Will virtual events go away once face-to-face comes back?
Last week, I participated in EventMB’s Virtual Event Tech Day, an interactive gathering of 20 experts brought together to address the questions we all have about the future of events.
I opened the event and the question I was given was: Will virtual go away once live comes back?
To predict what will happen tomorrow, we have to understand the global value of the meeting and events industry today, which was estimated to be $840 billion in 2019. Without venues, vendors, travel, hotel room blocks, live sponsorships, and so much more, that figure is greatly reduced. However, the pandemic made people realize just how important events are.
Over the past several months, many have recognized:
events and meetings make the world go ’round,
events fulfill their need for human interaction; and
dreaded work meetings were actually pivotal to our social needs.
Thus, when the time comes, live events will indeed return—with a vengeance.
The Shape of the Recovery
Economists often talk about letter-based shapes when referring to what economic recovery might look like: V, U, W, l, and the latest: K. The event industry’s recovery will follow that of the economy, though it won’t be a mirror image. It will follow in its shadow.
Unlike the immediacy of the shutdown live events experienced earlier this year, their return to pre-pandemic normalcy won’t be as rapid. Rather, it will be slow and regional, reflecting the requirements and risk profiles of various event categories (consumer, MICE, SMERF) and industries (tech, real estate, etc.).
But once we do reach total recovery—a point at which the economy has picked up and everyone feels safe to attend a live gathering—the events industry will soar.
What Does the Future Look Like?
So, what does that bright future look like, and what role will virtual play? The pandemic has actually given us a dress rehearsal of sorts.
First off, we’ve learned that virtual does work. Frankly, I’m surprised that it took marketers and executives alike so long to realize that it’s the solution for most of their programs. Moreover, for some events, it’s actually even better than a live alternative.
Take last Tuesday’s Apple event, for example. Without the need to control a live audience, combined with the opportunity to use mostly pre-recorded material, the event’s organizers were able to pack in more content, more speakers, and more visuals in less time.
The benefits of virtual events extend to much smaller environments as well. In the virtual workplace, there’s less small talk and lingering, as well as fewer technical issues without the need to coordinate hybrid communications. And while we’re saving time at work, we’re actually putting in more of it according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, which reports that workdays have increased by about 48 minutes on average. That increased productivity carries with it the potential for a GDP increase.
You can see that every person who plans an event—note that I didn’t say “event planner”—now has more arrows (in the form of virtual tools) in their quiver, allowing them to deliver their programs in the best possible format and hit their targets.
In summary, despite the pandemic’s tragic circumstances, it has re-skilled us all. We now have more avenues for connection, which means event attendees will have more options as to how to spend their time. The result? Richer, more productive experiences for everyone.