The Future of In-Person Events: Will They Be Making a Comeback Anytime Soon?

The Future of In-Person Events: Will They Be Making a Comeback Anytime Soon?

Over the last three years, the events business has taken a beating. As of March 2020, 90% of event professionals saw some or most of their business gone.

Throughout the pandemic, government officials across the United States rolled out several restrictions on social distancing, masking, and other aspects of public life. The orders are for public safety, and they vary by state, county, and even city.

At the peak of restrictions in late March and early April 2020, more than 310 million Americans were under directives ranging from "shelter in place" to "stay at home."

The 2020 COVID pandemic created a disruption in the event industry that has required planners to relearn and rethink everything from business models and sponsorships to event technology and content delivery.

Fears of viruses spreading, national lockdowns, and people's concerns about meeting others have led to a drop in in-person events and a move to online or hybrid events. However, virtual events can not completely replace in-person events as some B2B events require physical demonstrations that are best received in person.

The personal interaction offered by in-person trade shows allows you to establish a direct, more effective relationship with your client. Considering COVID is far from over, what does it mean for the future of in-person events?

What Has Been Happening in the Events Industry?

An illustration of a person with question marks floating around their head

Since the start of COVID-19, thousands of events have been postponed, canceled, or pivoted to virtual platforms. The pandemic has led to some hesitancy to attend public events. That is why hybrid events have been one of the leading meeting formats over the past three years.

While the vaccine has allowed many businesses to resume events and meetings, new variant waves have continued to stall the return to face-to-face events. Many organizations across the country, including the event planning industry, have implemented new protocols to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and help attendees feel comfortable attending in-person events.

Events professionals have noted that reduced interest in in-person gatherings was due to a perceived lack of safety precautions. From requiring masks to creating socially distant floor plans, event planners are taking additional measures to promote a healthy environment and build confidence about meeting in person.

According to a survey by Encore, 48% of planning organizations now require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to attend in-person events. While virtual events have taken the industry by storm since early in the pandemic, many attendees are eager to get back to face-to-face gatherings. Vaccination is allowing for in-person events to make a gradual comeback.

While there is no specific timeline on how quickly in-person meetings will become more regular, meeting planners are confident that we will see a steady rise by the end of 2022.

The Rise of Virtual Online Events

Ever since the COVID-19 outbreak ground in-person events to a halt, many organizations and businesses have thrived with virtual events. Since the pandemic started, there has been extensive expansion and growth within the world of virtual events.

From Zoom meetings to digital conferences, virtual events provided a lifeline for many businesses and individuals in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic led to the shut down of physical events worldwide.

B2B businesses were forced to digitize their operations to keep running successfully and ensure customer safety. They turned to digital and remote self-serve models and engaged with their customers purely online.

Aside from physical safety, here are some reasons why virtual events have thrived:

  • They have lower operating, marketing, and staffing costs.
  • They are easier to manage.
  • You don't have to spend a lot of time looking at venues.
  • There's no need to worry about catering, human logistics, or health and safety.
  • Tools to host virtual events are relatively cheap.
  • It's easier to find quality speakers if they don't have to travel.

How To Host a Virtual Online Event

Hosting a virtual event requires the same care and attention as an in-person event. In both cases, you need to craft an event strategy to effectively promote the event, engage your attendees, create memorable moments for attendees, and prove event success.

It's more important now than ever for event planners to learn how to create a virtual event. If you're looking at organizing one, here are some steps you can take to manage a successful online event:

  • Define your audience
  • Define your event objectives
  • Establish the virtual event format and ideal timing
  • Choose your speakers and moderators
  • Draft the event sequence or script and brief speakers
  • Find the right platform
  • Plan the event experience
  • Develop and distribute marketing materials
  • Expect and prepare for technical challenges
  • Nail the event experience by engaging participants
  • Keep your attendees engaged post-event
  • Measure results

Why Are Some B2B Trade Shows Better in Person?

