By: Vanessa Lovatt, Chief Evangelist, Glisser, an award-winning tech platform powering unique company event experiences, anywhere.
As Covid restrictions slowly lift and normal life resumes, the business world is having to make some tough decisions. Is a wholesale return to in-person meetings and events on the cards or will companies shift to a digital approach?
The truth is that there are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches. While technologies like video conferencing have powered remote human connectivity through the pandemic, many business leaders still believe in the unparalleled power of in-person communications and assert that the same level of connection simply can’t be made via a digital meeting. Countless organisations have also dealt with technology teething problems, resulting from the sheer speed at which they pivoted to 100% remote working. For example, in the events space, a report from Conference News suggests that as many as four in ten people attending virtual events during the pandemic had issues with the technology which affected their levels of engagement. Simply put, if the tech doesn’t work properly for a meeting or event, or the user experience isn’t good enough, a digital attendee is only one click away from the exit.
Conversely, in-person meetings and events invariably involve a more significant time commitment from attendees and carry higher costs – both to attend and to facilitate. We also know that Covid is likely to have a long-term impact on the way businesses communicate, with international travel still restricted and pervasive nervousness around meeting in-person.
So, what’s the end game for post-Covid meetings and events? Well, perhaps the most compelling option is a hybrid approach, where people can choose to attend in person or online, or a mix of both. This approach allows businesses to reach and engage the right people, regardless of geography or travel constraints, while also maintaining all the things that make face-to-face gatherings special – from the buzz of the crowd at big events, to the intimate experience of a team bonding session.
Importantly, a hybrid approach also allows companies to meet their sustainability goals. With this model companies can host a compelling in-person event for local attendees, while allowing those who can’t – or prefer not to – travel, to attend online. And by offering the opportunity to participate online, you’re helping attendees to cut down on their own business travel – a focal point for many companies’ environmental ambitions.
Powering a cohesive on and offline experience
If hybrid is to be the industry’s preferred approach, it’s essential that hybrid events and meetings feel cohesive so that both in-person and online attendees are reassured they’re getting the most from each experience. The most successful companies will be those who harness innovative technologies to deliver a unified and engaging experience, both in the room and on the screen.
Physical event organisers have become adept at delivering a great experience – making sure delegates are greeted on arrival, providing bags of corporate ‘swag’ and providing clear direction on how to get the most out of the event. The same should be true for digital attendees – they must have a consistent, high-quality experience from the moment they enter the virtual lobby.
Adopting bespoke event technology can help here – enabling attendees to ‘move around’ an event as they choose, rather than confining them to a Zoom ‘waiting room’. Not only can event tech platforms play host to presentations on single or multiple stages in real time, but they can also support interactive polls, quizzes, chat functions and more, allowing online attendees to feel just as engaged with content as they would if they were in the room.
A focus on accessibility
As many businesses have recently discovered, with digital technology comes the promise of better accessibility. On-demand translation of presentations, for example, allows businesses to connect with more people than ever. Closed captions can be used too, to help people with hearing impairment access and engage with materials. Making presentations available online and on-demand extends the life of an event and allows more people to access the content, at a time that suits them.
However, while there are plenty of new and improved accessibility tools on the market, the basics need to be right too. It’s not enough just to put a link up and hope for the best – the online component of every hybrid meeting or event should be available on desktops, tablets and smartphones via weblink or QR code, ideally with no need to download any software. This isn’t just applicable to big events – smaller meetings benefit from being easily quickly and easily accessible.
Harnessing the power of analytics
In the face-to-face world, event success has typically been measured by attendee numbers. Online or hybrid events allow for a more nuanced approach to measurement, with smart data analytics tracking and measuring attendees’ holistic event experience – which sessions were well attended, where people dropped off, where their interest was piqued and much more.
Indeed, in a hybrid event, tracking engagement – and then taking action to improve on elements which haven’t worked well – is more important than ever, given the increased risk of potential drop off.
So, while the world considers what happens in a post-Covid business environment, characterised by a long-term desire to travel less often, hybrid events and meetings that seamlessly blend the in-person and online experience are likely to be the ultimate victors. Now that the urgency of enabling 100% remote working has subsided, companies have the opportunity to step back and properly assess what’s working and what’s not. Importantly, they have a chance to ensure they’re making the most of a plethora of new technologies which promise to power a better user experience and more fruitful events and meetings – whether they’re in person, online or in between.