Event professionals have shown themselves to be resilient and strong as they’ve kept up with ever changing regulations to keep venues safe but also shown incredible innovation as they’ve moved from live to virtual.
One thing is for sure, people still want to connect. When we launched our virtual Christmas parties, we weren’t sure of the reaction we’d get and we were amazed to receive enquiries from all around the world from companies looking for small celebrations to great big extravaganzas. All going to prove that we’re not done with partying yet.
So what will 2021 look like for events?
Small but perfectly formed experiences
Even when the vaccine works its magic it’s unlikely that we’re going to see a rush to return to large events. Confidence will need to grow significantly before corporates are prepared to host big indoor events, restrictions on travel remain unknown and, the appetite for them may just have waned. Put simply, smaller events come without so many risks. Plus they provide the opportunity to create something more bespoke and personal and it’s that individual experience that’s going to be so important.
We expect to see intimate events take centre stage in 2021 with the spotlight on the quality of experience. This is great news for creativity as there are so many opportunities for each touchpoint to become more meaningful. And whilst the larger budgets for one big annual event are likely to disappear next year, it doesn’t mean that budgets for events themselves will be removed from the marketing mix. The beauty of smaller events means that companies will be able to spread their budget across the year with a chance to engage on a more regular basis.
Hybrid is here to stay
This year forced everyone to move to virtual at a speed that could never have been predicted. This rapid change has meant that we’ve all had to embrace or upskill in new technology and whilst there may have been some bumps along the way (Zoom Quizzes, I’m looking at you), the benefits have become screamingly obvious; no travel costs, reduced environmental impact, the ability to reach a wider audience and higher engagement mean that many companies are now looking to permanently incorporate a digital strategy into their business, as virtual goes mainstream. Brands have seen the potential digital experiences can offer and are looking to capitalise on the opportunity of reaching large audiences.
Going forward, we’ll start to see more sophisticated platform design, providing opportunities for interaction and matched networking but also from a design and technical point of view as we start to see platforms looking more beautiful and making more use of augmented reality tools. In effect, the platform will operate not just as a venue but a destination designed to the client’s brief.
Back in March as the events industry raced to pivot, everyone was fairly forgiving of errors but expectations will be higher for 2021 so expect to see virtual and hybrid events step up a gear as we see more creativity applied. The data from a virtual event is a powerful tool offering companies the ability to understand how audiences engage (or didn’t) with their content and providing learnings that enable them to improve impact and performance for next time.
Connection and interactivity
Following a year where hardly anyone has seen anyone, it’s no surprise that we’re all craving connection more than ever. Virtual and hybrid events will need to find ways to personalise the experience and engage their audience with more chat and video facilities and opportunities to react with apps, live Q&As, polls etc. We’ve got used to seeing ourselves on screen this year and no longer simply want to sit back and passively receive information; we want to have that spark that comes from spontaneous interaction. The emphasis will move away from content to the audience and ensuring they have a high-quality experience.
Alongside professional speakers, it will be important to offer a range of entertainment. We’ve all experienced Zoom exhaustion this year so expect shorter sessions with a range of breakout activities, all enhanced with deliveries of complementary activities at home. Food & booze hampers bring a tangible quality that make an event feel real but we expect this to be taken further next year as event companies get clever with delivering interactive experiences through the letterbox.
Sustainability and going outdoor
Going for a walk became the highlight of the day for many of us during 2020, and with that came a re-connection with nature and an increased drive to reconsider the impact that events have on the environment. Eco-friendly and sustainability initiatives will become expected rather than requested as clients will seek to work with suppliers that have reduction of waste plans and seek out event planners who know how to offset an event’s carbon footprint.
The events industry will need to challenge itself on how it can reduce waste across the board, from displays, pop-ups, giveaways to swag. It’s a chance to rethink the whole model and to set a goal for nearly all event materials to be reused, repurposed or recycled.
When we’re ready to return to live events it’s likely that people will feel more comfortable in an outdoor environment. With any luck this will coincide with summer. Venues with outside space are likely to be in huge demand, especially given many weddings were postponed to 2021 meaning a shortage in availability, so expect to see much more flexibility on mid week events along with increased competition on pricing.
Outdoor venues can be used to create a variety of offerings. We expect to see the popular festival format expand with different outdoor areas being used much like break-out spaces with a variety of entertainment and food to be consumed and enhanced with beautifully designed decor.