Let me ask you a question, which do you think is best: live events, virtual events or hybrid events?
What was your instinctive response? For most people, the answer is live events. But as planners can’t hold live events because of lockdown, they will make do with virtual events. But, it’s clear that they can’t wait until live events are back. They want to go back to normal!
Where is the Evidence of Accepted Wisdom?
The accepted wisdom is that live events are the best. But, where does this “wisdom” come from? Where is the evidence? The fact is, that there is no evidence to back the claim up. There simply has been no research done, comparing live events to virtual events to hybrid events. Until that research is done there is no data under which to make a comparative assessment.
In my opinion, this preference comes from a fear that live events are somehow being displaced. This was heightened when COVID-19 came along and impacted the events sector so abruptly. Live events were stopped, people were unable to travel and borders were closed. The only option was for event planners to turn to virtual events as a means of keeping in touch with their customers. Using virtual events made perfect sense.
It irritates me to see yet another article or headline claiming that live events are superior to virtual or hybrid ones, with no evidence to back it up. What is the point, especially when the industry needs to pull together? Worse still, the sheer divisiveness of such unfounded statements are damaging for a sector that thrives on being creative, inclusive and diverse.
Why do some people think that with no evidence or research that live events are better? It’s blinkered thinking and it gets in the way of progress. There is a lesson that the events industry would be well to take note of, when it comes to accepted wisdom.
Investigate the Data
Recently I came across some new research into COVID-19 which may revolutionise the search for an effective treatment. The accepted wisdom is that this is a respiratory disease and all efforts to treat it so far have been based on that. However, the researchers have taken a fresh look at the data and now suspect that there is a vascular element involved. This discovery was simply the result of questioning the accepted wisdom.
Whilst live events cannot claim to be better than virtual and hybrid events, similarly the reverse is also true. Each type of event has a key role to play, whether it is virtual, in-person or hybrid. Let’s look at networking as an example. Virtual events offer networking via specific one to one meetings that can easily be better than hoping you will meet a useful connection at an in-person event. However, the serendipity of making connections at live event are not available in a virtual environment.
Designing Events Post Lockdown
Where does this leave us with post lockdown events and our event design thinking? Live events will look and feel different, not least because of the social distance measures that are needed. But more importantly, because the coronavirus has changed the attitudes of attendees and planners. Some people are already fearful of going to live events for all sorts of reasons and some people will not be travelling on flights for a while at least. And some people will have enjoyed their virtual event experiences.
If the events sector believes it will be business as it was before COVID-19 hit, then it is in for a big shock.
What’s Your Event Flavour?
If we never challenge the accepted wisdom, events will never develop and the new opportunities we have now will be lost. We are at a crossroads where big changes can be made. What event flavour do you need for your client? You have several to choose from: in-person, virtual and hybrid. And of course these can all be used according to the overall event strategy, so you can mix and match.
We live in a hybrid world. Most of us engage using a combination of in-person and online every day, so why don’t events reflect that? For example, we may speak on the phone, but also by twitter, Facebook and email, all on the same day. We live hybrid lives, why should events be different? It’s time to challenge the accepted wisdom and consider the opportunities rather than run back to the familiar past.
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