Discover the emerging trends shaping the future of event planning.
The future of event planning is fraught with uncertainties. With the rise of new COVID-19 variants, how will regulations on gatherings evolve? In an age where people can tune in virtually from the comfort of their homes, will attendees be willing to travel to be there in person?
Getting “back to normal” is the talk of the town among event professionals. Yet, the future is unlikely to look anything like our pre-pandemic normal, as virtual event technology and changing attendee’s behaviors have utterly transformed the landscape of event planning.
While we don’t have a crystal ball, we identify next some of the key emerging trends in the “new normal” of events, giving us a peek into the future of event planning.
- Virtual-only events
- Hybrid events
- Health and safety focus
- Networking between virtual and in-person attendees
- Smooth and contactless check-in solutions
- Investment in audio-visual production
- Multiple event locations
- Outdoor event locations
- Small-scale live events
- Hybrid event apps
The Future of Event Planning: Virtual-only events
While hybrid will undoubtedly shape the future of events, virtual events are here to stay. In the short term, the much-awaited goal of herd immunity is not likely to be reached, considering new coronavirus variants and hesitancy about vaccines. As a result, organizing large-scale corporate events still constitutes a risk most event organizers are unwilling to take.
For instance, Sibos – a renowned financial services event – has announced that its 2021 edition, organized in October, will stay 100 % virtual.
“Unpredictability makes 100 % virtual the safest option: The global situation is still uncertain, and we must put delegate safety and experience above all else. We sincerely hope to see everyone in person again at Sibos 2022, but staying digital will help us to further broaden and diversify our audience in the meantime” – Chantal Van Es, Head of Sibos.
Besides the potential risks in-person gatherings pose, virtual events have proven to be an overwhelming success that many event organizers will not discard. Indeed, virtual events have enabled organizers to reach a larger audience, enhance their accessibility and inclusivity, and get better ROI and event data analytics.
Moreover, for attendees whose main objective is educational and whose interests lie in the event content rather than in networking, attending virtually proves the best option in terms of convenience.
The Future of Event Planning: Hybrid Events
As a significant part of attendees are keen to return to the in-person connections and experience, well-known event brands are progressively experimenting with hybrid events.
Hybrid event formats vary, and there is no “definite” model to replicate. However, by hosting hybrid events, event planners can get the best of both worlds: the higher reach and accessibility of virtual events and the intimacy of in-person events.
Subsequently, we outline some of the event planning trends defining how hybrid events look and how they are organized.
Health and Safety Focus
As previously mentioned, the risk of COVID-19 will still be very much present in organizer’s minds in the near future. Therefore, health and safety will surely be a top priority for hybrid events.
Health and safety encompass various measures, such as socially distanced seating, mask-wearing, ventilation, onsite testing, vaccination certificates, and negative COVID-19 test results.
Nevertheless, health and safety measures should not only be implemented but about communicated effectively. Indeed, organizers should make these preventive measures and health & safety protocols clear, addressing them consistently before the event and onsite. That way, people in the audience feel comfortable about participating in person and interacting with other attendees.
For example, for the PCMA Convening Leaders 2021 event, Marriott International devised a plan around the “5Ws of Well-Being Behavior”, outlining the following protocols:
- WEAR a mask over your nose, mouth, and chin.
- WASH your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- WATCH your distance and stay 6 feet apart.
- WELL-BEING CHECK: No known exposure to or symptoms of COVID-19 in the past 14 days.
- WALK with the flow of traffic by following the arrows.
Interestingly, organizers provided attendees with wristbands to indicate physical comfort levels for personal interactions.
Networking between virtual and in-person attendees
Then, a rising trend among hybrid event organizers is implementing strategies and technologies to connect virtual and in-person attendees.
Still, bridging the gap between both audiences of a hybrid event can be tricky. On the one hand, most in-person attendees are at the venue to network with other in-person attendees, not to connect with virtual attendees. On the other hand, virtual attendees are usually eager to network with in-person attendees.
In that context, organizers turn to event mobile apps, utilizing matchmaking, social feeds, and networking rooms to connect both audiences. Additionally, some events are offering attendees technology such as hovering video call robots controlled by remote attendees or robots equipped with tablets and displaying a live video of virtual attendees.
Smooth and contactless check-in solutions
When hosting hybrid events, organizers strive to deliver an excellent experience for in-person attendees, who have taken the time and effort to travel to the venue. The check-in process is at the very start of that experience and should be as seamless and safe as possible.
In that light, event planners are ramping up their investment in fast and contactless check-in solutions that minimize queues and person-to-person contact.
These include a digital pass with an encrypted QR code for each attendee, self-service badge printing, or facial recognition scans.
Investment in audio-visual production
Given the complexity of hybrid event planning, where sound and video is relayed from a live event to the virtual audience and where speakers may participate at the event virtually and from different locations, the audio-visual investment will be top-of-mind for organizers.
As a result, event venues are likely to become like broadcasting studios, featuring giant LED screens and presenters on stage addressing both the live and virtual audience. Organizers will undoubtedly need to invest in fast and reliable WiFi, high-quality cameras, and microphones, delivering an outstanding experience for virtual attendees.
Multiple event locations
Additionally, we have seen a rise in the “hub & spoke” model for events. In this model, a location serves as the main event hub and is complemented by regional gatherings in other cities.
The main hub usually has the most attendees, speakers, and sponsors, while the satellite locations are typically reserved for smaller groups. Each location is connected to the hub by virtual event technology, and attendees can tune in remotely.
Importantly, this model avoids large gatherings and international travel – which most potential attendees are not yet eager to do. Contrastingly, it personalizes the event conversation and offers intimacy to each micro-event.
Outdoor event locations
Considering the health & safety protocols and the need for larger spaces to respect social distancing, organizers are opting to host events outdoors.
The more striking example of this trend is the SaaStr Annual, which will be hosted in September 2021 and will take place on the external grounds of the San Mateo County Event Center. In a festival-style event, all the main stages will be located in giant tents with LED screens, spread across 40+ acres.
Small-scale live events
Furthermore, many events are likely to scale back the in-person component to favor a smaller and more intimate setting.
Indeed, as the virtual part of hybrid will ensure reach, in-person events are increasingly being reserved for networking. In that sense, organizers are capping and curating the audience, aiming to attract a more senior or VIP audience to the in-person event.
Hybrid event apps
Finally, event mobile apps and platforms have been proved essential to creating hybrid event experiences. Event apps allow attendees to seamlessly check in to the event, access the event program, and interact with speakers, sponsors, and fellow event attendees.
From the organizer’s perspective, hybrid event platforms enable broadcasting what’s happening in-person to the virtual audience and allow event planners to manage logistics, ticketing, travel, budgeting, and post-event reporting.
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