Lately with the Coronavirus vaccine being released, there’s been a lot of comments within the industry saying how people are missing live events and why they think they’re superior. Virtual events have saved the industry this year, as they were our plan B. It’s an ongoing discussion within the community. I decided to write this blog to weigh up the pros and cons and to find out what industry experts feel towards both live and virtual events.
With virtual event planning and virtual events certainly on the rise in 2020, it can be easy to forget the positives that live events did bring. The events industry is facing an existential crisis that could continue for several years. However virtual events have saved the industry this year. In one way, the events industry have been lucky - we’ve had a plan B option. The plan B is virtual events. Other industries don’t have that luxury, you cannot create a plan B for the travel industry for example - you either travel, or you don’t.
According to MarTech Today, 80% of people surveyed agreeing that in the future, in person and live events will co-exist, with virtual being an add on to live. 60% of people surveyed also agreed that they will not be certain they will be attending an in-person event due to safety precautions - have virtual events made a place in people's schedules? It can be agreed that the experience at both types of events are a different experience, of course it is - with one you’re networking in person (probably with a glass of wine or over lunch), opposed to networking through a laptop and video. When people understand that both experiences are different, this is when the positives of each one can be picked up. However, the image below from Grand View Research shows that the size of the virtual event market is certainly on the rise, and therefore will be sticking around for a while.
Here I have created a pro and cons list for both types of events and received some industry professionals views on them. It’s safe to say that live events will eventually come bouncing back - but are there positives to virtual events which we’ll miss? Virtual events are so convenient, they will always be there as an add on to live - but how do they compare?
I have recently had conversations with four industry professionals on this topic. Samme Allen, George Livingston, Anthony Smith and Robert Kenwood. All of these professionals come from different aspects of the industry, Samme is a Virtual Emcee, Moderator and Meeting Designer, George is the Co-founder of Geode Events, Anthony Smith is Co-Founder of 3D-VR Live and Robert is the Founder of The Hub Jobs and You Select & Search.
With the news that a Covid vaccine has been released, the conversation of whether live events will return sooner than we expected is happening. However, I think it's interesting to see peoples views on both virtual and live to see whether people really are in a rush to go back to the normal live events. Samme had a really interesting point when speaking with her, she said “I think that planners need to be realistic about roll out of vaccine versus planning” and that when the vaccine has been given out “the confidence to travel will increase, but wouldn’t your priority be taking your family away, visiting family you haven’t seen in 12 months before going to a conference?”
Positives with virtual events
Virtual events have had a lot to deal with this year, with it being the year for events to take place online with event technology, on the EventMind blog we have recently discussed how industry professionals have found the busiest year for event tech which you can read here.
George, one of the industry professionals I have recently spoken to has mentioned that online events can be “engaging, informative and enjoyed from the comfort of your home or office” and so many people are beginning to see the benefits, a few months down the line of organising and attending these.
Samme made a really good point that empathy is needed in order to balance the virtual experience. Virtual needs to be a part of the mix in future just like a venue choice. “Participant numbers have been falling across different sectors before covid so creating the value proposition is going to be crucial” and this is what kept the industry afloat in 2020.
Content on demand
One of the biggest positives with virtual is the ability to be able to rewatch the content back on demand. We’re all so used to Netflix and IPlayer now - we enjoy the ability to be able to watch content back. If you have a meeting, or your door goes - you don’t have to worry about missing anything.
With the pandemic being the time for everyone to become more conscious of money, if there’s one thing we could all save on, its travel. From a visitors point of view - they tend to spend money travelling to an event, typically they would stay overnight in a hotel if it's more than one day… this all adds up! The beauty of having virtual events is that travel and accommodation costs aren’t required, the most travelling you’re expected to do is walk into your study or lounge to switch your laptop on for the event! From an organiser perspective, you can spend as much on your virtual event as you wish. When making a list of your needs and wants for your event platform, there’s ways around creating the event on a budget - do you really require all the shiny features which bump the cost up? George mentioned that for him cost is a massive positive to virtual events, they are “generally less expensive to host and attend”, this is because services such as catering, entertainment and security just aren’t required.
With live events, an event typically runs for 2-4 days as the venue would be required for another event, or this is when people are due back in the office. The beauty of virtual, is that the shelf life of an event duration can be much longer. You’re not tied down with an in person venue, and virtual ‘venues’ can be flexible with timings. This means your event duration can be increased which can then increase attendance and open up your event for a larger audience. Being able to extend your event duration means it gives you the opportunity to be creative to make your content both unmissable and accessible.
