By: Oliver Rowe is co-founder of virtual event platform, VenuIQ.
The impact of COVID-19 has been unprecedented for the event industry and, with the return to ‘normality’ approaching, many organisers have come to the realisation that most future events will need to have a virtual component.
Of course, nothing can replace the atmosphere and buzz of an in-person live event, but a virtual element has its own unique advantages for event organisers and delegates, including the ability to stream content to any device with an internet connection anywhere on the planet.
The evolving hybrid event model combines the best of live and digital experiences, allowing organisers to safely manage in-house numbers as well as offering unrestricted access to an even greater digital audience, therefore maximising engagement for delegates, speakers, sponsors and exhibitors. It also gives organisers the ability to build a true community they can engage throughout the year that goes far beyond the day of the live event or rebooks.
As event organisers try to plan for the months and years to come, they must consider how technology can augment them to create a better, safer, customer experience.
Events are changed forever
Although full-capacity events are set to return, not all delegates will be comfortable returning to the conference hall. Therefore, for numbers to reach pre-pandemic levels, there will need to be a virtual layer to the event. Experts within the sector have predicted that it could take at least three or four years for the event industry to see a return to 2019 levels.
It is unrealistic to assume the collective experience of the last year will not change the way we consume content and conduct events going forward. Delegates and organisers have had to become fluent in virtual event technology and are now acutely aware of the benefits of attending online, which is set to become an integral part of delivering physical events for the forseeable.
Reaching a larger audience
Offering hybrid events to delegates is a great way of increasing attendee numbers.
By holding hybrid events, organisers can reach a new audience of people unsure of the event’s benefits who would prefer to attend virtually to see if it would be worth attending in person in the future. This helps boost numbers for future events, as it offers potential in-person attendees a ‘sample’ of what is on offer.
It is likely that the return of live events will see fewer physical attendee numbers due concerns around health and safety, individuals wanting to save money on travel costs, and continued requirements to self isolate. Therefore, organisers may need to rely on the virtual element of their event to reach a similar pre-pandemic number of overall attendees to cover overheads and class the event as a success. Organisers will need to prioritise those in physical attendance to ensure they are the individuals who will bring the most value to the event or sponsors, whilst offering ways for their virtual audience to engage.
By offering both in-person and virtual elements to an event, organisers can give delegates a greater amount of choice in how they consume the event and its content. It shows an understanding that some may not feel safe to attend in-person events just yet, but also opens the opportunity for those who would like to return to the conference hall.
The requirements of a hybrid event
Hybrid events post-pandemic are set to be very different from what they used to look like up until January 2020. Previously, the online component of an event was often overlooked and considered a time-consuming task for organisers to establish, with some opting for a simple event website. However, things are much different now, with the online element being as important as the in-person event.
Organisers will need to reconsider how they structure their events, as they cannot plan hybrid events with an agenda that is suited to live only. They will need to consider whether their events are stimulating for both live and virtual attendees. It is likely that longer talks will be replaced with shorter sessions to address the issue of limited online attention spans, and ensure their technology platforms can facilitate both in-person and virtual attendees connecting – most likely via video on a mobile device, tablet or computer.
As the majority of event organisers quickly pivoted to virtual in 2020, it became clear that finding the right technology was one of the most important aspects of planning an online event.
When choosing a virtual event platform, it’s important to remember that attendees want to watch engaging content, connect with others and grow their networks, professional or otherwise. East to use platforms that ensure content is front and centre will be most attractive to audiences. By bearing this in mind, planners can choose the most suitable virtual event platform for them, which will work to bring in-person and virtual event elements together seamlessly.