Last January, you had an event plan for 2020. No matter how great a plan it was, it likely had to change because of events beyond your control. Now it’s a new year and time for a new plan. As you start to develop a plan for your company’s event experiences in 2021, here’s what you need to know.
It’s understandable that you might be anxious about making a plan when so many things can be up in the air. Don’t let this stop you. A good plan provides a framework for you to make decisions if something needs to change down the road. This includes things like how you’ll deal with inclement weather to under what conditions you’d decide to shift to an all-virtual event and what that would involve. By making a plan, you’re not committing to things never changing. You’re committing to your ideal outcome and a way of working with changes if needed.
Hybrid events may have become popular out of necessity, but they are now the event type of choice for attendees. Hybrid events are intentionally designed experiences that consist of two well-timed experiences (in-person and virtual) that intersect seamlessly. Attendees love hybrid events because whether they decide to attend in person or virtually, they have a worthwhile experience that delivers value for their investment. In a hybrid event, there are no “also rans.”
Most people are viewing 2021 as a time to focus on new habits and thinking more purposefully about how they spend their time than they might have pre-2020. This means engaging with your key audiences is vital. If you want your event to be one of the habits they keep, you need to give them a meaningful reason that goes beyond “because you’ve always done it.” Consider ways that you can communicate your value to your customers and key stakeholders throughout the year. This not only helps them choose your event as part of their reset, but it makes it easier to weather changes (big or small) when they inevitably happen. What do your key audiences need from you right now? Use the answers to this question to inform your opportunities for creating something new.
A year ago virtual events weren’t part of our collective conscience. Today, most of your audience will have attended multiple virtual events, so things that may have been novel twelve months ago aren’t the things that are going to cause excitement in a 2021 audience. Simply repurposing what you did last year isn’t an option. Starting with an evolved content approach, you need to consider all the opportunities for making your event fresh, including new features and additional technology. When you’re thinking about “new,” remember that elements that were nice to have in 2020 are going to be must-haves in 2021. If you did it last year, it’s not new for your audience.
Last year’s need for virtual platforms created a “gold rush” market where lots of new businesses sprung up, claiming to offer plug-and-play technologies. Several times we were brought in to salvage a virtual event after it became clear a tech vendor couldn’t deliver on what had been sold. Many of us have even attended virtual events that completely fell apart because the technology wasn’t supported or implemented correctly, including an international conference that went dark for three hours because the vendor hadn’t planned for the right server configuration. When selecting technologies, including event platforms, make sure you understand what their experience has been to date and ask for examples.
It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that because an event is virtual or hybrid, there’s infinite capacity. However, platforms fill up just like hotels. There’s only so much to go around, and as in-person events start to return the demand on physical venues, lodging, catering, equipment, and other resources will also increase. Many events in 2020 were rescheduled for 2021, so new events are already competing for what’s still available. If you wait to plan your event (whether it’s in-person, virtual, or hybrid), you could end up with a 2022 or 2023 event date.
Find a partner to work with who has a demonstrated history of successfully planning and producing in-person, virtual and hybrid events from a top-down experience design approach. They can help you understand the options you have for events and what a change in circumstances would mean for your event goals.
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