Accessibility is a massive strength to virtual events, you could hold a virtual event and anyone globally can attend. It completely cuts out the need for travel and people can literally attend an event from their home in their pyjamas (if they wanted!) When speaking to George, he mentioned that “Online events are accessible to anyone in the world with an internet connection”, and let's be honest - the majority of the UK has access to the internet, right? In this day and age when sustainability is a massively hot topic, it cuts down on the need for travel, which means less travel emissions. Not only does accessibility refer to how easy it is to attend the event, but event organisers are able to still take in considerations for those who may have an additional need such as hard of hearing. With virtual events, it means that organisers are able to add on subtitles to their events to ensure they are being diverse and inclusive with their audience. EventMind’s CEO Ashanti Bentil-Dhue recently attended a panel at Event Tech Live discussing diversity and inclusivity in the virtual world, you can hear their discussion in our recent write up of the event.
Positives with live events
We’re all used to live events, it’s what we know and what we’ve always known. With many people complaining about virtual events this year, it has made the positives of live events so clear, and it’s made it stand out what organisers and attendees really love about live events. When speaking with George he mentioned “meeting face to face is a deeply human experience and will always have a place in the broader events industry. Great live events stimulate all senses and create a memorable experience guests will cherish.” Which is similar to Robert's view, that live events will always “be king” and keep the industry going, however the world is adjusting and is becoming more digital.
Ok, so let’s be honest, networking is the biggest positive to live events. We’ve all attended live events since the day we were born, whether this is a wedding, christening, birthday party etc. At live events, your audience are able to make human interaction and network in a sociable way - they can share a drink together, walk around your exhibition or event together.
When speaking with Robert, of course networking was mentioned as he works in recruitment for the events industry and networking is essential for this sector so was a positive for him when it came to live events. It was interesting to hear Roberts views, as we discussed how networking at events such as festivals is required to be in person, you cannot get the same buzz from sitting at home watching it, as you aren’t networking with others. Networking in person is what we’re all used to, Anthony discussed how at live events, “people like to meet, talk, interact to cement existing or form new relationships. They like to use all of their senses and being face to face to see demonstrations & touch products.”
Social interaction, much like networking is a given at live events. When you meet a peer, potential client or colleague you hand shake, make eye contact, use your body language to interact. This is how many people build relationships, George has said “in person events can stimulate all 5 senses with live musical entertainment, performance art, and interactive entertainment such as escape rooms or team building exercises” which is very true, and linking in with networking, is a big bonus when attending a live event.
Give and receive merchandise and collateral
We all know that when you attend an event, you usually leave with multiple gift bags full of collateral, freebies and items for the office. This is what some people enjoy when going to an event, it's what engages them. This is what many organisers offer their sponsors when signing up, allowing them to have branded materials to give out to their audience and therefore increase their market reach.
No technology required for attendance
No technology is required for attending a live event, which is why so many people love them. No matter how tech-savvy or how tech lacklustre you are, you can attend a live event in person, on your own, without any digital equipment. This makes the attendance so easy for your audience, and means they aren’t put off by any potential technology questions or queries they have.
Summary of positives
Of course there are positives to both types of events, however they have different types of perks which can affect different sectors in a different way. Samme mentioned to me that she can’t believe that this time last year, she was booked through to November 2020 with emcee jobs around the world. It's so important to understand that this pandemic has affected different people in different ways. Robert, for example, works in the recruitment for events, his role unfortunately has been massively impacted by the pandemic, as recruitment for live events just wasn’t required this year.
Negatives of virtual events
So a big discussion of 2020 is whether networking works or not when it comes to virtual events. As previously mentioned, we’re used to attending a live event, shaking someone's hand, hugging them, using our body language to talk - this evidently cannot be done via a computer. Samme had a strong view and said “we need to ban the faceless online events. We attend events to meet people, look them in the eye, meet, network and ask questions” similarly to what Anthony has said, “At the present time, the personal interaction element is something most virtual events struggle with and it is still the major thing face to face holds over virtual.” Although networking has been a big challenge for virtual events, a few months down the line of the pandemic and it is absolutely improving. We all started with a blank canvas when it came to virtual events, but they’re growing and definitely improving. It's becoming the new normal to network over a technology software such as Zoom, it’s part of our life now, and if we do something for long enough - it feels normal.
Similar to networking, engagement is a massive concern for virtual events. As shown in the image below, on the Event Manager blog, it shows that 30% of organisers agree that their biggest challenge with pivoting to virtual is engagement.
Likewise with networking, it is being improved and we are now seeing many people enjoying engaging in virtual events. Live Q&A’s and sending gifts to attendees are becoming more known with virtual events in the way to engage their audience so although this is a concern and negative to virtual events, it's absolutely being improved. George mentioned to me that “it’s possible to form new relationships online (40% of romantic relationships begin online these days), but we’re social animals and enjoy physically being around other people.”
Anthony has mentioned that although live events are the key to the industry, virtual does have its positives and there are ways it can improve. He believes “audiences will become tired of endless, streamed presentations - which seem to be the current go-to norm. Platform holders and content creators need to come together to formulate multiple touchpoint experiences for audiences to engage with” and so there are ideas out there to improve the current events which can lack engagement.
