The new world of blended events

The new world of blended events – How ‘brand new’ is this world, really?

Topic: Insight /

Can we ask a really direct question? Who has true experience of delivering an authentic ‘blended’ event? Come on, let’s be completely honest…we are talking about doing this for an event where your audience runs into the thousands…

We are not talking about much of what has happened over the past year. There have been some brilliant attempts at virtual, but we have yet to see a truly blended event delivered successfully – one that takes into consideration the trends that we are seeing now.

We’ve all been through a year of lockdowns

While the idea of accessing content on demand was exciting at the start, it appears that people are growing weary of it. They are getting bored of limited formats, the classic locked-off camera approach, and pre-recorded content.

So we think that now is the time to really start thinking about what your audience needs and wants when it comes to future blended events.

But where do we start?

We have all learned a lot from the experience of the past year, and it is worth pausing and considering how to put together the best blended experiences possible. Just repeating what has gone before would be a mistake, and it could cost you your audience – an audience that was understanding in the race to go virtual last year, but may not now be quite so forgiving of a less than optimal user experience and content that lacks the right editing and professionalism.

Some people have been quite shocked at the potential cost of delivering a truly blended event. Let’s consider that point for a moment. It’s not just a case of taking an in-person event and sharing content to a virtual audience. The person who has to manage your in-person speakers probably can’t be the same as the person who manages your virtual speakers, so that’s two roles instead of one. If you consider other key roles across the whole event, this soon adds up. In some instances, it equates to running two events at the same time!

The cost factor features in this interesting article about the RAI Amsterdam and their experience of pivoting from in-person to blended events over the past year

Have behaviours changed over the past year?

Something we observed at the start of this journey was how users seemed willing to come back to engage with content after the virtual event. But that seems to be changing now. More and more, the numbers of people returning for this are dropping. We need to understand why, and what people need as a better alternative. It won’t always be the same thing.

When we consider event and programme design for blended events, we cannot just go back to the way things have been done before. Many people think that the in-person programme should lead and that virtual will follow. We don’t agree. The virtual programme should lead, factoring in enough time for breaks where speakers can engage with and facilitate virtual audiences.

Evolving formats…

The format for in-person sessions needs questioning too. After more than a year of what we have all been through, we are likely to see a change in audience behaviors. We expect that there will be fewer people rushing from one conference session to another. In this new world, it is more likely that attendees will prioritise their must-see sessions and take a more casual approach to others. Maybe watching them on demand in a hangout space on their own devices while enjoying a coffee.

This is the potential beauty and flexibility of a truly blended experience. It offers the in-person attendee a whole new level of personalisation of their experience. Attendees can prioritise in new ways and can make their lives a bit easier and simpler. Who doesn’t value that!

You could even question the duration of your event. The added benefits of virtual elements mean that content on demand is now an established thing, and people expect it. The upshot of this is that a traditional 4-day in-person event format could perhaps be shortened, as people may not need to commit to full physical attendance in order to access all content.

Could this be an answer? We think so, and we are really excited about it. We know that questioning and potentially changing big elements of established event formats can be daunting and scary. We also realise that change does not come without risk. But risk shouldn’t be a strong enough reason not to ask these questions and consider the changes. We learn from the risks we take, and if we are sensible, we can calculate the risks and minimise them. If we are not short-term in our thinking, or chasing purely vanity metrics, we can evolve formats for the long-term, continually learning from our visitor and user experiences.

One thing is for sure, it will be a sad situation for our industry if we just go back to the way we did things before the pandemic simply because we are allowed to meet in person again. Now is our opportunity to change for the better!

Next time, we are going to look at the differences between flagship and regional events, and how a year of virtual platforms has blurred some of the established boundaries between the two.

Location, location, location

Lastly, when we are looking at the hybrid events of the future, let’s question the traditional model of one central location. If you are a truly global event and you want to be authentically sustainable, with a blended event format you could have three separate locations at a lower overall cost.

If you were to have a main location and two smaller hubs, what opportunities would that open up for your event and your audience It is worth thinking about, as the real potential of blended events offers the chance to break these historic models. And we know that hosting a global event in one location poses some serious sustainability issues, which our industry has been struggling to overcome for years.

Could this be an answer? We think so, and we are really excited about it. We know that questioning and potentially changing big elements of established event formats can be daunting and scary. We also realise that change does not come without risk. But risk shouldn’t be a strong enough reason not to ask these questions and consider the changes. We learn from the risks we take, and if we are sensible, we can calculate the risks and minimise them. If we are not short-term in our thinking, or chasing purely vanity metrics, we can evolve formats for the long-term, continually learning from our visitor and user experiences.

One thing is for sure, it will be a sad situation for our industry if we just go back to the way we did things before the pandemic simply because we are allowed to meet in person again. Now is our opportunity to change for the better!

Next time, we are going to look at the differences between flagship and regional events, and how a year of virtual platforms has blurred some of the established boundaries between the two.

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