Events around the world ground to a halt when COVID-19 unleashed itself and the world began taking preventative measures – even in the face of devastating economic effects.
Now we wonder what an event after COVID-19 might look like.
Business growth does not simply stem from a new idea manufactured into product fruition – that is a fact still clear and relevant in today’s markets. Business is people, and people are complex in their behaviour and thinking, requiring a heady balance of inspired stimulation and pragmatic structure.
We already have a finite pool of things we buy, places we go to, and things we need and want. Whether new or repackaged old, the basic consumer only pays attention to the different, when you convince them it’s worth their time – and just like an Elevator Pitch – then time is of the essence.
The Industrial Revolution saw the need for time carved out of schedules, in order to specifically facilitate collaboration and business growth, thus meetings and events became a staple. Wining and dining blended with ‘shop talk’, is now something many are familiar with, as meeting and event planners realised the business benefits of capitalising on physiology with sense activation. Now we toast, indulge, share information, and celebrate launches while networking, and finalising deals.
Did you know that the infamous Egyptian ruler Cleopatra is considered to be the first known event planner? It is said that she hosted the most opulent meetings in ardent pursuit of her would-be lovers. In one vivid story told about her attempts to impress Mark Anthony, it is said that she, the descendant of one of Alexander the Great’s companions, once entered a meeting drifting down the Nile River, on a boat wafting with perfume, and filled with candles – a dramatic entrance which would still stand on merit today.
One thing that the jarring COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore is exactly who and what is vital to an event and its success though. As someone who works these spaces behind-the-scenes and in-front, I can’t help but ruminate on what the uncertain potential is, and how it will unfold.
COVID-19 has been as much a devastating pandemic as it has been a wake-up call for most on the socially accepted but cavalier disregard we have for everyday health and safety while socially interacting.
The variable of health and safety was always thought to generally be at the back of most event attendees’ minds. However, the advent of COVID-19 has made health and safety a factor as pivotal as what you are toasting, who will be there, and what you’re wearing.
If you have to consider the very nature of eventing language, most of it is now taboo in action; ‘Movers and shakers’, ‘rubbing shoulders with’ etc. now bear far more literal constraints, when considering who makes the event list, what is served, how it is delivered, and more. Seating charts will likely now be as stringent as fine dining establishments, with the measurement of chairs and silverware placement, the groupings of people, food choices etc.
Think of the speaker who loves engaging crowds in more boisterous ways –- walking between tables and aisles, high-fiving, and passing microphones along for some crowd work – that’s off the table for a safe, post-COVID-19 eventing space.
Events are an ideal time to get together with a curated list of relevant people in order to connect, share information, and launch new ideas. Drama often makes for a good talking point days after an event, but recently, it seems that eventing innovation is consistently pushed by global catastrophes, as well as a yearning for even more modes of comfort.
There has been a defining paradigm shift in 2020, fast-tracked by the onslaught of COVID-19. We know that the introduction of cellphones and the internet has played a really impactful role in event planning’s gradual change. The post-pandemic world though, now seems to be slated to have social interaction evolved even further by improving IT networks, as well as various social media and conferencing platforms.
Justin Heymen, X-Stream co-founder, says that his company “dove straight into live digital events, as we felt it would be the new norm for the foreseeable future. We learnt a few important things about hosting a digital event in comparison to live events”.
So, it is left to event managers and planners, to adapt in this anticipated dynamic environment, and facilitate these types of distant-but-connecting interactions, in the new normal.
The director of S (Squared) Creative Projects, Sean Lane, offered up some of the best advice for event planners as far as selling a vision in the new event landscape: “…develop and cultivate an authentic unique selling point aimed at the digital market. The market is already crowded so take the time to research and develop a unique act or offering that stands out.”
If you beg the question of what a post-COVID-19 events world will look like, well predictions by pros say:
Things will be the same – just more elevated through technology
Thuli Zulu, the managing director at CREA8 International, says that the eventing space “will return to its normal state, however, there will be a more sophisticated virtual participation. Human intelligence meeting artificial intelligence”.
Heyman gets specific about how his team is executing digital events, listing these facts:
- An experienced crew with great creative vision is integral
- Internet speed plays an important role for both the streamer and the audience member. Make sure the fibre line is at least 50mb/s in order to stream 1080p HD video quality.
- The studio must be visually appealing, unique to the event, and must look good on camera.
- Visually, the lighting, AV and effects need to be well thought out in terms of the strategic placement and quantity of fixtures in relation to the camera angles, and the amount of ‘white’ light in relation to the colour lighting, so as to ensure all the features of the artist can be clearly seen on camera.
