The global spread of COVID-19 has transformed daily life and, like most business sectors, the events industry has evolved and adapted to cope with the new normal. In doing so, it has entered a new phase where changes are likely to endure into the post-pandemic period.
Here, three industry experts — Carly Silberstein of Redstone Agency, Ruby Sohi of Royal Blue Events Management and Theresa Beenken of the National Speakers Bureau — provide their predictions on how the events industry will look so you can prepare for the future.
Virtual is Here to Stay
Carly Silberstein: Although we are hungry for human interaction and yearn for the days when we can be reunited with industry peers and colleagues, we’re still going to see virtual events and virtual components of events. Industry professionals will say there’s nothing like meeting face-to-face but we’ve seen the benefits of virtual events: reduced expenses, less time away from work/family as a result of not having to travel, more environmentally friendly, increased reach and lower barrier to entry/access. Some, if not all, of these factors will be leveraged in a post-pandemic world where hybrid meetings will emerge as the front-runner.
Ruby Sohi: Virtual events will continue to compete for attention and attendance as many organizations have now successfully delivered a virtual event for the first time. Event platforms will continue to evolve and become more sophisticated and fast, so there will always be options available to consider. While virtual events can never replace an in-person experience, we can expect to see more hybrid events going forward. Not only will this help address differing comfort levels of attendees, but there is also an opportunity to maintain the full potential of virtual events and use digital elements to further enhance the overall event experience. This means it’s important to understand what it takes to host a successful hybrid event now, so you can continue to deliver a truly engaging and consistent experience.
New Revenue Streams
Ruby Sohi: As the current COVID situation evolves, it’s important that we understand new spending habits and the different streams of revenue associated with events. With many organizers forced to rethink their pricing and ticketing strategies for virtual experiences, there has also been a shift in the response to event sponsorships and exhibitor sales, particularly since these are valued heavily on the interaction with event attendees and in-person connections. As organizers start to build momentum with successful virtual experiences and expand their reach with wider, global audiences, they will soon see an increase in audience size. When hybrid events take-off, it will equip organizers with new sponsorship opportunities and the potential to charge more, due to the increased exposure, not to mention the additional data and analytics collected via virtual platforms.
Adaptation of Supplier Operations
Carly Silberstein: Hotels and event venues will likely be repurposed in non-traditional ways. For example, guest rooms may be used as on-site offices or individual workspaces. Also, because event planners now have more first-hand experience and knowledge of audio-visual (AV) components, such as multiple screens, live broadcasting and balancing a variety of content sources, due to changes related to COVID-19, a new dynamic partnership is evolving with AV providers where event planners are taking on a greater producer role (in addition to being a logistics master).
Upvoting for Mass Relevance
Theresa Beenken: The audience will contribute more to the value of sessions. One technique gaining traction is upvoting Q&A. Rather than five random questions at the microphone, audience members can have a say in what they want explored and the most popular questions are addressed. Whether during an in-person event or online, this ensures the time dedicated to questions or customizing content meets the needs of most of the audience.
Broader Speaker Styles and Experiences
Theresa Beenken: Speakers and event planners are experimenting with new styles of content and information sharing, from encouraging intimate connections to larger experiential shows. As online production quality for events improves and we learn from television broadcast formats, we’ll engage with visual journeys that accompany a speaker’s insights with well-produced, pre-recorded segments, real-time experiences, shorter impactful content, interviews, gamification of learning, surprise guests, hologram speakers and more. There will also continue to be more diversity reflected in speaker and content choices.
A Change in Culture and Mindset
Ruby Sohi: The pandemic has affected all of us and even when restrictions are lifted and a vaccine is available, event attendees are just not the same anymore. This experience has changed the way we think and feel about attending events. It’s important that event planners and producers understand this and adopt a new mindset when planning events in the future. When we finally get back to a new level of normal with in-person events, some people will be comfortable attending, while others will be slower to return, even after we get the green light from health officials. This means we need to rethink marketing and communications strategies to adjust to this new culture and also ensure people understand what measures are in place to ensure their safety.
Carly Silberstein: Events will likely be smaller and more intentionally designed. They may be more regionally focused to provide for more local travel to time-conscious attendees. I also anticipate movement away from multi-day events.
Theresa Beenken: The conference no longer needs to be a place where attendees gather for a few days and then go home, only to wait until the next event to reconnect and learn. Audience members want ongoing connection and tools to help them progress and make the best of any situation. More event planners will shift their one to three day in-person conferences to multi-week or year-long experiences. With the virtual experience, planners and speakers can develop a program and community that connects attendees on their learning journey. This could be in the form of an online group of attendees that is supported by a virtual event where the speaker brings the ideas to life, followed by a post-event goal setting and action-taking journey.