The Road Ahead for Virtual and Hybrid Meetings in 2021

Woman taking virtual classLast week, I had the pleasure of attending the Techsy Talk Global Conference. One of the best sessions was called “The Road Ahead: Industry Landscape for 2021” by Howard Givner of the Event Leadership Institute.

Howard provided an overview of the meetings and conference landscape, covering the latest news related to vaccines, state COVID regulations, and meeting statistics and predictions.

What’s the road ahead for live events? If you plan to have live events in 2021, Howard says:

  • Be prepared for uncertainty.
  • You will have a lot of last-minute registrations.
  • You will have a lot of no-shows.
  • Be prepared for short notice pivots to virtual because of state-mandated shutdowns.
  • You need to calculate your attendees’ psychological comfort level with risk
  • What will the economics be for a venue that could house 1,000 people pre-COVID, but can only house 10 people post-COVID? Does this even make sense?
  • There is always a risk that your event could become a super-spreader event.
  • At the end of the meeting, if nobody is sick, can you truly say that you held a safe event? What if you had attendees who were asymptomatic and spread the virus to your other attendees?

In light of all this, Howard recommends “Reverse Hybrid Planning.” In the past, conference planners treated the in person event as the base experience, and virtual was the add-on. But today, Howard thinks we should consider the virtual event as the base experience, and the in person event as the add-on experience. Why?

  • Because meetings and conferences aren’t expected to go back to their pre-pandemic attendee levels for another 3-5 years, and that’s assuming the vaccines are effective AND people agree to get them
  • Because employers are going to look hard at the ROI of conferences and training. Most employers today are probably thinking, “if I can train 4 people for the price of one, or spend a lot less money training one, I’m going to choose that option.”
  • Because virtual events have opened conferences and training to a whole world of people who previously couldn’t get on a plane or be away from home for a multitude of reasons.

As for us here at Matrix Group and BeSpeake, so far, clients are planning on being virtual through April 2021. Most are hoping that in person events will start to come back starting in May. And most are thinking they will need to plan for a hybrid experience starting in 2021.

How about you? What’s your event planning strategy for 2021?