Amidst the Pandemic, Government Still Gathers: How Professional Events Are Adapting

The events market was among the first industries to feel the impact of the coronavirus and will continue to feel its effects for months to come. GovEvents looked at the impact on the government events market and found that 22% of events listed on the site were canceled with no plans to reschedule in 2020. This means many missed opportunities for professional development, best practices sharing, and introduction to new technologies for public sector professionals. But as with many industries, the events market is quickly adapting and finding ways to provide education, development and collaboration for government professionals hungry to learn.

The Event Is Canceled, but Learning Is Not.

Organizations that had events planned for early March through this summer had to decide whether to cancel, postpone, or move their events online. For many, canceling their government events was not an option. They had enthusiastic government speakers with stories to share and an audience thirsty for information. In fact, 26% of live events on GovEvents scheduled for March 16 or later moved to virtual.

DataRobot's AI Experience conference was scheduled for March 19. This one-day, in-person event brought together government leaders to discuss how they were using and how they wanted to use artificial intelligence (AI) to further their mission. DataRobot had planned to live stream the event as early as February since they were already getting news that registrants would not be able to travel so they had a streaming company and equipment ready to go. On March 11, gatherings of more than 250 were prohibited and DataRobot already had 550 registered so they began moving to a virtual format. A few days later it became clear they would not be able to get the speakers to the venue either, so they pivoted once again and moved it all to a remote stream.

"Even with just about one week to move to a fully virtual conference, we were committed to making it happen," said Karen Scott, senior director of marketing, public sector with DataRobot. "We already had our speaker prep calls and were so excited about what they were going to share, we wanted to find some way to make sure these stories and experience got out to our audience."

The event streamed on March 19 to around 250 attendees.

Each year, Amazon Web Services (AWS) hosts the AWS Public Sector Summit to bring together peers from across government agencies, nonprofits, schools and universities to learn about building and scaling in the cloud. Now more than ever, people are tuned into their government's responses, and public sector leaders are leveraging cloud solutions to reach people and provide secure and remote services. To make sure that customers and partners have the most up-to-date information, AWS shifted to a virtual platform and rescheduled the event for June 30. The online summit gave attendees on-demand access to 25 sessions that they could watch on their schedule, creating a fully customizable learning experience. For those who attended live, the presentations included gamification techniques to keep engagement high and remove the temptation to check email halfway through.

"With organizations relying on technology more than ever, we still wanted to create something valuable and educational during this time while people are being introduced to new tools and new ways of doing business," said Cathy Lonergan, director, global public sector and executive marketing at AWS. "With the virtual Summit format, we were still able to bring the latest tactics, cloud use cases, and best practices around using technology to meet the demand the public sector has for education, enabling our customers to learn from each other's successes and continue to build their digital plans."

Online Events Time to Shine

With online events emerging as the "safe" choice for organizations looking to provide attendees with some form of content in the coming months, event organizers and attendees alike are becoming more familiar and comfortable with virtual event platforms, and their use is increasing. Julie Denworth, vice president of marketing at Carahsoft Technology Corp., reports that the total number of webinars they are hosting for their partners is up by 114% over last year at this time. They are also seeing a 285% increase in people registering for webinars and a 385% increase in registrants attending webinars over March-May 2019.

"We're seeing webinars happen at different times than typical," said Denworth. "No longer is it a Tuesday-Thursday lunchtime activity; webinars are happening all week at varying times from first thing in the morning to later afternoon. Also, we're seeing more demand for shorter webinars or on-demand options where people can watch 10-15 minutes at a time."

The move to online events has also opened up the attendee base for many events--now allowing a global audience to attend and access the learning. Some companies, like Pure Storage, are cross pollinating their commercial and government customers. Traditionally, government customers would not travel for a mainly commercially focused show even if there was applicable content for them. Now with the content online, they can participate in events with private sector counterparts, learning from their best practices.

"Our government audiences are embracing the move toward online events and learning," said Marci Neill, director, U.S. public sector marketing with Pure Storage. "With this interest, our team's focus is on being flexible and collaborative in implementing new and creative online experiences."

What's Next?

As social distancing restrictions and fears ease, we'll start to see more in-person events. At GovEvents we've seen about half of the events listed on the site move their event date to a time where in-person meetings may be permissible with 38% pushing to summer (late June - August), another 33% pushing to fall (September - November) and 29% moving to winter (December - February 2021). We are also now seeing some previously rescheduled events rescheduling again as summer dates are not looking promising for in-person events.

Moving forward, the success organizations have seen with online events will inform how all events are planned. Online will likely be a part of every event, whether as a back-up or as a supplement to increase event exposure and participation. The techniques that worked to engage and educate people online can be carried over to in-person gatherings, increasing the gamification and personal connections with speakers and presenters. We're excited to see what innovations come from this time we've spent together online and how they influence both in-person and online interactions in the future.


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