With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the events industry has faced unique challenges and been forced to innovate at short notice to stay afloat. With all meetings, seminars, conferences and exhibitions cancelled, online events have flourished in an attempt to keep us connected and continue the sharing of knowledge throughout countless industries.

But, with the vaccine rollout so far running smoothly and event organisers looking to the future, in-person events could be up and running again at some point in 2021. While a case can always be made for the continuation of in-person events, there can be a lot of benefit drawn from the rapid advancement in digital event management.

Why there will always be demand for in-person events

Despite large conferences and countless webinars successfully proving the events industry can go digital, there will no doubt always be demand for in-person events. These events are excellent networking opportunities that allow people to meet people in their industry and share ideas that they may not otherwise be able to. Community building on social media like LinkedIn and Twitter is an effective way of establishing these relationships but in-person events can facilitate these interactions more organically.

In-person events also encourage more interaction during seminars and talks that can sometimes be lost when the host is communicating with blank screens on video networking software. Some attendees may find it more daunting to ask questions during online talks than in-person and hosts may feel more comfortable answering questions when they are able to take cues from the asker’s body language and tone.

The consequences for hospitality if some events don’t resume

Large events are expensive to host and require extensive planning and management. Many in the events industry have struggled to stay afloat. Analysis only months into the pandemic expected astronomic job losses, with some suggesting that as many as 126,000 events jobs and £2.4m per venue had been lost by last August. The continued closure of society will only impact this further.

If inadequate support is given, some events may never return once the country re-opens, which would result in even more significant job losses and monetary damages across the events industry. In this way, the case for resuming in-person events also rests on their stimulation of the hospitality industry that provides for them. Whether it’s conference rooms, service staff or hotels which host business travellers, in-person events provide huge amounts of work for hospitality businesses.

Is the future hybrid?

With many conference organisers already putting in motion their plans for late 2021, the global situation surrounding coronavirus will most likely require these events to adopt a hybrid strategy to meet the needs of attendees who would typically travel. However, this could provide benefits that extend beyond the limitations brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Integrating more digital opportunities into live events could expand the reach of knowledge that these events are set up to share. From recording talks and allowing them to be downloaded by remote attendees to inviting speakers to talk remotely from anywhere in the world, the limitations of knowledge sharing could be solved with digital integration.

2020 has shown that online events can be engaging, interesting and successful so it would be irresponsible for event managers to go back to ignore the benefits to professional development digital events have provided.

Benefits of virtual events on personal & professional development

Conferences and seminars are hosted for the purpose of professional development but in-person events aren’t always the most accessible. Travel can often be a roadblock, particularly for staff at smaller businesses without the budget to fund development for their staff. Those with disabilities also have additional needs that can’t always be met at in-person events or may limit their ability to attend for several days.

As virtual events have adapted and grown over the past year, the opportunity for those who have previously been unable to attend training sessions crucial to their development, because of additional needs or lack of funding, has become more equitable. Leading conferences in specific fields can be shared with a broader range of audiences, helping to share the key messages of these kinds of events.

Instead of resulting in lower in-person attendance levels, democratising the sharing of information at events may actually help improve awareness and encourage more interaction with the material being shared. Given that knowledge sharing is one of the main objectives of in-person business events, this could mark a significant shift in the way we view conference and event management and its influence on training and personal development.

 

This article was written by Damon Culbert from Maximillion, experts in corporate event management.

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