The South African government recently moved SA to adjusted alert level 1 and eased meeting and event restrictions - 750 attendees can now be hosted indoors and 2,000 outdoors according to the adjusted regulations.
With vaccinations on the rise and summer approaching, C-Suites and their teams are now discussing future meeting and event strategies, which ultimately raises the questions… “how does one plan a safe and seamless event and what is the best event format to use?”
The eventing industry has shown unwavering resilience during the pandemic, pivoting meetings and large-scale events into the virtual world, offering clients a multitude of event formats.
Before you start planning your next event, there are five key considerations you need to take into account:
1. Understand the difference between a virtual event and a hybrid event
2020 saw a huge spike in virtual events. It’s become the go-to for shorter meeting formats, they are economical and the event platforms on the market have enhanced the user experience and engagement opportunities. However, virtual events are better suited to shorter meeting formats and face the challenge of screen fatigue and low engagement.
In a 2021, Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) study revealed that 76% of respondents still preferred live in-person meetings, indicating that many people still want a face-to-face connection. With vaccinations taking place across the globe, it has been possible to bring back the live event in a modified version - the hybrid event model.
I have spent a large part of this year educating my clients on the different models of virtual and hybrid events and the various considerations that need to be taken into account before choosing a model that best suits their event objectives and budget.
As live events have started to take place across the globe, hybrid events have become a global trend, it merges the live in-person experience with the virtual experience, so attendees can choose to attend live or virtually. The offering, if designed and executed correctly, provides an engaging and seamless experience to both audiences.
2. What you need to know if you select the virtual event format
According to the same 2021 GBTA study, 2020 saw a 290% increase in virtual events from 2019. The virtual event model is still currently the dominant model due to the pandemic. However, if you opt for a virtual event and your objective is to create an incredible and impactful event experience, using a standard video conferencing platform like Zoom or Ms Teams with live poll questions just won’t do…
Virtual events have made huge strides to beat screen fatigue and keep attendees engaged, this has been achieved through high-quality content production and an array of virtual event platforms.
Attendees have been exposed to some beautifully crafted virtual events, a great example is SingularityU SA’s Summit which includes world-class content production, incredible international and local speakers, virtual reality is incorporated into various aspects of the event ensuring the interaction is dynamic and attendees utilise a highly engaging, international and multi-functional online event application, HopIn, to navigate and interact with the event.
If virtual is the best option for your event objectives and company policy make sure you:
- Provide sufficient budget for high-quality content production
- Curate a virtual event attendee experience journey which maps out the attendee experience from invitation to post-event
- Select an easy to use and engaging event application to host your event on (my favourites are InEvent, Howler, and HopIn)
- Create a range of pre-recorded and professionally edited, dynamic event content and plan plenty of rehearsal time for your speakers
- Secure the right partners to help you manage the event design, content production, and technical support to produce a seamless event
3. What you need to know if you select the hybrid format
Hybrid is the buzzword of the moment in the global eventing industry. Spurred by the strong desire for people to connect in person, hybrid seems to be the answer for the future of eventing. There are a few things you need to understand about hybrid events before you start planning.
Hybrid eventing is a vast and multifaceted subject, in this article I’m only going to cover a few key points. One of the primary factors to consider, is that hybrid involves new line items in the traditional event budget, hybrid requires more production staff than a live or virtual event and it has the virtual elements that need to be accounted for, especially the event platform which is essential to the event experience.
This ultimately results in higher costs. Clients are often surprised by these new costs, but if one considers what a hybrid event is; a virtual event with a virtual event team and event platform integrated into a live event that requires Covid-19 safety protocols, a live event team, larger event venues with outdoor spaces and a visually appealing set where your content will be streamed, one can understand why the budget expands.
A really good hybrid event will also have pre-recorded and edited footage that will be aired to attendees and a great swag bag couriered to them before the event so they feel part of the event experience.
Hybrid also requires a large degree of flexibility from the event team when it comes to understanding the various levels of comfort an attendee may have. One would think that a hybrid event has two audiences; a live and virtual audience, however, what has emerged from the 2021 summer U.K business event season is that there is a third attendee.
This attendee is comfortable attending the live event but has different levels of comfort around the group activities and would like the option to move between being a live attendee, for example attending the networking in person but avoids the plenary or group dinner and prefers to stream this content from their device in a quiet space in the event venue. An event planner of the digital age needs to be able to practice sensitivity to the different comfort levels that live attendees may have and flexibility in meeting their needs onsite in real-time.
If hybrid is the best option for your event objectives and company policy make sure you have:
- Sufficient budget for the additional costs that a hybrid event requires
- Understand that safety is a priority. Ensure that a Covid-19 Safety Officer is on-site, aim to keep your event as contactless as possible. Use event health apps that can support you in managing attendee health screening
- Select an event platform that has been designed to support hybrid events
- Make sure you have mapped out two separate attendee journeys; one for the virtual attendees and one for the live guests. Each journey will require separate communications to the guests and use event app engagements as bridges for the two audiences to connect, engage and network
- Ensure your virtual attendees don’t feel like second class citizens, provide specific content tailored to them and pre-recorded content they can engage with during the refreshment breaks for the live audience
- The global lockdowns have also made delegates more protective of their family and personal time, so be conscious of this when designing your event program and event timings
- Make sure you have the right event partner to support and guide you through your hybrid event design and production journey
4. Select the right event partner
Gone are the days of handing over the event management responsibility to the corporate secretary or a personal assistant. There are so many factors that contribute to designing and managing a seamless and safe event that only professionals can do.
Source a professional event management company that can offer you a full suite of virtual, hybrid, and live strategic design and event execution. In this evolving and dynamic new world of events, you need the right partner to support and guide your internal team and ensure your attendee experience is considered at every touchpoint
5. Your event planners in your organisation need to be upskilled
If you have an internal team responsible for the strategic planning and implementation of your events, make sure you have provided them with updated knowledge and skills training so they are equipped to design and manage events in 2021.
The eventing industry has changed dramatically over the past 20 months and event planners' skillsets will be completely outdated if they haven’t remained functional in an event management role, navigating and learning from the evolving changes.
The new skills needed include; understanding virtual and hybrid event design and management, the new event health and safety requirements, leveraging event technology for a seamless, safe, and contactless event, and how to design an immersive and engaging experience for your attendees regardless of how they are choosing to attend your event. to name only a few.
The new world of events is continually evolving and I do not doubt that South Africa will follow suit with the global trend to move back to in-person and hybrid events. All the changes can be overwhelming, however, having the right event partners and a freshly skilled team with a new tool kit of event management practices will support businesses in creating and executing world-class and safe events.Jenna currently heads up Magnette Event Management, one of SA’s leading, strategic Event Management agencies. They recently announced the launch of Magnette Academy and their new 12 week, online multimedia based Event management course. Magnette Academy has created a comprehensive online program, taught by industry experts and global business leaders to guarantee eventing success in the digital age. The future forward course is the first of its kind to be launched in the world and aims to assist event managers adjust and thrive in the new normal brought about by the global pandemic.