The pandemic has impacted our lifestyles and the way we do business. One of the areas where it has had a significant impact is on conferences, trade shows, and live events.
People attend business events to learn, meet new people, and nurture relationships. Businesses use them to build awareness, educate attendees, generate leads, and establish thought leadership.
When it was not possible to have face-to-face events, some were canceled and some went virtual.
How well do virtual events work?
Are virtual events the way of the future?
To add to my research and observations, I asked a group of experts – individuals that frequently attend or host events -- to provide their perspectives and experiences with the virtual format.
Overall, there are many positive aspects of virtual events:
1) The potential audience is expanded
The ability to reach a wider audience was a positive aspect I heard most frequently – virtual events are not restrained by geography – opening up a wider world for both presenters and attendees.
Speakers could present from their home offices (or anywhere where there is a strong internet connection) and attendees faced lower barriers to participation. Online events typically cost less to produce and attend (some even waived the ticket price), and there are no travel costs, which is good for start-ups, small companies, or any organization with a tight budget.
2) More Efficient
Because you have the convenience of participating from home or office, virtual events are less disruptive of regular work schedules as even local events require travel time. And for events with more than one speaker, it is easy to "zoom" in and out, viewing just the most relevant sessions to attend.
3) Networking is different but better in some ways
Networking was still possible via breakout rooms or chat functions. For many events, it is easy to see who is attending and to message another attendee that you want to meet. For some, this is easier than walking across a room and striking up a conversation.
Virtual events can also have an equalizing effect – people who are smaller in stature or who have softer voices sometimes struggle to be heard, especially at an event or meeting with many people or ambient noise. Since there is no sound in a chatbox, and you can position yourself the way you want in front of the camera, everyone is equal. And for some people it is easier to ask questions in a chatbox than in front of a group, helping to increase interaction between audience and presenters and enrich the learning experience.
What is Missing from Virtual Events?
1) Social interactions
Not surprisingly, those who mentioned they were extroverts missed the casual exchanges, happy hours, and lunch/dinners after the event.
2) Spontaneous interactions and humor
It’s hard to have those chance encounters in the hallway at a virtual event as well as there is less opportunity for spontaneous ideas to hatch when having a casual conversation during meeting breaks. Additionally, spontaneous humor and comments that add to meetings and lightens presentations may not be picked up (or the participants are on mute).
Are virtual events more or less rewarding?
Most of the respondents thought that the virtual events were either as rewarding or more rewarding as face-to-face events.
How do you think the current situation will impact the future?
For forward-thinking organizations, it already has – for example, PMMI, who produces Pack Expo and Healthcare Packaging Expo, is incorporating virtual technology to accommodate individuals who will not travel to their November 2020 show. And if conditions are not safe, they have plans to convert to a fully virtual format.
The people I asked agreed with this:
To sum it up:
For both now and in the foreseeable future, virtual platforms offer many positive aspects for hosting your business events, showcasing your strengths and connecting with your target audience.
And it appears from all of the positive feedback that even when it is safe again to hold in-person events, they most likely will take a hybrid form that uses virtual technology to enhance and customize the attendee’s experience.
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