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The Lowdown on Virtual Events

The Shift to Virtual Events
Credit: iStock

The consumer electronics industry just wrapped up one of its biggest shows of the year – CES 2021, but for many, it likely wasn’t the first (or the last) virtual show they’ll attend. As anyone in the event industry will attest, planning these things can take upwards of a year, so the fact that so many companies were able completely reconfigure their shows in just a few months is truly admirable. But like all things in life, there is always room for improvement, and on top of that, there remains the question of what events will look like in the future. 

The Good 

While forming connections digitally vs. in person is certainly a huge concern, digital events have enabled opportunities for connecting with an often larger and more diverse audience because there are little barriers for entry. There is no scheduling a flight, booking a hotel, or re-arranging life at home; it’s as simple as filling out a registration form and clicking a link on the day of the event. For event hosts, that means new leads, better data collection, and more opportunities for content discovery. For attendees, that means more flexibility in when, where, and how they attend the show, which is why it is important for virtual events to be seamless across multiple devices.  

The Bad 

Event hosts need to keep in mind that they are likely going to be competing for attention more than they’re used to. At in-person events, attendees are more engaged because they have to be. You don’t typically see people get up and leave during a press conference or walk away from a booth mid-conversation, but with virtual events, this happens a lot. Creating a sense of urgency and fostering communication between attendees is key. Many virtual events allow users to create a schedule and receive notifications for meetings and sessions. There have also been events that offer rewards for those who engage. Whatever the approach, there needs to be some give and take from the host and attendee sides for a successful show.  

What’s Up Next 

Any companies hosting events in the near future need to consider the population of people who just won’t feel comfortable attending in-person events for a long time. As we move towards a COVID-cautious event format, creating a hybrid experience is important, and it should be marketed in a way that doesn’t make virtual attendees feel as though they are missing out. Virtual attendees already know they’re not going to have that same face-to-face connection or the ability to see products up closely as in-person attendees, so as virtual shows slowly turn into hybrid events, this group may actually end up needing more convincing.