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COVID-19: The Future of Events is Here

It’s hard to overstate the size of the global events industry. In 2019, over 1.5 billion people participated in business events worldwide, employing millions and directly contributing to our economies. Since March, this industry has been decimated by the realities of COVID-19. If it’s unsafe for people to gather in numbers, how can events safely be held?

Closer to home, British Columbia’s events industry has more or less ground to a complete halt. Vancouver’s iconic convention centre has been repurposed as a makeshift hospital, while British Columbia’s usually thriving wedding industry is facing a year with little to no income.

Whether it’s event planners, caterers, florists, or even DJ’s, small businesses have borne the brunt of this impact. Even Small Business BC hasn’t been immune. Our Events Coordinator, Ruby Wang, details the impact we felt in Mid-March.

“Small Business BC had a robust year of major events planned out to support our community of entrepreneurs. After the success of the 2020 Small Business BC Awards Gala, we were excited to dive straight into other major events with that momentum. However, with the provincial quarantine hitting two weeks after the SBBC Awards, our team immediately decided to postpone these events indefinitely as safety was our number one priority.”

The Show Goes On(Line)

People working in the events industry are known for their adaptability and knack for thinking outside the box. Since March, the industry has undergone a digital revolution, with companies taking events of all sizes online while still delivering value. The wildly popular Zoom software, among several options, has made this transition a relatively smooth one, allowing organizers to broadcast events to thousands of viewers, alongside breakout rooms and opportunities for networking.

We’re likely to be living alongside COVID-19 for the foreseeable future. Event organizers must be willing to adapt to these changing times and begin planning around it.

“COVID-19 hit the Event and Hospitality sectors suddenly and hard. Events are gatherings for celebrations and connections, which the community all need during this trying time,” Ruby explains.

“SBBC pivoted fast to ensure our resources and platforms are there for our clients to come together and support one another through our Digital Meetups initiative. This free event platform allowed entrepreneurs to come together on specific issues, voice their concerns, and attain advice from industry experts. Digital Meetups have been going on for four months now, and have reached more than 1,500 individuals.”

Key Tips for Creating Successful Online Events

Event organizers have a key benefit working for them as they move online. The audience already has access to webinars and they likely spend time each week on Zoom calls. Switching to a virtual event isn’t going to be a big leap for them. Organizers must consider some foundational elements to ensure their online event is a success:

  • How to deliver value to attendees?
  • How to successfully achieve emotional buy in? And,
  • How to keep attendees interested and engaged?

Let’s investigate each of these points.

Delivering Value to Attendees

As Simon Sinek is at pains to remind us, it all starts with “why.” Begin by considering the core reason why attendees would want to attend an event. Can this “why” be replicated digitally? Education, networking and sales are some of the main reasons people attend industry events. There are several technology options to assist with delivering this value:

  • Zoom – allows several hundred attendees at once, with the ability for breakout rooms to host smaller talks or networking opportunities.
  • Microsoft Teams Live Events – perfect for education, Teams enables users to broadcast video content to a large online audience.
  • Run the World – this dedicated online event platform enables users to seamlessly host everything from small fireside chats to larger conference type events.
  • Vfairs – this robust virtual exhibition software allows event organizers to create booths for trade shows, webinars for education, and even conversation starting tools for networking.

Achieving Emotional Buy In

A key goal for event organizers is to design experiences that align with stakeholders’ and attendees’ wants and needs. Miss this mark, and it can cause damage to the brand. Hit it, and the online event will be a massive success.

While an online event doesn’t feature the benefits of face-to-face communication, it does allow organizers to create unique experiences that will emotionally resonate with the audience. Here are some examples:

  • Live Streaming – There’s nothing like a little FOMO (fear of missing out) for creating excitement. Viewers won’t want to miss the opportunity to attend sessions by live speakers. Carve out time for a questions and answers session with the speaker so audience members can participate.
  • Animated Content – consider producing brief animated snippets to sprinkle throughout presentations. Use it to walk attendees through complex ideas, or product demonstrations.
  • Panel Discussions – panel discussions are consistently the most informative and engaging sessions at events. Consider giving them more prominence, or even adding additional panels.
  • Make it Accessible and Inclusive – ensure your event is as accessible to as many attendees as possible. Provide captions and visuals where possible for audio. Try to showcase a diverse range of voices across your event.

Keeping Attendees Interested

Despite all the efforts organizers make, virtual events provide attendees with plenty of opportunities to “zone out” and click into another window. With attention at a premium, how can organizers keep attendees engaged and interested? Here are some key pointers to help:

  • Compelling Content – content is always king, but when it’s delivered in a virtual context it must pack a punch. Cut any bloat from sessions and consider devoting extra time to questions and answer sessions.
  • Live Polling – several common online event platforms offer the opportunity to insert live polls throughout the session. This small interactive element keeps attendees engaged, while also providing valuable data points.
  • Networking Opportunities – we may be physically distant, but networking is still as important as ever. Sprinkle in regular opportunities for networking. Attendees can be grouped by shared interests, goals, or even randomly.
  • Social Media – create a hashtag and encourage participation across relevant social media channels. Consider prize giveaways and challenges to encourage attendees to share their thoughts.
  • Watch the Length – sessions can feel longer in a virtual setting. Consider streamlining event programs to keep attendees laser focused on the content being presented.

The Future of Events During and After COVID-19

With all of the above in mind, what will events look like in the coming months and years? In many ways, the previously “normal” way of doing things has been discarded and there will be no going back. In-person events will always have a place but organizers will now have to consider the public health side of things. The BC CDC have created a resource page for event organizers with the latest information to be aware of.

In British Columbia, gatherings above 50 people will likely remain forbidden until a vaccine or effective, widespread treatments for COVID-19 are available. Event organizers across our province will have to get creative to plan events. Online remains safest for now, but what about when public health orders are lifted?

It’s likely a hybrid model will emerge post-COVID, with organizers offering an online component alongside a physical event. Low streaming costs, increased availability of technology and wider audience online make this decision a no-brainer for organizers.

“Virtual event platforms are emerging very quickly as people get more comfortable with our ‘new normal’. The amazing thing about the event industry is its filled with innovative and creative individuals. I have seen customized elopement wedding packages for small groups, DJ’s getting Zoom gigs for virtual meetings, vendors creating custom collateral such as mask hooks for frontline workers, and much more to pivot their businesses,” Ruby said.

“We here at SBBC have a virtual event and platform proposal in place that we are excited to share with the public very soon. COVID-19 has brought out the most kind and understanding sides of individuals, and virtual events give us the opportunity to reach beyond those near us geographically. Even though things may be a bit more challenging, I am optimistic about the future!”

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At Small Business BC, we’re committed to helping business owners reopen in a safe and successful way. Our Back to Business campaign features specific advice and guidance in the following areas:

  • Operational Health & Safety
  • Restart Strategy
  • Marketing & Communications

Alternatively, visit our BC Business COVID-19 Support Service and connect with our Business Advisors to get answers to your specific questions on reopening.

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