March 2, 2021

Paving A Pathway Toward In-Person Events: Five Essential Trends For Event Organizers To Know

Originally published by Forbes. Written by Kara Krause, SVP of Event Marketing and Communications at E.J. Krause & Associates

From conferences to board meetings, virtual events have kept business professionals connected during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Virtual events have played a significant role in expanding brand awareness and creating new marketing and sales opportunities for organizations. However, they simply aren’t as impactful as in-person events, given their lack of face-to-face interaction.

Even though our lives have gone substantially digital this past year, the pandemic will eventually stabilize. As more people get vaccinated and restrictions ease, many will be looking to learn, connect and make deals away from their screens.

Event organizers are wrestling with how they will return to in-person events. However,  they can start to pave a pathway forward by integrating virtual with in-person events. These two models complement each other; this blended approach can create an extremely viable business solution.

As event organizers undergo that process, they can build momentum to restart in-person events by focusing on trends shaping the industry in a soon-to-be post-Covid world.

1. Building Back Consumer Confidence

While people are craving face-to-face conferences, trade shows and other professional events, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily psychologically ready to book their tickets. Event organizers face the challenge of building back consumer confidence.

A key way they can do so is by creating a customized health safety playbook and communicating that plan to prospective participants. In the plan, the event organizing team should address how they’re designing an onsite experience that’s both engaging and safe. As to the programming, the plan could emphasize hosting smaller and more frequent VIP sessions, roundtable discussions, curated networking opportunities and appointment-driven buyers programs. In terms of logistics, the plan should highlight what technology and operational solutions will be integrated, such as touchless registration, controlled traffic flows and socially-distanced seating charts.  

Event organizers must approach returning to in-person events in a responsible, safe manner and realize that this resurgence is a gradual process.

2. Embracing The Hybrid Model

Once event organizers have decided to move forward with an in-person event, they should embrace the hybrid model and utilize it as an upsell.

Even though event organizers have tried, it’s impossible to fully replicate the experience and benefits of an in-person event. Integrating virtual components can enhance in-person events and maximize engagement. That way, those who aren’t ready to travel but still want to experience the conference or trade show can do so—and event organizers will have additional revenue streams, increased sponsorship opportunities, expanded reach and higher attendee volume.

They can use the hybrid model to further customize the in-person experience by adding benefits that the virtual track doesn’t have, such as exclusive receptions and networking opportunities. These benefits can encourage some attendees to opt for the in-person track. It justifies the more expensive price tag on the in-person event as well.

For the hybrid model to be successful, event organizers must know what works online and what doesn’t. Keynotes and plenary sessions, for instance, work very well as virtual experiences, whereas exhibit halls miss the mark.

3. Emphasizing Data Collection At Every Touchpoint

The more event organizers know about their attendee base, the better. Optimizing attendee data and applying it to their event strategy will create more impactful experiences, accelerate sales cycles and foster better business relationships. Event organizers should start gathering data through multiple touchpoints. That means going beyond getting emails, job titles and company names.

As a baseline, event organizers should see what content users respond to on social media and the website. Those analytics can clue them in on what audiences want. For instance, maybe the data shows that more people tend to sign up for live webinars than on-demand ones or that podcasts are performing better than blog posts.

Furthermore, event organizers can survey prospective attendees during the research phase about what kind of programming topics they’d like to see and pair that with the demographic data they’ve collected to shape the programming and appropriately segment it.

By emphasizing data collection and segmenting attendee lists, event organizers can tailor campaigns and share that data with sales teams, fine-tuning the marketing and sales pipelines of organizations.

4. Fostering Connections With Content-Driven Events

This ties into the fourth trend. With more nuanced data, event organizers can put together a content-driven strategy that fosters connections. Crafting content that is tailored toward the preferences of attendees has a major influence on the event experience. This content includes everything from pre-show marketing that builds up anticipation (encouraging participants to register) to the actual event programming.

Whether it’s an email newsletter meant to drive registrations or a profile on a featured keynote speaker, the content needs to be personalized and engaging to be successful. It needs to sell a compelling narrative that speaks to attendees.  

For instance, if an event organizing team is putting together a prominent keynote (whether it’s an in-person or virtual one), they should think through how they’ll give attendees an interactive experience that makes them feel connected. Maybe they’ll decide to add a question-and-answer session or run a contest where attendees will have a chance to be selected for an exclusive one-on-one with the speaker.

5. Using Social Media Strategically

Of course, in addition to compelling content, event organizers should think about how they’re getting their message across.

They need to go beyond a simple content-sharing approach (posting links to blog posts, webinars and registration pages on social media). To do so, event organizers should ask themselves: “Is the content I’m posting compelling the user to action, or does it just get ‘likes’?” A “like” on social media is passive and doesn’t equate to a lead moving through the sales pipeline.

One thing that event organizers can do to take a more strategic approach to social media? Developing a list of curated voices and industry advocates. These trusted experts can post that content to their feeds, encouraging people to take action. Consider this: for research published in 2019, Edelman spoke with 1,500 consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 across the United States, the United Kingdom and China, and found that 63 percent said they “trust what influencers say about brands more than they trust the brand’s advertisements.”

For instance, if thought leaders in niche fields are scheduled to speak at an upcoming conference, event organizers can collaborate with them to create original content. Then, the thought leader can push out that content through their own online platforms. A tailored Twitter post from a thought leader that encourages people to register has more sway than a generic message from the event organizer.

Gearing Up For A Post-Elbow Bump World

All five of these trends are part of a 360-degree marketing approach that seeks to reach the maximum number of prospects and generate ample engagement with the right messaging at the right place at the right time.

While we’ve gotten used to elbow bumps, let’s face it—we want to get back to shaking hands again. By building event confidence, adopting the hybrid model, gathering and using data in innovative ways, fostering connections with content-driven events and strategically using social media, event organizers can put themselves in a strong position for the post-elbow bump world.

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