The future of events

The pandemic has shaken up the world and decimated the events industry that existed pre-2020. In the absence of industry support from central government ingenuity and resolve have saved companies within the sector. The reaction to the sectoral shock may well aid the events industry going forward.

Silver linings are few and far between after 15 months of pandemic wreckage, but it is key that society takes the best of its responses forward, and builds a better version of our world. The response of events industry has been admirable and the changes that were forced on the industry can be used and supplemented to create a better product for the future.   

The board room or a Spanish marina?

Despite the population being ‘zoomed-out’, there are still advocates of virtual events in the industry. Virtual events offered an immediate solution to an unforeseen and cataclysmic change in society – the prohibition of social interaction. Virtual events filled a void and proved that it was possible and rewarding to meet and interact remotely. The big question though remains, were they better than the original format of in-person meeting? They were more convenient, saved time, they consumed less budget and the impact on the climate was greatly reduced. But when in-person meetings returned, would virtual be the format of choice for events? The answer is most probably no, based on surveys and forward booking figures. We cannot unravel centuries of human behavioural norms in a year. People crave personal moments - they are both enjoyable and profitable and they will not be exchanged for inferior situations. Hybrid attendance though is a different matter. There are those who attended events in the past on a whim, whose marginal interest was sufficient to take a leap of faith and attend in-person. Not only can those attendees now join remotely, saving time, costs and consuming just the relevant parts of an event, the opportunity exists to broaden the reach to include hybrid attendees, perhaps those from related industries who would not normally participate.

Insights only digital can deliver

Metrics have undergone a revolution during the period of virtual events. No longer a mailchimp feedback form, incentivised with the chance of winning a tablet, virtual event metrics can now show participation, abandonment and satisfaction rates accurately and in real time. Content can be posted, shared and revisited by the visiting or wider audiences and content can be tailored based on correlated user metrics. It is hard to imagine these changes coming so quickly without a pandemic. Future events cannot forego these insights, despite shifting from virtual to in-person and the likelihood is that digital polling, gamification and communication apps will play an increasing role in future events.

Upping the game

The global pause for thought has encompassed very personal aspects of life such as relationships, it has made us re-evaluate our link with and appreciation of nature and there is a feeling that we will expect more of ourselves in the world, post pandemic than pre. The same can be said of events. Do we really imagine ourselves re-visiting in-person events of the past, that previously didn’t deliver as expected? The travel, the cost, the pressured calendar – will these considerations shake up our routine attendances at events that were nothing more than OK? The hope and likelihood is that in-person events will have to better justify their costs in future and this should lead to improved experiences. Events in the future will have to fight harder for delegates, after all the world still functioned without them during the pandemic. Seeing waste bins packed with single use items, and towers of bottled water in Alpine locations, just metres from stands promoting the sustainability credentials of the industry, are a blight the industry has to change - lip service is not part of the event industry future.

Cleaner and hungrier

Future events should be geared up to deliver high quality experiences that inspire attendees to great things. Whether it be the architecture, the keynote speakers, the breakouts or the world-changing renewable inputs, delegates should be blown-away by their experiences. I recall the message from an industry event in Crans-Montana a few winters ago – ‘Switzerland can't compete on price (with many regions), it must compete on quality.’ The same goes for the events industry – it must return better than before and this will be achieved by taking forward, the best of the responses to the pandemic.

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