. How Coronavirus Has Leveled the Playing Field for Event Planners | Northstar Meetings Group

How Coronavirus Has Leveled the Playing Field for Event Planners

The big budget, bright lights and bustle of large events have suddenly been reduced to the confines of a computer screen. In the digital world, content is key to success.

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The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the meetings industry has been severe, forever altering the psyche of eventgoers and ushering in a whole new set of best practices for event planners. 

While there are those who will say that events will bounce back, that nothing can replace a face- to-face meeting, or that it’s necessary to shake someone’s hand -- the reality of the situation is that nobody knows when in-person events will return, or how people will respond when they do start happening again. 

What we do know is that the meetings industry is now in a whole new ballgame. Planners have been forced to quickly adapt to the current circumstances and pivot to digital events for the time being. 

For large event planners, however, this presents an issue. Digital events can attract millions of participants, but they are better suited for bite-sized content, not the complex, integrated content of a multi-day event with thousands of attendees. Large event planners are also struggling to replace the high-level entertainment and networking elements of live events in the new virtual setting. 

From a meeting planner’s perspective, the coronavirus pandemic has truly leveled the playing field. The big budget, bright lights and bustle of large events have suddenly been reduced to the confines of a computer screen, its ambient glow and the excitement of being in your own living room -- the same experience that small online events have been delivering for years.

Those that have already switched to digital meetings are learning that there are some distinct advantages, but also that there’s an art to the pivot. Simply copying a live event format and pasting it into a digital event is not going to work for many large conferences. First, because many of the engaging elements of conferences -- the networking, food and entertainment -- are now gone. Second, many attendees simply will not accept multiple days in front of a screen consuming content.

On the other hand, digital events can be easier to orchestrate, more cost effective and come with less risk. When done right, they can reach larger audiences through digital marketing, live streaming and a lower barrier to entry for attendees. When we look back on the coronavirus pandemic, it could stand as the moment of epiphany when the world wakes up to the benefits of digital events -- and all that’s good about them. 

The key to successfully pivoting to a digital event lies in the content and format. Planners who try to copy the same multi-day format of live events in a virtual setting will likely struggle. Meanwhile, those who focus on creating standout content and delivering it via a virtual event series will be rewarded with higher engagement.

Event organizers should consider turning breakout sessions, keynotes and other conference agenda items into separate virtual events. They can then re-sell sponsorships on the bite-sized events and potentially reach much larger audiences with their content. 

Planners should also take advantage of the opportunity to use live chat, surveys and polls to capture valuable insights and customer data -- assets that are not as easily aggregated at live, in-person events. And don’t forget to make the event recordings and content available for on-demand consumption. In my experience, this can increase event reach by double or more.

Another option worth considering is to collaborate with other like-minded companies to put on a joint event. Drift, a company specializing in conversational marketing, recently hosted the RevGrowth Virtual Summit, where they partnered with 18 other companies to put on an epic virtual sales and marketing conference. 

As part of its RevGrowth Summit, Drift also did something important -- they had fun. The two-day conference included mid-day online fitness classes to break things up and to keep the audience engaged. Musical elements are another great option to consider adding in. There are plenty of musicians hosting concerts from their homes right now and contracting one for an opening set or end-of-day session can help round out the agenda and give attendees something to remember long after the event ends.

While the meeting industry will eventually get back to face-to-face encounters, the future of event planning will forever be altered. Companies may find certain aspects of virtual events extremely appealing and will want to incorporate them in future events, perhaps utilizing a hybrid approach.

But now is the opportunity for event planners to experiment with digital events -- to test and measure them, to use them to probe new geographies and customer segments, and to compare them with in-person events. It’s a time to discover how creative one can get in front of the camera, and to learn what content truly piques audience interest -- aside from all of the colorful lights and soundscapes that we have always traveled for.

COVID-19, while tragic, is proving to be the forcing function for radical change in the events industry. As humans, we will adapt -- and as an industry, we may just come out a little stronger. 

Joe Davy is the co-founder and CEO of Banzai, a cloud software-as-a-service provider of event marketing automation solutions for enterprise marketers, and the co-author of "The Ultimate Guide to Turning Your In-Person Conference Virtual."