I know I’m not alone in thinking the world has gone a bit mad. It’s a mad mad mad mad world, which, aside from being one of my mother’s favourite movies is also weirdly true right now!
This last year has seen such drastic changes to the way many, if not most, of us live our lives and the number one question on a lot of people’s minds is When will life return to normal?
I don’t like to be a pessimist but the hard truth is, whatever normal once was is gone. There will be a whole new normal to contend with (at some point). But for now, anyone trying to look into a crystal ball is seeing nothing but the haziest of images.
That said, it would be ridiculous to bury one’s head in the sand and pretend the challenges presented by the new normal will magically sort themselves out without due consideration. We all need to take a hard look at the state of the world as it really is and figure out our own paths forward. As an event planner, that feels like a particularly daunting task. But a task, nonetheless, that needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.
So – what might the future of events look like and how can we all stand up and face it head on?
As far as the event industry is concerned, I don’t see how we can realistically consider the possibility of safely bringing large groups of people together in one space this year without a variety of health and safety concerns and moral objections. – Much as I really hope that outlook is proven wrong and large gatherings are totally doable come summer or even autumn!
Of course people still want to get married and celebrate their special occasions and bank holidays with friends and family… and businesses still want to treat their top clients to special events and host well attended launch events that provide fantastic PR for their latest products, etc.! And boy do I still want to plan all of those events and make them beautiful!
But, unfortunately, an “in-person” party or event is just not on the cards in the middle of a brutal pandemic. And honestly – who knows where we are actually at in the timeline of this pandemic? Are we heading toward the end as everyone hopes or are we still somewhere in the middle with several more and possibly deadlier waves to come? Or, are we only at the beginning and as soon as the world thinks it’s got this bug under control, a new variant will rise and we’ll feel like we’re back to square one again… who knows?
The point is, there is no way of knowing. But still, we can plan ahead to the best of our ability, knowing what we know now.
What do we know now?
Virtual conferencing platforms like Zoom and Webex have changed the way we work and live. They have provided us with a lifeline and a means for connecting with others outside our own households which we all so desperately desired from the very start of this whole Covid-crisis.
Meanwhile, other platforms like Welo and Sococo have been a tremendous game-changer for businesses and organisations in particular, bringing teams together in a virtual space that functions like an office with private offices, meeting spaces and even water cooler and break areas. The fact that people were not able to travel into work and a physical office space meant that technology had to provide a solution to enable people to work effectively and efficiently from home but still together. And amazingly enough, it did.
Technology has also enabled businesses and organizations around the world to continue to grow and perform despite the challenges the pandemic has brought with it. And virtual event technology in particular has made it possible to host an incredible variety of normally “in-person” events and gatherings, online. From simple training and every day meetings to internationally attended meetings and conferences… and there are further bonuses besides!
There are tremendous cost savings associated with hosting one’s event online instead of “in-person”. Instead of venue and catering costs, all one needs to consider (financially) is the platform and production team. (Even the production team for an online event is substantially less expensive than a production company for “in-person” events.)
There is also the added bonus of being able to expand the audience base by hosting an event online. As attendees needn’t worry about travel costs and time constraints, online events tend to get a substantially larger audience than “in-person”.
What a lot of companies and organisations haven’t quite grasped yet, however, is how to run a good online event. Trust me it’s possible. I’ve seen it. I’ve organised it. And I’ve produced it! But that’s a much larger subject for another blog.
Ultimately, with all of the benefits and possibilities afforded by post-pandemic technology, the events industry is forever changed. And it isn’t just the technology, it’s the willingness and ease with which participants will find travelling to “in-person” events in future.
People are moving out of the cities to more and more remote (and dare I say prettier) locations because knowing they can work from anywhere means they can live their lives anywhere. While I’m 100% on board with moving out of the city right now, I have to admit this is going to be a real buzz kill for events that far fewer people will be readily willing and able to attend if they are hosted “in-person”.
Please note that I keep saying “in-person” as opposed to live. All events should be live. If it’s not live, then you’re simply watching a video. That is not at all the same thing as participating in and experiencing an event. There are online or virtual events and once upon a time, there were “in-person” events. I use the quotation marks because I personally am not a huge fan of this phrasing so until I hear a better phrase, I’m offering up a visual of my distaste for the phrase “in-person” by negating it to quotation status.
Stepping beyond this acknowledgement of my language preferences, I should add that the future of events includes what’s referred to in the industry as “hybrid” events. This means part “in-person” and part online.
Experts in the online event space like Judy Rees are not tremendous fans of hybrid events. Personally, I expect this is because in the past, hybrid events took “in-person” events and streamed a recording of what went on “in-person” to an online audience. So anyone “attending” online could watch the video. Again – that is not an event experience. That is a passive experience that one can do from the comfort of their couch eating popcorn. Watching implies not engaging and definitely not adding to the discussions that are going on in the moment.
I believe the future of hybrid events is in taking the methodology behind a good online event design and bringing the “in-person” attendees to the online party. (Not the other way around.)
For example, imagine a video screen in the room where all of the online event participants are visible to the “in-person” attendees. Meanwhile, there is a video of the “in-person” participants visible to all of the online participants. There will be speakers/presenters both in-person and online but, rather than having anyone present for more than 10 minutes at a time, there will be regular breakouts into small group discussions. This way everyone (online and in-person) can engage in conversation that brings whatever topic was just presented to the fore of everyone’s minds. Attendees can reflect on what they heard, capture their thoughts and ideas in a shared whiteboard space and then all of the groups can feedback to the entire group in plenary.
This model is easy to achieve but very few know or understand its value, they’re so stuck in the notion of online events equalling boring talk over slide webinars or logging in to view pre-recorded material as and when they have a moment. If that’s the kind of experience you’re after, go to YouTube. Worth noting that YouTube does videos – not events. Live streaming an event to YouTube is simply allowing people to watch what is likely going to be an incredibly boring video.
To my mind, the future looks like we will become more and more physically distant but come together virtually more and more frequently. As technology continues to advance and creatives (like me!) figure out new solutions to the challenges still making many people scratch their heads and pray for an end to the new norm, society will continue to grow and shift into a whole new kind of society.
It’s a mad mad mad mad world and there’s nothing else to do but face it and help get it to make sense again. That’s what we’re trying to do anyway!
To learn more about what we can do, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.