Hosting and Attending Events in a Post-Pandemic World

Events foster human connections. We gather together to build our knowledge base, to share an experience, or to get to know each other. Events were a large portion of many agencies' marketing and sales budgets before 2020. But then COVID-19 happened and events changed. Savvy agency owners shifted their budgets to virtual events and online platforms. While the human connection was not as tactical as in-person events, they were an acceptable and sometimes even superior substitute.

At first, it was probably overwhelming to think about planning an event with attendees located in different places. Not to mention, how to network with a potential lead via a virtual platform like Zoom. But these are the times we live in. Imagine if we did not have the technology to gather together at all. Life as we know it would have been even stranger.  If nothing else, a virtual event keeps us in some contact with the world outside our doors.

But what will happen once the pandemic is behind us? Will we go back to in-person events? Will we stay virtual? Will we do both? We've learned over the last year there are benefits to online events, particularly in saving expenses and expanding reach.

According to a poll of more than 340 B2B event executives from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), 4 in 10 B2B event organizers plan to hold at least one virtual event in 2021. 86% feel that virtual events were a necessary short-term option during the pandemic.  However, 68% also agree that virtual will be a larger component of physical events moving forward, leading to more hybrid events.

But another shift is expected for 2021. A Global DMC Partners survey of event planners compared event strategies for 2020 versus 2021. While virtual events were the most utilized touchpoint for most respondents in 2020, 42% said a hybrid event with a face-to-face program and a virtual element would be their strategy for 2021.

Planning Events as a Business Development Strategy

Not sure if events should be a part of your business development strategy? There is plenty of data to review that can help you decide. For example, according to a recent Demand Gen Report study, 76% of survey participants reported that in-person events are the most effective engagement tactic for the top of the funnel.  64% said that events were the most successful tactic for converting prospects at the middle and late stages of the funnel. 

Another survey from Digitell reported 30% of people who watch a live stream of an event will attend the same event in person the following year. That is a win for your event today—with more people hearing your message—and an investment for the next time around.

Planning vendor expos, roadshows, conferences, panel discussions, and other business-related events can be a key step to closing crucial business deals for your agency. The bottom line is that events result in profits and long-term sustainability for any business or organization.

Attending Events as a Business Development Strategy

If there are existing events where your target audience gathers, there is no reason to reinvent the wheel. Just go to them! Attending events either in person or virtually is a valuable sales tool. It's the perfect opportunity to meet your prospects where they are and to showcase your services to an interested audience.

You may think that face-to-face meetings are the only way to be successful in business development. The last year has proven that this is not necessarily true. Humans are adaptable when it comes to making connections. Online events can be just as effective for making connections, building relationships, and closing leads. 

The most comprehensive method to showcase your company at an existing event is to be a sponsor. Your brand will be included in all event marketing. Often, you will have the chance to speak at the event or be included in the expo where you meet attendees at a branded booth for conversation and demonstrations. 

Virtual and hybrid events offer these opportunities just as in-person events do. If your services are technology-based, these online events may afford your brand more opportunities to showcase what you can do. 

Separate Event Strategy, Same Event Goals

No matter what kind of event you decide to host or attend, always keep your business plan in mind. What type of event will help or hinder you from achieving those goals? Each format comes with its own set of pros and cons, and those details can be pivotal in deciding which one is a better fit. 

As with most strategic plans, it all comes down to goals, strategies, objectives, and tactics. Defining these elements is the first step

  • A goal is an overarching primary outcome. 
  • A strategy is a method taken to reach a goal. 
  • An objective is a measurable step taken to implement a strategy. 
  • A tactic is a tool used in pursuing an objective related to a strategy.

When defining goals, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do you want to accomplish at this event? 
    • For example, do you want to raise brand awareness? 
  • Do you want to network with colleagues? 
  • Do you want to build your reputation as a thought leader? 
  • Do you want to sell or launch a new service? 
  • Do you want to grow your lead list?
Your goals will dictate the event strategy you take. You may have more than one goal.  Establishing your goals at the beginning of the planning process or when deciding to attend an existing event will help drive success. 

From these goals, your strategies, objectives, and tactics will help you decide whether you should plan an event and what format you should use, or if you should attend an existing event. Some business goals are custom-made for planning virtual events because the most effective strategies are driven by your in-house technology and innovation. Some goals require tactical, hands-on demonstration, which would be difficult in a virtual environment. Some goals may only be met by face-to-face meetings with prospective partners.  Think through the strategies best suited for your goals and plan accordingly.

Virtual vs. Hybrid vs. In-Person Events

Hybrid events are not that unusual.  If you have hosted a live stream of a panel discussion or brought in a keynote speaker via video conference for your annual conference, you've hosted a hybrid event. A hybrid event is any event that incorporates both an in-person experience and a virtual experience. Both virtual and hybrid events offer you the opportunity to reach more potential attendees. While an in-person event limits attendance to people in a geographical region or with the ability and time to travel to your event location, a hybrid or virtual event can welcome the world to your doorstep. In the same vein, both types of online events can accommodate more people than most physical locations would. 

A virtual or hybrid event could also open doors for new content and ways to deliver it. You have access to different speakers located around the world or technology that showcases content in a new way. New technology can also offer new ways for your attendees to engage at your event, not only with each other but also with your speakers, vendors, sponsors and team. No more counting on the networking happy hour to make sure you connect with attendees! They can engage with you right through the online platform.

As much as it seems like you could have it all with a hybrid event strategy, there are limitations. New technology can be a big challenge for traditional event planners. Most hybrid or virtual events will need a streaming partner, an event platform, a ticketing and marketing website, good internet bandwidth, and a production crew. If you are planning a hybrid event, think through how you want your online attendees to experience your event versus your in-person attendees.

An additional issue for planning a hybrid event is audience engagement. You essentially have two audiences during a hybrid event. Each experience will be different even if the content is the same. But each event attendee should be able to share their experience with other attendees. In other words, a good hybrid event will allow online and in-person attendees to interact with each other and engage with the content together. For example, if you are planning to host an in-person panel discussion that will also be livestreamed, make sure that online observers can see the presentation and are able to ask questions through a chat function so that they can participate. For some hybrid events, this is a  challenging but important balancing act. 

Addressing COVID-19 at In-Person Events

In-person events are coming back and for that, we are thankful. But these events will look different than in-person events of the past. The threat of infectious disease will be on everyone's mind now, even as the pandemic recedes. It will be critical for all event planners to be familiar with and utilize the CDC guidelines for large and small gatherings. 

Keeping your attendees, speakers, staff, and sponsors safe should be top of mind for every in-person event. Make sure that you communicate the risk mitigation strategies you are enacting to your attendees. This transparency will offer an enhanced level of comfort and may be the reason they decide to attend your event in person. 

The future is here. Even when the need for social distancing is over, virtual events can still be an effective way to engage customers and promote products. With hybrid events in the mix, an event marketing strategy can set your brand apart from the crowd and build sales and loyalty. Creativity and innovation are key to engaging and impactful events, no matter what format you use. 

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