Will A Return To Normalcy Eliminate Virtual Events?
The pandemic has normalized many things that were once considered fringe or merely an add-on. Virtual events are one of those channels that gained a lot of steam over the past year or so. While all events are happening virtually now, it’s understandable for one to wonder if it would be the same once normalcy returns.
Events have continued to maintain their prominence for many reasons. Conferences and summits continue to be a vessel in how we expand our networks and create relationships. Industry events are also places where businesses, both old and new, look for potential customers.
However, no matter how much we have digitized our lives, the importance of physical events has not been reduced.
Many organizations rely on physical events to bring their community together and create more opportunities to expand their business. While new-age businesses are essentially low-touch, several brands rely on such events.
The pandemic forced us to be indoors, and events also took on a virtual avatar. As a result, brands and event organizers had to think on their feet and were left to make some difficult choices. But we also see that not all is about making do, and digital events have their own merits.
For us, the short answer is that going back to normal will not eliminate virtual events. In turn, let’s examine some of the key aspects in play here and shed some light on whether or not a return to normalcy will eliminate virtual events.
Virtual Events Are Nothing New
Virtual events are not something new that sprang up when physical events became impossible. This is important to keep in mind we begin the discussion. So while the format of virtual events has been exposed to more people due to the pandemic, it isn’t some new-age approach to networking and communicating. In fact, many different brands and industries have been experimenting with virtual events for a while now.
The success has been varied. For example, many of these virtual events were not summits that involved brand sponsorships or exhibitions. Instead, many virtual events were merely conferences. In fact, the virtual events market was estimated to be at $77.98 billion in 2019.
Virtual events were obviously not as popular as in-person versions, but the numbers suggest that many organizers had sensed a shift and were doing more virtual events than in years past. In addition, a globally distributed customer base and the rising cost of travel meant that virtual events were becoming inevitable in some cases. These conditions still exist today, further exacerbated by the pandemic.
It’s Not About Adapting Physical Events To Virtual
Since the forced move to digital format, virtual events have taken on a life of their own. As a result, organizers and brands have focused on increasing engagement and leveraging the ability to collect real-time data in virtual events to deliver better event experiences.
With activities, gamification, and other elements now interwoven into the fabric of these experiences, virtual events are now far more engaging and interactive than ever before. In addition, these new features make virtual events a more sustainable option in the long run.
Virtual Events Have Some Inherent Advantages
Though most of us are likely craving the ability to congregate in person again, there are clear advantages to virtual events. Many of these advantages were already known or have emerged since the pandemic. Here are a few of the most notable.
Connect With People Across The World
For event organizers, there is now a larger canvas on which they can paint. Physical events will always be constrained by occupancy restrictions, people’s ability to travel, and various other factors. The beauty of virtual events is that they are free of such restrictions. Yes, you may have to sell your tickets for lower prices if you are organizing a trade show or a conference, but what you lose in admission costs can be made up for in scale.
For attendees, there are now a whole lot of choices, as well. The events they could not attend if they were happening in a different city or another country have suddenly become accessible now. At a time when most organizations and brands are shoring up their digital offerings, such a global audience base is a welcome attraction.
Data & Analytics Come Into Play
One of the most alluring advantages of virtual events is that you can capture a lot of data. For example, you can drill down to each individual session and understand who attended them in a far more detailed manner. With virtual event software, you get to do even more.
Marketing has evolved to be highly data-driven. Online events make it easy for marketers to bring the audience into their nurture funnels, sign them up for email updates, and much more. Organizers can also better understand how the audience is feeling during an event and optimize accordingly.
Virtual events also allow speakers and organizers to capture live data and use it in presentations in real-time. Through gamification, they can also measure engagement from the audience and have some sense of how the event is going.
Additional Speakers & Presenters
The reality of events going virtual has given many speakers and influencers a more global stage. Many of the constraints of physical events are due to the travel and logistics arrangements. Virtual events are way easier to organize. Influencers are not limited to speaking at events from within their region or nation, but can now speak at events anywhere in the world. This is great news for speakers and influencers who occupy niche domains.
The speakers also benefit from interacting with a larger group of people and can secure more speaking engagements in the future while growing their network. They can also access data and use this to drive their own campaigns.
The Audience Gains Access To Additional Content
While much of this has been covered in the previous points, this is one distinct aspect that should be touched on. Beyond the many marketing aspects inherent with these gatherings, events are sources of insight and information above all else. Virtual events give the audience exposure to more new ideas from areas outside of their region.
This global perspective helps organizations and brands adopt new approaches and explore new concepts previously unknown. The chance to interact with leading global experts and learn from them firsthand is perhaps the greatest benefit that virtual events have to offer.
These benefits indicate one thing – that everyone has won from virtual events. This is not to say that virtual events are definitively better than in-person conferences. But the virtual ones have their own advantages that make them interesting for all.
Will Virtual Events Come To An End?
With all this being said – and a return to normalcy seemingly on the horizon – will virtual events stop when our regular lives are restored? We think it’s improbable.
We will see virtual events continue and co-exist with physical events. The advantages that virtual events offer are quite attractive to most brands and organizers. Therefore, virtual events will continue to address the needs of these segments.
It’s worth noting that the pandemic has exposed us to a new way of attending events. While it may not be an ideal situation, potential attendees also understand its benefits. In turn, they would be much more open to attending virtual events in the future than they were before the pandemic.
Hybrid seems to be the word of choice for experts these days. What we are likely to see moving forward is virtual and physical events working together in some form or fashion. Many important events and tradeshows will still have physical events, but it is likely that these events will also have a virtual component as well. If we envision it, one could imagine large-format tradeshows and conferences happening across multiple locations as physical events, but all connected virtually.
For entertainment events, the return to normalcy will be more than welcome, as these events have been lacking the experience of a physical setting. But the audience may be able to tune in to these events virtually too.
For speakers and influencers, this would also translate to additional overseas speaking opportunities and the ability to build a more global community. While normal interactions may happen virtually, they can build their follower base in these regions where people would love to attend a future event if you visit there later.
We are also just beginning to explore the power of VR and AR technology. These assets have remained as engagement tools at events thus far, but as the technology becomes more accessible and affordable, we predict their use in events to grow in prominence. The experience of virtual events can be substantially improved with such technology.
We think that it goes without saying that virtual events are here to stay in some capacity or another. They are not a temporary fix for the duration of the pandemic. But while the choice was not ours to begin with, we can predict with a sense of confidence that we will choose to continue these virtual events, even as normalcy begins to slowly return.
Virtual events will also see large-scale changes if they are to continue their popularity and deliver more value to the organizers, speakers, and attendees. Participant engagement, interactivity, security—these are key issues that need long-term solutions in order for future virtual events to thrive. But given how far virtual events have come in the last few months – albeit under intense scrutiny – we can safely assume that the trend will continue.