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The Best Insurance for Live Events
We are getting more and more confident as more of us get vaccinated, feel comfortable to get back on an airplane, and are ready to connect at tradeshows and conferences. Just to be on the safe side, event organizers are delaying their live shows until August and beyond to make sure that their audiences are ready to hit the show floor.
If we had a crystal ball and could have predicted how disruptive 2020 and 2021 would have been, I’m sure we would have gone to our insurance brokers and added “pandemic” as a trigger for being compensated if an event couldn’t go live and stage in Vegas, Orlando, Chicago and beyond. So, as we get ready to go live again, how should we ensure that our audiences can see those new products from exhibitors, get their CE credits, and connect with each other? And that our event can fund our budgets and make us a profit?
If we have learned anything from the last year, it’s to expect the unexpected. Most of us were caught off guard, had to do a hard pivot to virtual and scrambled to get the event online vs. in a physical location. And we had mixed results because designing a virtual event was new to all of us without a blueprint to rely on. The temptation was there to try and recreate the live event online which often disappointed our attendees and vendors.
So, if you are feeling relieved that you don’t have to resort to virtual, here is something all event planners need to consider. Hosting a live event with no digital fallback is a very dangerous proposition. We need to expect the unexpected, plan for a reduced audience that travels, and be at the ready to stage our event, no matter what the circumstances. In other words, having a virtual strategy is the best insurance against disappointing your audience, not reaching enough people and not providing value to exhibitors who are likely the biggest contributors to your event revenue.
Now I know that many of you would rather not have to plan for two different arenas, live and virtual, but here’s some misconceptions about the impact of adding a virtual component and compelling reasons that you should rethink things if you are still on the fence about going online.
Misconception #1: Having a virtual option will reduce live attendance at the event.
You may think that your audience will either take part virtually or in person, that there is no in between. You may think that by hosting a hybrid event, you split your total attendance. However, the opposite is true. Hybrid events allow you to increase your reach and gain more attendees, not fewer. A recent study found that 98% of attendees that planned to go online were not planning to attend live anyway. That means you have now captured an entirely new audience that would not have come to the live show.
Another poll of event organizers showed that for those who had already hosted a hybrid event, they found that more attendees were likely to show up at the next live event and 65% said attendance was even higher than the year before.
Misconception #2: Virtual options decrease engagement inside the live event.
It’s easy to draw the conclusion that if you have a virtual option, people will sit in their hotel rooms, fire up their computer and go to the virtual exhibit hall or attend sessions online. The reality is that virtual options actually open up more opportunities to engage.
You can use a virtual option to help live and virtual attendees network with each other. You can dedicate one area for in-person meetings and have a second area for those with virtual meetings, scheduled by matchmaking software. Attendees may choose to attend some of the sessions online leaving them more time to be in the exhibit hall or connect in person. The virtual booth extends the hours an attendee can connect with the exhibitor. Instead of decreasing engagement, virtual options give you more choices.
Misconception #3: Sponsors will dislike having to manage a virtual booth.
For many virtual-only shows, sponsors didn’t get the ROI that they had hoped for. But for a hybrid event, virtual booths open up new opportunities to engage attendees and get leads. As I said before the virtual booth extends the time an attendee can look at a booth’s content. Exhibitors can conduct virtual in-booth sessions to demo their product or meet the team. And attendees leave a digital footprint when they view a booth and its content. Now you know what attendees look at and who is looking vs. guessing what they are interested in when attendees do a “drive by” down the exhibit hall aisles.
Misconception #4: The ROI for my event will be reduced if a hybrid option is introduced.
The question of ROI is really a tricky number to get right, but here are some signs that adding a virtual option increases your return on investment vs. reduces it. First, your audience is wider because there are no budget or geographic barriers to attend. Because these people are online, you don’t have to increase your investment in physical infrastructure to accommodate them. You can attract more vendors who may not have had the budget to travel and send their team. And the list goes on and on. Virtual is inexpensive, easy and widens the net in how you can generate revenue.
Right now, we don’t know enough to say for sure how COVID 19 has change the behaviors of our event audiences, but what we do know is that how we use technology in our daily lives has shifted dramatically. All of us had to work from home at some point in 2020 and at least half of the workforce has not gone back to the office. Sponsors have shifted their budgets and reduced their reliance on travel.
Hybrid events are your best insurance policy that you can stage your event even in the face of travel, weather or medical disruptions. You can meet the needs of an audience whose needs have now changed, and you can give your audiences more ways to learn, connect and engage to make your live show even more relevant. Having an event portfolio that only has a live option is like having a restaurant with only one item on the menu. It’s too much of a risk in the world we live in today.