Early 2020 saw cancellations of conferences and regional events and conversion of some events to virtual – with mixed success in the early stages. Fortunately, as association event and education professionals became more proficient with digital technology and found partners to provide expertise, virtual conferences were more easily executed mid- to late-2020.
Key findings of a study show that 80% of event marketers report greater audience reach with the elimination of time and money required to travel to in-person events. The increased audience for 2020 and early 2021 virtual conferences and events produces a larger database to market future events, with 20% of event professionals planning to increase their marketing budgets.
While there was success with virtual events, 97% of event professionals surveyed report that hybrid events – a combination of virtual and in-person – will become more prominent as events are planned later in 2021.
The return to an in-person option will be welcomed by many association members who rely on conferences to catch up and interact with long-time friends, industry experts, and educators, but the new events may include some new features according to one author:
- Clean, safe environments and interactions will be expected by all audiences. The challenge will be showcasing safety precautions without interfering with enjoyment of the experience. Standard practices will need to include contactless check-in, technology, health data confirmation, reduced group sizes, access to hand sanitization stations, and partnerships with health organizations to provide services.
- Event timelines have contracted as people no longer need to schedule months ahead for hotel and air travel, so event coordinators need to review their timelines for Call for Papers and registration deadlines.
2021 and 2022 will be challenging for association education and event directors, but the addition of digital tools can provide some flexibility and increase audience reach, which can be used to increase membership.