Business events have changed forever: What you need to know

By redback

If there’s one thing you can be certain of post-COVID-19 (and let’s face it, there’s not many), it’s that business events are going to change, permanently.

Research by McKinsey and Co released in July found that in most countries more than 70% of people don’t yet feel comfortable resuming their normal activities.

And for the ones that do, things have changed. While some were planning to resume a few out-of-home activities such as shopping, large events were not a priority – in fact they were last on the list.

This is not a short-term prospect. For more than three in four, the easing of government restrictions won’t be enough to get back to ‘normal’. Instead, they said they’ll wait for guidance from medical authorities, reassurance that safety measures are in place, and the development of a COVID-19 vaccine and/or treatments.


Business events shift to online and hybrid

More than ever, people are embracing technology to support all aspects and consequences of isolation – including managing events.

A recent survey of industry associations – a sector which drives a majority of its revenues from events – found that 70% intended to make permanent changes to the way they run events.

For most, this included a substantial shift to online and hybrid offerings, with 70% saying the ability for participants to be able to attend a face-to-face event remotely was either a ‘high’ or ‘very high’ priority.

The larger the association’s turnover and/or the more it relied on income from events, the more pronounced this shift was likely to be.

Hybrid events can include a live stream filmed at the event and you can provide key sessions on demand. You can also pre-record sessions, or mix and match online and offline content distribution.

Virtual elements can generate great benefits for the event itself, for participants and for your brand’s future event program.


Reluctance to travel

A significant impact on events that should not be underestimated is the actual travel involved in getting there in the first place.

The McKinsey report found that flying was also at the bottom of the list when it came to what people felt they might be comfortable doing again following their pandemic slumber.

Many organisations are also expected to review travel budgets – which will have to include the additional costs of new health policies – in the light of a depressed global economy.


Working from home revolution

With so many of us working from home, the pandemic has also provided organisations and individuals, many for the first time, with a new appreciation of the capabilities of online meetings and business events.

Research conducted by Redback shows that almost 90% of employees at organisations with more than 1000 staff, and 63% of respondents in micro-businesses (up to 15 employees), believe remote meetings will dominate the post-pandemic workplace.

And most managers agree, according to a recent survey by Swinburne University which found that more than 60% of managers believed their teams would work “more” from home after the pandemic, while 14% said staff would do “significantly more” work from home.


The virtual space has become more relevant

The growth of online meetings has seen a fundamental shift in the acceptance of the virtual space as a whole.

Event organisers and attendees have become more comfortable with the technology, tools, protocols and etiquette. They’re also recognising the unique advantages and opportunities virtual events can offer.

When integrated services giant Downer Group needed to hold a critical briefing on a regional rail project for local companies, contractors, suppliers and other stakeholders during the lockdown, it only had one option – a virtual event.

For a project that literally spans several hundred kilometres, the choice proved a perfect fit.

The event attracted almost 400 participants, while similar physical events held previously on average attracted around 100.

Downer chose a managed webinar format which included studio presenters, remote presenters, pre-recorded videos, Q&As and a chat room where attendees could submit questions privately.

Groups were also able to interact in virtual breakout rooms where critical topic areas, such as sustainability, local and indigenous participation, innovation, and procurement, could be addressed by participants interested in those areas.


The rise and rise of the virtual corporate meeting

COVID-19 has fast tracked the evolution of the virtual corporate meeting.

In May, the Australian Government made temporary changes to the Corporations Act to allow companies to hold meetings, including annual general meetings (AGMs), entirely online rather than face-to-face.

The changes, which the Australian Institute of Company Directors has called to be made permanent, have seen a significant shift to online and hybrid AGMs. (A hybrid AGM is one where there is a physical location and online facilities, while a ‘virtual’ AGM is conducted solely online.)

Many associations have reported their online AGMs have proven more effective at generating engagement with members than face-to-face AGMs, and the general intent of many is to permanently adopt an online or hybrid AGM format.

Under the changes, companies must ensure that they provide attendees with an opportunity to speak, vote (by a poll rather than a show of hands) and otherwise participate in the virtual meeting.

With the opportunity to host an unlimited number of attendees, utilise private chat rooms where attendees can post questions, run Q&As and live polls, and broadcast the meeting simultaneously via a teleconference, virtual meetings can often be a more efficient and cost-effective option than their traditional counterparts.


Making your virtual business event a success

Planning, marketing and managing a virtual event has both similarities and differences compared with a physical event.

1. Determine your budget

Just like any business project, it’s important to know how much you’ve got to spend before you decide on a plan.

With the opportunity to host an unlimited number of attendees from international locations, feature presenters, host panels, run Q&As and live polls, utilise private chat rooms and easily collect valuable data, virtual events are a more efficient and cost-effective option compared with their traditional counterparts.

2. Get the format right

Firstly, work out your agenda and formats. Will you feature a single presenter, a panel or keynote speaker and moderator? Will it be pre-recorded? What interactive elements will you include? The most common are online polls and live Q&A — though pre-submitted video questions are becoming more popular.

Have a mix of keynotes and panel discussions, and consider pre-recording some sessions (especially useful for international speakers) and make them available on-demand.

Set up private communities, online discussion groups and virtual break-out rooms hosted by your presenters to provide the interactivity attendees want.

We generally recommend that virtual meetings and event sessions be shorter than a normal physical event. If you would usually allocate an hour, reduce it to around 40 minutes. Make every minute count to keep the event as engaging as possible.

3. Choose a virtual platform

Once you have your agenda, you’ll know what type of platform on which to host it. Webinar and video conferencing technology are the most popular, while many organisations opt for the additional professionalism of a managed webinar hosted in a studio or external venue.

4. Event marketing

Launch your event website and registration and Facebook pages, email your database, create your ads.

5. Plan to measure success

It’s also important to establish with your technology provider how you’ll measure the success of the event through registrations, attendance and interactions.

6. Testing and training

Test your format with a dry run-through so you can make sure each session format runs the way you expect and will finish on time. Train moderators and remote speakers on how to operate their webinar platform and test any local broadband connections to ensure they are stable.

7. Technical run-through

Run a technical test in the hour prior to the event to ensure your presenters’ internet connection is up to the job, and their webcam and audio are clear.

8. Troubleshooting and contingency plans

Have IT support on standby and monitoring the remote experience so they are available to troubleshoot if required. Most attendees don’t mind if speakers switch from video to slides-and-audio, as long as the audio remains clear. Ask your technology partner what your options are.

Redback Connect runs virtual and hybrid business events in a broad range of formats for businesses in a wide range of industries. Contact one of our consultants if we can help you manage your next business event.