When we look back at the COVID-19 pandemic, this spring and summer might be viewed as a turning point in the pandemic as more states begin to “re-open.” But it’s also the perfect time to pause and think of how the world has evolved and how it will continue to change.
Amid the pandemic, I think it’s fair to say everyone has redefined the meaning of value and their relationships with organizations. Following the return to “normalcy,” those changes will continue.
Whether it’s a trade show, a corporate event or an internal meeting, the idea of virtual or hybrid events was not born of the pandemic. However, it took on new urgency amid the lockdown requirements.
Many companies that never previously considered staging a virtual or hybrid event did so out of a necessity to stay connected with their customers. Many organizations initially viewed them as a temporary option, but after realizing the value they provide, they say that they will continue to offer them in the post-pandemic world.
Here are a few ways virtual/hybrid conventions, corporate events, trade shows and meetings will evolve in 2021 and beyond:
1. The same old content will no longer resonate.
The pandemic didn’t make our lives more cluttered, but it brought to light precisely how many unnecessary meetings filled the average calendar. That poses a potential problem for event planners since would-be attendees need little excuse to skip an event that sounds uninteresting.
So, don’t give them one.
Content is front and center of any event—the one element of an event that can make it stand out from the competition. Successful event organizers must tailor their offerings to exceed attendees’ expectations. To do so, they need content that isn’t static but is something audiences can engage with and find valuable.
2. It’s important to meet people where they are.
While some states are re-opening, other states are maintaining different levels of restrictions. Additionally, many companies will keep their policies around remote work and even ask their teams to limit unnecessary travel.
Therefore, a total return to in-person events could be some time away, making hybrid events an optimal opportunity. Technology enables organizations to reach customers who cannot or will not travel so that they can attend from where they are most comfortable.
Virtual events should be so much more than presenters speaking to a camera without any engagement between presenters and attendees. Breakout rooms, chat functionality and real-time surveys are just a few ways event organizers can bring attendees into the conversation and help them have a say in the course of the event.
3. Engagements are no longer one-and-done.
Time seems to have taken on a different pace over the past year, and the 9-to-5 routine is no longer confined to the hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.—not that it ever was.
The benefit to event hosts is they no longer must limit their content delivery to a specific time. Instead, they can create content that participants can consume on-demand on a timeframe that works best with their schedules.
Both in-person and virtual events should serve as the starting point for ongoing nurture campaigns. For example, organizations can take the content they created for the event and deliver it to attendees and other contacts who could not attend.
4. Data will be much more crucial.
Consider the increasing number of reports about the labor shortage and reports of workers who say they won’t return to their old jobs.
What should be increasingly clear to communicators is that what worked 15 or 20 months ago may no longer work in the post-pandemic world. The pandemic prompted people to reassess their priorities—both personally and professionally.
Organizations must harness the power of data—including pre-, real-time and post-event surveys—to increase their understanding of their audience. As part of that process, they must understand what attendees’ expectations are from a particular event and build a plan from there.
The world is changing, and the pandemic proved we can no longer take the status quo for granted. Complacency is the foundation for irrelevancy.
The past year hasn’t been fun, and let’s hope there is no repeat anytime soon. But if there is, hopefully, we heeded the lessons of the pandemic, and we are today in a better position to accommodate the unexpected.
Lauren Weatherly is the senior vice president of marketing at global virtual events and meetings company PGi, www.pgi.com.