The events industry has changed dramatically since the pandemic.
Many membership organisations led the way by switching their conferences, events and special interest groups from physical to virtual, while others launched new content streams to engage their audiences in different ways.
As Think’s events partner, William Thomson, said during our virtual Q&A event: “Never let a good crisis go to waste”.
In our Q&A, we brought together event professionals from across the membership sector to share experiences and discuss how events can thrive in an ever-changing, post-pandemic landscape. What have we learnt during the last two unprecedented years? How can our event strategy reflect these learnings going forward to best engage our members? What does the future of events actually look like?
Over 30 attendees joined our Q&A to share their experiences and pose their burning questions – here are some of the key takeaways.
Plan virtual events thoroughly to ensure good attendance
According to the 2021 Statista survey, virtual events increased in popularity by 35% from 2020, while hybrid and in-person events reduced by 32%. While everyone jumped feet first into hosting online events to ride this popularity wave at first, ensuring events are successful in 2022 and beyond requires time and thought.
The first thing to consider when organising virtual events is your structure – don’t simply try to replicate an in-person event virtually, says William. Consider how different your next virtual event should be compared to your last in-person event, he advises. If there isn’t much difference, perhaps reconsider it, or adapt it more thoughtfully for a digital audience.
Think about why you’re doing this event virtually, and what you want to deliver to your attendees. How can you make your virtual event worth attending, so that people don’t drop out after the first 10 minutes?
William claimed the hardest part of virtual events is actually getting people to attend – if you’ve done the hard work of getting people in, you want to ensure your event is ‘sticky’, so that people are driven to stick around. Attention spans are generally quite short, William explained, so you need to ensure you’re providing snappy, engaging and interactive content when hosting events.
Take the time to understand the virtual event landscape and look at interesting trends within your industry – what did you enjoy most about the last virtual event you attended? What made you stay until the end?
Hybrid needs careful planning
While hybrid events – those that offer both an online and in-person option to attend – can pose a challenge to organise, they have provided more opportunity for attendance since the pandemic. They’re easier to join, require less time away from work, and people have the option to watch in their own time, perhaps even spaced out over a while.
You want to provide flexibility with your events, so that people have the option of how they engage with it. However, it’s worth noting that we’ve found hybrid events to be somewhat unsustainable: they are costly to run, as they essentially require organisations to fund everything twice, and are therefore best kept to a minimum and only when really required – in cases like international events, for instance.
Virtual events are great for sustainability
Promoting virtual events is a great way to reduce your organisation’s carbon footprint and to invest in sustainability for the future.
If you have a net zero target, Williams advises that the first thing to look at is the events run by and attended by staff within your company. Reducing unnecessary in-person events is a proactive way to target your net zero commitment, as it minimises unnecessary resources used ‘in real life’, and helps future-proof your business going forward.
The biggest mistake you can make with digital events?
While the pandemic was a learning curve that everyone did their best to adapt to, William suggested that the biggest mistake event organisers made was to assume virtual events were only here for the short-term. By not investing any budget into virtual events or planning them thoroughly, businesses are missing a trick on capitalising on the ever-expanding digital and virtual landscape.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, 52% of people believe investment in in-person events will increase in the future. While we may currently be witnessing the bounce back to physical events, it’s likely that we could see the colder months towards the end of 2022 bringing a higher return to the initial popularity of virtual events.
Therefore, it’s crucial to ensure you’re prepared and are ensuring you’re making the most of your virtual events by planning them thoroughly.