Live or virtual: The future of B2B events?
Event organisers who combine both virtual and physical experiences for everyone, with an eye on event equity, will have the most success.
Last updated November 25, 2022
While some may have missed the personal touch of in-person events during lockdown, many also enjoyed participating in virtual events, from the comfort of their couch, snacks at arms-reach, and comfy trousers. Now that in-person events are a possibility again, many of us are wondering: will event organisers continue with virtual events, or will in-person events make a comeback?
It’s a tough choice. On one hand, participants love the ease of virtual events, and get to rewatch them on-demand, at their convenience. On the other hand, networking and getting to know people is what makes live-events truly unique.
Plus, there are still lingering safety concerns regarding COVID. It may no longer make the headlines, but it hasn’t completely gone away either. Organisers therefore need to ensure their events remain safe, which often means limiting the population density at the venue, which in turn might affect their revenue.
With 75 per cent of event organisers expecting to be hosting virtual events in the near future, are virtual gatherings the future of all events? Or will event organisers risk fully going back to in-person events again?
Hybrid events: the best of both worlds
The answer is hybrid events. Event organisers can host as many people as is feasible—judging by demand, the capacity of the venue, safety considerations and so on—at the live events themselves. They can also allow remote attendees to dial in, view, and interact with speakers remotely.
People who value the in-person experience then have the option to attend in person. It gives them the chance to mingle and network in person—as well as enjoy all the benefits of being on site that they value. And as a bonus, it’s also great for the event organiser.
The key is to identify the portion of your audience that values your product enough to pay a premium for it and go to a considerable effort to consume it. This allows you to offer a premium experience to them on site, as a way of deepening your relationship, and maximising customer value. It also has the potential to make access to these events more valuable to partners and vendors involved in the organisation.
The key is to identify the portion of your audience that values your product enough to pay a premium for it and go to a considerable effort to consume it.
As if this weren’t enough of a reason to love hybrid events, offering the ability to dial in remotely to attendees also gives organisers a chance to not only expand the reach of the event, but also include those people who otherwise might not bother to attend in person. Folks who can’t fit travel around their busy schedules, are in a different location, or are put off by the expense of flights and hotels, can now log on to the event from their desk.
Many of these remote attendees will appreciate the way virtual events allow them to dip their toe into a relationship with a new business without the need for further commitment. Others may be wary of their carbon footprint and appreciate the sustainability of virtual events.
What type of hybrid event: passive or active?
Having decided to run hybrid events, the next question organisers must ask themselves is whether they intend to run an active or a passive hybrid event. A passive hybrid event is just as it sounds. You simply broadcast the live event to anyone who wants to watch it and will pay, or meet your other registration requirements.
The benefit of this approach is that it’s relatively cheap. The technology and set up are fairly easy to master. And it’s a quick and easy way to amplify the reach of your event, without the need to worry too much about the audience experience or about logistical issues, such as differing time zones.
But there are drawbacks. Since the end of lockdown, something called “meeting equity” has become a hot topic in the corporate world. People who are dialling into meetings are no longer prepared to accept being the ghost in the machine, with a second-class experience, and limited ability to make their voice heard, both figuratively and literally. Companies find themselves having to invest in technology and improvements to ensure everyone is an equal participant in hybrid meetings.
Are these same businesspeople, who have put meeting equity firmly on the agenda at their companies, really going to accept inequity in their conference and event experiences? And even if they do, what kind of relationship will events be able to create, when they’re building on such a shaky initial foundation? The answer is to shift to an active-hybrid event model.
In an active hybrid event, both on-site and remote participants have an equal opportunity to interact and participate. Using cutting-edge hybrid-event technologies allows the event to deliver an immersive and interactive experience for both audiences: remote and on site.
Whether they’re present or not, participants can interact with speakers and with each other, asking questions and taking part in discussions and feedback sessions. Using event platforms, organisers can create interactive community spaces, enable remote and on-site networking and build an immersive experience regardless of location and create fun memories. The key is to focus on the human experience and use the technology to enable that experience.
In May 2022, Zendesk staged its first major active-hybrid event, Zendesk Relate 2022, with registrants from more than 170 countries. Conference organisers streamlined the keynote live from the beautiful San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, followed by the first of three digital broadcasts.
Speakers covered a wide range of topics, from how to serve internal customers, through delivering personalised service with Groupon to how UpStack used technology to build a cohesive sales experience. Participants from all over the world were able to interact on an equal basis with the speakers and each other, as were members of viewing parties in both San Francisco and London.
The future of events is hybrid. Those event organisers who create the best hybrid experience for everyone, with an eye on event equity, will have the most success. They will most convincingly build a customer relationship and a value chain that leaves everyone feeling valued, maximises participation and gives those who start as virtual attendees the greatest incentive to stick with the brand and to convert into on-site attendees in the fullness of time.