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An In-person Event–Is This a New Trend?

This was the year of virtual. Without skipping a beat, we moved our lives online. Thinking back, we have to shake our heads at how completely seamless it was. Classes, support groups, fundraisers and even conferences moved online.

I’m attending an old-fashioned, in-person conference in July

But I just registered for a conference in Monterey. That’s right. An in-person event. There will be speakers, breakout sessions, cocktail hours and schmoozing. After a year of meetings that required no more exertion than parking myself in front of a computer, I’m left wondering about the event format of the future.

In LinkedIn’s newly released State of Virtual Events report, 75% of event marketers worldwide say they plan to continue running virtual events. Others are developing a hybrid model that mixes virtual and in-person events.

You don’t have to be an event marketer to know that there are aspects of in-person events that we can’t replicate virtually. The organic, opportunity-generating conversations that come about through face-to-face contact. Listening to interesting speakers that generate great conversations—these are hard to replicate virtually.

We love the advantages of virtual events

One of my colleagues who was late to the Zoom environment told me recently how thrilled she was to be working online. “It’s so efficient! I can’t believe how much I’ve gotten done without even leaving my office.” Well, yes. It’s pretty hard to beat the convenience. And there’s the scalability and accessibility of turning audiences of a few hundred into thousands.

The bar has been raised on virtual—we expect a higher degree of professionalism

Virtual events have become video-driven experiences with expert speakers who know how to engage with concise, punchy presentations. There’s a real hunger for innovation. We keep raising expectations, making these events more interactive, responsive and entertaining.

So when will in-person events really stage a comeback?

I’m going to my event in July, but I really don’t know what to expect. This could be a complete bust. We’re really only just opening up after a year of Covid. Many people are still wearing masks. Still others will choose not to attend at all—just too risky. I talked to my sister-in-law in Florida, and she was shocked that I was even thinking of attending a conference. She’s barely left her home in more than a year. That was a huge reality check–we’re pretty much back to business as usual.

And then there’s the expense . . .

Just because we miss physical events doesn’t mean they’ll return in a rush. We’re still reeling from a year of Covid. It will be difficult for many companies to justify the expense of conferences—the ROI has always been difficult to quantify. Hybrid events that stream content from a physical event to a wider, virtual audience may be the best way to get the best of both formats. As confidence returns, the landscape may change.

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