How will professional events change after COVID-19 is over?

The global impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic is almost impossible to calculate at this point, and it could still be another year (or more) before the disease is fully defeated. That leaves a lot of industries in a state of flux and uncertainty, not the least of which is the professional world. That isn't just because business culture may be changed in the long run by the pandemic, but also because conferences, mixers and other corporate events might have to change dramatically in a post-COVID-19 world.

Earlier this year, UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry conducted a poll of thousands of sector leaders from more than 30 countries to assess how people generally view such events these days. After all, if sentiment around video conferencing is gaining ground as people become more intimately familiar with them, that could have a big impact on live events. However, the survey found that more than three-quarters of exhibitors and over 4 in 5 visitors to such events in the past believe they are better for networking purposes than the digital ones they've experienced in recent months.

"4 in 5 visitors believe in-person events are better for networking."

Digging deeper

Those findings did not come from a lack of familiarity, either, as half of respondents said they had attended an online event at some point. Of those, only a little more than half considered such events to be as informative and generally good as in-person versions. Consequently, that means only about 1 in 4 industry professionals feel as though they got as much from a virtual gathering as they would have from attending in person, and almost 80% said they would be interested in going to hybrid events if they had to use an online channel to do so.

In discussing these findings, UFI CEO Kai Hattendorf was unequivocal: Industry experts are certainly content to get by with all-digital events for the time being, but they would much prefer to conduct them in person. Moreover, they also now recognise that some aspects of online events have a place in the overall events space, and may need to do more to ensure a seamless hybrid option is available whenever possible.

What might change?

In the near term, in-person events are likely a no-go in Australia and beyond. Travel in many parts of the world is still restricted, including borders being closed, with a focus on only traveling for high-priority, necessary reasons.

But even when those restrictions are lifted, EventsForce notes, organisers will certainly have to stay cognizant of many of the lessons they have learnt during the past several months, including:

The need for social distancing

This will mean organisers have to rethink the layouts of their events, but also potentially limit the number of guests, at least for the foreseeable future. Different measures will certainly apply in different parts of the world.

Prioritise hygiene

Events will almost certainly need to make things like hand sanitiser and sanitary wipes easily available to attendees, and possibly change their catering options (where applicable) to ensure everything is handled safely and easily.

Laser-focused content and networking

When reducing the number of people attending an event, a great way to handle the shift is by making the programme more specific to certain types of professionals or sectors. That way, there's still a lot of incentive to attend (which is great for networking, as well), but it's done in a smarter, narrower fashion.

The future of events will change dramatically.
The future of events will change dramatically.

Other considerations

Even beyond the events themselves, organisers will have to consider tertiary factors such as the kinds of spaces they book for hosting conferences and mixers, as well as the kinds of accommodations they need to make available for attendees. The Professional Convention Management Association notes that there will still be significant risk on all these fronts, but flexibility will be key for all involved.

The more organisers can do to make a litany of options available — including the aforementioned hybrid model of in-person and virtual attendance, where applicable — the better off they will be in terms of generating interest.

The big picture

All of the above should make one thing perfectly clear: Events certainly might have gone away for the past several months, and aren't likely to come back in full force anytime soon, according to Events Industry News. But they will come back, just as strong as ever. That doesn't mean organisers can just return to business as usual in 2021, but as long as they have smart strategies in place, they're going to get the same kind of engagement they did in the past. Even if it's markedly different from how things used to be.

With the "new normal" of event production, management and more shifting, organisers need a partner with a lot of experience in the industry that can help them meet shifting expectations. That's where cievents comes in. Have a look at the many different services we offer to ensure events go off without a hitch, and get in touch to learn more about what we can do for your next event.

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