This past year has changed the way we look at events. From the rapid shift from in-person events to virtual as the pandemic took hold to the forward-looking move to incorporate hybrid events as in-person events return, the meetings and events industry has adapted swiftly. As the dust clears a bit and we look to the future of meetings and events for 2021, one thing is clear: virtual and hybrid events are here to stay, and, alongside traditional in-person events, will become fixtures in most go-forward meetings and event programs.
With these new event types comes a greater opportunity to reach and engage with new audiences that are larger than ever before. But, taking advantage of this opportunity requires a shift in strategy, a departure from thinking one event at a time to using a consolidated approach to manage your total meetings and events program. This total events program will include events that are large and small, internal and external, the events you host and the ones you attend, and, of course, virtual, hybrid, and in-person. With that in mind, technology will move to the forefront, and the need to simplify and modernize processes will become critical for event success.
Where are we now?
First, let’s start by understanding where we are at this point. Meetings & events look very different today than when we ushered in 2020. The suddenness and scale of disruption to our industry has been stunning. Organizations have been forced to abruptly reevaluate their event programs and chart a new path forward. For many, millions in costs & revenue (or even the survival of their organization), have been at risk. But challenging times like this, oddly enough, have been a breeding ground for innovation.
In this period of change, our industry, and the world, has been experimenting and adapting at a rapid pace. The global pandemic has caused a dramatic acceleration of technology adoption and digitalization across many areas of our lives. According to McKinsey, “We have vaulted five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption in a matter of around eight weeks.” That pace of change can be intimidating. It’s hard to parse out what’s a true innovation vs. a temporary fad. One thing’s for sure, organizations have seen the power of virtual events and are building the muscle to execute them more confidently, but at the same time, they’re feeling the loss of their traditional in-person event channel in lost leads, pipeline, and revenue.
As we look to the future of meetings and events, we see trends that may help answer that question of “where are we going?” It’s these trends that are the basis for the larger shift we’ll see toward thinking not of one event at a time, but of creating a total meetings and events program.
Virtual & hybrid events are here to stay.
It’s no secret that the whole industry has adopted virtual events. In a recent PCMA study, 76% of planners said that they are going virtual. For a growing number of attendees, the technology itself has become the new venue. As organizations embrace the potential to exponentially increase their reach, and as technology allows for new levels of digital engagement, virtual events, followed by hybrid events, will become fixtures in most organization’s marketing mix, and a staple of a total events program even as in-person events come back online.
Planning and marketing are coming together …and that’s a good thing
With the rise of virtual and the upcoming adoption of hybrid events, there will be a need from marketers and planners for consistent technology. As events have moved into a digital channel, event execution requires a new blend of planning and marketing mindsets and skillsets, not only to maximize their reach but to capture the data and insights that will increase their value. Planners are being asked to get more involved in production or digital marketing and many marketers are being asked to get more involved in events. Not only do marketers and planners need to work hand-in-hand to make the most of their events program, but they also need to work in the same system, in one single event management platform, to manage all of their events and insights in a cohesive environment that integrates with their sales and marketing systems.
Efficiency and control will matter more than ever
As companies and industries recover, they can’t afford to waste money on redundant systems. Managing your costs and your risk has never been more important. By having event data, attendee data, and spend information centrally managed all in one place, your events program is better prepared in case of future event disruptions. The problem for many organizations is that there’s a roadblock to success in the form of disparate point solutions and integrations.
The shift: Building a comprehensive, strategic event program
Your meetings and events program has embraced new event types over the course of the year and leaned into new value offerings. Because, when it comes down to it, your events are not piecemeal. Each one contributes to your overall meetings and events program and plays a key role in your marketing mix. Virtual has shown us how more attendees can be reached when accessibility is taken into account, all while the intrinsic value of the face-to-face interactions of in-person events simply can’t be denied.
One event tech platform for your total events program
Running a total events program requires a cohesive strategy. To be able to host many events, engage attendees, and get the data you need, the best bet is investing in a platform that does it all. Whether your events are virtual, hybrid, or in-person, that same single platform should power all aspects of the event lifecycle. Not only will this make planning and marketing efforts more targeted, but it will also make those activities more efficient and secure.
