New challenges with online shift

Paradigm shifts on programming and monetising opportunities are needed to sustain virtual events

Hybrid events may well be the future of the MICE industry

The extended reliance on online meeting technology during the ongoing pandemic has allowed business event organisers to be more attuned to virtual event formats, planting the seed for a hybrid model even after travel resumes and mass gatherings are allowed again.

This expectation was put forth by panellists who participated in the hour-long TTG Conversations: The end of events as we know it? webinar – the first of a series created by TTG Asia Media to help industry players stay connected during the disruptions caused by Covid-19.

Hybrid events may well be the future of the MICE industry

Held on April 29, the webinar chaired by group editor Karen Yue featured four speakers: 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.

With varying levels of border controls across the world likely to remain in the coming months, corporate restrictions on travel are not set to loosen anytime soon. As such, physical conferences and tradeshows can continue to expect challenges in terms of attracting international attendees. The panellists opined that a mix of face-to-face and virtual events will become a solution to ensure healthy participation.

Gungadin cautioned that event organisers will, however, need to rethink their event programming instead of just replicating a physical event online.

“It requires a whole new thought process… to build a great online attendee experience,” he remarked, adding that organisers must ensure virtual events are “seamless for attendees”. To achieve this, functions such as sign-on, live streaming, breakout features and Q&A capabilities should be available on a single platform.

Gungadin also emphasised that the content aspect of virtual events “is just going to get better and better very quickly” as organisers gain experience.

“Content quality has always been critical for any event. With physical events, you can play up the overall experience with great food, a stellar venue and (other elements at) the gathering. But online, you have only just the content (to impress the audience),” he added.

Additionally, delegates are often motivated to participate in events for networking purposes. Hence, organisers are also being challenged to create new ways to socialise online.

For the annual ISPIM Innovation Conference – which has been transformed into a virtual event from a live one in Berlin this June – Bitran shared that his team is preparing unique social activities. These include a pre-event live concert featuring bands from Portugal and Germany, and a professional DJ spinning live from Penang while delegates join in with their own cocktails remotely.

Meanwhile, Ciliberto suggested that gamification could be employed to encourage online audience engagement. He explained that delegates could earn points by joining sessions or answering trivia questions; with the points being used to redeem digital gifts like a Starbucks gift card.

One other topic brought up was a common misconception surrounding virtual events – the cost. While organising a virtual event requires just as much effort as planning a physical one, with cost savings from venue rental and F&B being channelled instead to technology and technical support, Bitran said it was common for the audience to believe that virtual events should be free to attend.

“It is critical to monetise a virtual event as you do with a physical event,” said Ciliberto, who suggested that organisers facilitate paid one-to-one engagements online, bring advertising opportunities onto the interface, and allow sponsors to facilitate or speak on webinars.

“You want your event to have good ROI, be it in terms of good engagement or financial benefits. There needs to be some (way to achieve) sustainability,” he added.
At present, Bitran’s team is implementing honour-based pricing for the virtual ISPIM Innovation Conference; delegates who can afford it can offer to pay more. “An ISPIM conference usually costs around €800 (US$864) to attend, but a fair amount now would be around €300,” he said.

Another group of industry players that would need to adapt to the industry’s shift to hybrid events are venues. Tan shared that Wi-Fi infrastructure, service support and technical know-how will influence her venue decision-making.

“(We are looking for) insights from the venue on how to work with their space (in delivering a hybrid event). Having that ability to help organisers conceptualise what they could achieve would make the venue more compelling,” she noted. – Additional reporting by Karen Yue

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