Jeff Snyder is the founder and chief inspiration officer at Inspira Marketing Group, a brand experience agency headquartered in Norwalk, Conn. and New York City.
The coronavirus pandemic — and the quarantines, venue closures and travel bans that accompanied it — has instantly affected the events industry. It arrived like a natural disaster, altering organizers’ lives and causing everyone to enter emergency mode.
The initial impact was quick: About 16% of event staff underwent a pay cut, and more than 30% of organizers postponed their events and trade shows until 2021. But the decision to hold, cancel or reschedule events was just the beginning of a new reality. Industry professionals are frantically trying to pivot into virtual spaces and offer consumers engaging online experiences.
The long-term effects depend on how we adjust to new expectations. In the future, as lockdowns ease and venues cautiously reopen, organizers will need to shift to virtual and hybrid alternatives. People may not feel safe attending in person, and those who do will need layouts that accommodate social distancing and new hygiene measures. Event professionals must cater to both audiences.
Luckily, our agency has a lot of experience producing virtual events, and we’ve been able to reflect on what we’ve learned. Here are our top strategies for how to excel in and plan for the post-pandemic future:
A single computer in a home office isn’t the same as a brightly themed room filled with like-minded people. That’s why we must acknowledge that it’s not about attempting to replicate in-person experiences. Instead, it’s about reinventing experiences on virtual platforms. What can attendees get from your trade show that they won’t be able to get from a free webinar? What else does your virtual event offer? Can you use attendees’ homes and resources to add to the overall experience? Immerse attendees in a new environment and create digital opportunities for both group and one-to-one engagement.
You don’t have to rely on your own emerging skills to put on an engaging virtual event. Seek out the best partners you can find to help plan an engaging digital event. This might include hiring a producer, director, and tech partner who will help to create the right mix of live and recorded content. Also, you should look for the best speakers for a digital arena. An amazing onstage speaker may not translate well through a computer screen. Take time to evaluate and identify the most engaging presenters.
Uncertainty can make audiences restless and hesitant, and those emotions are amplified because of current events. Let them know in advance what the experience will look like. At the same time, you’ll have to prepare for the audience. People will remain seated at a live trade show, but you won’t know if your virtual audience is distracted. Add a bespoke element that allows attendees to choose their own paths and make the experience their own. This will help to personalize the event for each attendee so that everyone gets the most out of the experience. Evaluate how to make each moment more meaningful by considering the mindset of your guests and what elements of the experience will resonate the most.
The people attending your event are struggling to make sense of the new world they find themselves in — exactly like you are. Talk to them, not at them, and you’ll find that your audience is still out there, waiting for you to delight and engage them through events.
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