With one event marketing and management solution, you get event marketing tools that are built into one platform so a seamless, fully branded event experience starts with your first invitation, continues through to your event website, and through the registration process itself. Whether attendees need to arrive in a virtual lobby or a real one, your event tech stands up to the challenge, so no one gets lost or abandons the event. These tools allow attendees to network and schedule appointments with staff or exhibitors, explore and visit virtual booths, share real-time feedback, and of course, browse live and upcoming sessions. The best event technology is adaptable and flexible enough for virtual, hybrid, and in-person events.
Attendee engagement across all event types
Solving the riddle of virtual attendee engagement has many organizations and event professionals on their heels. Planners until recently were by-and-large not asked to deliver compelling digital content. It was mostly about the live experience. Since that’s changed, a tidal wave of solutions have hit the market, making things even more challenging. Some basic webinar tools deliver flat, passive experiences because they don’t have to deliver more. As event professionals virtually “kick-the-tires” on these emerging solutions, frustration grows as the demands of C-suite stakeholders rise.
This can all seem overwhelming, but there is event tech out there that offers a true digital engagement platform, designed to foster - and capture - hundreds of engagement points that when put together gives you deep insight into attendee interests. It’s important to note that engagement starts with immersive virtual sessions, powered by enterprise-class streaming that delivers livestream, simulive, or pre-recorded content. Or if your sessions call for more collaboration, integrated video conferencing allows for direct attendee-to-attendee and attendee-to-speaker interactions. And any session can and should quickly be made available on-demand so your audience can easily catch up on anything they missed. Video has never been more important.
Because it can be harder to engage attendees in a virtual setting, the content experience must be interactive with live Q&A, question upvoting, embedded presentations, collateral, speaker details, and more. Find virtual event technology that can extend engagement even further across all event types with a mobile event app, which is perfect for virtual and hybrid audiences.
Sponsors and exhibitor activation
For many events, exhibitors and sponsors are critical to that event’s success. While you may have sponsorship down for in-person events, there’s a lot to learn when bringing sponsors exclusively online. Use event tech to enable sponsors to directly manage their profiles to maximize their ROI. It starts with a virtual booth, where a welcome area provides space to meet and greet attendees. Each virtual booth should feature a persistent ‘contact us’ option so interested attendees can share their contact info and pre-schedule appointments. And when a deeper discussion is necessary, attendees need to ability to easily hop on a video conference for one-to-one or one-to-many meetings. Allow exhibitors to sponsor sessions, giving them valuable brand exposure and – of course – leads!
Data-driven event results
Results matter, so your event management platform has to be able to capture the data you need to measure event performance and increase its impact. To measure success, use an engagement scoring tool that assigns a score to each attendee based on their engagement level. With an event tech solution that integrates into your CRM or marketing automation systems, an engagement score will enable smarter sales conversations and more targeted post-event campaigns
A strategic view for 2021
The meetings and events industry has proven itself in 2020. It is strong, resilient, and adaptive. We also now know there’s no going back, and virtual and hybrid events are there to stay. This “new normal” could become a three-headed beast if not handled properly internally—and your virtual, hybrid, and in-person events could all suffer as a result. That means streamlining processes, learning new skills, and simplifying programs is a must. And to do that, you’ll need a single platform to make the transition between your various event types seamless.
The benefits of one platform to run your total events program
- A single technology vendor with a dedicated support staff
- Simplifies execution of all event types, whether in-person, virtual, or hybrid
- Saves organizations money while increasing efficiency
- A single source of truth for all event data
- A programmatic view of all of your meetings and events
- Captures standardized data and integrates with your sales and marketing systems to build profiles, follow up faster, and smarter, and drives revenue
As we close out the year and prepare for 2021, it’s time to align your meetings and events into one strategic program with a cohesive event technology platform that will support every type of event you host and attend, whether they’re in-person, virtual, or hybrid. The industry has changed forever, and the challenges are mounting, so take out the pain that comes from working with piecemeal providers and do your best to set yourself up for success. 2021 is waiting.