Sofie Sinoo, creative manager and events expert at ATPI Corporate Events and ATPI Sports Events, discusses how digital hybrid events can deliver new levels of engagement.
The events industry has undoubtedly been one of the hardest hit of the Covid-19 pandemic. Everything from the Olympics to ITB Berlin has been postponed or cancelled. With the global industry worth more than US$1trillion, planning for the future and addressing how events will evolve to address new challenges and ways of working, and even thrive, is a huge area of focus for events professionals.
Where there was the need and ability to do so, organisations quickly pivoted to online, digital events – many incorporating the now ubiquitous Zoom tool – to bring event participants and delegates together virtually. Done well, digital events deliver engaging experiences and as restrictions ease in some parts of the world, they are able to carefully incorporate some elements of a live event in order to remain dynamic.
Looking ahead, it’s hard to imagine that digital events will disappear. They’re intrinsically safe, you can reach a large and wide target group, they’re sustainable and international. Most powerfully, they can also be completely interactive. Carefully planned digital events, with the guest at the heart, also provide a rich experience. However, the power of a ‘live’ or face to face meeting is unrivalled. We are social creatures.
In this working-from-home world, the live event market has an opportunity. People are missing face- to-face interaction and crave being able to enjoy social interactions with colleagues, industry peers and friends. There really is no like-for-like replacements for physically seeing, testing and trying a new product, or to share knowledge and have a meaningful conversation with target groups.
“What you don’t spend on factors such as a venue and catering, needs to be spent on the content and the technology to deliver the digital elements really well.”
As we start to settle into a future ‘new normal’, one thing’s for sure, digital elements of events will remain. However, not as a complete live event replacement, but to supplement and mix with the physical element – hybrid events. Whether to overcome logistically difficult (or impossible) travel or gathering capacity restrictions, or to broaden the attendance reach further than ever before, hybrid events also allow for richer content and wider interactive delegate experiences.
Creating a hybrid event can also mean that individuals can choose whether to be physically present or to take part from home. It puts safety in the hands of the attendee and overcomes the fact that international travel restrictions may remain unpredictable for the long term. For example, guests in the host country may choose to attend in person, while those further afield can join digitally.
Bringing part of an event online not only broadens the appeal and attendance figure, it ensures that those who aren’t physically at the event still enjoy a rich experience. There is also the added benefit of the potential to grant access that would not have been possible before.
Previously events – especially those around VIP occasions or experiences – had limited numbers of tickets available and access was strictly protected. These events can now be brought out from behind closed doors. The in-crowd atmosphere can be transported to new target groups with enriched content. We’re particularly seeing sports sponsors working with us to plan how to give more fans access to previously behind-the-scenes elements of famous occasions and boosting the athlete engagement in these elements, too.
The primary challenge facing digital event organisers is the assumption that such events should be low cost. In fact, to do them well, requires investment. What you don’t spend on factors such as a venue and catering, needs to be spent on the content and the technology to deliver the digital elements really well. With hybrid you are essentially planning for two events taking place concurrently and that are intrinsically interlinked. They require smart and creative tailor-made solutions.
“You have to work harder to maintain people’s interest.”
The same amount of attention must be paid to the guest experience of a digital event, as you would when designing a live event. The online delegates cannot be the forgotten attendees and you need to consider how you will keep them engaged. And that’s arguably harder when they are joining from home where there are more distractions – emails coming in, children vying for attention and more – you have to work harder to maintain people’s interest.
Investing in the setting and how the content is programmed is very important. Live broadcast-style digital events with an interactive programme of speakers can work very well. A set-up of speakers and presenters coming from something similar to a TV studio, rather than sat behind a laptop, ensures a professional event-quality feeling to talking-heads content. The experience for the digital event participant is more engaging and dynamic, rather than something that doesn’t stand out from day-to-day Zoom or Skype calls.
Consider fusing the online and live event physically – deliveries of food such as lunchboxes or drinks relevant to the event – to participants’ homes, for example. Being smart about the programming can allow for elements like a commercial break where you can bring in sponsors to contribute to costs. Digital events, just like live events, need a break anyway and there are ways to bring sponsored social elements to the digital masses too.
At ATPI Corporate Events we’ve noticed events becoming more complex – multiple elements of an event are taking place at the same time across different platforms. A good event partner will orchestrate all the necessarily elements, overseeing all the different functions, and bringing together a pool of experts and trusted suppliers who are leaders in their field. This approach delivers what really matters – translating a brand’s values into a memorable experience that speaks directly to guests whether they are present physically or digitally.
With new hybrid events, there are many more creative opportunities for delivering a valuable, shared experience to ensure event success. Bringing people together continues to be crucial in the ‘new world’, and the core focus for the future of events is to ensure access to great content and connections that can be consumed in different ways.