The coronavirus outbreak ended social gatherings and events as we know them, seemingly overnight. Now almost two years into this pandemic, we’re realizing just how important events are to our personal and professional lives, and we want them back. In June of this year, as the vaccine started to make its way around the world, the events industry started to see signs of recovery, and attendee confidence was on the rise. But that quickly unraveled with the emergence of the Delta Variant. It’s now clear that the pandemic isn't over just yet and that the rules of engagement are still very much being refined.
Now, for the second time, the events industry is at the forefront of defining health and safety standards for bringing human beings together at scale. There are certainly other industries that are ideating and experimenting, but there’s no doubt that the events industry continues to pave the way. Taking on this responsibility has inadvertently positioned the events industry as a key part of our society's culture, and the new attention will enable innovative approaches that all industries will adopt.
As an event planner who has more than 20 years of experience, I'll discuss what the pandemic continues to mean for the industry and how event planners can navigate today's complexities and leverage current opportunities to succeed.
Designing the Attendee Experience Has Dramatically Changed
Designing the attendee experience has quickly become very complex. Simply having a great venue, good food and drink, fun entertainment, compelling content and great networking is only a piece of the puzzle. There’s something much bigger on everyone’s minds. Will I be safe? Is it even worth going?
As attendees consider in-person event participation again, their safety and well-being need to be consciously considered and fully communicated from first interaction. Our goal as event planners is to create environments where attendees are engaged at every touchpoint, but if they don’t even show up or don’t feel safe while they’re there, engagement is impossible. Safety is now the large pole in the tent when thinking about attendee experience. I predict that this will also hold true for many other industries like restaurants, retail, theatres, etc.
Virtual and Hybrid Will Be Standard Offerings
The pandemic was the catalyst for widespread virtual event adoption and growth. We’ve obviously had “live streaming” of events for decades but fully produced virtual event experiences is a new concept. And over the past 18 months, we’ve seen a tremendous amount of innovation and investment in this space. So much investment, in fact, that there’s no doubt that this technology is here to stay for quite a while.
It was an ideal time for rapid product development and ideation on how to improve the event experiences in a virtual environment. And even with in-person events coming back to fruition, virtual events will continue to be widely accepted and incorporated into a company's event strategy for three reasons:
- There can be compelling cost-savings when producing a virtual event.
- Behavioral and engagement data on attendees is easier to capture.
- Virtual events can be more inclusive and attract larger audiences.
If you plan on hosting a virtual or hybrid event, encourage your team to think about the human connections you feel at an in-person event and how you can translate it over to a virtual environment. Creating virtual or hybrid event experiences should follow the same tenets as human interactions in everyday life: Design experiences centered around dynamic conversations and unique interactions. Develop purpose-driven event experiences that allow for personalized, interactive engagement no matter the venue.
New Business Opportunities
Entrepreneurs are often referred to as disruptors since they typically seek opportunities to disrupt markets and incumbents. When markets are holistically disrupted, entrepreneurs come running. The events industry is experiencing a reinvigorated purpose (bringing humans together) and is currently exploding with innovation and experimentation. Lots of new business ideas are coming to market, and I expect this to continue for quite some time into the future.
This ongoing innovation can greatly benefit event planners and allow us to continue to improve the event experience. I encourage you to “be curious” and explore new models for your business. Don’t shy away from exploring and implementing these emerging technologies. Attendees are still seeking compelling reasons and confidence to attend events again. Whatever the service you use for your next event may be, whether it be a safety-enabled on-site solution or virtual reality, your participation will influence our future. The rest of the world is taking note.
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