It is time to re-shift the mindset to the ‘new normal’. Let’s challenge the idea that virtual platforms are no longer a substitute, but a complementary addition to a face-to-face event.
We will never revert back to pre-pandemic event operational design, structure and management. We have learnt a great deal in the last two years and can harness those learnings, new trends, evolution and technology within the events industry. This is the time to create a ‘new normal’ for business events.
Based on recent discussions with the industry we know that 2022 is a ‘reset’ year, 2023 will be about regrowth and 2024 and beyond will see a renewed energy, function and style emerge in the business events industry.
When returning to face to face, it is important to consider the following:
It is important to have a holistic view of an event. Let’s understand the value proposition, objectives and drivers of the event as this is key to designing the broad event experience and aligning the structure of the event to suit the needs of the attendee, ensuring we provide value on all aspects.
2 Area of Focus
Three key focus areas are education, networking and accreditation. In addition to these, there is a renewed focus on recouping lost revenues from not being able to stage a penultimate event within Association and event calendars.
3 Risk Management
For the last two years objectives had to be achieved through virtual activity and we know that individuals are keen to return to face to face meetings and interactions. However, consumer confidence is still quite low and risk mitigation processes within event design is greater. Key considerations for face to face events involve the following:
- Plan a virtual element to complement the face to face event, this will also provide an opportunity for an additional revenue stream. This additional work is also the foundation of a contingency plan should the event need to be fully virtual for any reason.
- Ensure you have negotiated flexible terms and conditions with suppliers and negotiate favourable payment terms, cancellation and postponement clauses within contracts.
- Calculate expected attendee numbers more conservatively knowing consumer confidence is a contributing factor in decision making. Historical pre-pandemic event attendance data may not align with current or future trends.
- Ensure you advertise flexible terms and conditions with respect to registration, accommodation bookings, flights and all other items and ensure this is clear up front within your communications to manage hesitancy and encourage confidence in attending.
- Ensure your event addresses covid safe protocols and has clear ongoing messaging and reference points for additional information.
4 Events are like the Olympics
Hybrid events are similar to the Olympics and all major sporting events. They are one event but two completely different audiences. Designing an event that provides value to both audiences is critical.
Create a strategy and plan for both virtual attendees and face-to-face attendees. Then it’s important to consider the value that you will be providing to physical attendees to entice them to register for the event, knowing that the virtual event is designed to complement the physical and not replace it.
5 Technology is not the first consideration
Do not fall into the trap of thinking about the technology and platforms first; rather it is imperative to understand the event and business objectives and then work out how they are to be met, remembering that the focus is now on face to face.
Providing a complementary virtual component of an event allows for live streaming, plenary sessions, virtual networking, social activity and the ability to create additional revenue streams through on demand services, education and knowledge sharing. This allows for an event to have a greater global audience reach and provide engagement for both physical and virtual audiences.
6 Great experience for both audiences
If most of the expected attendees live in close proximity, a face-to-face event would seem the most beneficial, however for the few that may be unable to travel or are too far away, there is technology to include them, and a goodie bag can be sent to them to help create a connection between the different user groups.
If education sharing is the main objective, then a virtual element will be most beneficial and can support the face-to-face event. Attendees have varied learning preferences, some like a structured environment whilst others prefer virtual engagement, some may not have time, budget or inclination for large travel distances.
If networking is the objective and connecting with peers is important, a hybrid event can achieve this, however they are different and each needs to be planned with different concepts and ideas for networking to create the right program, structure and overall interaction.
7 Timing of Advertising
Advertising for virtual events can be undertaken much closer to the event, with an average of 4 weeks prior, whilst a face-to-face event requires a much greater lead time with an emphasis on the benefits of face to face attendance and generating that fear of missing out (FOMO).
8 Diversification of Revenue
An opportunity exists for greater revenue by drip feeding content via an online education program and concluding with the conference being the penultimate event of the year.
9 Marketing Strategies
Budget will be a consideration for many organisations when weighing up whether to send representatives to conferences face to face, so it is important to highlight the value for members and attendees.
There is a great opportunity to leverage destination funding opportunities for face to face events. Destinations provide lots of financial support to assist in driving business event and conference visitation. Therefore it is important to showcase the highlights and benefits of the destination, along with accommodation options, travel discounts available, networking and further educational opportunities that might exist.
If travel restrictions exist as they do in a few locations, it is worth considering segmenting your database and advertise two different key messages depending on your target audience.
Social media now plays an integral role in promoting events and is fundamental in providing data on your target audience, where they work, live and what kind of content they respond to such as video, images or podcasts. Content is still King but how we absorb it has evolved.
10 Why attend a face-to-face event
Benefits for attending face to face conferences could be built into membership.
Networking with peers and leaders is often the strongest driver for face-to-face attendance and the additional social opportunities that are created?
Knowledge learning is critical for driving face to face registration and these opportunities should be clearly outlined? Examples of initiatives would be a face-to-face mentor/mentee program (which could be started months out from the event online), ‘meet the expert’ sessions, opportunities to attend interactive workshops. Tie these into CPD programs and ensure that on demand sessions, learnings and extra content is available three months post Event with 100% access.
Consider negotiating a headquarter hotel where attendees can hold discussions, have meetings or present to a group, as an additional benefit of face to face.
11 The Generational Shift
With younger members having different event expectations there has been a generational shift that will continue long after the pandemic. New innovations and creativity needs to be considered with more interactive and engaging experiences. This shift demonstrates that the conferencing world has evolved rapidly over the last two years and has created new standards and benchmarks for attendee satisfaction.
12 Change to buying lifecycle
The buying lifecycle for event registrations has changed drastically. Based on research over the past two years, the data suggests that people register for virtual events and or virtual event components much closer to the event date than they do for in-person events. 56% of virtual registrations are materializing within two months of the event vs 37% of in-person registrations in the same time period. Forecasting numbers has therefore changed and traditional means of advertising such as early bird registrations may no longer resonate.
Early Bird registrations used to be deadline driven, it is now time to consider different incentivised campaigns. Perhaps the first 200 registrations receive a discounted rate or other benefit such as going in the draw to win a registration and travel to the conference.
The last two years has forced change in the events sector and identified some of these changes as great long term benefits. As consumer sentiment and confidence returns, events will evolve. Let’s take the great learnings and initiatives from the last two years and create a new way of delivering events.