The Future of Events, by 360X’s Cajetan Afonso and Tania Afonso

By Cajetan Afonso and Tania Afonso, co-founders of 360X.

Event management as an industry is constantly evolving with technology & audience experience being at its core. The pandemic saw this ever-changing industry transform into virtual events. As experiential marketing professionals, if the canvas had changed from arenas and ballrooms to phones and laptops, we needed to design the best audience experience for this new canvas.

People have been networking virtually for well over a decade now, by way of social media, be it to connect with family and friends or to find jobs, companions, etc. Virtual connections have proven to build stronger ties and lets attendees connect with Speakers and other high-level personnel that they would not necessarily have access to in person. It also allows for in-depth analytics that helps improve on the user journey and better the experience with every passing event and its learnings. However – this cannot be emphasised enough – virtual events are far more than just a live webinar. It’s about creating a holistic experience for your audience and making them soak in the brand and what it has to offer.

However, now with more and more countries lifting lockdowns and giving a green light to live events, marketers are spending a lot of time trying to strike the perfect balance of live and virtual interactions. Brands across the globe have been able to expand their reach via virtual events. Even with live events kicking off it’s important for them to continue engaging the virtual audience that may not be able to travel or may simply prefer attending an event virtually. Giving attendees this choice is paramount. This is where hybrid comes in.

Letting guests attend an event in a way that’s most comfortable for them is going to become increasingly important. Even when live events return, many people are still going to prefer staying in and not travel. By shifting to hybrid events, brands take a customer-first approach and let the guests decide how they’d like to engage – physically or virtually. Adding virtual components to live events will continue to see greater focus with its increased reach across borders and thus better monetisation opportunities.

Statistics show that 66.5% of event professionals are already planning to use hybrid as their go-to format once in-person events resume (source- EventMB). And according to Forbes.com, acceleration in the Virtual Events space will outsize previous revenue estimates of $404 billion by 2027.  These statistics do not surprise us and the last year has made the benefits of Virtual and Hybrid events clear.

  1. Health and safety: With countries still going through new waves and variants of the virus, audiences may feel safer to participate virtually.
  2. Cost efficiency: The cost-benefit to event producers and attendees cannot be ignored.
  3. Amplification and reach: While physical events will be produced with limited audience sizes, the virtual clone of these events will give brands the opportunity to achieve extended reach and engagement across borders
  4. The flexibility that it provides content creators and audiences: content can now be live and virtual. The efficient use of time makes it enticing to speakers and audiences.
  5. Longevity: Virtual and hybrid events allow organizers to extend the life of the event and make the content accessible to guests for much longer
  6. Sustainability: encouraging attendees to use digital versions of brochures, business cards, etc is an underlying benefit of going hybrid.

As event producers, there needs to be an equal focus on the on-ground and the virtual aspect of the event. The audience experience is paramount, whether they are seated in the venue or attending the event virtually. While hybrid could mean live streaming from the venue to a virtual audience, platforms are expected to create a more immersive experience, like creating a digital twin of the physical event and letting audiences on the ground and virtually engage seamlessly. We shouldn’t be thinking of virtual as a compromise, but rather a foray into a new line of business and technology and pursue it with the same vigour and enthusiasm of a physical event.

With technology and design evolving across the realm by leaps and bounds, we have seen virtual events take on several interesting forms as well. ‘Tomorrowland’ as a case study proves the above. An on-ground festival that usually saw an audience size of approximately 400,000 had 25 million unique users for its virtual edition. The reason for audience traction is simply because Tomorrowland is known for its fantastic audience experience and the virtual audiences were certain that it would be more than just a stream. It was a truly digital festival. Another example is a virtual event we hosted for Panasonic. Hosted on a stunning virtual island, the environment was embellished with everything on brand, right from the colours and textures to the ambient music and more. While the event was targeting dealers from 8 different markets, each attendee was only privy to content pertaining to his/her market and got a sense of exclusivity while giving the Panasonic team the convenience of hosting a multi-country event simultaneously.

Virtual and Hybrid is now integral to the overall event experience and technology is improving. We will soon move into the adoption of true VR, wearables, etc and find ourselves even more immersed in events from the comfort of our homes. While we are all looking forward to live events, there’s no argument that live, virtual and hybrid must co-exist and the event industry needs to adapt to this new normal.