How to Think Like a Futurist

Key Takeaways

  • The pandemic has created a shift in behaviors, priorities, and perceptions of time, so that attendees now expect more from in-person events.
  • The pace of the industry and world is speeding up, and the forward thinkers will lead the charge.
  • Thinking like a futurist means not only embracing change, but watching for it, processing it, and applying it in innovative ways.

No one can truly predict the future. And yet, when you think like a futurist, it seems almost possible. For Beth Surmont, thinking about how current affairs, trends, and ideologies will affect upcoming events and being ready to apply them is one of the cornerstones of innovation.

Surmont, vice president of event strategy and design for 360 Live, spoke at the recent Event Leadership Institute Innovation & Engagement Summit on why we should care about how this all translates into innovation as an industry—and how the “what ifs” are an important part of the futurist process.

So, why should we care? The event industry is changing quickly, and the pandemic has been a catalyst for this change, not only in the industry, but in people. There has been an overall shift in behaviors and the way we set priorities, Surmont noted. Even our sense of time has shifted. “So we need changed approaches for a changed world,” she said. This is especially true now, when expectations for in-person events are higher than they’ve ever been before. 

Today, when there’s an upcoming event, there’s a thought process that goes behind it that’s different than prepandemic attitudes. For many, there’s more inherent risk going to an in-person event, Surmont noted. It might be harder to be away from families or pets, for others it might feel unsafe to travel—so they need more if they’re going to invest in an event. 

We are living in a time of exponential change, Surmont said. After all, the impact of the pandemic shutting down events inspired mass innovation in the virtual event realm and beyond. “We all know the pandemic accelerated everything and laid the stage for some things to start to happen very rapidly,” she said, adding that futurist experts have predicted that even the amount of change we experience in a year will speed up, so that by 2032, we’ll experience 12 months of change in six months, with every decade speeding up even more.

So even though virtual events have existed for 10 years or more, why is the virtual and hybrid event boom happening now? “We now have the infrastructure and investment in technology to support all of this,” Surmont said. We also have increasingly younger generations, essentially born with devices in their hands, entering the workplace more than willing and ready to bring new practices and ways of doing things into the arena.

But what is the “more” that event attendees need? Enter the futurist. 

The futurist looks for signals, like the small innovations and disruptions that could lead to possible change—including new policies, procedures, politics, trends, and products on the market. These are changes that will bring more meaning and value to your audience. But you can’t just look for them, you have to capture them, analyze them, and process them. And you have to ask: So what? Why does it matter? 

“When it comes to innovation, people don’t like it. I know that’s ironic, because it feels like a big buzz word … but people are afraid of change,” Surmont said. Because of this, you have to nurture the innovation mindset through repeated exposure and small bits of information, so that you can create an innovative culture in your organization. Read, watch, listen, said Surmont, and test your ideas. 

The shift to virtual and the return back to in-person requires an innovation mindset. Learn how to develop and adapt a business-focused end-to-end event strategy for any event regardless of type or complexity in the six-week Advanced Event Design & Strategy online certificate course.