Christopher Bo Shields, co-founder, Totem Hybrid Events, rethinks expectations of what an event is:
I’d like to introduce you to Hanna.
Hanna is in her early thirties. She works in marketing, and has a senior job with a well-known financial services company. She used to commute to work every day. Her daily life was predictable, and she generally knew where she’d be at any given point of the day.
Things have changed a lot since then. Life is less predictable than it was in the old days. At the moment, Hanna works at home for four days a week, and goes into the office one day. Those days tend to change every week.
She doesn’t know yet if she’s going to start returning to the office more often, or if her employer is going to get rid of the office and go fully virtual.
She often finds places to work in different locations as she juggles work with her family responsibilities. Her spare time has become minimal and unpredictable. Since Covid, she’s not really found a regular rhythm for how each day or week will look, because so many things are still up in the air.
Hanna used to go to a lot of professional events, because she took pride in working on her career and building her contacts. But like most people, that went by the wayside in 2020. Now she’s hopeful that things can get back to normal, and she’s keen to re-engage with her peers and invest in herself again.
But she’s worried as well – that her unpredictable schedule will mean she’ll have to drop out at the last minute, or that she won’t get the most out of it, because she’ll be distracted. And will work now allow the travel that’s required for events?
The strange thing about working from home is that it feels like there is a greater expectation for Hanna to be on call, that it’s harder for her to ‘disappear’ for a few hours.
Most of all, what Hanna needs is flexibility from events, to mirror the flexibility of her new-found work life.
Hanna’s experience isn’t unusual. In order to cater for the changing expectations of people like her, the events industry needs to evolve. In fact, it needs to completely change its idea of what an event is.
An event is hybrid
Hybrid is here to stay. According to MarketsandMarkets, the global virtual event platform market size is expected to grow annually by 12.7%, to reach USD$18.9bn in 2026, from $10.4bn in 2021. Factors driving this growth include the rise in popularity of online streaming to replace in-person presentations, and the transition of businesses to remote working approaches.
Indeed, analyst house Forrester recently published a report that predicts that as we move back to something approaching real life, the hybrid model will take over, blending both physical and virtual elements.
An event is fluid, regardless of the access point
The event experience will be entirely fluid from one meeting point to another – meaning that we should be able to access an event from virtual to real life and anything in between, with equal ease. The content and the experience will be devised for both audiences at the outset, and the seamlessness of the user experience is all that will matter.
So, can your delegates move from smartphone app to desktop to real life seamlessly, while staying ‘in’ your event? Could you allow a private meeting to take place, where the people switch places from the physical to the virtual without any interruption to their conversation?
An event is not a singular entity
Not every part of every event is relevant to the whole audience. Events will become more 365-days-a-year by nature, with less distinction between their start point and end. They will become broken down, fragmented and modular, providing delegates with bite-size chunks that are snackable.
An event is curated by the delegate
The idea that an event organiser may be able to dictate how an attendee should engage with their content will become quite outdated.
Attendees will require the ability to purchase the exact content that is relevant to them and engage with the exact audiences that are relevant to them. By creating more of a subscription model, people will buy into the best of the best from a content and networking perspective.
Forrester has highlighted how marketers should prepare to include on-demand sessions at their events. So, can delegates that are interested in a topic of discussion learn more about it by buying a training session or subscribing to a podcast from you on the same subject? If not, they’ll go elsewhere to get it.
The experience is paramount
The touchpoints to your experiences have now changed. Organisations need to be as adept at creating desktop and in-app experiences that are as wonderful as the in-person experiences they are used to creating. This will be the defining factor in who wins the race to the subscription model for events. Companies must be as good at maximising the use of their content as streaming giants and TV channels.
While some of this is technology-related, and informed by the hybrid platform that you use, it is much more about a mindset change. By rethinking our expectation of what an event is, we can make the future of events a different, more welcome place – for people like Hanna.