Toby Lewis, CEO of Live Group, explores the impact the pandemic has had on event planning at CHS Birmingham's Education Event.
There is always going to be a healthy debate when discussing virtual and hybrid financing options at an ‘in-person only’ event. Hence, in this article, Toby shares his experience at the CHS Birmingham Education Event, which showed him the industry has a way to go yet.
I relish speaking on panels. The events industry is changing at such a rapid rate, and Live Group has so much to say on developments, that when I get to chance to speak directly with my peers, I seize it!
Last week I joined the expert panel at the CHS Birmingham Education Event to give my thoughts on the new financial models emerging in the industry, and ways to innovate events funding in the future. Here are a few of my key takeaways from the event.
1. In-person only?
My first point seems an obvious one, but why – after all the progress we have made in the last 18 months to evolve the industry, acclimatise audiences and re-educate clients – was the event an in-person only format? I understand how much some of us have been looking forward to getting back in a room together, ‘returning to normal’, but in practice this is a measurable step backwards.
The Q&A session really brought this home for me. Out of an audience of perhaps 70 delegates, only a handful felt bold enough to raise their hand and take the microphone. As this was unfolding, I couldn’t help but think of the virtual possibilities here, of remote viewers submitting their questions via chatroom from the comfort of their homes.
Covid-19 let the events industry hear the voice of the silent majority. We mustn’t ignore what they want from us. Opening up events to remote audiences isn’t just for convenience; it gives those who shy away from live events the option to express themselves in a space where they feel safe to do so. If CHS had built this option into their event strategy I imagine we would have had far more questions submitted and therefore a more engaging and useful debate.
2. Hybrid funding.
There’s more than one way to fund your event, and hybrid only expands the options further. What needs to happen now is that the exhibitor benefits of hybrid events need to be communicated to sponsors. Right now, it seems most feel lost in the virtual space, when really, they have everything to gain.
It can be hard to get out of the old mindset, but the benefits of hybrid sponsorship are clear: an extended event lifecycle which creates longer engagement time with customers, and an expanded customer pool at that thanks to the inclusion of virtual audiences. It’s a chance to get in front of more people, in a more meaningful way, for longer. The options go on, too. Hybrid events present all sorts of slots for specialised sponsor content, from hosted sessions, webinars, and pre- and post-event activities which put sponsors squarely in the spotlight.
3. Strength in data.
One topic which gave me cause for optimism was the positive views surrounding data, and its importance in the future of events. Hybrid and virtual approaches have given event organisers more data than they could have dreamed gathering from an in-person only event, and now there’s no going back. Monitored correctly, gathered responsibly and for the right reasons, the data is just too useful.
What does need refining for many is the data strategy itself, and that can only come from better planning. Events with clear objectives, defined markers for success, and a plan for hitting these, will yield more effective data from their event than one which doesn’t take the time and effort to focus.
The future is here. Nearly.
I would not consider any of the points I’ve made here ‘hot takes’ at this point. We, as an industry, have had almost two years to adjust our thinking in the wake of Covid-19, and progress has been made. But, from my observations at CHS this year, I feel we still have a distance left to travel before these concepts: hybrid, enhanced sponsorship, and powerful data, are deployed to their full effect.
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