Industry Analyst & Strategist

The Future of Virtual Events

With in-person events returning in 2022 (if not late 2021). There have been many discussions on how to take advantage of all the learnings from 2020. A lot of events are still holding off going virtual because of the time required to learn new best practices, providing meaningful content and experiences to attendees, and generating appropriate return-on-investment (ROI) for sponsors.

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The Giving Event Model

One recent trend, regardless of online platform, that I have noticed is to tie an event to a charity or other philanthropic endeavor. We’ve most recently seen that with WordFest benefitting Big Orange Heart (BOH). The platform and experiences were a success, and the charity did well with its capital campaign tied to WordFest. In the case of WordFest, this was directly created, managed, and executed by the charity receiving sponsorships.

Actually, even before WordFest, there was Steak of the Word, as an impromptu event hosted on the BOH platform which raised funds for Matt Mullenweg’s State of the Word watch party. So the size and scope of an event should not be a deterrent to those looking to work with a charity or cause.

We are seeing a slight spin on this idea with the upcoming CloudFest, March 23 – 25. In this case Intel is not only sponsoring CloudFest but promoting a charity close to Sören von Varchmin, CEO of CloudFest, “Entrepreneurs for Knowledge (EFK) [who have] facilitated the construction of a school in the tiny, remote village of Soupa Sérère, which currently serves 136 students from across the region in three combined-year classrooms.” With a €3,500 donation, “Intel was excited to get in on this project, since it aligns so closely with their own corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals. Intel takes the UN Charter on Corporate Responsibility (CSR UN) very seriously, including initiatives on materials sourcing, gender equality, and access to education and technology.

I hope these efforts of philanthropic partnerships and giving continue into the future. Anecdotally these relationships provide a more personal connection with an event and certainly benefit those involved.

The Hybrid Event Model

While there has been a reduction in overall usefulness to organizers, attendees, and sponsors of virtual events, one thing that has really changed is for the ability of people to “sample” different events. I’ve attended a significant number of events over the last year in a wide variety of formats. These are events that I would never have thought of attending due to cost or time commitments. While many events are free, even the ticketed events have significantly reduced the price of admission. This really has been a boon for networking across industries and geographies.

I know I would certainly be disappointed if some of the events I regularly attend reverted to becoming exclusively in-person. While providing a real-time virtual and in-person event may be resource prohibitive for organizers, and now wholly satisfying for virtual attendees, I’d like to offer a variation on the idea.

Why not have a half or full day virtual pre-event to start? Organizers could provide speakers for quick questions segments or small panels to give virtual attendees a taste of what will be happening, and attendees who will be in-person, a chance to get to know the conference better. Let’s not forget some virtual networking which would probably be better attended given a certain portion might want to follow up at the in-person event.

During the in-person event, live streaming of sessions should occur, and with it a moderator who can grab questions from the online chat, and read them out loud (or even better have the ability to drop the question into the presentation screen). I think this would be the best start at hybrid events. Expectations would be set. And the valuable interactions and connections would actually be enhanced.

Looking forward to your thoughts in my inbox or on Twitter!

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