Over the last few months there have been many posts, articles and comments about the future of the events industry. There are some seriously well established events professionals struggling their way through this pandemic period; those who rely on venue commissions, and those who don’t have the in-house technical skills, or the desire, to pivot their events into the online world, are really in need of a life line. Many, of course, have flourished.
Venues are having a tough time too. We’ve made tentative enquiries to venues for event space in 2021, but clients are nervous about committing to a contract too soon. I’m asking venues the inevitable questions about cancellation terms and social distancing, and trying to get reassurances that we can go ahead safely and confidently. Let’s hope that venues won’t stay as empty as the picture above, of a lovely room at Drapers’ Hall set up for dinner, waiting for guests to burst into the room, chatting and laughing, sitting closely together and sharing the same space for a few hours. Those kind of situations feel like a whole world away, but hopefully we will return to that again, or some version of it anyway.
And what has the pandemic done to people’s confidence in travelling to events? Do we want to use public transport? Will delegates buy tickets and get on planes and trains to go to a conference? Should we opt for a city centre location, or a more rural setting that attendees can drive to? Will we even be able to hold large gatherings? When is that likely to be?
These are just some of the questions that everyone is asking themselves, and that we don’t have answers to, but it’s good to reflect and start looking ahead to the future.
It seems a very long time since our last face to face event, which took place in February 2020, in a building in Windsor Great Park, when Storm Dennis blew in and the park had to be closed. We had to quickly let delegates know that the usual entrance would not be open, and give instructions about where they needed to go. That felt like a big challenge at the time, but now seems like a ‘walk in the park’ (sorry, not sorry) compared to the endurance test that the rest of 2020 is turning out to be.
Our first online conference took place in April, and was quickly followed by 4 more. Each event was put together in the space of 3-4 weeks, and was not just simply ‘running a webinar’. There was a lot of the usual event planning involved: website design, paper submissions and reviews, handling registrations, marketing and speaker and delegate liaison. On top of that, we handled the technical side of the event: preparing presentations for the online format, carrying out test sessions with all live presenters and chairs, making sure all attendees knew the browser and operating system requirements for the event, getting people familiar and comfortable with the set up before they arrived and providing moderators throughout the events. The last few months have been both exhausting and exhilarating, as we’ve successfully moved several conferences that were due to take place ‘in person’ into the online arena.
Moving events online has been a huge learning curve and, if I’m honest, in many ways it’s just not quite as fulfilling as the 12 month run up to a 3 day physical conference. It is not as fulfilling perhaps, but it has been incredibly rewarding facilitating people coming together, who have been grateful to have the opportunity to interact, network and discuss, and be able to move their work and research forward. It’s just what you’d expect from an event, so why not still have that, even if the delivery method is now different?
We’ve seen an increase in delegate numbers too, about a 40% rise compared to previous face to face events. New audiences have been able to attend, from all around the world, and from associated disciplines who probably wouldn’t normally be there. Our most recent online conference was a 24-hour global event, which covered 3 time zones, and was attended by over 300 people. This conference was due to take place in Liverpool, but the feedback suggested that many delegates wouldn’t have bought a ticket to the UK for this conference, pandemic or no pandemic, and were glad that the online option was there for them.
So, what will be the future of events? Time after time I ask the question in feedback surveys about future event preferences: face to face only, online only, or part face to face/part online (hybrid). The 3rd option (hybrid) is by far the most popular choice, every time. However, the comments keep coming back that online interactions will never fully replace meeting up with people in ‘real life’. There is a feeling, from many, that as soon as physical events are possible again they will be there, while others seem a little more cautious. Either way, overseas travel is likely to be restricted for a while, so for the time being perhaps we need to focus ‘live’ events on national audiences whilst also producing a ‘virtual’ version for those who can’t, or don’t want to, travel. This seems like a good compromise, and perhaps one of the (few) positives to come out of the Covid situation is that events have become accessible to much broader audiences than normal. We were forced into this situation, but we are trying to make the best of it.
Kinetix Events has ideas about how to make the new style hybrid event work, how to improve face to face events in this Covid-19 era we are living through, how to avoid online conference fatigue, and how to keep the socialising and networking aspects of events alive as much as possible. Our online conferences include face to face interaction between delegates, which is invaluable, up to 10 presenters on stage at any one time, the ability to call a member of the audience to the stage for live discussion, up to 500 delegates, 5 parallel sessions, 5 hour webinars, workshops, whiteboards, recorded videos, and finally edited versions of the recorded webinars allowing future replays of the same event . If it has to be online, let’s make it as interactive, fresh and collaborative as possible. Already audiences are fed up with watching recorded videos in webinars, and so Kinetix Events is focusing on keeping the discussions going, continuing to allow the sharing of ideas and encouraging collaborative working in groups.
Kinetix Events offers a full event management service, or any part of it, wherever we are needed. Whether part of the event is going to be online and part of it in person, or the whole thing in person or online, we are keen to work with anyone that needs event support! Get in touch to find out more!
Feedback from delegates attending some of our recent virtual events…
“I was surprised at how well this online format worked. I enjoyed interacting with people at the tables.”
“I had a great time with a group of researchers. Best virtual conference I’ve been to all year in terms of format and structure.”