After the upheaval experienced by the events industry following the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing more event planners opt for in-person events and tradeshows — and with good reason. A few good reasons, actually. “62 percent said they are working on designing live experiences in physical environments with more stringent hygiene standards,” according to the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA).
While some people might still feel timid about attending large in-person events or traveling to do so, event management innovation is successfully creating safe and inviting onsite experiences. We’ve all missed out on more than enough these past few years. It’s time to bring the band back together and anticipate more in-person events and tradeshows in the coming year.
With event technology supporting so many contactless and digital features, reconvening face-to-face with our colleagues is finally back on the table. Frankly, we couldn’t be happier or more excited.
Check out why the future of events and tradeshows will feature more in-person opportunities as we approach the new year…
As an event planner, you’ve just been through the wringer.
According to research featured by Skift Meetings, 90% of event professionals lost a portion or all of their business in March 2020.
And that, as we now know, was only the beginning. The initial two-week shutdown extended far longer than anyone could have anticipated, with ramifications we’re still trying to make sense of nearly three years later.
With more event professionals braving a return to in-person events this year, it begs the question, why? Why, after effectively managing most aspects of our professional lives virtually, why should events and tradeshows return to in-person?
The short answer is an authentic experience.
If we imagine that phrase as an umbrella term, tucked beneath it, we would find engagement and networking — two metrics that drive successful events and inspire attendees to register in the first place.
What is an authentic events experience?
Our job as event organizers is to create a memorable experience that makes an impact in the professional lives of all involved: attendees, sponsors, exhibitors, and speakers. Those of us who attempted to do this virtually or even hybrid know that it’s a tall order in the best of times.
By and large, people want to gather in person because we’ve always known how to do that. When forced to conduct business from a purely virtual position, many people struggled. Absent authentic connection and experience, it’s difficult to inspire excitement from behind a screen.The first things to suffer because of that struggle were engagement and networking — in other words, meaningful connection.
Industry leader Nancy Walsh, president of Informa Markets North America, explained this beautifully in a Trade Show News Network January 27, 2022 interview:
“Digital channels and data-led solutions help add productivity and efficiency to the live event experience in the same way that they do in our day-to-day lives, but they are not a replacement for in-person experiences. Product discovery is available virtually, but you miss the tactile experience of seeing and feeling the product. Supplier discovery is available virtually, but you miss the opportunity to build relationships. Our goal is to create meaningful connections that accelerate growth opportunities for the communities we serve, and there is no tool more powerful to accomplish that than face-to-face.”
Meaningful connection inspires engagement
For an event to be considered a success, considerable effort must be directed at driving engagement.
This means the event should cater to the needs and goals of the attendees, as well as the sponsors, speakers, and exhibitors. There should be real takeaways for everyone involved, which means the content must be creative, relevant, and valuable.
As an event planner, you already know this, and sure, there are ways to increase engagement during virtual or hybrid events. However, there is one thing that in-person events support that neither virtual or hybrid ever could: spontaneity.
How spontaneity enhances in-person events and tradeshows
For the sake of argument, let’s say that everyone attending your next in-person event is very clear on why they registered, who they want to interact with, and what they hope to take away from the experience.
Imagine one of these attendees making their way to their next session when a particular booth catches their attention. If time allows, they stop and find themselves engaged in a discussion that brings them closer to the solution they’re looking for.
Even if time is tight and prevents them from stopping immediately, they might make a mental note and circle back to explore this exhibit a bit more.
Our team likes to compare this engagement phenomenon to impulse buying.
You might enter a retail chain with a list firmly in hand, but it’s tough to pass up those bargain bins and carefully constructed endcaps without at least perusing the goods on offer… (and subsequently purchasing a product or two you didn’t know you needed).
Here’s a fun fact to help illustrate our point:
With curbside pickup still popular post-pandemic, retailers are struggling to engage with customers when it comes to impulse buying because curbside pickup now accounts for 45% of e-commerce sales, according to Brick Meets Click/Mercatus Grocery January 2022 Shopping Survey.
Without face-to-face, on-the-ground interactions, opportunities to engage, connect, and close a deal are easily missed.
Aside from authentic connection and engagement, why else should events and tradeshows return to in-person opportunities?
There is nothing like networking… in person
At the pandemic’s start, meeting via Zoom might have felt like an exciting novelty. Simply top your pajama pants with a smart blouse and blazer, and voila! You were ready to run a meeting with no one the wiser.
Not even a year later, the “perks” of remote meetings were zapped by Zoom fatigue. Research from the Oxford University Press cites that “the term ‘Zoom fatigue’ had scored over 700K hits on Google by 7 December 2020.”
Ultimately, we discovered that a solid internet connection failed to deliver a meaningful one.
President and CEO of Emerald, Hervé Sedky explained in his January 27. 2022 Trade Show News Network interview that:
“One of the key learnings the pandemic demonstrated is the power of human connection and the vital role relationships and communities play in our everyday lives. As our industry continues to recover and the number of in-person events increases, we are seeing a business practice we took for granted prior to COVID, which is the social, economic and psychosocial value of in-person connection.
People want to meet face-to-face to share ideas, products and innovations; to be inspired, share best practices and discuss challenges. These serendipitous conversations are extremely valuable in the exhibitions industry, as they drive connections, commerce and growth for customers and communities.”
Despite all the excitement behind why events and tradeshows should be in-person, COVID-19 remains a real challenge. Safety concerns underscore any event, and industry professionals must innovate their on-the-ground hosting capabilities accordingly.