At the end of 2020, experts were predicting that life would start to feel more normal beginning in Summer 2021 and heading into the fall. So far, those predictions are holding true. And while things certainly aren’t back to normal in the United States—and likely won’t be for a long time—there are still feelings of relief and hope across the country. Like all industries severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the event industry is eager to resume its activity calendar. But after a year and a half of going virtual, do those same virtual events have a place in 2021? Will we be able to use all our newfound skills in the coming years?
The short answer is Yes.
If you’ve invested in new equipment, made accommodations to your agendas, and learned how to develop meaningful connections online—your efforts are not going to waste! With live-streamed weddings, virtual concerts, and digital conferences, the event industry showed the world just how flexible it is. And the tips and tricks you learned along the way are still useful in 2021 and beyond.
For starters, the country isn’t completely open right now. Many states are rescinding mask requirements, and in-person events are popping up for those who can provide proof of vaccination. But even those policies vary by state and by city. So while we may be feeling a rush to host in-person events again, it still isn’t happening—or even allowed—in some areas.
In addition to that, finding new ways to connect with your audience is never a bad thing! You can certainly keep live streaming your events and using virtual platforms, especially if you’ve expanded your audience over the past 18 months. With digital events, location doesn’t matter, so you may have reached a whole new demographic. And you certainly don’t want to lose them! So we absolutely believe that virtual events have a place in 2021.
But the long answer is more complicated.
Of course, nothing about this pandemic has been simple or straightforward, and real-life application is always a little complicated. Although we advocate for keeping virtual events, you should still consider the needs of your business and your audience. Over the past 18 months, virtual events were our only option, especially on a large scale. Now, we have the option to plan in-person events again. It’s up to you (and your team!) to weigh the pros, cons, risks, and benefits of virtual and in-person events. We’ll advocate to make room for virtual events in 2021 and beyond—but it’s certainly not a requirement. If it’s not the right fit for you, opt for in person.
Virtual events have a lot of benefits.
We’ve hinted at some of the benefits of virtual events already, like reaching a broader audience. But virtual events offer much more than that. While you need to use the right equipment, you likely already have what you need to live stream an event. And the popular video conferencing programs are either free or low-cost, which is perfect for your budget.
Because location doesn’t matter for virtual event, you can reach a broad audience. And you can reach more people at once, too. You’re not limited by venue capacity, and you’re not limited by venues in your immediate area. Instead, you can host a virtual event from your home or office. You can even book a smaller, more affordable spot for guaranteed privacy.
In addition, your overall event planning budget is probably lower, now, too. When you remove venue costs and food and drink prices, your budget needs shrink. Of course, that balances out with any equipment fees and the cost of mailing event materials or swag. But in general, the cost of a virtual event is less than that of an in-person one. Coupled with a larger audience size, virtual events can really make a positive influence on your budget—a welcome improvement in the wake of COVID-19.
Even still, some events are better in person.
No matter how much money virtual events may save you or your company, some events are simply better in person. And that’s OK! While we’re making room for virtual events, not every event needs to be—or should be—virtual. For example, weddings are a lot more fun in person. You may still choose to live stream your ceremony for friends and family who can’t travel. But that post-nuptial celebration is better with everyone by your side.
Still, there are conferences and work retreats that are just better in person, too. Although this year has shown us how much we can do remotely, spending time in person with coworkers boosts morale and encourages collaboration. Employees may be productive at home, but some form of in-person engagement is still an important part of working together. (Even if it’s a quarterly mixer or company event!)
The conclusion? Customize your event around your needs.
In short, virtual events have a place in 2021 (and beyond). But you should consider your budget, goals, and audience when choosing the right format. Just because in-person events are on the rise doesn’t mean you have to go back to the “old” way of doing things. However, if that “old” way works better for you—do it!
If you fall somewhere in the middle, consider alternating formats or live streaming certain parts of your in-person event. The “old” way may have worked well for you then, but the world has changed since the start of the pandemic. People may prefer to attend from the comfort of their home now. And it’s important to remember that the event industry changed because it had to. We were all forced inside; it may take a while to figure out the new landscape of events. In the meantime, we vote to keep virtual events around.