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Virtual Events: Challenges & Threats

Unless your wi-fi has been down for the past few months (in which case you likely won’t see this anyway) you’ve probably read an article or ten about virtual event platforms. Plus, I’m fairly certain everyone has participated in at least 3 virtual events, online conferences or digital roundtables in the past 6 months. While we see ourselves increasingly immersed into a virtual environment of meetings, discussions, and even trade show experiences, this trend can be perceived by some as a leap backwards from the value of in-person events.

Virtual events create numerous challenges for the event and exhibition industry and are a threat to some but an opportunity for others. One thing is for sure, there will be no shortage of online events and there will be a lot less geographical barrier.

Let us have a look at some of the most impactful changes our industry has gone through as we look at the short-term development of the international meetings, event and exhibition industry, and the challenges it presents.

Virtual Events Provoke A Change in Behavior

People are getting used to staying at home and having everything available at their fingertips on their mobile devices or laptops. Virtual events are a new way of adapting to our “digital lifestyle”, offering us the flexibility to attend any events in the world from the comfort of our home, removing the constraints of travelling. Why should you move or travel when you can participate in meetings and even stream movies on a second screen while boring presenters deliver horrifying “Death by Power Point”?

A More Financially Sustainable Model?

Clearly, there will be less travel expenses thanks to online meetings and virtual events. Companies may find themselves in the position of replacing in-person event attendance with virtual events. This looks especially intriguing for education and knowledge transfer. If the trend persists, onsite workshops and classes may become less interesting for many companies.

However, as the expectations towards quality of virtual events will increase, this will certainly reflect in the ticket prices for virtual conferences.

While this will impact on the events industry, many people will feel the urge to attend onsite classes, conferences or workshops – simply because we are human beings, in need of social interaction and face-to-face contact.

So, in the short term there are financial benefits that organizations will experience, as they are spending less on travel, etc. However, you still need to be connecting and growing relationships or this could have long-term implications to your organization’s overall financial stability.

Balancing quality vs quantity

By removing the constraint of physical barriers, event organizers are significantly increasing their event attendance. At Ungerboeck, we experienced this firsthand with our 2020 regional Unite Conferences, when we nearly tripled our number of attendees from our onsite events the previous year. However, as events are becoming much more accessible and attendance is increasing, it is much easier to become disengaged with an online event than an in-person event. So, as you are planning virtual or hybrid events, it is imperative to focus on creating an engaging attendee experience.

As event organizers and companies are increasing attendance and extending their market reach, there is an opportunity to connect with customers and prospects that may not have attended your events in the past. However, tread cautiously because if you are not invested in creating a memorable online experience and take the time to build the relationships, you could lose these people when in-person events come back in the future. Quality, engagement, entertainment, and personal benefit for attendees will drive attendees to drop out of future events if they didn’t see value in it for them.

Event Engagement and Measurable Attendee Value of Online Events

Organizers will have to take more ownership of the success of exhibitors, sponsors, and attendees during virtual events. When attending an onsite event, attendees and exhibitors have a lot of control over what they do and who they connect with. They can generate new opportunities during the event from casual introductions on a lunch table, quick chats in the hallway or catch ups during breaks. Face-to-face events give us a convenient measure of square footage, plus location and food always added to the experience.

With virtual events, however, the success metrics, including the value and return on investment for both sponsors and exhibitors have changed. The digital environment creates new boundaries with attendees and limits our interactions with each other. Communication tends to be less personal and connections become more superficial.

Event organizers must be innovative and consider new ways to facilitate dialog between participants, exhibitors and sponsors. They must rethink the length of the event, the content and duration of their sessions, and even the layout of their virtual event platform. When delivering online experiences, we need to keep in mind that we compete with a whole new world of distractions that happen around our attendees.

Monetization of Virtual Events

When delivering virtual events, costs per visitor drop considerably, giving organizers unlimited scalability. You can do hundreds of events with thousands of attendees at low cost – so putting on event logistics is no longer a barrier to entry. Now it comes down to content creativity, platform engagement and marketing, but most importantly, how you leverage these events into revenue models and analytics. It’s no surprise that the more people feel like they are receiving value for their attendance, the more likely they are to pay a higher price for participation. So, while putting on events may be much easier, providing attendees value for their repeat attendance, as well as, creating a revenue model for organizers will need much more attention.

Changing Roles of Event Professionals

Ongoing learning and certified skills are more important than ever as job roles rapidly change these days. Event professionals need to develop new skills when it comes to designing successful virtual events. They need to expand their knowledge around digital and online meetings if they want to become true experts in analytics and online event engagement. These skills will be key to deliver virtual events. You can no longer rely on using what has worked in the past, during your in-person events. Event managers that embrace change and new technologies will be the leaders and winners of the virtual event era.

Conclusion

Virtual Events will stay with us for a while, and they come with many advantages, especially in times when meeting face to face is not an option. At the same time, they change classic event business models and they certainly present new challenges.

As the event industry evolves, virtual events will gain more depth, and create new opportunities for event organizers with regards to quality, monetization, and attendee engagement. Better analytics open new ways of improving event content and attendee experiences.

Event professionals need to adapt to the changes presented by virtual events. By combining the best of onsite events and virtual events into engaging hybrid experiences, they can create innovative event experiences with unprecedented analytics and new engagement techniques.