What does the future of business events look like post-pandemic?
- September 13, 2021
- June 21, 2021
- May 14, 2021
In the UK alone this is a £39bn question (that’s the estimated spend on conferences, meetings, exhibitions and trade fairs in 2019).
Extrapolating that estimate worldwide (based on the UK’s share of the global economy) it suggests business events were probably worth $1trn a year pre coronavirus.
Founder of online events company myOnvent Bjørn Christian Nørbech says: “Everyone is asking what the future of events is – but I don’t think anyone fully knows the answer yet.”
He adds: “It depends on the type of meeting you have. If it is more subject related, even after the pandemic it is more likely to be virtual. If it is more about building a corporate culture, then it may be that physical events are more effective.”
Nørbech is convinced that pandemic-induced social distancing has created a powerful drive towards digital transformation: “We are talking to leading physical events companies who have been running events for many years and they have all realised that the future is hybrid – digital combined with physical. They are getting ready for a hybrid future which combines the benefits of both formats.”
‘Megatrends’ like sustainability, affordability and inclusivity also play in favour of digital and hybrid events.
Nørbech says: “In the future we are not going to be travelling as much as we have done in the past, it is expensive and there is the environmental impact to consider. Companies are also realising there is a huge cost saving from not having people waiting around in airports.”
Google revealed earlier this year that it saved $268m in the first quarter from expenses for travel and entertainment, primarily due to Coronavirus and home-working. That’s an annualised saving of more than $1bn.
And the environmental impact saving from virtual versus physical events is huge, as the below data from Meet Green illustrates.
According to Nørbech, digital does not need to be a step down from physical. He cites the example of a medical conference myOnvent hosted for the Cerebral Palsy Committee in Norway last year as a virtual event for the first time. In the post-event survey (full results below) some 93% of attendees said they would like to see the event return in virtual form.
Nørbech says: “For medical practitioners holding the event virtually represented a huge time saving, we also found they were able to attract delegates from as far afield as Australia who never would have attended in the past.”
But what about the money side? In 2020 many news publishers and other events companies pivoted to virtual, but so far most have failed to replicate the money they were making from face-to-face contact. Press Gazette research suggests that in the UK alone publishers lost more than £2bn from cancelled physical events in 2020.
Nørbech says: “We’ve had events that are free and those that we charge for, and generally you tend to charge less for virtual than you would for a physical event. However, the potential reach of a digital event is massive, which means that even though you charge less per participant, you could end up at the same totals.
“People have Teams and Zoom in mind, so until they have attended a really high-quality virtual event that delivers value it is difficult to charge.”
Future of business events: Networking can be more efficient virtually
But what about networking? The chance to meet new contacts and build business relationships are a key selling point for attending any event – don’t we lose that in the virtual world?
Nørbech says: “You can actually network far more effectively with the right online platform. The networking aspect is something that we have focussed on from day one when we first launched myOnvent.”
He says that the myOnvent platform is integrated with Twitter, LinkedIn and other third-party platforms to ensure that the social networking side of the event is as seamless and effective as possible.
“You can build contact lists, chat or even jump on a video call with other participants during the event,” said Nørbech, explaining that myOnvent is integrating matchmaking technology into its platform:
Event attendees are matched with other delegates based on a checklist of interests which they fill out at the start of the event, creating a personalized network for each delegate instantly.
Post-conference survey results from the Norway Cerebral Palsy Committee conference hosted by Myonvent