Some see virtual events as impersonal, as you cannot make the human interaction like you normally would at an event. Samme said a really interesting point that she believes “mostly, I think the event industry planner needs to reinvent themselves if they haven’t already.” She believes that live events cater for certain persona’s and types but not all, some other persona’s want to learn and share in a virtual way - everyone is so different and have different requirements. With the lack of human interaction, this can lead to the impersonal feeling, and it could be harder to build relationships however as this is the only option currently to keep the industry going, we are trying to work around this new “norm.”
Although most people have a good internet connection and a mobile or computer device of some sort, this doesn’t mean they are tech savvy or skilled when it comes to using technology. Although some virtual events are easy, you click a button and you’re in, some require more knowledge (some even send instructions out first, which is great, but if you need instructions is that highlighting that the platform is hard to use?) When organising virtual events, you need to think about your audience - does your audience feel comfortable with confusing platforms to network and learn from? It is a barrier to attend a virtual event if the platform you have chosen is not user friendly. George agreed that technology can be seen as a negative to virtual events, because although its required, your event audience will “come in a variety of shapes, sizes and technical abilities!” So selecting the right technology for your online event is critical to delivering a great experience; some guests will need more help than others, so you’ll need to be prepared to provide this additional level of support.
Negatives to live events
When discussing with George his views between live and virtual events, cost definitely came up. He said that not only organising live events, but also attending live events can work out expensive. When organising a live event, you have all the costs to worry about from venue, to catering, to entertainment to logistics. When organising live events, your budget tends to be a lot higher than virtual. Not only the organising fees, but live events can only take place in one place at one time. If you’re organising an event in London for example, do you have to pay travel to get there? Do you have to stay overnight? If yes, think about your guests too, they may not all be local to your event and so this cost can build up.
No on demand option
When attending a live event, like anything live, you’re there in the moment. Yeah ok, so you can record it on your phone whilst attending the event, but you’re not really living in the moment are you? There may be a panel you really want to attend at said event, however you have a meeting at the same time, this means you miss out on this opportunity. There is no recording or on demand option for your audience, or for you attending to watch back if you happen to miss a session or if you’re not able to attend. This is something that I believe will be worked upon in the future of live events, many people are seeing the highlight of watching content from virtual events on demand and so I definitely think this is something that will be considered for the future.
When organising live events, the shelf life of an event tends to be much shorter in comparison to virtual events. As you are required to book your venue for the time of your event, there may be other events wanting to happen at the same time, or around the same date as you. Unlike virtual events where you are given access to your own virtual space, you cannot do this with live events. If you want to book the QEII London when another event is there, it's tough luck, you aren’t able to just duplicate the room. Therefore the duration of events tend to be much shorter, which means less audience are able to attend. When organising live events, you will always have a maximum capacity of the room booked, and therefore you need to stick to this for health and safety measures. This is one thing that cannot really be amended about live events, however with virtual events you can increase the capacity as much as you’d like.
As previously discussed, location can be an issue with live events. If your event is in London, you’re only really going to attract your audience who are in and around this area. It’s very difficult to open up your geographical area unless you organise the same type of event in different locations, which is costly and very unsustainable. Unlike virtual events where people can attend from all around the globe, you’re very restricted to your area which can decrease your audience reach.
Summary of negative
Like anything, both virtual events and live events also have their negatives. It’s just human nature to have negatives in mind when organising or attending events - we want things to be perfect, but nothing is ever perfect, right? It’s interesting to hear industry professional views on the negatives of both events, as social media is currently taken up with how excited people are now the vaccine has been released and how they can't wait to go back to live events. But do the positives really outweigh the negatives? When discussing this topic with Robert, he mentioned virtual events can sometimes feel like “sticking a plaster on and some of them are awful”, its keeping the industry at bay, but some organisers now are only just realising there’s a difference between sticking a live event online, and actually fully creating a virtual event.
Having discussed the positives and negatives of both virtual and live events, it shows that both types have their stand outs, and it's certain that online events will be around in the new year. At the beginning of 2020, I think people were comparing virtual events to live, and it isn't comparing them that we need to do, it's just showcasing that both have their positives and both types of events can be used for different sectors. It’s interesting to see their views of the new year and where they see the events industry going. Anthony has said that he see’s 2021 as a “transition year for events, both virtual and face to face, ending with hybrid being the preferred format”, similar to Samme who agreed that she “hopes that in person events will be designed, with all the stakeholders at the very heart of them and the virtual/online event designed for their specific stakeholders. It shouldn’t be either or.”
The future is hybrid, everyone is saying it and it’s true - so many companies are gearing up to hybrid elements within their events. Both live and virtual events shouldn’t be compared, they both have their own stand outs.
Where do you see events in the next year?
EventMind does not endorse any particular virtual event platform or software. We review the platforms available on the market monthly (through a combination of client feedback, test events and demos). If you're looking to make online events simple, or want trusted and unbiased advice, then contact the team today by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 0330 133 3485.