Despite the immediate impact of the pandemic on the events industry, it quickly adapted to new ways of delivering experiences. In-person events were brought online, delivering the same high-quality content and engagements that delegates expected. This took innovative thinking about how events can be run differently, while still delivering value to attendees and sponsors.
Virtual events are accessible regardless of location or time constraints. They can also greatly enhance the ROI for sponsors: usually a sponsor’s content will only reach the target audience on the day of the event, whereas virtual events are giving rise to longer campaigns. New mediums, such as video and online event hubs, are helping people be exposed to the sponsors’ brand for months after an event has been held.
Hart Square, a specialist consultancy providing CRM and technology advisory services for charities, not-for-profit and membership organisations, runs up to 30 events per year across the UK. Their largest event, chase, is the number one leadership conference for the sector and attracts around 800 delegates and 50 sponsors. Hart Square will host the event virtually this year, aiming to attract 1,000 non-profit leaders at each morning session, providing unique content and new keynote speakers via a virtual interactive platform.
Organisers will pick and choose the best elements of both traditional and virtual events.
Glenda Parker, Chief Executive Officer of Hart Square, believes the move to virtual offers a variety of benefits: “Generally speaking, virtual events attract more people, and can allow for live-streaming and the addition of interesting interactive elements. Taking chase online has not changed our ability to attract a quality audience. So far, it’s shaping up to be a wonderful event and we will consider virtual events as the go-to going forward if the anticipated success comes to fruition.”
Sparking new innovations
Technology suppliers such as Circdata, whose technology platform Fusion helps manage event registration and audience engagement tools, are confident that hybrid events will become standard and have invested in new innovations specifically designed to respond to the new format of events.
Over the last few months, they have been converting virtual portals into a combination of hybrid and virtual events, with the exhibitor element moving online, providing the most significant change to the status quo. These capture richer data, such as who is accessing and downloading information, allowing exhibitors to track down the “hot leads” they are making within the audience.
Chris Clipston, Managing Director at Circdata, believes that the level of behavioural information and insight for exhibitors is a huge advancement: “Exhibitors can still showcase products and expertise but provide more content at the same time through a smarter looking portal than their usual exhibitors’ stand. The audience can be given companion information for the event, and our flexible service can produce video and live content distribution integrated into the product.”
Predicting the future
Whilst the not-for-profit sector has adopted this new style of events, some industries still yearn for the traditional model. Some sectors, such as medicine and health, can thrive on the ease of educational content that virtual webinars and Q&As provide. However, sectors reliant on showcasing equipment are hindered more by conferences which are solely online. The technology industry is known to host large-scale shows, which are harder to condense virtually. The demographics of the audience also makes a difference, as the shows need to appeal and provide appropriate content for a diverse group of attendees. With this in mind, hybrid is likely to be commonly adopted to cater to wider client bases and a mix of conference and expo-style activities.
Rather than cause a revolution in the events space, Covid-19 has sped up the trend toward adopting technology to host virtual and hybrid events. This was happening before the pandemic – but the onset of lockdown and social distancing worldwide means that for now, virtual events are the norm, rather than an interesting alternative for organisers.
This is not to say that virtual events will dominate the future – organisers will pick and choose the best elements of both traditional and virtual events. They will use a combination of face-to-face interactions for exhibitors and networking, whilst expanding the educational and marketing elements of their events to a larger number of people over a longer period of time. The future of events is hybrid.