emissions, embed a culture of sustainability at their organisations, track sustainability goals and make better ‘climate positive’ decisions.

For example, London & Partners teamed up with Eurostar to bring a group of North American buyers from London to IMEX Frankfurt by train.

In a panel session entitled ‘What you gain from taking the train’, Eurostar’s Senior Lead for Business, Inge Bauwens, outlined how a single flight from London to Paris produces 57.8 kg of CO2 emissions per passenger, compared with just 4 kg by train.

Barbara Jamison, Head of Europe at the London Convention Bureau, told attendees how Eurostar had laid on a private carriage so that the event experience could begin as soon as they had left St Pancras International, with buyers being able to network and be entertained on their journey with an organised quiz.

On arrival in Brussels, a CVB collaboration with VisitBrussels saw the buyers enjoy a lunchtime reception before changing trains and heading to Frankfurt via Cologne.

Meanwhile, The Events Industry Council and the association ICE (In-house Corporate Events) used IMEX to launch sustainability guidance called ‘Action 10+’.

The guidance focuses on specific aspects of the meetings and events planning process, including venue selection; waste management and water conservation; food and beverage; energy management; transportation and production materials.

It also addresses how events can track and measure sustainability and what ‘good’, ‘better’ and ‘best’ practices look like.

ICE created Action10+ with input from its Sustainability Taskforce made up of planners working at Barclays, Snap, S&P, Siemens, PwC, EY, Cvent, Maritz Global Events, DRPG, as well as the Events Industry Council’s Centre for Sustainability and Social Impact.

Cvent’s Senior Marketing Manager, Europe, Felicia Asiedu, spoke on a panel to discuss the guidance.

She says: “Event professionals are increasingly committed to meeting goals to reduce carbon emissions and create greener events, ultimately to build a more sustainable industry.

“However, challenges can arise when it comes to knowing what to implement throughout the event lifecycle and tracking the positive impact of the actions undertaken. Through Action10+, planners have access to recommended steps to manage and introduce measures that can contribute positively to green goals.

“It is also a great tool to show stakeholders that events can be sustainable, and also instrumental in showcasing company values to wider audiences in an empathetic and powerful way.”

2. Technology

Artificial Intelligence and how AI will benefit marketers and event planners was widely discussed across the Inspiration Hub.

The PCMA association and its subsidiary, the Corporate Event Marketing Association (CEMA), launched a research initiative called ‘Project Spark’ to study the impact of generative AI on the business events industry.

PCMA and CEMA President and CEO, Sherrif Karamat, says: “AI in the business events industry is just beginning, but we cannot define its future without our global community. We believe business events are about creating social and economic transformation.

Cvent meanwhile launched its AI Writing Assistant tool, which leverages natural language processing technologies to help marketing and event teams create compelling content for emails, websites, session descriptions, and request for proposal (RFP) responses.

The AI Writing Assistant can be used across Cvent’s suite of solutions, including Attendee Hub, Registration, the Cvent Supplier Network and Cvent Video Centre.

Many other speakers, such as David Crais, Chief Product Officer of SYS Labs and Hannes Schwarm, Director of Strategic Solutions at Vok Dams, talked about the potential for AI to streamline event management processes, unearth ‘unknown insights’ in attendee data and evolve the visitor experience.

Other technology-focused sessions included ‘NFTs - I don’t get it,’ presented by Maritz Global Events’ Innovation Leader, Amy Kramer and ‘The metaverse - a man’s world?’, featuring Vok Dams’ Chief Metaverse Officer Christopher Werth and Allseated’s MD GmbH, Sabine Reise.

3. Culture & Society

Cultural and societal conversations across the content tracks reflected IMEX’s dedicated ‘Talking Point’ for 2023: Human Nature.

Sessions included ‘How to measure and manifest belonging’, ‘Beyond quiet quitting’, and ‘The secret to building highly successful remote teams’.

As part of the secrets to building highly successful remote teams, attendees identified ways to unite disparate teams, with many agreeing that building trust is a fundamental part of the process.

During ‘Beyond quiet quitting’, Thorben Grosser, VP of Product Marketing at EventMobi, shared his experiences managing teams of Gen Z employees, including how to inspire them by giving them greater autonomy and developing a meritocracy company culture.

