How Will Virtual Events Impact the Evolution of Live Events

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Stemming partly from technological advancements and partly from social distancing necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic, the need for virtual events drastically increased in early 2020. Luckily, event planners and the events industry were able to pivot and meet the demand head-on.

The world was blindsided by the pandemic, its forced closures, and disruptions to everyday life; the events industry made some quick decisions, allowing brands with scheduled live events to pivot to virtual events. Many brands took a major hit, but virtual events provided the exposure that brands were looking for. Industry analysis has suggested that virtual events may even outperform traditional events in several important ways.

During late fall 2020, a survey was sent out to 400 event marketing professionals in mid-senior level positions. Based on major statistics from this survey and other market insights, we’re looking to the future of live events a little differently.

Maximizing Reach With Online Events

It’s no surprise that brand reach, exposure, and brand awareness increase when events are moved online. Because of the accessibility of technology, the internet, and access to event apps, more people can tune-in from anywhere in the world. And, according to the survey, 80% of respondents agree that by shifting to virtual events, they’ve seen an 80% increase in a positive effect for reach.

Online events eliminate the need for participants to travel to a specific location. While there are perks to doing so, travel eats up money, time, and effort. Even if attendees are set on traveling for a single event, the need to travel to the event limits the attendance. With the ability to attend via video and/or voice call, online events allow more people to attend more events. Not only does this improve event reach, but it also encourages more attendees to be a part of that community.

So, does the introduction of greater accessibility in online events impact live events? There’s a chance that by offering more online events for reach, participants will no longer consider traveling for the live event. However, this does not have to be the case.

Virtual events allow brands to tap into a different market. Likely, many of your online attendees might not ever be able to attend your event in-person. Offering a virtual component allows more attendance generally and interested participants the ability to choose how they would attend your event.

This trade-off could play to the event marketer’s advantage. Brands can offer more (content, incentives, rewards, gifts) in the hybrid event format or provide smaller online events that build brand awareness and hype for a leading, in-person event, therefore capitalizing on both formatting types.

Brands can offer incentives for each event type, and attendees can be motivated to attend an in-person event, for example, to receive the allotted reward. For now, if brands want to connect with participants all over the world more often, providing a digital component is the way to go.

Navigating Attendee Networking and Engagement

Participants might go to live events for the content but predominantly attend in-person events to connect with colleagues, mentors, new vendors, partners, and networking connections. Physical conferences, meetings, summits, and trade shows are some of the best ways to get your brand, product, service, or idea in front of someone else. When you seek seed capital or negotiate a partnership, it can be awkward to do this online. Individuals are less likely to seek out others in a random online space like a virtual conference.

Even with the increase in attendance sizes, virtual events still struggle to provide intimate networking connections. Event management systems can mitigate this hurdle. Implementing comprehensive event technology allows brands opportunities for exclusivity marketing. Brands can offer premium ticket purchasers special incentives like private VIP dinners and exclusive Clubhouse live rooms.

Event technology can improve audience engagement and networking. Augmented reality, gamification, meet-and-greet live chat sessions, virtual reality, and online communities all play a role in enhancing this interaction. Even when live person events return, digital technologies can facilitate networking opportunities, especially when your attendees return to their cities and towns and cannot meet up with the connections that they made at your event.

In a way, the reliance on virtual events will improve engagement once we are allowed to go back to physical events. Attendees will be more flexible when it comes to in-person events and see more creative ways to make connections.

In-Person Meetings Will Resume, But With Virtual Elements

One thing is for sure—virtual events have made a lasting impression. Once physical events are allowed again, event organizers will need to include more virtual components into the live event experience. Therefore, we shouldn’t expect to ditch our virtual event platform as soon as we can go back to IRL. You will want to incorporate all-in-one event tech to be used as a digital component at your physical event.

Event hosting software can provide ticketing, registration, scheduling, networking, statistics for connecting with customers, and opportunities for fundraising events. Each of your attendees will come with their mobile device in hand. An event organizer can use it to track the sessions that they are interested in, allow them to connect seamlessly online with the exhibitors that intrigue them, or record aspects of their favorite presenter and share them to an exclusive event social page.

According to the survey, about 63% of marketers planned to resume in-person events as soon as possible.

So, while event professionals can expect this shift back to in-person events, continue to incorporate event technology for your participants. This will

  1. a) keep attendees connected to the same software that they got used to during the pandemic,
  2. b) transition them smoothly between virtual and in-person events, and
  3. c) provide synchronized data collection methods, synchronicity, and ease of use for event marketers.

Hybrid Events Will Play a Major Role in the Near Future

The rise of virtual events has created an inevitable hybrid event future. While we cannot expect the virtual event format to take the place of in-person events, we can provide them with both aspects of in-person and virtual events to tap into both markets.

Event marketers agree (by an overwhelming 97% majority) that hybrid events will be prominent moving forward. This is because hybrid events offer the best of both worlds—increasing brand reach while also offering the elements of engagement and networking that are missing in virtual events.

With the expected shift back to in-person events, continue to implement digital components. Digital components not only offer a greater reach to wider audiences, accessibility for more individuals to attendees, and more innovation, but they also improve the sustainability of the events industry as a whole. Travel time to an event greatly impacts CO2e emissions, and events waste around 530 metric tons for the average 1,000 person event. Hybrid events can offset these environmental impacts greatly.

By incorporating event technology into a physical event and offering live-streamed or uploaded content of a live event, your event will be able to tap into unprecedented markets and start to save the planet while you’re at it.

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