Firstly, I want to say that I am not sure I have the answer to this question and do not believe there is a definitive one yet.
What I can say is that I have seen different responses and statistics from many different event producers and stats as we all know, can paint many different pictures.
Now what I can say is that I have attended and participated in many different virtual events, from the “Zoom” meetings we have all become used to, through to large, national exhibitions run on specific platforms. These platforms have been developed to allow a visitor to see exactly who is exhibiting and to then choose which stand to visit and control who they want to speak to.
That all seems good, but what it relies on is awareness of the exhibitors and what they are offering, something that can only be achieved through extensive marketing in the build up to the event. Normally, if the expo is a physical one, visitors will wander around, browse the stands and possibly engage in a few conversations. In virtual events, the visitors are far less likely to do this.
The smaller networking events however are working well. Even where there are larger numbers of people, it is possible to have break-out groups for specific conversations and even one-to-one chats as well as times where the whole group is involved at one time, providing the numbers aren’t too big.
Conferences and seminars are definitely working and why wouldn’t they. Webinars are a proven format for delivering education and recent months have just forced us to take these onto a different level.
In essence we are looking at three different types of events, networking, conferences and exhibitions, all are a significant part of business and we have to find ways of continuing to deliver these. The result of the past six months is that we are all more adept at using the technology to communicate and more used to video calls in differing formats. What still has to worked out is the financial side of these events.
Many of the big event producers, like a lot of businesses are struggling for revenue and have switched their physical events to virtual ones. Whilst they are not charging the full level that they would have done for a physical event, they are still charging considerable fees for exhibitors and sponsors to be involved. The challenge they have is proving what value exhibitors are getting form the virtual events.
My view, for what it is worth, is the production companies are not quite at the right level yet, they are charging too much for exhibitors without delivering the same benefits. Conference attendance I don’t think is far off and I believe delegates still get the same or similar benefits from attending a physical event and are willing to pay similar rates to attend. Most networking organisers are keeping the costs down and as a result are able to continue to attract their audiences and enable them to stay in touch and carry on their business development.
One thing seems to be common, irrespective of what type of event you are running, you have to market the event harder than you would a physical one, there is so much digital noise these days, to stand out takes more work than it would for a physical event.
Having had my say, I am interested in your view, virtual events are set to stay and not just because of Covid-19. The cost of sending people across countries or internationally to attend invents is high and in a world where budgets will be squeezed, there is now an alternative. We also have to consider the environmental benefit of less people travelling around the world to attend events which will be considerable.
Over the next few years I think there will be many discussions taking place and we will end up with a compromise, many events will become digital but there will still be some key ones which will stay to support different sectors, we will also just have to learn to adapt and change.