By Ben Chodor
The past several months have forced businesses in every industry to assess their preparedness and flexibility. For some, that involved scaling quickly and becoming fully digitized; for others, it meant focusing on digital to bridge the gap while shelter-in-place orders were in effect around the globe. From what I’ve seen, the event industry experienced both kinds of changes. I have worked in the digital video industry for more than 20 years, and I had never seen such a quick, dramatic shift.
Events and conferences around the world have been cancelled, postponed or transformed into full virtual events. We are nearly six months in, and there still does not appear to be an end to social distancing in sight. As leaders, we want to remain optimistic, but the odds of being able to travel and attend in-person conferences and events remain low for the foreseeable future. It’s also worth considering how comfortable people will be with attending in-person events in the future. Will they want to go? Will attendees shake hands? How many people will be permitted indoors? These are all valid questions and conversations the industry is having.
As we think about reopening and what the future of networking and events will look like, it’s important to note that there is no going back. It’s unrealistic to think that the planning and learning curve that marketers and those of us in the event industry have experienced will be forgotten. However, the forced adoption of digital events has generated additional marketing opportunities and identified new ways to enhance the overall experience and maximize the potential for those participating.
Adapting to change is hard, and business leaders have been trying their best to understand what the new normal will entail. Change requires people to push themselves beyond their comfort zones, and because of that, not everyone is always in agreement. Not everyone will adopt a virtual event strategy, and some may be slower to transition. We’ve seen other industries experience similar changes like this. For example, in the early 2000s, digital media was on the rise and was considered to be the demise of print publications. Today, both print and digital remain. I do not anticipate that in-person events will fade from our future calendars and lives completely. Instead, I see virtual and physical events working together in tandem — as a hybrid, an insurance policy or another way to expand reach and capitalize on marketing to specific audiences globally.
Entering uncharted territory can be intimidating. Prior to the pandemic, virtual events were used in a limited fashion. Today, millions are attending virtual events from their homes, saving time and money and allowing themselves to comfortably partake in sessions and engage when they choose to. While the shift to virtual events may sound rather simple, there are several different elements involved that require coordination, collaboration and direction.
Here are some tips and suggestions for those looking to combine in-person and virtual events in 2021 and beyond.
Plan In Advance
We’ve seen events get cancelled completely or postponed due to severe weather, travel restrictions and now a pandemic. Rather than having to shift your strategy and revamp an entire event in record time, consider planning to have both in-person and virtual events from the beginning. By having the in-person event team and virtual event team collaborate during the initial planning phase, you’ll be one step closer to providing a smooth experience regardless of circumstances beyond your control.
Make The Experiences Complementary
Both events should have a creative element to them, but they should also intertwine and complement each other. If you are branding a venue a certain way or unveiling something special, be sure to marry the branding and hype across both events. Bring online and in-person attendees together by encouraging them to engage in your app and in chat rooms during live Q&As and more.
Give Sponsors The Chance To Reach Both Audiences
In-person booths now have the opportunity to become digital as well. Having an on-the-ground team go live on location at the sponsorship booths for those attending virtually can be a win for all parties involved. Organizers may also consider hiring an audio-visual team to set up projection screens throughout the venue to showcase online programming, questions, sponsorship reels or product demonstrations taking place from different locations throughout the world.
Catalog The Content
Map out what content will be available both in-person and virtually, and devise a marketing plan to promote the materials and maximize content distribution. This makes it convenient for attendees to access what they want when they want, and it also can decrease printing costs for vendors. Whether it’s marketing materials or recorded videos from on-site sessions, make sure the content is easily accessible for both virtual and in-person attendees. This gives the latter the opportunity to replay sessions and presentations they may have missed while attending other activities in different halls or networking.
While we wait for the world to return to some form of normalcy, it’s evident to me that we will not go back to where we once were. The events industry has evolved. Marketers, event organizers, attendees and businesses should embrace the new format, which blends the best of both worlds — physical and virtual. To continue to deliver exceptional experiences, consider the different audiences and their locations, and get creative in combining both in-person and virtual events.
Feature Image Credit: Getty