Plan your 2021 virtual events for the next normal

When the world, and our industry as we knew it, came to a screeching halt in March 2020, there was an identity crisis. The majority of business events have always been held in a face-to-face context. The power of virtual events is something we’ve all gotten to appreciate this year. We are constantly exploring possibilities as technology is rapidly evolving to meet our event needs, and now, we are no longer limited by physical constraints of time and setting. Participating in an event has never been easier—virtual events not only remove the travel component, but also offer access to on-demand content, simultaneous translation, and digital networking.

Our conversations and learnings aren’t restricted to a physical setting but rather to intentional meeting design answering the question of Why are we meeting? and How can we optimize this in light of our virtual connectivity? Now, with a COVID-19 vaccine being introduced into the market, event planners are faced with the question of how to plan, and forecast, for the year to come. Should we continue as we have been, by planning virtual events or should we postpone all events, save the budget, so when we can meet, we will do it looking each other face to face and not through a screen?

To postpone or not to postpone?

During Showcare’s Great Virtual Debate hosted on LinkedIn, planners went back and forth on this very question. It was unanimous that events shouldn’t be postponed, but rather, as Sabrina Meyers, Founder of Hot Hospitality Exchange, suggests, “deconstructed and reimagined perhaps incorporating virtual or hybrid components.” Tony Lorenz, Founder of HeadSail expands upon this, “plan for a fully converged omnichannel experience, in 2021 and every year thereafter.” Lastly, Rhian Berry, Marketing Manager with EventMind, believes, “Many companies who may have postponed their events for the new year will be facing loss of attendees and clients I believe as their normal attendees will just go to a competitor who…[has] hosted a virtual event.”

Why plan a virtual event now?

Virtual events allow more insight into attendees’ preferences, opinions, and new ideas which can be built upon in future face-to-face or virtual events. According to Digital Information World, “…86% of the people who have attended virtual events report higher or equal levels of engagement compared to in-person events.”

Jennifer Kingen Kush, Founder of Kingen Kush Solutions, agrees that online events offer a wealth of possibilities for engagement:

“The whole data side, on the back end, is a great opportunity for groups, because online people are very participatory. They will voice their opinion. When you do digital, you can really engage them and they will tell you what they want. You can see where people go, what sessions they like and what they say in the chat. Being able to know your audience and then adapt your education and products to better address their needs is powerful.”

By postponing all events, we face a serious risk of losing our connection with attendees including very valuable insight as to their current interests, fears, and pain points. Without providing the ability to meet and maintain connection, we may lose attendee engagement and attachment to our organizations. We will effectively be pushing mute on all discussion and growth.

Blast that virtual beat!

We have the opportunity to turn up the volume and play with the mixing board to keep refining what works best for our attendees, their learning styles, accessibility needs, and opinions. Keep planning events. Do not miss out on the opportunity virtual events provide for your event lifecycle and attendee engagement. If you are not already planning virtual events, you should be. They are an ideal medium for safe continued connection in this current reality; a way of learning about your attendees and not losing touch with them. Don’t miss out on all the opportunities that a virtual event can offer, do not postpone your event. There are no guarantees for when people will feel comfortable attending in person once the vaccine becomes widely available. What we do know is that our attendees have an integral need to connect, learn, and belong now. It is our mission to ensure that they continue to do so.

To close, as Robert Kozub, CEO at Showcare, says:

“There are no barriers in place when meeting virtually. Our human desire will always be to connect and now more than ever, we need to continue to talk, spend time together, and share knowledge. We all need to focus on the new tomorrow and optimize virtual today to maintain our relationships, continue learning, and grow our networks.”

Virtual is here to stay. It’s important today and will continue to be tomorrow. It will only expand your reach and offer more opportunities for engaging with your attendees, and for them to continue feeling connected with you, and one another. Virtual events are not in competition with in-person events; they are another musical note within your event symphony to keep that beat going and leave participants with the desire for more. As for hybrid event design, when safe to do so, it will be the crescendo in our virtual event journey. Pull up your music stand and stay tuned; more to be composed on this subject soon!

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