The big question on everybody’s minds these days is what the future holds for virtual events and meetings. Were they a flash-in-the-pan to help event organizers and businesses survive the past year-and-a-half, or are they a viable tool for communicators in the brave new world?
Five years ago, events with an online component were called webcasts, not hybrid meetings. Even as the world resumes in-person events, some of the approaches deployed over the past months will remain a part of the event landscape.
Today, hybrid options are a strategic imperative. Communicators and marketers need to embrace these changes for the positives they are. Hybrid meetings will continue to increase because of the value and options they offer organizations and attendees.
In the United States, airplanes and airports are increasingly crowded, a sign life and travel are returning to pre-pandemic levels. Even if it’s too much of a leap to say the world is getting back to normal, it’s safe to say people are clamoring again for physical interaction.
As a result, in-person events will continue to grow in number for the rest of the year. While it remains hard to plan too far into the future, a few clear trends for virtual and hybrid events have emerged.
Once again, the function will matter more than the form
At first, many organizations transitioned to virtual events without worrying too much about the budget implications. They quickly deployed solutions to allow people to connect.
But the costs can add up—especially for organizations putting the technology and the platform over the user experience and the content. Now, event organizers are putting more effort into staging the event to make it as effective as possible.
Companies must make virtual and hybrid events an extension of their brand, starting with the look and feel. It needs to match an organization’s level of sophistication and meet attendees’ expectations.
From there, the content offered must match a company’s tone and style, and its takeaways, such as goody bags, should include information or items that entice attendees to return for more and stay connected.
Video is here to stay
Analyst meetings have long relied on audio streams. These meetings, which might feature companies presenting to analysts over four or five days, usually featured a virtual component.
Amid the pandemic, these meetings went from audio streams to entirely virtual. Now that everyone has had a taste of the added video component, I doubt we’ll go back to just audio streams.
But it’s not enough to set up a webcam at a desk, hoping for an acceptable feed; organizers must hire a professional video crew to capture video footage from an event.
Because the world is used to seeing high-definition videos on every screen they watch, organizers need to produce a high-quality event.
But any solution must comply with government regulations, such as Regulation FD (Reg FD) and enable the complete public disclosure of material information, in addition to handling remote attendees’ interaction with presenters.
Hybrid is an opportunity to ‘upsize’ an event
It wasn’t that long ago that event organizers looked down on hybrid approaches, worried that the virtual element would cannibalize the in-person gathering.
But organizers, and marketers in particular, should look at hybrid events as an expansion, an opportunity to deliver content to people exactly how and where they want it.
While normalcy seems within reach for the domestic audience, the same isn’t necessarily true for other parts of the world, as some countries remain in lockdown or are returning to a lockdown in some form. Some people may not travel for the foreseeable future.
That means a significant number of would-be attendees might be unable to attend, which is all the more reason to do a physical event for those who will travel and virtual for those who won’t or can’t.
Organizers are thinking differently now about hybrid events – and if they’re not, they need to be. Additionally, they should look at hybrid events as an opportunity to “upsize” their event, taking a smaller or regional event and opening it to attendees from across the globe.
Make sure content still takes precedence
Successful event planners and marketing professionals are refocusing their attention on the content they deliver.
Many eventgoers are less focused on a platform’s bells and whistles and more focused on quality content. So when planning events, organizations must consider how their various attendees will consume and engage with content before, during and after the event.
At the end of the day, it’s all about the basics: engaging the audience to entice their attendance, creating compelling content to keep them engaged throughout the duration and deploying a post-event approach to keep them coming back for more.
Organizations do not need to look at events as either virtual or in-person. Hybrid events give event organizers and marketers the best of both worlds, allowing them to reach the biggest audience possible.
No one can predict the future with certainty, and we shouldn’t try. But the pros of planning hybrid events in the future far outweigh any cons. That seems like a safe prediction.