Hybrid events of the future bring fresh challenges

This is the first of a series of webinars targeted at the MICE industry

As hybrid events – a mix of face-to-face and virtual solutions – are set to shape events of the future, the formats of programming to meet event KPIs, such as audience engagement and monetising, will be the new challenges organisers have to be ready to tackle.

These observations and concerns were shared at the hour-long TTG Conversations: The end of events as we know it? webinar, the first of a series. Chaired by Karen Yue, group editor of TTG Asia Media, the panellists were Iain Bitran, executive director, The International Society for Professional Innovation Management (ISPIM); Veemal Gungadin, CEO, GlobalSign.In; Joe Ciliberto, global director, sales and marketing, EventsAir; and Cheryl Tan, head of events, TTG Events.

This is the first of a series of webinars targeted at the MICE industry

Gungadin stated: “Online events shouldn’t be about replicating a physical event. It requires a whole new thought process and medium, to build a great attendee experience online.”

This includes making it seamless for attendees, such as having to integrate elements like a single sign-on function and a live-streaming platform, plus offering content that will value-add such as breakout or Q&A sessions.

In addition, when ISPIM moved its conference this year online, Bitran also made it a point to engage attendees by including social elements ranging from a pre-event live concert, a DJ spinning live from Penang, to a cocktail drinking-networking session.

Ciliberto agreed that the way organisers engage online should be a top priority, and suggested gamification as one of the ways. For instance, delegates who join a session or answer a trivia question can earn points, which can then be used to redeem digital gifts like a Starbucks gift card.

But Gungadin cautioned that digital events can become consumer media, like watching sports shows with high-level engagement commercials in between.

“Online events is really about the content itself, as opposed to a face-to-face experience (where food, interactions, and the venue comes into play). If the content is bad, that’s it,” he said.

The other challenge, or opportunity, is how can one monetise digital events.

Bitran revealed that many people expected online events to be free, but that was not possible, and that virtual events entailed more work.

“A usual ISPIM conference costs around €800 (US$875), but a fair amount now would be around €300. We also brought in an honour-based pricing (where those who can afford to pay more do), which fits the current situation,” Bitran said. Meanwhile, for sponsors who are coming onboard for next year, he indicated they will also acknowledge them this year as well.

“At the end of the day, you want your event to have good ROI, be it good engagement or financial; there needs to be some sustainability there,” quipped Ciliberto.

Tan highlighted that she would also be looking at the capabilities of venues to facilitate hybrid events in the near future, where Wi-Fi, service support and technical know-how would come into consideration.

“One area that we would find valuable are insights or ideas from the venue which help us think about what we can do with their space. A venue is just four walls, with some still requiring to pay for Wi-Fi. Having that soft skill, and the ability to help organisers conceptualise what they could possibly achieve, would make it compelling to choose that venue,” she noted.

And while Bitran was against conducting anything virtual prior to this pandemic, he acknowledges that future hybrid events are a boon for the industry.

“Virtual events could benefit possible attendees from developing countries who can’t afford to attend the actual event,” he pointed out.

Tan agreed that hybrid arrangements can solve challenges typically faced at virtual events, and even value-add.

“One example is attendance and hosting with capacity limits. With a virtual component, delegates who can’t travel due to travel restrictions, or with limited time schedules, are still able to participate remotely.”

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