Gather People in Digital Venues

October 28, 2021

Dana Freker Doody

Dana Freker Doody is a 20-year devotee to trade shows, events and communities. She recently became Vice President of Marketing and Communications at JUNO, the service leader among virtual and hybrid event platforms, where unlimited exhibitor engagement suites are included at no charge and 365-day engagement is a reality.
 

As digital experiences continue to make waves in this ever-changing industry, the idea of a “venue” may take on a new shape. Everyone is familiar with in-person venues, but the idea of a completely different venue experience online is going to have a huge impact on how events will look and operate moving forward.

All-in-one software platforms have really become digital venues for gathering people together. Like physical venues, there are strategic decisions to be made about what venue is chosen. No one tries to cram 3,000 exhibit booths in a hotel ballroom, instead, planners contract contiguous space in a convention center. Likewise, planners can decide whether to partner with a transactional tech supplier that will just “get it done” or with a strategic partner that brings people together in the right way. 

Technology platforms as a venue for gathering are not particularly new, but there are some innovative new ways for thinking about how AI, machine learning, user experience design and even increased user familiarity support smart, strategic events and year-round communities.

Last year, clients and companies learned, succeeded, and failed together. Digital platforms were spun up for experiences both good and bad. Though many were burned by mismatched expectations, a lot of people began to realize how beneficial these on-screen environments were. Particularly for education, virtual venues rule. Networking and commercial connections lag behind.

The shifts in how technology has adapted were making headlines even last December as reports and data lauded the effects of digital connection. Check out some of these statistics from December of 2020 to early 2021:  

  1. According to the Post Covid-19 Event Outlook Report, an overwhelming 93% of organizers plan to invest in virtual events moving forward. Virtual conferences and events have opened the door for impressive reach and shown how resilient the events industry is. They have kept events going during the pandemic and will become a part of hybrid events in the future.
  2. The global virtual events market size was valued at USD 94.04 billion in 2020 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.7% from 2021 to 2028. The increased adoption of communication and collaboration tools across various industries, such as education, manufacturing and construction, healthcare, and retail and e-commerce, is expected to drive market growth. 
  3. In fact, 73% of event planners now think hybrid events will continue to be more common in the future—up from 67 percent when asked in May—while those who think this is just a temporary trend have gone down accordingly by 6%.

What shifts will be set in stone?

This summer the language shifted to 365-day experiences. Associations and corporations continue to talk about digital as a permanent component moving forward and digital event softwares are beginning to build year-round platforms. We talk about hybrid work, we talk about hybrid school. Technology supports the future of work in ways we can only begin to envision.

We have come a long way, but what's next?

It's time to stop debating; the benefits to digital connection are known and will continue to be incorporated by event planners, desired by attendees, and used to tear down physical and perceived barriers. 

Take a step back from the event world and consider your everyday life with technology. How often do you video call or text a friend, do you watch a little television before you go to bed, do you have a GPS in your car or an Alexa companion in your home?

We live in a hybrid world. Take a look at your in-person audience before the pandemic. If you look through a few of those old photos, there’s a good chance you will see people on their phones checking emails, scrolling through social media, and exchanging contact information. Before the idea of hybrid was coined, we were already living it.  

The virtual venue will become a permanent need for groups, events and communities as year-round digital experiences continue to grow.    

What about hybrid events?

Hybrid is the convergence of two things. Period. Virtual and in-person experiences will continue to blend and shift and grow and contract and be synchronous or be asynchronous. We foresee a change at the in-person venue, where planners not only expect but encourage technology use. The idea of an event companion mobile app has evolved. All the information about event experiences, even if you attend in person, will go digital. They need to go digital.

For those attending digitally, they are using technology to connect. To make things hybrid, the in-person audience must dive into digital components with their digital attendee counterparts so everyone can stay connected. 

The age-old business card, although still valuable to pass along important contact information, is becoming outdated. Contact information, event itineraries, guest lists, connection opportunities and networking experiences can all be accomplished online. 

Ticketing and registration will change, too. Get those smartphones out and that QR code ready, because that is how you will attend any event, enter any room. If your event uses a companion app, that's where your ticket will be housed, along with a vast community of engagement surrounding the total event experience. 

The next integration for events will experiment with different ways to blend the virtual and in-person environment: The dawn of the hybrid venue is here. Currently, venue-based research shows that “despite the interest in live-only events in the future, 68% of the group now thinks that hybrid events will continue to be more common than before the pandemic.”  

Strategic software platforms can host associations’ communities, events, marketplace and networking experiences 365 days of the year. Growth and opportunity abound. The future is boundaryless, making education and connection accessible more inclusively. 

Sources:

2021 Event Marketing Statistics, Trends, and Data
Global Virtual Events Market Size & Share Report, 2021-2028
Stats: 73% of Event Planners Expect Hybrid Events to Be More Common in the
FutureStats: 76% of Meeting Planners to Host Next In-Person Event This Year

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Partner Voices

As event professionals and destinations adjust, adapt and evolve in these uncharted waters, it is imperative that substantial resources be put in place for all of the people responsible for planning and executing trade shows, expositions and conventions. An example is Mohegan Sun, which built an industry-leading, COVID-19 Resource Center with a combination of pictures from recently held successful events (the property reopened on May 1, 2020) along with several widely available and informative documents, such as an evolving operational framework: