The Paradigm Shift in the Event Industry
Let’s face it. Most of you who are in the event industry and are listening to this podcast probably think that the online experience we all had to create over the last two years to produce our tradeshow, conference or event was a passing fad. After all, mask mandates are disappearing, the event halls are filling back up, and people are coming out of their houses and traveling again.
Historically, the event industry has always been strongly rooted into paradigms that dictated how we should all think about our events and how we should deliver them. Now, I’m not an industry professional, but I’ve had a long business career and attended dozens of tradeshows and conferences, so here are some paradigms that were deeply rooted in this industry before the Pandemic changed them.
Events were delivered and attended over a short period of time. If you attended an annual conference or tradeshow that was more than a few days, that was quite unusual. Activity was crammed into a short timeframe because those events pulled people away from their business and home and travel expenses made up the biggest expense that the person had.
"Technology has created an entirely new set of tools available to organizers in their event toolbox"
The exhibit hall or show floor was the epicenter for connections. Exhibitors spent thousands of dollars on the biggest, brightest, and most attractive booth chocked full of expensive marketing materials and giveaways. Leads happened when badges were scanned, business cards were gathered, or people attended an in-booth panel discussion. It was always the place where you could find people you hadn’t seen since the last show.
The fun factor was critical. Sponsors held lavish parties; the bars were full; and organizers made sure that the event location had plenty of fun things to keep you satisfied. It always helped to have attendees come gamble in the casino, attend a show or get a tan by the pool.
Being “seen” was a key driver. Tradeshows always reminded me of high school reunions. You didn’t see people for a whole year, but you really wanted to make sure you were at your industry’s event so people would know you mattered. It seemed less about the relationship and more about being seen.
But after two years of being uncertain about how to deliver a live event in the ever-changing world of the virus, travel disruptions and labor shortages, everyone’s paradigm of what it meant to deliver and attend an event start to shift.
Time and location were no longer a barrier. So maybe the keynotes, workshop and exhibit hall were live over a few days, but that didn’t mean the event had to close. If you couldn’t make it to the workshop, you could come back to the online platform to see it later. You may not be able to talk to booth staff after the event’s end date, but you certainly could still jump into their virtual booth and download product literature.
Focusing on the fun factor as the primary motivator to attend was being replaced by learning opportunities. Delivering content, industry insights and education in a live event meant scheduling rooms, flying in speakers and panelists, and relying on literature provided by exhibitors. Virtual event options made it easier to secure those experts, provide more learning opportunities and augment industry insights with content resident on the platform.
People found expanded ways to make connections. You didn’t have to go to the bar, the big party or cruise the exhibit floor to be “seen”. People could attend virtual networking, join roundtable discussions, be part of a discussion forum and schedule video meetings.
No having said that, organizers found virtual hard and even harder if you had to produce an event that was both in Las Vegas and online. So, what is the industry’s new paradigm shift going to be? Certainly, it can’t go back to exactly what it was in the “good old days” of live-only events. And maybe there is a new middle ground that speaks to how people really want to get updated on their industry, connect with people, and have opportunities to learn.
I’ve been looking at industry reports of what to expect next and a few things caught my eye when Event MB did their State of the Industry Virtual Event followed by their analysis of event technologies that was just published. The report speaks to the next paradigm shift in the way we think about events. Here are some thoughts that I really agree with:
Digital and live will become a blended experience. The individuals that were surveyed for this report showed that only 18% of organizations were planning to have a live-only event option.
A blended option will likely normalize pricing for attendance so virtual and live attendance are closer in price. In addition, the event will now be both in the physical and virtual world with each venue offering an experience based on what it is best suited for.
Events will focus on year-long engagement. The annual conference may be over, but industries change quickly, and audiences need more regular contact with industry experts, education, and their peers. To really create a community that feels connected, people need a way to come back to the virtual environment to stay engaged between live events.
Technology will shift its support and pricing model. In the past, event platforms needed to really support their customers by overlaying the use of a technology specialist that could help design and execute the virtual component. That made it frustrating and expensive for organizers. Platforms are coming down in price, offering new pricing programs and are becoming much more self-serve so that they become more viable event options.
Digital options will become subscription based. Most technology is purchased as a SaaS service, not a one-time expense that goes away when the event is over. SaaS technology is characterized by a subscription pricing model, self-service options once the platform is delivered and online help and support. It is also characterized by much lower cost and continuous feature enhancements.
So as the event industry evolves and paradigms continue to shift, event organizers and planners have also evolved. They’ve been enrolled in a two-year technology and psychology classroom learning how to manage software and use it to create an experience that keeps people interested, involved, and feeling that sense of connection. The industry now knows that you will always have a subset of your audience that can’t make it to Vegas, but those people should be respected and programmed to regardless of how they want to get involved.
Technology has created an entirely new set of tools available to organizers in their event toolbox that expand the experience beyond the show floor, the cocktail party, and the opening ceremony. And technology has a way of making industries better. Think about how much more mobile we are with Lyft and Uber. What about 5G that connects everyone at high speed to the internet no matter where they are? How about the convenience of booking an airline ticket online, ordering groceries and having them delivered or having Amazon show up the next day with the part you needed?
The new paradigm for events will be that live and digital are a coordinated experience to serve a wider audience. Events will be blended into the strategy of year-long engagement that create better connections and communities among those that attend. Event technologies will become true SaaS models that are affordable, easy to use, and subscription based. And event organizers will now be called on to understand their role in both the live and digital world to create the best experience possible for their customers.