The events business has taken a bruising—one of the worst in this whole pandemic—but if there’s a silver lining for that massive black-and-blue cloud, it’s that events will always serve a golden role for business. In other words, the market for events will definitely come back; it’s just a question of where, when, and how.

There are currently two types of events on everyone’s mind: old-school In-Person events and new-school online Virtual events. Don Knox of MarketingProfs predicts some synthesis of those types; we might soon be seeing hybrid events designed to incorporate the two in completely new ways.

To properly riff and recap Knox’s work, we have three main pieces here: the big problems with in-person events, the big problems with virtual events, and how fragments of each type could create “hybrid events” we haven’t seen before.

What’s wrong with In-Person Events?

😷 Start with the obvious: people aren’t safe attending right now, and (just as relevant) many people won’t feel safe attending a packed event for a good long while, even once the threat of contagion virtually disappears.

⚔️ The wave of 2020 cancellations has caused a multi-way clusterf*** between (A) companies hosting events, (B) people who bought tickets, (C) event companies, and (D) event sponsors—and the former two (if not all four) will lick their wounds before spending any money on the next one.

🕯 The current situation will create lasting constraints on event-labor supply. Even if there’s a “rebirth” for live events at some point in the future, many events businesses will be closed by then—and most of the rest will be operating at reduced capacity for a while.

OK. So what’s wrong with Virtual Events?

👻 They’re a pale comparison, and everyone knows it. What you lose (transitioning from in-person to virtual) isn’t that bad if your main reason for attending conferences is the education. But of course, there’s another side to these events: networking. That’s the second essential piece for building events as we’ve known them; it’s also the element which is virtually impossible to duplicate from behind a webcam.

We’ve met numerous people at Traffic and Conversion Summit (T&C) who generate a year’s worth of leads by, essentially, mingling for 36 hours; attempting the same thing virtually would be like a nightmarish, un-fun mashup of The Social Network and Gone in 60 Seconds.

🤷 Most businesses are not prepared to host virtual events. In many spaces, virtual events have suddenly become so popular that nobody else can get them on the schedule (when it rains, it pours). But don’t feel like you’re missing out yet—because a LOT of the businesses who pivoted and got their “virtual event” on the calendar have no idea what they’re doing.

We don’t say so critically; “event planning” has become synonymous with “live TV production” overnight, and only recently had those begun to overlap (and only for the largest events). All the same, prepare for Amateur Hour while everyone else figures this stuff out.

How might Hybrid Events combine the two?

📺 For starters: keeping the content front and center. Events—of all kinds—live and die on the quality of their content. As different as “event planning” and “live TV production” might be, they have this principle in common. Whatever the hybrid event’s design, good content is the only glue that can hold the whole thing together.

👥 Designing the events to incorporate both kinds of attendance. The philosophy here is simple: let people choose their own comfort level. Until now, the “virtual attendance” options have been visible afterthoughts; still, that is (optimistically) another way of highlighting all the room for improvement. Some simple improvements would be common sense to talk-show producers (like, c’mon, take some questions from callers).

📸 Creating some new virtual-networking options. One of Knox’s examples was a “virtual exhibit hall” where online attendees can hop into video chats with exhibiting businesses—which actually sounds cool.

We just hope—for the full conference experience—that one of these hybrid events installs a few “awkward loiterer” webcams for people who mostly want to talk while in everyone else’s way (physically or virtually).

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