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Event Horizon: Episode 1 - Adaptability

By Parul Shah

Today, everyone in the events industry is asking when the pandemic will end — but that is not the right question to be asking. The right question is: How do we continue? In episode 1 of our new Event Horizon series, Parul Shah shares how we can adapt as an industry following COVID-19.


Hello and thank you for tuning in to the very first episode of Event Horizon, the first of many to come.

My name is Parul Shah, that’s Carl with a “P” and I am a Senior Director of Strategy and Data at Freeman.

Now that you’ve tuned in, you’re probably wondering what these episodes are all about. So, let me tell you. As we’re all aware, in just a few short months, the pandemic has changed perceptions and behaviors of the world to a degree typically seen only over years and decades.

And as overwhelming as the situation is, the number of studies, articles, and research published in the past few months is equally exhausting. I know this personally because I have spent weeks upon weeks digesting and synthesizing all forms of research. And what I am finding is that there is a lot of information coming from various directions but what we’re not seeing is a comprehensive analysis, one that incorporates how people feel, what they are doing, and what their expectations are and all of this through the lens of our world — events and experiences.

So we here at Freeman want to fill that void.

The experience ecosystem as you all know has many constituents. We have attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, partners and so forth. In order for us to really understand the impact and implications to our industry, we need to take an integrated view of this entire ecosystem. So during each episode, I’ll unpack research from each major constituent and highlight what you need to know now and next.

Speaking of research, we know adults have about a 10-minute attention span, so our time together will be limited to five minutes. If you commit to giving me five minutes, then I’ll commit to giving you tangible and actionable insights. While I may not have all the answers — yes, I said that out loud — what I do have is perspective. I have a point of view that’s grounded in ongoing research that I can share with you. I’m happy to take any requests that you may have as well. We’ll bring in industry experts as well my peers from time to time.

So let’s dive into what you need to know now.

Today, everyone in our industry is asking when this will end, but that is not the right question to be asking.

The right question is how do we continue?

And the answer is adaptation. And we adapt by listening, learning, and responding.

Right now, it feels impossible to predict what the world will look like next week, let alone next year. Regardless of the longer-term possibilities, the short-term effects are already here. Yes, people are seeking out normalcy, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they are going back to their old ways. In fact, research reveals that we are already witnessing changes in behaviors could be long lasting, creating permanent new patterns. Society is adapting, and so must we — and data shows that some in our industry are.

One form of adaptation we’re seeing based on Freeman’s recent study among event and brand marketers is incorporating a digital component to their live events. 52% of the respondents indicated they will have a digital component to all their events moving forward. The same study reveals that about ⅓ of marketers will host smaller events with less than 100 participants. The third form of adaptation we’re seeing from secondary research is an increase in regional or local events — specifically a 20% increase over the next 12-18 months. Perhaps the most surprising insight for me was a finding from PCMA’s wave one study reported that 51% have considered developing a new skill set, ranging from learning about digital technology to brushing up on contract and negotiation skills.

And our current attendee pulse survey reveals an attendee confidence level of .47, which indicates an uncertain state of mind. 61% of attendees indicated they do not have enough information to make decisions on when to attend an in-person event.

As event professionals, we can’t necessarily control the external circumstances forced upon us. What we can control, however, is how we prepare for them and more importantly plan for them. Whether you are adapting existing plans to handle this outbreak or starting from scratch, adapting enables us to emerge stronger post crisis as well as gain a competitive advantage.

Disruption is an opportunity for change. We need to think about building a business model that can grow, adapt, and evolve not just for this moment in time, but for longer term success. Regardless of how the situation evolves, you still need to engage with your audiences, generate revenue, and drive business growth.

I’ll end by saying if you stop focusing on the "when" and start thinking about the "how," you’ll find that you’re capable of thriving with disruption — no matter how long it may be.

Next episode is about listening. Listening to what our attendees are telling us. As I mentioned earlier, Freeman recently conducted an attendee pulse survey among 3,500 past attendees to gain a baseline of their sentiment and behaviors. I’ll share with you our findings from this survey as well as what that means for you now and next.

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