Two years ago, it may have seemed unfathomable that the COVID-19 pandemic would still be such a fixture in any discussions of the event industry. But rather than seeing virtual events as a temporary forced necessity, leading organizations are now seizing on the cascade of initially pandemic-related changes as permanent opportunities for growth and greater success.
Adam Parry, co-founder and editor of Event Industry News, provided a comprehensive look at where we’ve been and where we’re going during a riveting fireside chat during RainFocus INSIGHT 2022. In conversation with Ashleigh Cook, SVP, marketing, at RainFocus, he captured the complex yet promising state of the industry.
Here are four of the most salient challenges and the ways organizations can translate them into rich opportunities:
Challenge 1: The technology required for a virtual or hybrid event is much more complicated than the tech for a strictly in-person event. Managing broadcast platforms and related technologies can be difficult.
Opportunity: “Forward-thinking companies build this work into their team structures through dedicated event technologist roles,” Parry explained. In many cases, these roles were previously layered on top of existing duties, but they now merit a full-time role. “These people need to be involved in the overall design of the event,” he added, noting that ideally, event technology functions as invisibly and seamlessly as possible. Integrating with the rest of the organization’s business technologies is key.
Challenge 2: Virtual and hybrid events offer a wealth of new data to collect. But without knowing which data matters most and determining how to visualize it for optimal interpretation, organizations can easily miss out.
Opportunity: First, Parry pointed out that event data may be siloed, making an end-to-end solution to pull all data together ideal. With a high volume of data, consider using internal or external resources to make the data interactive and easy for everyone to use. Although data needs vary widely depending on event specifics, real-time updates and and ready access are always crucial. “The information should flow both ways on a collaborative platform – a hybrid ‘suitcase’ for the entire team,” he said.
Challenge 3: Even now, event leaders may still struggle with the decision to pivot, downscale, or postpone an in-person event. Whether because of worrying about the potential loss in networking opportunities or dreading the increased work that goes along with such a shift, they may hesitate to pull the metaphorical switch.
Opportunity: “There’s no shame in pivoting or postponing your event,” Parry stressed. “You have a duty to take care of your audience, team members, speakers, and everyone else.”
Moreover, pivoting can be easily managed with the right processes and technology. “You should always be planning your hybrid or digital version as a ‘twin’ alongside your in-person event,” Parry said. After all, some audiences may prefer to attend virtually by default due to their own preferences and needs, so supporting both attendee segments from the start ensures maximum reach and attendance.
Challenge: Keeping up with changes may feel impossible – with uncertainty and rapid shifts in the industry and constant buzz about additional new trends, event organizers and marketers aren’t sure what’s worth the investment.
Opportunity: Whether or not they’re immediately applicable for each company and its events, hot topics like Web3, NFTs, AR, and the metaverse offer a huge amount of potential, according to Parry. In particular, anything that can enhance the live or virtual experience – or create an entire second live experience like the the metaverse – could be the next big thing.
In the meantime, no matter what happens in the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic, hybrid is surely here to stay: “We’re shifting away from the mindset of hybrid as an event type to hybrid as a strategy for engaging with audiences,” Parry noted. Many organizations have already converted their entire portfolio to hybrid, taking advantage of various formats to meet differing needs throughout the year. For example, small digital events can serve as touchpoints between rarer large in-person gatherings.
“Do not wait to start,” Parry advised. “The pace of change is quick. If you put off figuring out your hybrid strategy, suddenly you’ll be left on the sidelines.”