2022 has been one of my most event-heavy years to date. This reality is something I would have had a hard time believing while sheltered in place with my family throughout much of 2020 and 2021, but it is my reality, nonetheless. In attending these events, shaking hands and looking people in the eye without the aid of a telecommunication platform, I’ve been reminded of the power in-person events possess.
I’ve also been reminded that all those lessons we learned holding virtual events throughout the pandemic shouldn’t simply be forgotten. In-person events are back, but they could, and should, look a little different moving forward.
Embracing a hybrid mindset
My company has been a distributed workforce since day one, but we still meet for a company-wide summit once a year. 2022 marked our first summit since the pandemic hit, and we were committed to keeping everyone engaged and safe.
For companies looking to do the same, consider handing out goodie bags full of hand sanitizer, rapid COVID-19 tests and stickers indicating how comfortable you are with physical proximity to help establish the right tone. From there, the virtual realm can help open doors previously inaccessible through a strictly in-person event experience.
Keynote speakers, for example, can attend events remotely to offer insight and education without traveling. While some speakers might still choose to make the trip and speak in person, it cannot be denied that certain speakers might be more inclined to become involved with your event if they can attend remotely.
Remote experiences have value, and so do in-person experiences. Still, we can build further connections when we adopt a hybrid mindset and combine these two separate lines of thought.
Creating connections through digital tools
In the same way, public health should be prioritized for those ready to return to in-person events, as should the experience for those not quite ready. The mass migration to the digital realm through remote technologies has imbued us with many tools that should not simply be abandoned now that public safety is in a better place. Creating events that utilize the right kind of digital tools can both recreate the in-person experience for those not in attendance while enhancing the experience for those showing up in person.
For example, Salesforce, a partner of Cloud for Good, shifted its largest conference to virtual in 2020 before expanding it as a hybrid event in 2021. Their goal was to offer an online experience comparable to the in-person experience to those who still felt safest attending from home. In 2022, the company utilized a proprietary streaming service to complement the in-person experience by supplying on-demand training and online resources.
To offer a successful experience this way, it is important to treat the in-person attendee experience and the experience of those more comfortable attending from home with the same level of respect and intention. Ensure speakers and sessions are recorded and organize at-home watch parties for staff to join together and discuss the content in real-time. Also, ensure that all recordings are available on-demand to all internal staff. The last thing you want to do is create a culture of exclusivity that makes those at home feel subjugated to a lesser experience.
The in-person and online event experiences should not be viewed as opposites but as complementary components that can unlock a truly heightened experience when mindfully meshed as one. Ask yourself how you can leverage the virtual world to bolster the in-person experience. Digital toolsets can be leveraged during and after the event to offer additional educational or connective opportunities while housing all content to be viewed and shared long after the event concludes.
Building on a virtual foundation
Earlier this year, Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation held its largest nationwide fundraising campaign: Take Steps. A hybrid campaign through and through, Take Steps combines local community networking with an all-encompassing nationwide goal of raising funds and awareness through in-person and virtual walks.
As the foundation is based out of New York City, the flagship in-person event takes place at Pier 16 at the South Street Seaport in New York each year, where thousands of participants connect with patients, families, healthcare providers and organizations to walk together and build a supportive atmosphere based around community outreach.
In the lead-up to this NYC event, individuals and companies form unique fundraisers using the foundation’s website infrastructure and social media platforms that allow participants to encourage donations through their own circles of influence and even promote gift-matching programs for companies. On the day of the big walk, participants in New York gathered in person, while supporters around the country recorded their own walks online in conjunction with the in-person walks.
Many organizations and companies are realizing that the virtual foundation set out of necessity during the pandemic is not a replacement for in-person events. Rather, it is a vital tool that enhances the in-person event through virtual accompaniment.
In-person events will always have value, especially in an increasingly digital world. We must create a space for in-person networking and recognize the importance of the face-to-face meeting. It’s equally important, however, that we do not waste the invaluable advances in remote technology and virtual experiences that the pandemic helped accelerate.
Building a digital toolset that helps accentuate the event experience opens pathways to continual learning, increases collaboration for those who prefer virtual participation, and keeps your people both informed and safe as more and more events return. Events will only continue to evolve; make sure you’re learning from lessons of the past and creating a better experience for the future.