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How In-person Industry Events are Shifting to Online

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How In-person Industry Events are Shifting to Online

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, conferences, trade shows and other events were canceled one by one. The first quarter of 2020 saw cancellations of about three-quarters of events scheduled for late March, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research.

Although public gatherings became a health risk, people still wanted to learn and connect. Recognizing this, event organizers with enough time to spare began to convert in-person events to events online.

Digital conferencing platforms saw a sudden boom, with industries that traditionally held in-person events shifting to an online experience. Eventbrite, an event ticketing platform, reported a 1,100 percent increase in business and professional online events in April of 2020 when compared with April of 2019.

The idea and practice of hosting events online isn’t new. However, converting a once in-person conference to a fully digital one for hundreds or even thousands of attendees in a short period is something many haven’t done before. It’s an undertaking that comes with challenges, but, when done right, can have significant benefits.

Challenges to Overcome

When people decide to travel for a business event, they calculate the ROI. Travel and hotel stays cost money, so attendees want to ensure that they’ll get something valuable from the experience. It could be new connections with other industry players or vendors, or it could be the chance to attend an important seminar and learn a new skill or a solution to an existing problem. The ability to network with colleagues and the chance to engage with speakers is a unique opportunity that trade shows provide.

One major challenge to converting an event is making sure you retain the things your audience likes. Online events shouldn’t mean less engagement. Even if attendees no longer have to travel, their time is still valuable. People don’t want to sit for hours in front of a PowerPoint presentation.

Consider ways to retain some of the social components that people enjoy at in-person events. If your attendees typically come for keynote speakers, make sure to include an interactive question and answer component to online talks. To satisfy the networking component, provide ways for people to connect and interact, either on social media or by building it into the event online. Many digital platforms allow for breakout rooms or online lobbies where people can connect with other participants in a more intimate setting.

To provide the best digital experience, investing in the right technology is key. Professional-quality video, audio, design and production make a big difference. A recent International Data Corporation (IDC) survey looked at what worked and what didn’t when in-person events were converted to events online. Event organizers and attendees surveyed by IDC both saw room for improvement with engagement level and on the technical side, identifying the need for better audio quality and closed captions.

Benefits to Going Digital

When you get the technology, platform and format right, events online can do quite well. For one thing, it allows you to expand your reach. People who may not have had the time or money to attend a once in-person event may now be willing and able to show up digitally. Brick and mortar event venues have strict limits to their capacity, but online platforms designed to host events don’t have that issue.

Online events also cost less for the host and attendees. There’s less overhead when a host doesn’t have to rent a venue or pay for staff to travel. For attendees, knowing they don’t have to spend additional money on travel and lodging can make the cost of a digital event ticket more appealing.

In addition, any panels, keynote speakers and Q&A sessions can be recorded directly from the digital platform, allowing them to be edited and repackaged in a variety of different ways. This video content can provide value and expand a brand’s reach well beyond the event.

Lasting Changes

This shift to online is likely to continue into the foreseeable future—at least until it’s deemed safe to hold large events again.

Even when in-person events return, they may look a bit different. For some, there is no replacement for in-person networking and the ability to touch and feel new products. Others are enjoying a newfound freedom in the flexibility that comes with events hosted online.

Future events might become hybrids, combining the best of both worlds: an in-person location and a digital component that also allows online participants to engage with speakers.