- Multiple camera angles ensure all the correct elements of the performance are captured. This is vital as this is the only way the audience connects with the artist. At least one roaming camera is highly recommended to enhance the experience.
Events are going smaller and more virtual
At a glance, a smaller event, targeted exactly at the necessary people (tastemakers, thought leaders, consumers, and decision-makers) seems to have the immediate payoff of being more fiscally responsible. Smaller also implies more control over the experience, the narrative shared among attendees, and the ability to track feedback through the information disseminators.
The virtual potential involving the eventing space is also incredible. Nadia Singh, digital and events manager at The Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, predicts that “…we will certainly see more virtual options – online events have been a saving grace for the MICE industry over the last few months and this platform will continue to exist and evolve with more tech”.
Return on investment is paramount, and success is in the sales follow-through
In a world constrained physically, the luxuries of the past will be traded in for function and form in terms of utility. Return on investment, will be a powerful deciding force – as it should be in the nature of any spend in this category.
Sean Lane brings expectations down realistically, making the economic observation that, “Prior to the global pandemic, South Africa had experienced an economic downturn to say the least and with that regard already had dire effects on the South African event industry in general.
“Post COVID-19 I predict further economic downturns which will hit all industries with a roll-on effect in terms of corporate and entertainment budgets for events, sponsorship and marketing. The event companies and agencies that manage to keep their lights on will not only have a smaller pool of work available to pitch for, but will have to be beyond nimble with lower budgets and potentially higher client expectations and greater ROI demanded.”
The very best in the industry have insights to share should you need a guide on what your eventing strategy should take into consideration.
Focus on niche events with a specific reach
“We can expect smaller more intimate events going forward, which mean a dedicated audience and personalised interaction,” says Singh.
Ever asked yourself why movie premieres, the Met Gala, Wimbledon tournaments, San Diego Comic Convention, and even The Academy Awards, remain hot tickets every year to global audiences? There is an incentive tactic, in exclusivity, and having only glimpses into the inner circles and their favoured haunts and activities.
Celebrity hosts are one mainstream way to get an incline in engagement and entertainment value. There too, are other avenues event planners need to consider, that all start with the allocation of a budget that ensures eyeballs, key bodies present, or abundant coffers from ticket or product sales.
Focusing on niche events with specific reach, is a smart move for anybody whose event requires more than simple view validity.
Be smart about your platforms
Stephnie McCarthy, project manager at Clockwork Media SA, shares this tip for the virtual eventing space: “Choose the right platform for your event – look at your audience and decide where is best, which method is the easiest for all involved to host. Question the different functionalities you need for the specific event.”
This is an instrumental part of event success. You have got to understand the concept of ‘relevance’ – from the location you choose, to the way you invite people. What is appropriate needs to be revitalised with what is also inspired, and so event planners need to think more on the applications of Virtual Reality, gamification, hybrid events, and not just webinars.
Heyman says the correct streaming platform “will allow the best form of interaction between the audience and the artist. Patrons would want to feel part of the event and having a live comment section, adds value to the experience”.
If immediate sales are your event objective, then there should be a portable store already positioned in your event space. Should the money be in the number of eyeballs tuned in, then what you have on-screen must progressively entice viewers to not only watch now, but tune in through their various devices later too – see the Kardashian-Jenner pop culture phenomenon for reference.
Be conscious of timing
No one likes their time wasted and research across the field of medicine as well as media and advertising, has shown the gradual decline of extended concentration spans in people. The lack of more time to make an impression means that while you plan your event, you have got to pack impactful messages in palatable doses throughout.
Being smart about the platform you have also includes being aware of day-to-day schedules, location preferences, popular times of the day people would consider attending or tuning into something, and most especially about how long your audience will be fully engaged in what your event topic is about.
Keep in mind that less is more; a simple idea, rolled out straightforward, will likely result in your expected follow-through, as long as it’s fundamentally a seamless addition to a consumer’s personal or professional lives.
It has been both a challenge and a gain for me to be pushed so swiftly into doing what I had already envisioned as the future of my business, entrenched more into the virtual space.
It is not hard to imagine that there are others who are still grappling for a firmer foothold – whether they are technophobes with an aversion for moving with the times, or just because this new world was not yet planned for.
Regardless, for the great majority, the adoption of virtual conferences has been a move made out of a necessity to not only survive, but to thrive. However, it is irrefutable that in-person events will always have their place between the slated eventing efficiencies, economies of scale, and trends.
Liezel van der Westhuizen, is a virtual emcee and digital trainer at The Giraffe Brand Academy. Here, her mission as a personal brand coach is to assist clients to stick their necks out and cultivate their power to stand tall and be unique. This, she believes, is the key to marketplace success.