Conferences, meetings and even happy hours are just a few events that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused us to attend virtually for the past several months. Virtual events have many benefits, including the opportunity to easily and quickly widen reach and collect a large amount of data on attendees. But while they will always play a role in the marketing and sales processes, they don’t connect communities in the same way that in-person events do.
Virtual events are here to stay, but once the situation improves, we should opt for in-person events whenever possible.
As an executive vice president focused on event marketing and communications, I’ve heard many of my clients express eagerness to return to face-to-face B2B events. They feel that they can generate more impactful business opportunities and better reach potential customers to market their products when they’re not communicating from behind a screen.
For one, video meetings are rife with communication disconnects and technical errors, causing the “Zoom fatigue” phenomenon. By contrast, during in-person meetings, people can better pick up on non-verbal cues and don’t have to deal with the frustration of audio or video cutting out. They can form a stronger emotional connection, network and engage more freely and establish a trust factor—and on top of that, the lead can tangibly see or try the product. All of these elements are crucial for making a sale. And not to mention, both parties are less likely to get distracted by a notification or a different browser tab.
Communication missteps aside, virtual events don’t leave a lot of room for spontaneity.
Consider this—during an in-person trade show, attendees typically walk around the expo hall. Sure, they might have a pre-set list of companies they want to talk to. But as they walk around, a uniquely designed booth might catch their eye, and they’ll stop to learn more. That’s not something a virtual event can successfully replicate.
What’s more, the virtual event scene has become oversaturated. People suddenly have options to register for multiple virtual conferences and trade shows. Knowing this, companies have to do more to make their virtual events stand out, like adding interactive sessions and product demos. However, that’s only half the battle. People may not show up or engage in the same manner as if it were an in-person event.
From a broader perspective, in-person events have major financial benefits for individual businesses and local economies. According to the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, B2B events contributed $101 billion dollars to the United States GDP in 2019. Events also create and maintain jobs for people around the country. The IAEE notes that over six million jobs rely on live events.
Of course, we’re not quite ready to fully return to in-person events. I predict that once a Covid-19 vaccine is available, we’ll start to see integrated hybrid models where attendees can choose to experience an event either in-person or virtually, or customize their experience through a combination of both. Then, once more people are vaccinated, we’ll see more of a shift to in-person events.
That being said, people will need to feel psychologically safe in order to make the leap to travel and mingle with large groups of people. Organizers can do several things to help prospective attendees feel more at ease.
First, they should take a rigid approach to sanitation, thoroughly disinfecting conference rooms and other shared spaces. Next, they should put several operation standards in place, such as daily fever screenings and mask requirements. They should design innovative meeting spaces that encourage warmth and enthusiasm, all while implementing social distancing protocols that keep attendees spaced apart. And finally, organizers must communicate to prospective attendees that they are taking all of these precautions and have a health safety plan in place that they are ready to act on if something does go wrong.
These measures, paired with vaccinations and decreasing cases of Covid around the world, will help in-person events make their eventual, and much-needed, resurgence.