Three Predictions for the Global Virtual Conference Industry

July 6, 2020

Jen Laloup

Jen Laloup is CEO of Mobile Growth Association. She brings to Mobile Growth Summit a wealth of experience spanning, publishing, media and news. Her skill set focuses on driving growth and performance, operations, organizational management and content strategy and distribution.

While virtual events are not new to the industry, there’s no doubt that the pandemic has accelerated the switch to online-only conferences considerably. In fact, 70 percent of the respondents in this survey report moving their face-to-face event either partially or fully to an online platform. 

This shift to virtual will likely go on until the virus is defeated, as new research suggests large-scale events were at the core of the spread of COVID-19, and many experts predict a second wave is still ahead. Now tasked with holding online events that deliver just as much value as in-person ones, event organizers are seeking ways to adapt to this new model as fast as possible. Here are our top three predictions for the virtual events industry as we enter this new normal.

Technology will become more important than ever.

Virtual event tech has been around for the last decade or so, but until recently, it hadn’t been executed particularly well. Options for online conferences would either mean small-scale conversations on video conferencing platforms, or large-scale, one-way live streams to the public.

Now, virtual conferences are starting to settle somewhere in the middle: events of around 1,000 people that take place on a platform built specifically for events, with highly curated audiences that include company leaders and opportunities for interaction. While good content is important, it’s the technology that allows audiences to interact with it that will take virtual conferences to the next level.

It will be those companies that leverage new technologies and derive data insights from their audience behavior that will come out on top in the new event landscape. As such, platforms that allow events to recreate an engaging in-person experience online will grow in functionality and popularity. Not only does the use of comprehensive tools improve the attendee experience, but the metrics and insights gathered on attendee behavior also provide a great opportunity for events and sponsors to further optimize their approach.

Marketing and sales departments will adopt new strategies.

It’s not just the operational side of things that has to adjust when shifting to a virtual model. Event marketing and sales teams must innovate fast if they are to have the same level of success as physical events. Selling a digital product is a whole different ball game — it’s vital that they get creative in how to tackle this. Hosting webinars or social media live streams in the run-up to the event is a great way to showcase speakers and engage potential customers.

It’s also vital to make sure that you’re using the correct social media platforms and content channels to support and engage potential customers. Your content offerings must also align with your sales funnel, so your customers are getting the most relevant information for them.

Hybrid models will hold a firm place in the future of the industry.

While the virtual event model has its benefits — not least of which is safety in the age of a pandemic — IRL (in real life) conferences will never lose their place in the industry. However, in realizing how both event styles can complement each other, event planners recognize a new opportunity for hybrid models (as long as the physical event is in line with the WHO’s guidelines around Mass Gatherings).

By offering a virtual experience as well as a physical one, conferences will have access to a significantly wider audience pool, while still being able to offer an in-person experience for those that want to travel to the event. 

Organizers will be able to truly integrate the physical and the virtual experience by featuring remote panelists who are streamed into a live event, or by having live moderators ask questions coming to them via an online platform. Whether at home or physically present, audiences will have ample opportunity to interact with the content and speakers in a meaningful way.

A hybrid model also adds a level of sustainability to the conference material: content that is live streamed can be saved and made available on-demand for attendees to watch again after the event. This helps to solidify the value of the sessions in the attendees’ minds and creates a platform for continued connection between the event and audience.

Clearly, the events industry will not be the same for a long time — maybe not ever. But with crisis comes opportunity, and event organizers who embrace this chance to innovate will continue to engage, educate and entertain their audiences.

 

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