Although the digital transformation process is being assimilated without much resistance, it is difficult for any professional to predict the future of events in a post-pandemic era. The market-leading meetings and events technology provider Cvent recently held its flagship conference, Cvent CONNECT Europe, to shed some light on the debate virtual vs face-to-face meetings. The chief marketing officer, Patrick Smith (right photo), went straight to the point with HQ.
1) First it was just marketing and communication, but now it seems that the core business of the event industry has definitely moved to online and digital. What is your forecast for the next decade?
The global pandemic has certainly been a forcing function for the meetings industry to adapt and embrace technology. The industry has transformed in mere months right before our eyes. Something that would’ve taken five or seven years happened in the first 90 days of this pandemic. But these changes have laid the foundation for the ‘golden age of events’, a time where events are held more frequently, have more impact and reach a far broader audience. Because of the pandemic and because of digital transformation, events will become an even more critical part of the business landscape. There are now three unique event models available to event professionals: in-person, virtual and hybrid. Being able to leverage them will uncover untapped potential across the entire event programme. So, while for the time being our industry has moved online, events will be held in-person in the years ahead. At the same time, technology will play an integral role in making those event experiences more impactful, memorable and accessible.
2) Many people are calling this transition ‘the Era of experience’. What does this mean for the human nature of the industry?
It’s absolutely the case that future events will need to become even more engaging and interactive. With more events being held, it will be those that deliver on all three event fundamentals: content, connection/networking and experience, that will ultimately not only drive bigger attendance, but more importantly, engage their audiences in more meaningful, lasting ways. So, the pressure will be on to really elevate the total event package and technology can help them do that. By leveraging the wealth of data and insights that can be gained from analysing delegate actions and gathered via attendee intelligence technology, planners have so much valuable intelligence to create the right content and provide attendees with a memorable and personalised experience – particularly when in-person events resume.
3) How challenging will it be for a meeting planner or a PCO to transfer their expertise to a hybrid culture and virtual methodology?
By nature, event organisers are incredibly resilient and are used to find new ways to adjust. There is no question that they will be able to use their skills and succeed in the new normal. However, it will take a digital-first mindset to do so. The type of skills needed for future events has changed due to technology. We are seeing the rise of the event technologist role and are also seeing that event organisers are now mastering TV production and video editing, all skills critical to the execution of virtual and hybrid events. The industry has already gone through a steep learning curve and both event organisers and venues have stepped up in very big ways. Just look at how far virtual events have come in nine months in terms of content delivery and production values: it’s astounding! This education is going to continue for months and even years. I have no doubt that industry professionals will meet the challenge.
4) Despite all the benefits, many attendees and associations begin to report a state of “digital fatigue” and a series of limitations to virtual meetings. Is there a risk of going from ‘famine to feast’, whenever the situation normalises?
Certainly, digital fatigue is very real, but great content will always be demanded and the massive reach of virtual events will ensure virtual events are here to stay. However, I don’t think that there will be a ‘famine to feast’ situation as things normalise. We have already seen that recovery will not be linear. We will continue to take a few steps forward, then maybe a step back. Even when a vaccine is widely available, some may not have access to it, or others may want to wait for more studies to be done before they choose to take it. In addition, not everyone may have the travel budgets or be comfortable being in a room with thousands of other strangers. The return to normal will take time. Small to medium-sized events will start the recovery, while large events will be the last to return. Ultimately a smart mix of virtual, hybrid and in-person events is our future. The quicker the industry accepts and works towards the new landscape, the faster we can take advantage of it. As our CEO Reggie Aggarwal mentioned in his keynote at Cvent CONNECT Europe, “we truly have never had this much potential just waiting for us to harness.”
5) Let's address the elephant in the room now: what will be the short-term and lasting impacts of this transformation on ROI and on financing models to host an event?
This is a great question. Since the pivot to virtual, event organisers have been focused on proving the ROI of their virtual events. With virtual events, you can capture and measure more engagement points than ever before if you have the right technology. But nothing will ever beat the power of meeting face-to-face to build brand loyalty and deepen relationships. The key is using the right event type to meet your goals. Virtual events will reach a broader audience, be less expensive to organise and give you more information on your delegates than ever. But in-person events, despite being generally more expensive, will accelerate business faster, create lingering experiences and have better networking opportunities.Both types of events have different financing models, will require different pricing structures and have different ROI profiles. Both will be lasting components of event programmes and will logically lead to hybrid events where you can tap into the best of both models.
6) What will be the critical issues in the new format, from a business process management perspective? What do associations need to know to legally manage their membership in a virtual world?
Data privacy has rightfully taken a front-row seat especially in the last few years with GDPR and similar regulations being put into action. With the move to these online event environments and digital transformation, those concerns will only increase – which is why it is critical that associations make data security and privacy a key pillar in their event programme and membership management strategy. Whether associations choose to hire a data security expert full-time or work with a consultant, it is something that should be considered into the budget for both legal and ethical reasons. It is also critical that associations ask the right questions of their technology partners and vendors. They need to ensure that vendors take data privacy seriously and that they all have the right security credentials and safeguards in place. While the time and money spent to prevent any data mishaps may seem cumbersome, it well outweighs the potential price to pay should something happen and no work was done up-front to prevent it.
Supported by the Union of International Associations (UIA), the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (IAPCO) and the Interel Group, the global public affairs and association management consultancy, Headquarters Magazines serve the needs of international associations organising worldwide congresses.