To say 2020 has wreaked havoc on the live meetings and events industry is an understatement. With this thought in mind, and to better understand how COVID-19 has impacted us, we recently conducted a survey to poll our client base and national network of industry veterans. It was our intent to capture their insights and initiate a dialogue as to our current state and gage where and how our industry peers see live vs. virtual meetings and events as we shift towards 2021.

How Are Meetings And Events Currently Happening?

When asked how meeting professionals are managing events at this time, the overwhelming majority, 64.29% responded virtually, with a hybrid model coming in well behind that at 14.29%. Only 1.79% shared that their meetings are taking place live and in-person. No big surprises there, however, interesting to note is that the second highest response, coming in at 19.64%, stated their events were cancelled and none were taking place at this time. Clearly, a gloomy sign of the times for sure.

What Are The Biggest Hurdles To Planning Live Events?

  • Attendee fear of participating in-person 51.74% 51.74%
  • Company restrictions 58.93% 58.93%
  • Government Restrictions 48.21% 48.21%
  • Inability to protect attendees from virus exposure 57.14% 57.14%
  • Fear of travel 51.79% 51.79%
  • Budget 10.71% 10.71%

To gain a better understanding as to what the reasons were, we posed a follow-up question asking what was the biggest hinderance to planning in-person events was at this time. These responses were interesting because they distinctly illustrated the uncertainty in which “how” live events can take place, safely. In order of concern were the consideration of attendee fear of participating in-person, their company’s COVD-19 response restricting the planning of live events, the fear of not being able to protect attendees from contracting the virus, air travel concerns in order to attend, trying to navigate the ever-changing government restrictions administered by each state. And lastly, which was quite honestly has always been one of the top considerations when planning any type of event, was budget. Imagine that? The almighty dollar garnered last place in this category!

When Will In-Person Events Return?

Our next survey question is one we’ve been very interested in learning more about. While we’ve been engrossed in our attempt to stay informed with meeting trends, the successful manufacturing of a vaccine and future economic forecasts, we asked, based on your current knowledge and perception of the future, when do you envision your organization’s return to face-to-face, live events? An astounding 69.64% of respondents, replied either the third or fourth quarter of 2021. Quarters one and two of 2021 came in second at 14.29%, 12.50% report that their organization will only be planning virtual events for the foreseeable future. Tying out the bottom at 1.79% are in-person event never stopped and the organization will no longer be planning meetings and events.

  • 69.64% say Q3 or Q4 of 2021
  • 14.29% say Q1 or Q2 of 2021
  • 12.50% see virtual persisting   

Which Precautions Are Currently Being Enforced At Events?

When asked what safety precautions our respondents were currently taking for in-person events, the answers included:

  • 46.43% Hand Sanitizer
  • 48.21% Social Distancing
  • 46.43% Face Masks
  • 12.50% Face Shields
  • 5.36% Protective Gowns
  • 12.50% Protective Gloves
  • 10.71% Other

Will Live Events Disappear?

Face to face, live events, will continue to be a much needed and valuable experience in our industry. Whether it’s conferences, workshops, symposiums, lectures sporting events, concerts or the theater, there are compelling reasons to meet and gather in person which include:

  • Anticipation of meeting face to face in a physical space is exciting
  • More focused, less distractions when attending an in-person event
  • More investment due to the time and effort put into attending a live event
  • Networking opportunities and the ability to make a good impression with other attendees

Addressing a similar theme with this is the consideration of whether those in our industry see virtual events as being able to replicate all those same important aspects of an in-person event. A staggering 82.14% answered a resounding NO, while 17.86% believe it can and does. When asked for reasons why a virtual event cannot compare to a live event, the lack of human, in-person interaction with the ability to network were the top reasons.

What Problems Arise When Pivoting To Virtual Events?

When posed the question, what challenges are you facing when moving from planning in-person events to virtual events, the responses ran the gamut including:

Adapting To The Pandemic

Virtual events are not new. For years we’ve utilized various types of technology for meetings including webinars, digital conference calls and satellite broadcasts, however, now we’ve had to learn how to adapt to hosting nearly all types of events in this way. The pandemic has heightened the need for expansion in the online technology realm. Event technology companies jumped to the call to transform and boost what they had previously been able to offer our industry to what is called for and in demand today.

This realization is evident in our survey when asked if navigating towards virtual events has warranted more, less or the same number of events, as in 2019.  The numbers spoke for themselves. The largest cohort, 37.50% report they are managing less meetings at this time. 23.21% responded that the number of their meetings and events has gone unchanged and remains the same, and 17.86% said they are managing more events now than they did last year.

What Platforms Are Meeting Planners Using?

We’ve heard their names before, some more than others, but in the past eight months, they have become synonymous with being as important to the production of an event as the event content itself. What event tech platform should we use? What will work best for the type of event being hosted? Coming in at number one, as the most preferred digital platform supplier for virtual events is Zoom at 50%. The ease of use was the number one reason so many respondents choose this platform. Following in order are many other answers including WebEx, Google Meet, Connex as well as host of many more.

What Is Happening To Budgets?

In this time of Covid-19, it has proven even more important than before to consider the cost factors involved with planning a meeting, albeit, virtual or in-person. Event professionals are being forced to find ways to save money, especially with scrutinized budgets to contend with.  In our survey, we asked if shifting from live to virtual events increased or decreased their event planning budget, 66.67% responded that their budgets had been significantly decreased while only 18.52% claim there has been no change.

One piece of good news is that virtual events appear to be more cost effective and provide a greater savings to the bottom line. This savings is apparent by means of eliminating venue costs, event set-up and breakdown, catering, audio visual equipment rentals, travel costs, hotel accommodations and more. Planners’ initial challenge is to circumvent all the information on the web to determine the best technology platform the, costs associated based on the event’s requirements and then establish the marketing cost to promote it.

Finishing Up

In closing, and on a more personal note, as we hope for the world to return to some sense of what we knew it to be, although I believe we are forever changed, we will get through this. No matter the turmoil this pandemic is inflicting upon us in our personal and professional lives and in our world, there is one thing we can count on… there will be change, we will adapt, and we will come back better and stronger. In the meantime, we can take solace in knowing there is something we can do, even if all that is, is wait.

Cara O’Neill is a Project Manager at GCG Event Partners where she has happily set up shop for over 15 years. Her professional background may be in the meeting & event industry; however, she enjoys the multi-tasking involved in her day-to-day operations contributing to marketing GCG and the many services it provides. You can connect with Cara on LinkedIn here.

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