Will virtual events replace live events? Definitely not.
The unprecedented circumstances of 2020 have taught us two important lessons that ensure face-to-face events will return and continue to grow and that virtual events will be part of that growth.
> People Need Human Connections
Social distancing to avoid the spread of COVID, although necessary, has created a great deal of mental strain for people worldwide. Most of us have the willpower to endure this type of isolation for a short time, but extended periods can affect our mental and even physical health. Humans, after all, are social animals. We need physical interaction, and the pandemic’s regime of forced isolation has underscored the necessity, when possible, of facilitating live human connections. That need will fuel the resurgence and future growth of live events.
> Virtual Event Technologies Have Proven Their Value
Because live events and in-person meetings with clients were canceled, many marketing professionals and brands adapted existing digital technologies to help them fill the void. For example, they used live post features on social media platforms and applications, such as Zoom, to facilitate one-on-one and group meetings. However, it’s not just small events that have adapted to thrive. The 2020 Burning Man Festival held in September 2020 was entirely virtual, and CES announced that the January 2021 show will be an all-virtual event.
Virtual events have demonstrated that they are valuable adaptations during a time when most live events are curtailed. Because of this, when face-to-face events return, many event producers will include digital technology to provide additional benefits for attendees and broaden their market reach. These experiences will give rise to the hybrid event.
The Importance of Quality Production Value
During the pandemic, when a family pet wanders into the room and interrupts a speaker, we think it’s funny. When there’s something inappropriate in the background, we laugh, and when a presenter goes off-script and spends 15 minutes explaining why their two-year-old wants their attention, we understand. Of course, we are patient because we’re all in the same boat, but when the pandemic ends, audiences will not be so forgiving.
Therefore, the same strategic thinking, organization, creativity, ingenuity, and originality used to create live emotional experiences should be applied to digital experiences as well.
The Budgetary Benefits of Hybrid Events
Hybrid events have all the advantages of face-to-face and digital events, but with shared production costs. Structures and content created for the live environment can also be used for virtual presentations. After the event, the content can be used on social media platforms and as evergreen content for websites. For example, a trade show booth makes a great studio-like setting for live streams of product demos, and a live seminar at a conference becomes a resource for interaction with live and virtual attendees. Surveys, lead generation, and information requests work double duty in the live setting and the digital world you create.
Live events are about creating emotional experiences that are remembered, discussed, and acted upon long after they end. The virtual components of a hybrid event can enhance attendees’ emotional experiences, extend such experiences to people unable to attend in person, and create longevity for the content presented.
As with a live event, the virtual components of a hybrid event are not one-size-fits-all endeavors. A brand’s event marketing goals and strategy determine which features are utilized and how they are employed. Thus, a virtual plan might include gamification, virtual reality, live streaming, personalization, interactivity, polling, automation, live and pre-recorded video, social media integration, and many other applications.
Just as with any live event, a hybrid event’s success is measured in terms of its effectiveness in achieving a brand’s goals. How well it achieves those goals depends on the imagination used to create the content. Quality creative production value counts, whether it’s live, digital, or both.