Welcome to uncertain times, where the tragedy of the coronavirus pandemic continues to play out in the lack of opportunity and concerns with travel for work. We’re writing this in late summer 2021, and airports are packed, but COVID-19 cases are rising. So your team is likely planning your events with similar uncertainty.
Rather than pull out a crystal ball to determine if upcoming events should be online or in person, here are 5 quick questions that might help you forecast the future (or at least avoid a lot of anguish):
1. Do you have the capacity to deal with contactless interactions throughout an entire in-person event? At what cost?
This question could be the make or break for your event. Quite simply, people’s standards are EXTREMELY high for contactless experiences at in-person events; a recent study showed that 82% of people expect much of their life to involve contactless experiences in 2021 and beyond. Can you meet or exceed their expectations, using QR codes, pre-registration, contactless payment, pre-arranged seating charts, safe food handling, socially distanced networking, outstanding tech, AND human support for any problems? If not, go virtual.
What was the goal of your in-person event? Was it identifying sales leads, meetings booked, a perception change, or something else? Decide if the goal is the same now that your event venue has shifted to online or hybrid, find the pain points of your potential customers, and identify the speakers or content that solves the problems they have today, not the ones they had pre-pandemic.
2. Is your market tech savvy or is it inherently tactile?
From kindergarteners to senior citizens, we’ve all learned how to have meetings, celebrations, conferences, and even funerals online. But that doesn’t mean it’s your target audience’s preferred choice. Ask your sales staff how their leads have acted at conferences in the past. Do they want to touch everything? Do your products have textures or colors or features that are best seen close-up? Are the changes from last year’s products subtle and nuanced? If the answers are yes, your target audience is deeply invested in having in-person experiences and will probably find ways to get to your event. However, if the answers are no, if your targets are comfortable with technology — or if they tend to keep to themselves at conferences — then you can confidently offer them a great virtual experience instead.
3. How big is your event?
Creating distance learning for 10,000 people is a lot harder than for 1,000. So size alone may be a determining factor. But if your target size is huge and your event will be in person, consider segmenting them. Maybe you can offer live options to one subset, but virtual options to others. Or split your event into several targeted, smaller events, to reduce fears about gathering in large numbers.
4. Can you require vaccinations?
This topic, which previously split the United States, is slowly losing speed. So the answer in most states is yes, you can require vaccinations, which makes it easier to plan for an in-person event. Make sure that your vaccination policy is clear and that your protocols can be easily viewed by potential participants. You don’t want anyone to be surprised or confrontational at the door of your event. And have a plan in place for what you will do if someone shows up and refuses to show proof of vaccination; again, make sure that plan is clearly stated on all your marketing and registration materials. If you can’t require vaccinations, regardless of the reason, then your choice is clear: move your event online.
5. What kind of social interactions, speaker-attendee opportunities, and sponsorship benefits do you want to offer? What is the cost to do that virtually versus in person?
Take a look at what you’ve offered in the past, or what you hope to offer this year, and consider the response by your target audience. Did what you offered in previous years generate lots of leads or conversations? Then stick with the in-person formula you know works. If the response was mediocre, you’ve got little to lose by trying something new and shifting online … and maybe a ton to gain.
The world is complicated, now more than ever. We hope these questions bring clarity to your decisions about virtual versus in-person events, so you can toss that crystal ball out the window.
This is the sixth in a multi-part blog series on event planning in the months and years after the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. Check out the other blogs in the series: