What is the future of events – at least according to IDC Research Vice President, Wayne Kurtzman?
In a nutshell
Attendees’ rising needs must be met which, as Kurtzman puts it, are being shaped by the ease of use of consumer apps. Events – and particularly virtual or hybrid versions – must meet attendees’ desire for community engagement (e.g., peer-to-peer connection, networking, and/or interacting with vendors). (And if you’re someone who likes to think about possibilities of what is coming in the future, catch this discussion about the future of virtual and hybrid events.)
Key stats and comment
This post is a birds-eye view of a March 2023 IDC Spotlight, sponsored by Webex Events (formerly Socio). I trust Kurtzman’s analysis in general, but remember that sponsored analyst reports are like a drug company sponsoring a study – it does NOT mean there is pro-sponsor bias, but the relationship is closer than if it was an independent academic study.
These are the report’s “Key Stats” with our observations:
“Over 90% of virtual event attendees want more ways to engage with others and with content.”
The key words here are MORE and OTHERS. Think about it: there are formal and informal scenarios for connecting. A formal interaction is designed and built into the process or presentation (e.g., “go here to do X” or “at this point in the presentation, we run a poll”). But unless you’re quite purposeful about it, the informal aspects of in-person events included serendipitous moments on a break or at a lunch table.
Online events – or the online portion of an in-person event – can facilitate informal connection more than most people think and more than most even planners utilize.
Key: Plan for both onsite and online audiences at the outset. It’s CRUCIAL.
“Four out of five people want to engage and network with others at virtual or in-person events.”
This builds on the previous point, but we’ll add one additional aspiration: connecting onsite attendees with online attendees. It’s not hard, but it is quite different.
Key: At risk of repeating ourselves, we must repeat ourselves: if you don’t plan this from the earliest stages of the planning process, you’ll regret it later.***
“99% of knowledge workers will attend virtual events in a given year.” “Nearly 100% of people will attend virtual events to learn, stay current, and network.”
These two takeaways simply corroborate what we know instinctually – that virtual events and webinars are table stakes now. Any laggard adopters were forced into the game by the pandemic.
Here’s the good news: the bar is still low in terms of experience. Not only do many engagement tools inside platforms go un- or under-utilized, but there are more tools than ever that enable a little ‘wow factor’ that sets you apart (e.g., integrating a third-party tool for polling, real time word clouds, virtual game show element, etc.). You can get some ideas in this episode of our #ThoughtLeaderConversations podcast.
Key: Think like a designer – even for a simple webinar.
“81% of event attendees want to participate in communities with other attendees.”
To be clear, “communities” in the context of events usuallly means one of two things.
One of those is in-event -- opportunities where attendees with similar interests or characteristics connect for “birds of a feather” or “special interest group” breakouts.
The second tends to be around-event – connections that happen before or after the event itself (usually after). One example from one of our clients is an organization that hosts a three-day educational seminar for healthcare professionals plus six-month cohorts for small-group discussions.
Key: “Community” isn’t for everyone, but Kurtzman’s research undergirds the human condition of our current cultural moment, something we’d characterize as a “crisis of connection.”
The bottom line
IDC is a respected analyst firm, and I’d encourage you to find and read the entire Spotlight. Inevitably you’ll both a) find a nugget or datapoint that helps you and b) wonder if there’s anything new under the sun. Often the challenge isn’t know that the world of events is grappling with adding virtual and hybrid events to the game, it’s how.
Onsite and online audiences have very different psychosocial experiences, but that doesn’t mean integrating the two needs to default to the lowest common denominator.
The good news is that including the virtual and hybrid components at the outset of the planning maximizes your opportunity to bridge the engagement gap and deliver on the desires found in IDC’s report.
** Two entirely self-serving comments:
First, one of the top mistakes we see planners make is presuming that an in-person event production company who says they can add the virtual component understands the nuances of various online platforms. They rarely do. They likely know a (singular) platform, but the devil – or opportunity – is in the very fine details. I (Roger) literally sat on a meeting-planner webinar on April 25, 2023 who said that when the pandemic hit that “there weren’t very many options” and “the platforms have got to be better.” I’m not naming names, because this is a sadly myopic comment. It’s not that the platforms don’t exist, and it’s not that the knowledge doesn’t exist – it's a level of expertise in one domain pretending to be an expert in another.
Second, this is why here at V2 we give before we get. Involve us early, and we’ll help you think through some issues, regardless of whether or not you choose us as a vendor.