The Next Phase of the Event Industry

Business Insights

The event industry has changed more in 12 months than it has within the past decade.

Virtual events have been the major player over the past year due to COVID-19 restrictions putting an end to in-person events. Some say they saved the industry in 2020.

For the past ten years, management has been trying to protect their margin at any cost, blocking their digital evolution. Digital has always been considered a threat to their business, but the revolution was inevitable.

By the time the effects of COVID-19 on the industry were widely felt, we'd seen two types of mentalities. The "looking forward" mentality where organizers reacted and adapted quickly, and the "looking backwards" mentality where organizers preferred to pause their events until the crisis came to an end. Unfortunately, nobody knows for how long COVID-19 will continue to halt travel and physical gatherings. We can only hope that vaccines become more widely available and allow us to meet again soon.

Lessons for event planners from the virtual revolution

  • Content is king. The main reason we attend virtual events is to learn and get inspired. A virtual event's success is often determined by the educational value of its content.
  • Engagement goes hand-in-hand with content. When watching virtual sessions, it's almost too easy for attendees to get distracted, so keeping them engaged is key. This can be done through designing content in an engaging way with tools for the audience to feel like their voices are being heard. Live discussions, Q&A functions, polls and face-to-face meeting opportunities with speakers go a long way to making attendees feel engaged.
  • Virtual events are more profitable than their in-person counterparts, requiring lower overhead fees and having higher income potential. High operating costs such as venues, security, booths, and food and beverages are removed so a larger group of attendees from different regions can easily participate.

Are virtual events sustainable?

Virtual formats are not without challenges. Lower profits for exhibitors, inefficient use of virtual platforms, lack of serendipitous networking opportunities and less motivation to buy online are some of the obstacles that virtual organizers & exhibitors face today.

At the beginning of 2020, many organizers rushed to select their virtual event platforms and settled for webinar tools. This left no room for the networking capacity that can be optimized in a more advanced event software platform. So, what can event organizers do to solve this? Now is the time to benchmark providers and choose advanced event platforms that provide matchmaking and meetings between buyers and sellers.

Virtual events will never replace face-to-face interactions, and that's not the goal. But while gathering in-person is impossible, tech can provide valuable networking and learning opportunities. Exhibitors and attendees just have to familiarize themselves with the platform and get active on the platform.

We are still at the beginning of our industry's digital transformation, and the more organizers, attendees and exhibitors embrace tech, the better our collective needs will be met.

The future of the event industry

100% virtual events will start playing a different role as hybrid events will kick off when vaccines become accessible and travel returns. Most interactions will still take place online as a large number of people will no longer travel and attend in-person for the sake of efficiency, cost reduction, and environmental awareness.

The "event" will evolve because it implies a beginning and an end to an occurrence. Perhaps it'll be replaced with a word more descriptive of the year-round community interactions that are starting to grow. The way our industry interacts is moving to a timeless experience with engagement 365 days a year.

The physical event of tomorrow is smaller in attendance, more efficient, tech-centric and focused on profitability and efficiency. We'll see less visitors, less square metres, but more on-site qualified meetings that should increase the ROI of exhibitors.

The right platform can make or break an online, in-person and hybrid experience

In a digitally overloaded world, where attendees have become more demanding about the content they absorb and how they interact with it, the right platform is key. The platform is where everything intersects - smooth content production, audience interaction, networking, community building and sales.

Online events are a great opportunity for event planners to grow, as they remove the barriers that were affecting their growth. At Swapcard we believe that a hybrid model of some online and some in-person meetings with a year-round community platform will be the most profitable and valuable model, offering a powerful, unified, data-driven experience.

Baptiste Boulard, CEO & Co-Founder, Swapcard