Planning in-person events is a fast-paced, detail-oriented and high-stakes process. However, companies shell out massive sums of money to host them year after year because events are highly valuable.
Events came to a halt last year with the Covid-19 pandemic. When the world realized the pandemic was not going away anytime soon, the events industry, like most other fields, was forced to either adapt or shut its doors.
For the events industry to evolve successfully and maintain business continuity, it had to lean into technology. Events and conferences of all sizes began utilizing digital platforms that enabled shows to be held, streamed and broadcasted entirely remotely.
Quickly after the pandemic caused in-person events to be canceled for the unforeseeable future, virtual events became the default because they allowed attendees to attend from the safety of their homes. Upon switching to the digital approach, companies quickly realized a slew of untapped benefits not available at in-person events. Some of the benefits virtual events offer include:
1. Detailed Analytics
Since virtual events take place on a digital platform, a vast array of analytics can be collected — including daily attendance, average presentation watch time, audience engagement and more — that companies can analyze to optimize subsequent events.
2. Rescheduling Flexibility
In-person events are not flexible when it comes to rescheduling because they possess countless moving parts that need to be shifted; virtual events are primarily set up in advance of the event, making it easy to change the date.
3. Increased Marketability
Virtual events allow people from around the globe — as well as those who may not be able to take off work or have parental duties — to attend the event. Online events can be marketed to individuals who otherwise couldn’t attend.
Online events have much lower carbon footprints than their in-person counterparts because of the travel involved and the waste from swag bags, lanyards and physical marketing collateral like brochures and info-sheets.
5. Reduced Travel Costs
Since attendees do not have to leave their homes to attend the event, they do not have to pay for travel costs, such as transportation, lodging, food and entertainment.
6. Central Database
After the event ends, virtual event platforms can be used as a database to store an event’s presentations, vendor booths, marketing collateral, networking connections and more. Attendees can access this gated resource whenever they desire, and companies can store content, data and analytics.
Even with these benefits, it would be hard to deny that the value of in-person events for relationship-building and communication. There is still a strong need for live, physical events for human interaction and business development.
Moving forward, how can companies reap the benefits of virtual events without making an event entirely online?
Hybrid events are hosted both in-person and virtually simultaneously — and are expected to be the approach well past the pandemic. Attendees who prefer to go to a live, physical event have the option to attend; those who prefer the convenience of online events or aren’t able to attend in-person can also participate.
Professionals can still go in person to network, interact physically with vendor booths and products and enjoy the atmosphere. On the other hand, people who cannot attend in-person or do not want to go in-person can still experience and access the event using their computer, phone or tablet. Furthermore, hybrid events allow companies to reap the benefits of both in-person events and virtual events.
In the future, when the Covid-19 restrictions ease and in-person events can be held again, companies may be tempted to go back to hosting solely in-person events. Previously, this would be fine because historically, events could buy insurance that covered them in case of a pandemic. Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, pandemic insurance is largely unavailable or cost-prohibitive. If Covid-19 flares up again or another unforeseen scenario arises, events will not be insured and will lose all the money they invested in the show.
One way for companies to protect themselves in case of another pandemic, a natural disaster, adverse weather, terrorism or no-shows by key presenters is to plan all future events using the hybrid model. If unforeseen circumstances occur that require the in-person aspect of the event to be canceled, the virtual component of the event will already be set up. Thus, companies do not have to scramble at the last minute to concoct a solution. Companies can focus more energy on informing in-person attendees of the change of plans, as well as working with the virtual events platform to ensure it can scale and accommodate the new influx of virtual attendees.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Plan Engaging Content
Whether the audience is physically present or virtual, attendees registered because they have interest in the event’s subject matter. Focus on great content about your company, product or service in the form of demos, Q&As, educational material or special offers.
2. Treat Vrtual and In-Person Formats Equally
It is easy to accidentally focus more time, energy and resources on one aspect of the event than the other. Treat both elements equally to ensure attendees have an outstanding experience no matter how they attend.
3. Market to Both Groups
Be sure to research, plan and adapt marketing strategies to target potential attendees for both the in-person and remote/virtual elements. To drive engagement, exhibitors should market booth content, events and promotions in advance and during the show. Remember just because it’s virtual doesn’t mean to set it and forget it; there’s opportunity beyond the last day of show.
The future of events is still being debated as the world transitions back to normal. In the meantime, companies should be proactively researching and outlining how they plan to host events going forward. This could be through examining event insurance policies, looking into different virtual event platforms, conducting surveys to gauge potential attendee interest and more. In the end, one of the strongest ways for companies to protect their time, money and resources when planning a future event is to pursue the hybrid event model.