In ‘How to measure and manifest belonging for events’, David Allison of Valuegraphics, Naomi Crellin of Storycraft LAB and Megan Henshall of the Google Experience Institute showcased ‘The Belonging Index Map’, a diagnostic tool that distils 912 different expressions of belonging to reveal what they mean in the nine different regions of the world.

As Allison explains: “Everyone wants to feel as though they belong. The job of event designers is to understand how this one value – belonging – might play out among attendees and then bake that into your approach. It applies to everything from how you communicate with your audience to their lived experience of your brand at the event.”

4. Accessibility & Inclusivity

If you attended IMEX Frankfurt this year, the first thing you’ll have noticed was the trade exhibition’s brand refresh.

The classic dots, representing people coming together to meet ‘eye-to-eye’ or face-to-face, have been reimagined, contemporary pastel colours have replaced the stark black logo, and a soft brown background tone has been introduced to make readability easier. 

It wasn’t only the show’s branding that was redesigned with accessibility and inclusivity in mind.

Wider aisles between stands, a greater choice of locally sourced, low-carbon food, quiet spaces and low-level lighting all showed an improved understanding of how people’s needs differ and what a high-impact, visceral experience a trade show can be.

Health and wellbeing sessions saw attendees learn breathing techniques and experience Qi Gong, Tibetan singing bowl meditation, Reiki and more in the Be Well Lounge. For fitness enthusiasts, the early morning 5km IMEX Run along the banks of the river Main proved the perfect start to the exhibition's final day.

5. Event Design

The transformational power of technology, personalisation and extraordinary event formats all formed part of conversations about event design.

“Access points, seating arrangements, views and lighting – these all matter when it comes to event design. Today’s attendees are prepared to say, ‘If I can’t get my needs met, I’ll leave’,” explained Janet Sperstad, Faculty Director of Madison College’s Event Management degree, during her session ‘How to attract attention.’

Mike van der Vijver, the Founder of MindMeeting, told attendees to his session: “Meetings should be purpose-designed. Start with your purpose. If you design by default – what are you missing? It’s time for the meetings industry to step up and lead non-professional meeting planners – and not just with logistics, but at all stages of the process with a coherent and structured approach.”

Finally, Hannes Schwarm, Director of Strategic Solutions at Vok Dams, believes that future-facing event design has to SHINE by incorporating Sustainability, Hybrid elements, Individualism or personalised experiences, Networking and Extraordinary moments.

“Go more granular with your content, add more sessions, more snackable formats, and let attendees dip in and out to keep them curious and engaged. Make hybrid formats more interactive and inclusive with polls, voting, live chat and the like – the in-person and digital can provide different experiences as long as they’re both delivered at eye level.

“But most of all, continuously strive to amaze and surprise and use your event content to build and grow communities all year round.”

A final word from the organiser

On the last day of the show, IMEX Group CEO, Carina Bauer, remarked on the exhibition’s visual impact and memorability factor being stronger than ever.

“This year’s IMEX demonstrated how much more we all know about designing experiences with sustainability and purpose in mind, ensuring accessibility, inclusivity, higher standards of psychological safety and wellbeing - in fact, all our human needs,” she told the gathered media.

Looking ahead, Bauer declared that IMEX is on target to publish its Net Zero Strategy later in the summer and has already established a dedicated project team who are working closely with MeetGreen and Isla.

She concluded: “We’ve always known that strong personal relationships and connections are the bedrock of business, especially in a global market based on hospitality and freedom to travel. Since the pandemic, we have also appreciated other aspects of our humanity - shared values, a shared purpose, and the power of collective action.

“This is why the IMEX mission is to bring the global events community together to do business, learn and drive positive change. This week’s show has exemplified positive change. It bodes well for the future.”

Next years IMEX Frankfurt will take place from 14 - 16 May 2024. IMEX America takes place from 17-19 October 2023 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

Mike Fletcher

Mike Fletcher

Mike has been writing about the meetings and events industry for almost 20 years as a former editor at Haymarket Media Group, and then as a freelance writer and editor. He currently runs his own content agency, Slippy Media, catering for a wide-range of client requirements, including social strategy, long-form, event photography, event videography, reports, blogs and ghost-written material.

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