Ask the Experts: Virtual Events – What Can We Do Better in 2021?

virtual event trends 2021

There is no doubt that virtual events are here to stay. Even when consumer confidence comes back, vaccines are rolled out and people start travelling around again, having a virtual element to a live in-person event will become the norm. But if we look back at the year and assess how things went, what would we change?

How did organisers deal with the new challenges they faced? What were the biggest lessons learnt?  And what can we do better in 2021?

EventTech Talk spoke to some of the industry’s well-known virtual event experts to find out more about their views on the event landscape this year – including what went well, what didn’t and what they think will be the biggest trends over the coming year.

Let’s take a look.

Brandt Krueger – Technical Producer, Consultant, and Educator for the Meeting & Events Industry

Those organisations that are going to be the most successful in 2021 are going to be those that used this time not to stand still, not to replicate our in-person events online, but to push the boundaries and try new things.  Attendees have been more than forgiving these last 10 months, and while some saw online events as a stopgap before returning back to “real” events, others chose to use it as an opportunity to flex their muscles about what a quality online experience could look like.

As we return to in-person events, hybrid is going to be the model of the day. I’m sorry to the naysayers, but I just really believe that no matter how fast we get the world vaccinated, there’s going to be a population that’s going to be less likely to pull the in-person trigger, wishing to stay at home or in the office.

I call it the ‘Netflixification of Events’ (should come up with something shorter and not trademarked, but it works). People already make the choice. Is it worth it to pack up the whole family for a movie, paying a gazillion dollars for tickets and popcorn? Or maybe we should just wait for it to come out on Disney Plus? People are going to start behaving the same way with events. Is this event worth it to me to take 4 days out of the office to fly 6 hours and live out of a hotel for 3 days? Or will I just watch it online? Are you going to leave these people behind? Much like the blockbuster movies make you go, “Oh, man I wish I was seeing this in the theater!”, so must our blockbuster online and hybrid events drive interest in our in-person events!

Follow Brandt Kreuger on LinkedIn

Miguel Neves – Online/Virtual Events Producer and Chief Social Strategist

I believe we are currently just scratching the surface of what is possible with virtual events. In 2020 they were forced upon us and we went from having an eager appetite for content in the spring to the loathing of almost all virtual event by fall, in particular those falling under the category of webinars.

In 2021, we are sure to have more advanced tools at our disposal and AV partners with increasingly better solutions. All this is good news, but where we can make the biggest stride forward is in developing new concepts for virtual events. This is crucial for virtual events to thrive because attendees are rarely excited by one-hour-long webinars that feature bullet point filled presentations and have only the dying minutes allocated to questions and answers.

Virtual events can take so many diverse formats with different durations, different ways to deliver or discuss content and different participation styles. I firmly believe that we will see the emergence of different concepts and we will draw a line between another “webinar” and virtual events that we can get excited about. What they will be called is for us to define, but that is what I am going to invest my time in 2021.

Follow Miguel Neves on LinkedIn

Tahira Endean – Head of Events – SITE Global, Writer, Speaker, Connector, Collaborator

Virtual events need to be people-centric, purpose-driven. This is the basis for Intentional Event Design and it has never been more important that now. It is about designing for the experience vs. designing for the platform. Using the basic principles of human engagement and how memorable experiences are created through our various senses – we can learn, connect, reflect, apply learnings, and build relationships through dialogue, discord and laughter. And this often leads to creative ideas and innovations.

If we deliver virtual events like a weak, one-way broadcast to an audience already suffering from digital fatigue in a time when billions of hours of content are being developed, we are failing our participants.

Think about it from the perspective of the guest who is inviting you into their space every time they choose to watch your content. Or even better, interact with our content and others who are sharing this same experience. Deliver interesting content using the best practices of storytelling. Ask them to engage with the content and each other. Challenge their assumptions and invite their opinions – and provide stimulus they cannot get elsewhere, in digestible bites. And have some fun along the way too!

Follow Tahira Endean on LinkedIn

Paul Cook – Hybrid & Virtual Events Specialist, Content Writer & Speaker

What can we do better when it comes to virtual events in 2021? It’s a great question and there are a number of different responses that come to mind. But for me the key is that we treat virtual events with respect – and this applies on many levels. They help organisations conduct business, they encourage more inclusivity of attendees and they help reduce the carbon pollution from events. These are just three thoughts that spring to my mind.

Do we need to respect an event format? Yes, because only then will we take them seriously enough to unleash the creative thinking of event professionals that will enable virtual events to fully evolve. If we don’t respect them, they will always be second class and a poor substitute. What a waste that would be. In 2021, as we come out of the eye of the Covid-19 storm we need every asset in our tool box to help our clients. And virtual events are very much a part of that.

Follow Paul Cook on LinkedIn

Abi Cannons – Global Innovation Success Manager, Reed Exhibitions Ltd

Virtual events in 2020 have given us a lot to think about and there has been much to learn along the way. One of the biggest lessons has been to effectively review the learnings after each event and sharing knowledge internally across brands and teams.

After an initial rush to move at speed, slowing down the planning process is leading to more bravery, skill and therefore more creative ideas. This in turn has led to more excitement about the possibilities that come from virtual events, but it would be a waste if all the experiences and wisdom just walked out the door because it wasn’t passed along.

That’s why we have a focus on recording everything and sharing it widely – we all want to learn and want to do the best for all our customers. Our lesson is to never stop learning when it comes to virtual events. Somebody somewhere is always looking at a new way of doing things and the tech keeps developing to support that. You cannot sit still. You need to keep learning from the lessons that virtual events provide. Sharing is not only caring but can truly help us evolve.

Follow Abi Cannons on LinkedIn

James Morgan – Principal Lecturer in Events, University of Westminster

When it comes to the future of virtual events, my opinion is that we need to adopt a much more ‘virtual experiencescape’ approach. In other words, it is not just about viewing a screen with talking heads with an attractive backdrop, but rather it is about designing a multifunctional experience that offers interactivity to attendees. By adding physical elements that can be posted out to attendees prior to the event, we can also activate more than two or three senses.

The virtual event experience is not just about the experience of the user on the day of the event or just about the tech platform either. Yet, these seem to be the predominant drivers for organisations putting virtual events on. I think we need to be looking at the whole experience journey – basically pre-event, during the event and post-event. And we have to look at an interconnected experience and really ask whether it is good enough.

We should also explore potential negative experience impacts and design these out. There are many friction points in a number of virtual events right now. We need to really look at them and ask if the friction of registration and required data, the friction of interacting on the event day as well as friction in post experience is at a minimum, to help ensure we get more people attending and engaging.

Follow James Morgan on LinkedIn

Conclusion – The Road Ahead

Everyone has a view on virtual events. Some people like them and some people don’t. But, what’s clear and highlighted by our ‘experts’ is that virtual events offer massive opportunities to organisations that want to make the most of this form of event delivery.

As our experts pointed out, we are really just touching the surface of what is possible. That in itself is both scary and exciting.

Virtual events are here to stay. And with the shock waves of Covid-19 still resounding and a bumpy global economy ahead, the event planners that do well will be those that help their clients stand out. And virtual events certainly help in that. Having them as a permanent fixture of the future events landscape can only be a good thing.

Running virtual events?  Eventsforce VCD is a fully integrated virtual event platform that can support you with registration, live streaming, audience engagement tools, remote speaker management, networking and virtual sponsors and exhibitors.  Book a demo or get in touch with the team to see how we can help!