An illustration of five people standing in line in front of an event entrance. All five of them are wearing medical-grade face masks

Trade shows, conferences, and meetings are just a few events that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to attend virtually for the past several months.

Virtual events have many benefits, including the opportunity to easily and quickly widen the reach and collect large amounts of data on attendees. But while they will always play a role in the marketing and sales processes, virtual events don't connect communities in the same way that in-person events do.

Business owners can generate more impactful business opportunities and better reach potential customers to market their products when they're not communicating from behind a screen.

Video meetings are rife with communication disconnects and technical errors, causing the "Zoom fatigue" phenomenon. By contrast, people can better pick up on non-verbal cues during in-person meetings and don't have to deal with the frustration of audio or video cutting out.

During an in-person trade show, attendees typically walk around the expo hall. They might have a pre-set list of companies they want to talk to. But as they walk around, a personalized booth might catch their eye, and they'll stop to learn more. That's not something a virtual event can successfully replicate.

Should In-Person Events Make a Comeback Soon?

In many aspects, in-person events are irreplaceable, and attendees are eager to return to face-to-face interactions. Over the past three years, event organizers have become innovative in utilizing virtual events. Still, it was never a question of replacing live events per se.

Event safety must be the top priority should event organizers wish to avoid cancellations or postponements. Most organizers and attendees have already adjusted to the new rules of attending in-person events.

Furthermore, in addition to new safety measures, we've seen the development of new COVID vaccines and COVID-safe technology that have aided us in ensuring safety is never compromised.

Why Are Hybrid Events the Future of B2B?

An illustration of a hybrid event. Six people are on a Zoom call watching a live presentation from the event.

Hybrid events are a combination of in-person and virtual events. They often allow for a much greater degree of flexibility: people can attend in person if they want or access remotely if they're unable/unwilling to be there physically. The best of both worlds, if you will.

Hybrid events can also allow multiple connected events to happen simultaneously in different locations. The following benefits of hybrid events are why they are the future of B2B.

  • Environmental — Those far away from the event can tune in online, saving a plane journey and the planet by reducing carbon footprints.
  • Flexibility — Attendees choose how to attend depending on their location and goals for the event.
  • Reach — The online aspect of hybrid means your event can gain better international reach. Content could also be made available on-demand, further increasing its reach.
  • Networking — The main con of online-only is less networking. For a hybrid event, networking is still possible in the in-person part of the event. If an attendee's primary goal is to network, they can choose to go in person.
  • Data — Due to the technology involved in hybrid (apps, social media, zoom, etc.), data tracking and analysis are easy to achieve.

How To Market Hybrid Events

Hybrid events require planners to attract in-person attendees without alienating virtual attendees and compete for a virtual audience's attention in a saturated market. How can planners market their events to stand out and appeal to both groups?

By using the hybrid event in your B2B marketing strategy, you can appeal to your audience no matter where they are.

Hybrid events have an added layer of complexity because they need to consider how live and virtual experiences function as independent and interdependent components. Before the event, the marketing campaign should emphasize on:

  • The flexibility and accessibility offered by virtual participation
  • The immersive experience that comes with in-person attendance
  • The possibility for two-way interaction between live attendees and remote participants

What Are the Best Trade Show Marketing Practices?

Trade shows have the potential to generate an impressive number of leads for the brands that approach them in the right way. They are a great place to showcase new products and attract potential buyers.

The global pandemic brought in-person events, including trade shows and conferences, to a standstill, and the industry adjusted to virtual events.

It's not a question of if but when trade shows return in the future, and marketers and planners must be prepared with the latest strategies to meet new market demands. You can maximize your trade show strategy in the following ways:

1. Before the Show

  • Begin planning months before the event — Start working on your promotion strategy before the event starts.
  • Set specific trade show goals — Some common trade show goals are: to launch a new product, generate new leads, build brand awareness, meet partners in person, or network with other industry professionals.
  • Design your booth and messaging — This is the time to plan your engagement and follow-up strategies. Don't forget to include safety protocols in your messaging, with information about social distancing, testing and masking requirements.
  • Spread the word — Drive attendance to and participation at your booth by promoting it before the event.

