It’s hard to imagine that the event industry will ever experience another year as turbulent as the one it’s just gone through. Thousands of events firms have shut down and organisers across Europe must rethink how they fundamentally plan their activities.
As vaccination programmes gather speed across Europe, events firms are beginning to look nervously to the future and speculate about what awaits them. Here, we’re going to give our own predictions on what the industry can expect.
Virtual and Hybrid Will Be Key
Across Europe, road maps are being drawn up and the bleakness of early Winter is giving way to a Spring-like optimism. Nonetheless, virtual events are likely to be the way forward – at least for the time being.
Even when physical events make a comeback, the virtual gathering will remain popular. After all, digital events haven’t simply shot up this year; in 2019, the virtual conferences industry was worth nearly $78 billion. And event organisers have said they love the flexibility of online events, so we’re unlikely to abandon them any time soon. The Consumer Electronics Show, which in January became the largest virtual event ever hosted, has shown us what’s possible.
However, there’s a chance the virtual event itself will be superseded by hybrid gatherings, which combine on-premise and virtual elements. Physical and digital workshops and breakout sessions can take place simultaneously, widening the potential audience while maintaining the atmosphere of a live audience.
Verity Deaville, aka VerityVenue, is an appointed Conference & Hospitality Show award venue judge and venue booker. She says: “Undoubtedly, virtual venues at the start of 2021 exploded, and although they definitely have a secure place in the industry, I do believe hybrid venues will soon outpace full virtual. Hybrid caters for those delegates that wish to meet up safely and experience ‘live’ plus those who prefer to stay at home but not miss out. So a win-win on ticket sales”.
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AR and VR Technology Will Continue to Rise
For both virtual and hybrid events, technology is going to be key. And none will play a more pivotal role than virtual and augmented reality.
The two technologies are closely linked: while virtual reality (VR) replaces your vision with computer-generated images, augmented reality (AR) enhances your vision with the same CGI technology. And we’re seeing both these digital cousins make headway.
Last year, VR pioneers HTC VIVE made history by holding the first-ever industry event in an entirely virtual world. Keynote speakers morphed into their own personal avatars, live from a digital auditorium.
This year, we believe the trend will continue. In fact, we already see platforms such as Acadicus, Engage, and Rumii gain traction by offering the ability to create customisable environments and personalities for 3D events.
These technologies provide a gateway to myriad possibilities. For example, organisers can present information about each attendee right next to them; organise virtual tours of their event space; and even take attendees on an immersive journey, enabling them to sample new products and understand the messaging around the event.
Ben Atherton, global client engagement director at The Creative Engagement group and a regular contributor to this blog, says he expects to see “an impactful integration of VR and AR. Although not technically new, I can see it making the jump into mainstream corporate events and heightening the audience experience even when live events return”.
Gamification Will Be More Important Than Ever
In parallel with the shift towards VR and AR, gamification will enable event organisers to energise their virtual and hybrid gatherings and raise the engagement of attendees, no matter where they are tuning in from.
Possible applications of gamification include:
- Leaderboards, which enable attendees to compete in event-related challenges.
- Quizzes, which challenge participants to demonstrate their knowledge of the event’s subject matter.
- Networking competitions, which encourage those present to make connections and take an active role in proceedings.
Anthony Wong, marketing director at digital transformation firm Attensi, says: “In the past, we have relied on powerpoints, video or eLearning. Although they were ineffective, at least the presenter could gauge the reaction from his or her audience. This is very different in the online world.
People get bored quickly and expect things to be delivered quickly and effectively. This is where gamification could come into it.
“At Attensi, we see that using gamified simulation training immerses people in authentic situations, leading to real behaviour change and providing our clients with measurable results. Not only do we see an uplift in engagement level, but because it’s fun, people learn and absorb knowledge quicker.
“In order to succeed in future events, I would encourage organisations to apply gamified simulations in their presentation. I am not just talking about applying a simple leaderboard but providing gamified simulation scenarios or modules to demonstrate how their methods or solutions would work in practice. This will give the audience the best experience possible”.
Events Will Get Outdoorsy
Even as physical events are lifted, many people will prefer to meet outdoors to minimise any lingering risk of transmission. So it seems likely that when hosting physical events, organisers will look for outdoor venues – particularly over the coming summer months.
Verity Deaville notes that hygiene protocols are still “top of everyone’s list,” both to ensure social distancing and to comply with regulations. From a logistical perspective, it may be far quicker and easier to get permission for an outdoor venue.
Indeed, Verity believes there will be an “explosion” of demand from Spring 2021 for “ outdoor cinemas, to performances and team building… with a provision for outdoor covering and heating!”.
Organisers Will Have to Become More Flexible
If this year has taught our industry one thing, it’s the need to have robust contingency plans in place. It’s a lesson we’d do well to remember in the months ahead.
No matter what the future looks like, it’s likely to be pockmarked with complications and last-minute snags. Organisers will need to react to setbacks and ensure that they are ready with alternative arrangements.
Ben Harding, director and event specialist at Fresh Productions, says: “Social distancing, one-way flows and strict capacity limits are likely to continue. But until the data shows that it’s safe to reduce the restrictions, I think the biggest legacy is the need to have a robust back-up plan to adapt to any changes, rule and lockdown situations”.
Success in the industry may not go to companies that organise the best events. Rather, it may go to those that can react the fastest and show the clearest thinking under pressure.
Featured image: Virtual Reality via unsplash