Virtual, live or hybrid, what’s the future for member events?

Brands and membership organisations have an opportunity to transform how they deliver experiences, says Think events partner William Thomson.

The outbreak of Covid-19 had a huge impact on the events industry, as well as the brands and membership organisations that had previously generated revenue from events. With social restrictions limiting the number of people able to gather in one place, the business model for events needed to be swiftly rethought. 

The first reaction of many event organisers was to ‘pivot’, to use one of the defining terms of 2020. Hence the events industry underwent rapid digitalisation, with organisers creating virtual events that aimed to replicate – as closely as possible – every aspect of physical events. But some aspects of physical events did not translate well to a virtual environment, not least exhibition halls. 

Other organisers used the crisis as an opportunity to reconsider their whole approach to events and were more successful as a result. For example, these organisers tracked attendees’ progress across their event platforms, gathering high-quality lead data for exhibitors. 

Following the example of the more successful organisers, here are six suggestions for how brands and membership organisations can future-proof their events:

1. Start with your objectives in mind

What do you hope to achieve from the event? And what do you want your delegates to leave with? How are you going to help people buy and sell? Once you’ve identified the answers to those questions, think about how you can most effectively achieve your objectives. Don’t try to replicate a physical event that was super-successful in 2019. Aim to do things differently this time round.

People watching conference speaker

2. Take the best from virtual

Physical events will be much better in future if we apply what we’ve learned from virtual events. From doing virtual events, we know the importance of engaging content and specialisation. We also know that we can run shorter events while still delivering on, or even exceeding, the expectations of attendees and sponsors.

3. Keep virtual in the mix

While demand for physical events is certainly returning, demand for virtual events hasn’t gone away. Far from it, in fact. Virtual events are convenient for many people. They also help organisations to deliver on their net zero commitments and save money by reducing travel and travel costs. In addition, virtual events are more sustainable than physical events because they don’t require the production of bags and pamphlets or generate high levels of food waste. They can also be very cost-effective and versatile, enabling organisers to create highly specialised experiences.

4. Don't fixate on hybrid

Today, many event platforms are trying to sell the concept of ‘hybrid events’ – events that combine a physical and a virtual audience. In reality, however, these events are expensive to host and difficult to pull off successfully. Brands are starting to discover this, which is why their approach is often to record the content of an event and replay it at a later date. This means they end up with both a physical audience and a virtual audience, but not at the same time. Later down the line, technological advances are likely to make genuinely hybrid events more feasible, but we are currently some way off that.

Man on online event

5. Take advantage of technology

Events is now a digital business. But capitalising on the available technology is about far more than just selecting the right events platform. It’s also about using the right tools to market your event, edit your content and communicate the highlights of the event to the wider world.

6. Use and reuse your content

When hosting an event, record all the sessions and consider how you can use the recordings to create evergreen content that delivers maximum value. For example, you could turn the content into an online training event that you charge people to watch. Or you could use it for lead generation purposes by allowing people to view the content for free in exchange for sharing their email address and other personal data.

Making the most of member events

Events have always been vital to membership organisations. But the rise of virtual events is an even greater opportunity for them going forward. Events allow them to expand their reach, both nationally and internationally, and to serve their members even better, and more cost-effectively, than they served them in the past. 

Membership organisations should evaluate how they can use the content from their virtual events across all their platforms to generate new revenues while enhancing their overall membership proposition. This will require them to be nimble and quick. They must also be prepared to take a step back and totally rethink how they’re serving their members. It may even be the case that an event is not the best way to serve their members at all. 

The world of events has changed since 2019. And expectations around what makes a great event have evolved during that time. The challenge for membership organisations now is to deliver events that are unmissable. Unmissable not just because people don’t want to miss being seen there, but unmissable because they don’t want to miss out on the wonderful experience taking place. It’s a challenge, certainly, but one that’s worth rising to.

Want help planning your future events? Get in touch via the link below.


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