2. During the Show

  • Work the plan — Now that you've set your goals and designed your messaging, it's time to put it all into practice.
  • Send reminders — Social media is the perfect channel to reach attendees during the show. If the event has a designated hashtag, be sure to use it!
  • Give them something to remember you by — Make sure prospects leave with your contact information.

3. After the Show

  • Follow up promptly — Make personal calls to your hot leads to build rapport and solidify the sale.
  • Connect virtually — Run marketing campaigns to leads and other qualified event attendees via email and social media ads.
  • Measure your results — Once you've followed your leads to their conclusion, it's time to judge your results. Look back at the goals you set for yourself before the show. How did you perform against your expectations?

Other In-Person Events for B2B Businesses

Other than trade shows, there are different in-person events B2B businesses can organize. They include:

1. Conferences

Conferences are generally hosted by organizations selling B2B. People come together to discuss the latest trends and opportunities related to the conference's theme.

2. Workshops

Workshops are much smaller than conferences and last only one to two days. Because workshops are smaller than conferences, attendees tend to spend more time interacting with the presenter and other attendees.

3. Networking Events

The benefit of hosting a networking event is that it doesn't require as much planning as a conference. You don't even need speakers. You just need a venue and people.

4. Product Launch Events

Product launch events are hosted when a company wants to generate buzz around a new product. These products are shown to the public for the first time and are only exclusive to the press and influencers.

What Safety Measures Can Event Organizers Put in Place for In-Person Events?

An illustration of two people spaced six feet apart. One has a medical-grade face mask and the other has their vaccination card.

Organizers need to follow some safety protocols for in-person events to make a comeback. Aside from the apparent health benefits, these safety measures will also define how you are perceived by your attendees, speakers, sponsors, partners, and team members.

  • Make a team member or a small group responsible for all things COVID
  • Event communication before, during, and after the event
  • Facilitate on-site COVID testing
  • Make mask-wearing mandatory
  • Use hand sanitizers and sanitization stations
  • Keep people six feet apart where possible
  • Use contactless technology where possible
  • Change on-site food options

In Summary

There is no comparison to what face-to-face meetings, small conversations in the halls, or quick chats over meals at in-person events can achieve for your business.

While it may take some time for things to get back to normal, in-person events are here to stay. In-person events will come back soon; it just depends on whether organizers and businesses are ready to adopt the new measures required to keep them running and safe. That said, different companies require different solutions. Find the solution that works best for you whether in-person, hybrid, or virtual events.

Are you looking for materials to prepare for your event? At Steel Croissant, we help brands discover who they are and where they want to go, and then we get them there.  Contact us, and we will help you nail your next project.

This post needs more time in the oven.

Sign up to be notified with it is done.

Frequently Asked Questions

In-person events are poised for a comeback in the near future as vaccination rates increase, and health and safety measures evolve. Many industries are optimistic about the return of live gatherings.

The landscape of in-person events is likely to undergo changes, including hybrid formats, enhanced health and safety protocols, and increased integration of technology for broader audience reach and engagement.

Businesses can prepare for the return of in-person events by staying informed about current health guidelines, investing in technology for hybrid experiences, and crafting flexible event strategies that can adapt to evolving circumstances.

Technology will play a significant role in the future of in-person events, facilitating hybrid models, virtual components, and advanced event management tools. Integration of technology aims to enhance both the in-person and virtual event experiences.

The success of in-person events in the coming years will be influenced by factors such as adaptability to changing circumstances, prioritizing attendee safety, offering unique experiences, and effectively leveraging technology for broader audience engagement.