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What will business events look like for post-pandemic?

Frankie Lyons - KC Communications

2020 saw many aspects of daily life move online including weddings, awards ceremonies and business conferences. But how will these types of events function post-pandemic? 

Going virtual?
AYRE managing director, Chris Ayre questions the need to stick with virtual events in 2021: “The majority of the events industry clambered almost overnight in 2020 to ensure they could survive and ‘pivot’ their offering to clients. The problem is, we didn’t take our clients with us. We didn’t develop their understanding of the seemingly ‘new’ technologies which were thrust in front of them. 

“Clients have only just managed to get their heads around streaming an event online, and what do you know, the likes of Microsoft (Teams), Zoom and platforms such as Hopin understand the value of this. They’re frantically trying to develop new features to offer their clients in the hope they continue to use their technology for future events. The problem is, this technology doesn’t replace in-person events.

“In-person events are in fact very sensory led and can evoke emotion which helps with recall around what attendees might have learnt. Ultimately, they can inspire in ways that a virtual event just can’t. People often talk about being able to feel the atmosphere and energy in a room which gets them more engaged and although technology does allow us to create engaging virtual events, when we’re able to, businesses shouldn’t forget the impact an in-person event can have.” 

Physical events
“The next battle we’re going to have to endure is transitioning back into ‘normality’,” says Chris. “Yes, you may think it’s easy; you need to hold a conference; so you book a venue, book a speaker and sort the presentations then register the delegates. In reality, it’s not going to be as simple as that.” 

“There will be considerations for every element of the event needed now in order to adhere to the latest restrictions and government guidelines. Not only that, but the change in mentality for many attendees, no longer will people want to be crammed into a stuffy room and sat closely on a table with complete strangers. However, most of this is down to how fast the vaccine has been rolled out, and what the general population’s reaction is to it.”

“It’s likely in the future there will be more demand for larger venues. These may be for events which would have otherwise used a small to medium-sized venue, but could no longer use such venues due to numbers and the potential need for social distancing.”

The cost of running events
Chris discusses the potential of a skills gap and increased event pricing post-pandemic: “There’s also the potential for pricing of events to be impacted. The demand is going to be so high, so production companies, venues and general suppliers will likely increase their costs. On the other hand, production companies may also need to increase their costs because the technical labour (freelance technicians, crew etc) pool will be lower as many have now left the industry to work elsewhere.” 

Chris adds: “One thing is certain, there will be a big skills gap within the industry but working with a production company who has experience in-house will help reduce the reliance on freelancers and those potential additional costs.”  

Hybrid events
“The natural transition from fully virtual events will be hybrid,” says Chris. “Many people still associate hybrid with cars – why wouldn’t you, the automotive industry has spent millions on promoting the terminology, and some would argue it belongs to them. For the events industry, this term is fairly new. Unfortunately, as an industry we’ve not been as active, we’ve not found our unified voice to shout about our offering, terminologies and technologies.” 

“Hybrid is a mixture of in-person delegates and online (virtual if you were) delegates. The concept will work for some events, but won’t work for others. Some clients will pick up the concept really easily, some won’t be able to grasp the meaning at all. This will be the same for delegates. Prior to the pandemic, they would have been used to sitting in a conference suite, now they’re used to accessing an event online (with all the technical challenges this brings).” 

But how will hybrid events work in practice? Chris delves into how events such as awards dinners might function as hybrid events: “Award Dinners feel like a distant memory, with lots of moving parts and people they were mostly abandoned during 2020, but there are ways to replicate the format through a hybrid event and create a memorable experience for both your in-person and virtual guests.” 

“Whilst your guests are arriving and preparing to take their seats, your virtual guests could be recreating their own meal with a live chef demo, using ingredients you have supplied ahead of time. You could even encourage a little friendly competition with an award for the best final presentation. Alternatively, you could provide takeaway vouchers, send place-setting kits with name badges and favours so your guests can set the scene at their own dining table, or even have a mixologist on-screen giving tutorials on how to make your own celebratory cocktails.” 

Chris adds: “Any live entertainment can be captured and streamed for your virtual guests to enjoy at home and when it comes to the awards themselves, whether they are at home or in the live audience, award presenters and winners can appear on the screen for everyone to enjoy the anticipation and reactions.”

Large scale events
Chris highlights why you shouldn’t benchmark the likelihood of your event going ahead against things like Glastonbury: “Even though we’ve seen headlines about Glastonbury not going ahead this year, it doesn’t need to be a trend with other smaller or even larger events. 

“Glastonbury is a huge logistical animal, vastly more complicated than many other events, and unlike common thoughts being offered, shouldn’t be taken as a benchmark for the wider industry. Why? Well, it’s simple, we need to start getting back to normal, and whilst events like Glastonbury (with the utmost respect) feel they cannot operate with either reduced capacities, or cannot meet their financial constraints, we all need to start installing confidence back into our audiences.” 

Confidence is king 

“Building confidence will be the key driver in the return of the events industry in 2021 and beyond,” says Chris Ayre. “You may have more control measures than a nuclear power station, and think your event is ‘COVID Secure’, but unless your audience feels safe to return, they will stay away, no matter what you offer them. We also don’t want to return too soon. The pandemic has been unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes and has required a dance of fire to keep it under control – sometimes winning, and sometimes losing.” 

Chris concludes: “As an industry, we are tactile, creative and gushing with enthusiasm to support our clients. Now more than ever, we need to be there to hold their hand and be flexible as much as they need us to be. Standing side by side with them, creating contingency plans and guiding them on how to transition back to some form of normality is crucial.”

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