Event Industry Trends for 2021: Virtual & Hybrid

CEO Mirza Ceric and Co-founder Kurt Burtscher of b2match discuss the explosion of 2020 on the event industry and what their 15 collective years of experience predicts for 2021.

Event Industry Trends for 2021: Virtual & Hybrid

Are virtual events here to stay or were they just a tool to survive 2020?

Mirza: Virtual events have proven themselves in 2020. Looking at our internal data and analyzing our almost 1,000 events for the year, we see an incredible lift in the figures. We see almost a doubling of event participants for virtual events. Individual meetings also increased by the thousands. Through our automated participant survey, we see an overall increase in attendee satisfaction in comparison with 2019.  

 

Some would argue that those virtual event numbers saw a lift because people have been working from home. 

Kurt: The numbers saw a lift because attendees didn’t have to ask their companies for a lot of budget to attend an event. No budget was needed for travel, accommodation, or meals. Event organizers were clever to realize that quickly and expanded their invitee lists to include regions they hadn’t before. If appropriate for the event, virtual events have a global reach. 

Also, the lockdowns forced people to get used to virtual meetup technology. It is an easy transition for attendees to use our platform for professional virtual events.  

 

A concern about virtual events is that networking opportunities just don’t translate from physical to virtual events. 

Mirza: If you don’t have the right tool to conduct a virtual event, that could be true. However the b2match event management software specializes in b2b matchmaking. It is the most efficient way for attendees to find, meet, and talk to new collaboration partners. It automates the process and easily integrates business matchmaking into the workflow of an event. 2020 proved that this translates very well to virtual events.

 

Now that there is hope on the horizon that an inoculation will curb the pandemic, there is talk of hybrid events. 

Kurt: For the first half of 2021, we are seeing that our customers are still planning virtual events. As the pandemic recedes, we are anticipating the second half of the year to conduct more hybrid events.

2020 was the year that virtual events exploded. 2021 will be the year that hybrid events will explode. 

 

If hybrid events are the future of 2021, how can an event organizer plan for them?

Kurt: I predict that in 2021 a lot of attendees will still be hesitant about attending physical events. Event organizers are feeling that right now. When they book a hybrid event with us, they ask if b2match can switch a hybrid event to a 100% virtual event, even just days before the event. The answer is yes. Event organizers feel reassured that they have a backup plan with us. Concerning hybrid events, I think there will be a bigger ratio attending virtually than physically. With that in mind, event organizers need to change the format of their events and their budget to fit this. 

 

Can you give a few examples of best practices for hybrid events?

Kurt: In reference to format, as with virtual events, shorter sessions are the goal. People can sit in front of their computer for only so long. To make hybrid events work, both live experiences and on-demand content need to be created. 

Also factor in that after months of lockdowns, people will be grateful to interact with one another again. Your hybrid event agenda should include business matchmaking sessions for attendees and sponsors to connect. 

Through experience we have noticed it is best to present the event’s content in the first half of the day. The second half is to be dedicated to business matchmaking sessions. 

In reference to budget, a bigger piece of the pie will go to technology. An event management software that can merge a virtual and physical event into a hybrid event. Faster and better internet connection and speed. Better production quality. Lean on the customer success managers of the event management software that you do business with. They guide an event organizer through the process, which ensures a good quality event. 

Attendees will also be more demanding of potential entertainment factors. Try to plan in something unexpected that will delight your audience. During a break, instead of just having a screen that is counting down until the next session, put in a guided meditation video or a stretching exercise for people who are sitting for a long time. Or send a gift box to attendees before the event starts with items that are scheduled into the agenda. A snack item so attendees can collectively take an agenda scheduled break together with the same drink or biscuits. These little extra bits of attention to detail will give a nice human touch to a virtual or hybrid event.  

 

How is an event organizer to plan hybrid business matchmaking sessions when one part of the attendee list is at home and the other is onsite?

Mirza: Attendees register on the b2match platform. They fill out their profile including if they will be at the physical event or virtually. Our smart search function allows participants a quick and easy identification of suitable matching profiles. All participants can pre-arrange meetings with each other before the event begins. The system automatically assigns each meeting letting the attendees know if the meeting will be at the physical location, or virtually. The system also automates a numbered table. Attendees use their customized agendas with this information and know where they need to be. This process works very well with vendors and sponsors too.

Business matchmaking is finding the virtual or hybrid needle in the haystack, made easy.

 

Can you give examples of how b2match rose to the occasion of virtual events during 2020 and how b2match intends to rise to the next challenge of hybrid events for 2021?

Mirza: We all knew virtual events were coming, however only having a few weeks to adapt to immediate demand was a challenge. So we listened to our customers. They gave valuable feedback. The top features we delivered in 2020 were the live stage, long term business matchmaking, and better measurement tools on how satisfied attendees are with their meetups.  

Starting with a live stage, it is a live-streaming session to deliver content. It’s great for a large audience to convey information, like, presentations, speeches, and keynotes. We know that audience engagement is very important so we incorporated Q&A, chat, and polls, which event organizers moderate. 

As I said earlier, business matchmaking is how attendees connect with one another during a virtual event. However attendee feedback was they didn’t have enough time to connect with everyone they wanted to. So we thought, let’s offer long term business matchmaking. It’s still a session, however they just last for longer periods of time. For example, a couple of weeks or even months. It’s a period when attendees are able to meet anytime they agree on. 

We knew event organizers needed to measure the success of a virtual event in a meaningful way. We wanted to go beyond registration, ROI, and surveys. So we added features like attendees rating their satisfaction of each individual meeting they had during an event. Also  connections attendees make with sponsors. For example the amount of meetings arranged, page engagement, and attendance of sponsor led speaking sessions. Also the ability to track who attends live stage sessions.

Our plan for the first few months of 2021 is going to have improvements to the agenda for virtual events and streaming, virtual booths for exhibitions, and pitching sessions.

Kurt: We also increased our customer success team to support our clients even more. This is a personal connection for event organizers. A partner who has seen best practices in action. Our experienced customer success managers multiply the success of events many times over. They listen, advise, and deliver what our clients need. 

 

Is there any more information readers can turn to?

Kurt: Take a look at some of our use cases. Our customers speak for us. 

Use case: The Tipping Point from Ho-Hum to Wildly Successful Virtual Events

Use case: Physical Turned Hybrid b2b Matchmaking Event

Use case:  Interview: Event Organizer About Hosting First Virtual Event

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