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Event Horizon: Episode 2 - Listening

By Parul Shah


Hello and welcome to Event Horizon. I’m your host Parul Shah.

If you’re tuning in for the first time, don’t forget to catch our first episode, which was all about adaptation — specifically the need to quickly respond to the now while looking ahead to find ways to engage with your audiences and drive business growth. I mentioned that we adapt by listening, learning, and responding. Today’s episode is all about listening: listening to what attendees are saying about events, and what that means for you as you plan your event calendar in the next two to 18 months.

Freeman recently conducted an attendee pulse survey among 3,500 past event attendees that spans more than seven industries and multiple titles including C-level executives, physicians, and technical professionals. Wave one of this study reveals three major findings that I want you to keep in mind as you look to innovative and adapt to meet the rapidly shifting behaviors of your audiences.

So, if you’re going to remember anything from our time together today, remember these three takeaways. Ready? Go ahead, you’re going to want to write these down.

#1: Expect to see an increase in online event participation post-pandemic.

#2: Online event participants have higher expectations for delivery and execution of online events.

And #3: 56% expect to return to in-person events by winter of this year.

Let’s unpack each a little more.

Our first takeaway from the survey highlights how people have quickly discovered the benefits of virtual meetings and meet-ups.

78% of the survey respondents expect to increase online event participation post-pandemic. And with an increase on one side, we see a decrease on the flip side. About 70% expect to attend fewer branded conferences and conventions. And of all the sector participants, Healthcare respondents stated they’ll attend fewer in-person and more online than any other sector.

Now let’s just pause for a moment, because I don’t want anyone to think that the survey is indicating that in-person events are going away — because they’re not! 40% of the respondents say that online content is not a substitute for in-person learning. Despite the uncertain environment that surrounds us, there is no reason to believe in-person events will cease to exist.

But it might be a while before we see live events resurface as we once knew them pre-pandemic…and perhaps they may never look the same. For now, it’s apparent that online content consumption has come of age as more and more people feel comfortable being online. And this affinity for online learning is not just going to disappear according to survey respondents. Hence expect to see an increase in online event participation post-pandemic.

Our second takeaway pertains to challenges participants face with online experiences. No doubt people today are facing an increasing number of distractions at home, and suffering from digital fatigue, but the top challenges from the survey point to speaker preparedness and content strategy.

38% cited issues with speakers who are not properly trained to present on a digital platform and 37% indicated that they found speakers to be flat and unable to keep their interest.

On the content side, 37% stated there was just too much content squeezed into online events and 27% said the sessions were too long.

It’s important to remember that it’s not about replicating your live event online. It’s about recalculating traditional assumptions of engagement, content, learning, and interactivity. This pandemic could essentially serve as a reset button for our industry. So, with that in mind design online events to be an experiential extension of your live event not an exact copy of it. Keep in mind, that online as a medium affords us extraordinary control of content and messaging.

Our last takeaway is giving us some visibility into when we can expect people to return to in person events. Our research shows that 40% plan to attend by fall of this year, and that number jumps to 56% through winter of 2020.

It’s important to note, though, that 61% of the respondents stated that they don’t have enough information today to make any decisions on when to attend an in-person event. Tech and healthcare respondents see themselves attending large event closer to Spring of 2021 while manufacturing is more hopeful and aiming for fall of this year.

Let me also add a caveat and say this sentiment reflects a moment in time. It will likely change as the situation changes. We’ll have data from wave two mid-June, so it’ll be interesting to see how these attitudes and mindsets are changing over the course of the month.

So let’s recap our 3 takeaways, even though I know they are deeply seeded in your head by now.

#1: Expect to see an increase in online event participation post-pandemic.

#2: Online event participants have higher expectations for delivery and execution of online events.

And #3: 56% expect to return to in person events by winter of this year.

So what you need to know now is listen to what the data is telling us, and what you need to do next is adapt your strategy and approach for both in-person and online events to meet the expectations of your audiences.

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