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With Covid-19 restrictions gradually lifting in the coming weeks, the business community and the events industry in particular is breathing a sigh of relief. The easing of social distancing restrictions in the UK means that in-person events and conferences for 30+ attendees can return but it’s clear that things will not return to how they once were.

The pandemic proved that virtual events can be cost effective and compelling, allowing greater reach and engagement with a more global and hard-to-reach audience. They allowed us to maintain connections with peers, learn and collaborate, as well as experiment with new technology. But creating those impromptu moments when you happen run to into an old contact in the conference hall has not been easy. We are getting a sense that people want to get away from their desks and away from the distractions of working online.

This month we saw the first big conference to be staged in Europe since Covid-19 struck, with the return of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona; traditionally the largest gathering of the tech and telecoms industry.

The event went ahead as a both an in-person and online event, despite major firms and brands such as Samsung not having a physical presence. 20,000 people attended the conference compared to the usual 100,000.

Money 2020, one of the leading if not the leading fintech conference, recently announced its live programme and agenda, enticing attendees to come to Amsterdam in September and “shut your screen and get up close and personal with the who’s who of Payments, Banking, Fintech and Financial Services”. While Sibos is taking place in October, as a virtual only event, with its agenda focusing on digital acceleration, technological innovation, risk and change.  

Is this now a sign of things to come and a mark of a recovery, with the future of events very much focused on a mix of in-person, virtual and hybrid?

When planning your events strategy, what approach should you take? Here are our top five recommendations.

Set objectives and measurement

Whether hosting or attending a conference, be clear on your objectives and KPIs – from the outset make it clear what you are aiming to get out of the conference? Are your objectives complementary – e.g. is it to build your brand with an opportunity to educate or and showcase your service or product? Is it an opportunity to build relationships and acquire new clients or leads? Once you have set your objective, define KPIs.

Stand out content and speakers

Whatever the event format, content that is punchy, useful and insightful married with an engaging speaker is central to the success of any speaking opportunity or conference. What challenges or priorities are top of mind for your target audiences at the moment, and how can you meet those needs? Make sure you’re aligning what you want to say with what your audiences care about and want to listen to. 

Make your presentation stand out with infographics, interactive charts and animation. If you’re leading the presentation, think about how you can involve your audience more actively – from engaging visual or video content to polls.

Invest in technology to create memorable experiences

Understand the requirements for the type of event you are planning. Virtual-only events have a stronger emphasis on technology. Consider using a specialist virtual platform such as Hopin, Zoom or Spotme.  Consider hiring or filming your conference in a broadcast studio to elevate the experience for attendees. And for hybrid events consider the livestreaming facilities. Make sure you address the needs of both your audiences – you don’t want to compromise and don’t just focus on the online experience.

Create opportunities to engage online

Networking can be over a handshake, but it doesn’t have to be. The technology developed and refined during the pandemic has created more opportunities to network. You can be more organised and planned here – including scheduled introductions and time limited video calls.  This also makes it easier to continue relationships after the first encounter.

Tentative steps back into the physical realm

The news as ever gives both reasons for hope and reasons for caution. The good news is that event organizers understand this ambiguity in the data, and are going out of their way to make it easy to commit to new events. That means lower entrance fees, guarantees and more flexibility to pull out later if things change. Take advantage of this moment – it won’t last – and start seeing what this ‘new normal’ of event attendance means.

Yvonne Maher is the deputy managing director of Cognito EMEA