Technology – the COVID-19 Events’ Gamechanger

In the earlier months of the lockdown while the UMI team were all working from home, we were lucky enough to come together weekly for a Q&A with industry experts. These sessions brought the team such valuable learnings that we couldn’t keep it all to ourselves!

In this blog, we’re exploring the role of technology and creativity in business events (virtual and in-person).

The story so far…

Our beloved business events industry has been built primarily around people meeting face-to-face; virtual programs, while not new, weren’t that common before the pandemic. With in-person events, the measure of its success was largely predicated on the numbers of people attending, and less thought given to the experience of the attendee. What had they learned? What had inspired them? What actions did they take because of their participation?

Technology is now at the forefront of what we do, and we can’t underestimate its influence. Close to half the world’s population grew up with technology so for them, it’s a given, not an option. Technology allows us to increase our knowledge base, get the latest updates and network, without attending live events. Moving to virtual formatting means we change the way in which we engage attendees, so we must ask ourselves: What are events for? The reason, as any industry professional will tell you, is the human interaction and engagement that comes from meeting in person.

Look at programme design in new ways

So, how do we harness the power of that technology to create better experiences for our attendees and our audiences?

To engage and expand our audiences, we will need to apply new design principles to events. You might start by thinking about an audience as real personalities and people, rather than as a generic group. How might you create behaviour-changing and engaging experiences for them?

Audiences deserve and will expect the highest quality in terms of content, production, experience, and logistics. An in-person event will have to be something special to attract attendance – individuals will want to be convinced of the need to be there.

Our attention spans are much shorter, and the demand for our attention is higher. Audiences will get distracted and disengage when faced with lengthy sessions. How do we deliver content in a way that reflects the behaviour of the audiences we want to communicate with? We need to be mindful of providing unexpected discoveries as well as opportunities for unplanned connections.

There are some benefits to virtual events; with time and geographic distance dissolving, the reach is typically dramatically greater at no additional cost; they are also more sustainable. New attendees coming online include younger individuals that might not usually attend an in-person event – associations especially are looking to attract these groups.

Zoom and similar platforms are just the start. Production planning will be a critical element of events; broadcast production values, similar to TV shows, can significantly improve virtual experiences; some agencies are using storyboarding principles to design live event productions. Technology is being developed to enhance the virtual experience, by offering more choices and expanded options. Better programming and strong, relevant content will be developed as the virtual industry matures

Tips to get started

  • Check with colleagues and read trade publications to research virtual platforms. It’s important to make sure that the platform you choose has the capacity and features to satisfy your requirements. Make a checklist of the most critical needs.
  • When attending sessions, make a note of any features or ideas you found useful or appealing.
  • Think about your audience and how you might incorporate some of the new design principles noted in this blog. Do you have a diverse group with varying age ranges? How might you create individual journeys for them?
  • Chat rooms are a great way to incorporate a fun and/or informal element into your programmes. Include a lead person to make sure the conversation stays balanced and everyone gets a chance to participate.
  • If you are looking at hybrid meetings, check out this MPI/ Mediasite Events guide to hybrid meetings– there’s lots of great information here.

Future trends

Trends that are already starting to bubble up include: better online tech integration, more experience-enhancing, immersive environments, more interactivity, and more touchpoints.

A multi-sensory environment will be important, one in which smell, sight, and sounds will combine to choreograph the attendee journey and make them feel like they are in a different setting. There will be ways of creating more engaging and personalized customer journeys, which require us to do more attendee persona building. Being inclusive in the planning process will be a given in successfully interacting and engaging with the diverse communities we serve.

This is an unexpected and challenging transition phase in the meetings and events industry, one which is forcing us to rethink all our strategies. Our combined creativity will help us find new opportunities and our resilience and strength as an industry will get us through.

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