Without dwelling on the past 18 months too much, we all know how much the events industry has been dramatically affected. Now that events are back up and running – in actual rooms with actual people- the question is, do they still have the same impact as they did before the pandemic? Virtual events have become an integral part of so many marketing strategies, so do we still need to be there in person?
We spoke to a couple of our clients who use events strategically in their businesses, who have recently attended and hosted events in person and online, to hear their insight.
Are people thinking differently about physical events now?
After spending a prolonged period social distancing, it’s understandable that some people will be wary about attending events in person again, while others can wait to get back to in-person events and exhibitions.
It’s clear the events industry is doing everything it can to make people feel comfortable. Sarah Newman, International Marketing Manager at SparkPost, recently attended eTail Connect – one of the biggest ecommerce networking events – and told us it felt like they had never been away, with delegates flocking to Twickenham stadium for two days of networking.
Leading up to the event, Sarah said there was a sense of nervousness about coming back, how busy the event would be and what the safety measures would be like. Event organisers worked to put all attendees at ease with colour coded lanyards to determine how comfortable people were with contact such as hand shaking, with a green lanyard meaning go.
“People have always seen the value in physical events, and there is a real excitement about getting back out there after not attending them for so long. Virtual events are great, but the value is not the same because they don’t offer the same opportunities for spontaneous connection. We found some of the best time to connect with people was during the coffee breaks, as the conversations happened naturally, which is something you just can’t replicate online,” said Sarah.
Where do online events fit in as the world opens up?
We know that despite the return of physical events, there is still a place for online conferences and networking. Another of our clients, Insider, recently hosted one of the biggest virtual summits in the world, with renowned guest speakers such as President Barack Obama.
Christopher Baldwin, VP Marketing at Insider, told us; “The main benefit is the ability to scale so easily, as many of the physical barriers are removed. For example, at our RESHAPE event, not only did we have attendees from across the world, we also had speakers from different time zones, all brought together through technology and the event platform. It’s events of this scale that really show the value in online events, as vehicles for meaningful conversations and connections.”
What makes a good online event?
Chris told us “Online events need a clearly defined mission – we all receive so many invites to webinars these days, that in order to get someone to dial in, you need to cut through the noise with compelling content and really good speakers. Presenters need to give 130% of their energy to get the conversations flowing – it takes a lot more effort than in person.”
He added that the session times and format are really important in making sure audiences stay focused on the content; “We have found that more intimate events such as fireside discussions are well received, as they give people the opportunity to have meaningful conversations, swap stories and share insights, more easily than other larger scale online events do”.
Before running an event, businesses should consider the different event platforms available. Sarah Newman said “The technology and platform you use to host your event is critical to how your event performs. Anything that goes wrong can be really challenging and distracting, so it’s vital that hosts and attendees have a seamless experience before, during and after the event. The challenge to keeping people engaged is so much harder online as there are more distractions – being succinct, to the point and delivering in an engaging way is critical.”
How are events going to continue to evolve?
“Though the events industry did an incredible job pivoting during the pandemic, and there were some fantastic events available virtually during the lockdowns, nothing beats that face-to-face interaction. Any sort of conference or networking event is so difficult to replicate online, mainly down to the chance meetings that can often be the most valuable” Sarah said.
“I think we will see much more emphasis on smaller events that enable people to do something together, such as wine tasting, book launches – we’ve even done some candle making! We’ve found that people are now much more open to travelling long distances for an experience rather than a larger scale conference, because they value the opportunity to get out and take part in something” Chris added.
The last 18 months have proved the validity of both in-person and virtual events. People still want and need human connection however they have become more open to online events when there is real value on offer. Hybrid events are going to grow in focus, with businesses now able think creatively about how best to serve their audiences. Marketers need to be mindful of the objectives of their events and decide if online or in-person, or both will be best for them. Far from events being over, it’s a new dawn for events, with a hybrid model offering the best of both worlds.