Survey Recommends Regional Events, Safe Designs and Better Hybrid Plans

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“Respondents are using more than two dozen event technology platforms—a large portion are using Zoom as one of the components. Some reported deliberately keeping it simple by using a familiar webinar platform, while others reported using as many as five platforms.”

That’s from the business event planners group PCMA’s recently issued COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard Survey. It shows how there’s still no one solution for virtual events yet. So while 61% of the event planner respondents have been satisfied with the platforms they’ve used, most also said that there’s lots of room for improvement. 

Finding one platform with the ability to perform all of the functions that planners are looking for was one of the most common reasons given by the 39% who said they were not satisfied with event technology. “There needs to be a virtual event platform that integrates—not links out—to other platforms besides Zoom,” one respondent wrote.

Here are some more conclusions from the survey:

Digital events are okay but… While designing digital experiences still matters, more respondents cited as more important the need to know how to design live experiences for the post-COVID era. One supplier said the new cleaning protocols need to be shouted out more.

More thought needs to be done for hybrid events. While everyone says that hybrid is the future, only one-third of the respondents said that they are seeking broadcasting facilities in their site-selection process.

More customizable platforms. “There’s not enough customizability in the off-the-shelf platform we have,” one planner wrote. “We need better functionality to host multi-session, half-day events with many speakers and panelists. It’s time for a more seamless experience and higher quality. We are now all past the newness and need better solutions.”

Connecting event participants is still a work in progress. “The networking option in tools today is very basic,” wrote one respondent. “We haven’t been able to replace the social aspect of our in-person events in a virtual format. We want match-making technology on a budget.” Rafat Ali, CEO of Skift, is more optimistic on this front. “There is so much left to do on online matchmaking, the biggest aspect of conventions and exhibitions, but it will happen,” he wrote this week. “Much like online/mobile dating was unthinkable until the 2000s and then the matchmaking aspect of it moved completely to digital channels, so could the matchmaking part of the events industry, in fact it would necessarily be lot more efficient that way.” We’ll see.

Think regional. “I think smaller and regional events will make a comeback before larger/national/international events,” wrote one respondent. “We fully expect most of our events to carry a hybrid solution going forward.” SIPA’s virtual chapter meetings have actually been made more interesting by the ability of people outside the region to “attend.” Will be interesting to see how we can capture the energy injection moving forward.

Pricing, pricing, pricing. The cost of virtual platforms “is still driving what is possible,” wrote one respondent. “Good ones are too expensive for my clients so, as such, they agree to accept a poorer virtual event. There are plenty of apps that have web platforms, but streaming isn’t integrated yet… There’s a hole in the market for $6K to $10k solutions.” What’s interesting is that pricing to attend virtual events is also all over the place. ASAE—after starting with a fee to attend—and The Atlantic both made their major annual events free. I saw a big 25% off sale for one publisher’s annual event this week. (It started at around $495.) 

Will there be pent-up demand to meet in person post-pandemic? Opinions vary. “Planners are less inclined to think that there will be a pent-up demand for all groups to meet face-to-face, while suppliers are more optimistic.” A new GES survey says that 88% of respondents are open to attending trade shows in person, with 65% demanding some form of mitigation to attend and 23% preferring no mitigation tactics. That sounds a bit overly optimistic. GES's research… underscores how critical it is to understand the attendee base and their risk perceptions to plan event design and mitigation strategies to attendee needs,” said Wendy Gibson, GES Global CMO. 

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…