When Will I See You Again? The Future of Federal Events

The impact of the coronavirus will have a long-lasting effect on the events market. At GovEvents we saw 22% of events listed on the site canceled with no plans to reschedule in 2020 and another 26% of live, in-person events scheduled for March 16 or later moved to virtual. The Federal events market was quick to adapt to ensure learning and professional development has continued while we've all been quarantining, but as conditions allow how and when will the government community be ready to meet again?

Market Connections recently released findings of a survey to gauge how the federal workplace environments have been affected by COVID-19 and how federal employees are adapting. Among the findings, the report painted a picture of what the reception for in-person events will be in the coming year and a half. The results were presented in a webinar along with results from a similar study of the contractor market conducted by the Professional Services Council (PSC).

Webinars and online events have been the only source of learning for the Federal market since mid-March. While 80% of respondents reported attending in-person events prior to March 2020, that number fell to near zero for March onward. 63% of respondents are using webinars more than they have in the past. Despite the novelty of video wearing off, usage is staying steady as the pandemic wears on.

In terms of when people will be comfortable going back to in-person events, the research shows that slow and steady will win the race. The size of the event plays a huge role in the comfort of attendees. The majority of respondents said they would not feel comfortable attending an event with more than 50 people until April 2021. Events with 50 people or less seem to be the best way to bring people back to in-person gatherings with the research finding people would be open to attending these smaller events beginning in January 2021.

Even more telling is the fact that one in five respondents said they will not attend large events ever again with another significant percentage (about 1/4) saying they did not know how they will feel about attending once in-person events are offered. With all this hesitation, it seems realistic to assume that large events will not make a real comeback until the end of 2021. This uncertainty should not be overlooked for future planning.

Besides the health and safety factors, event organizers will also face the challenge of "re-selling" an event. After a year of online learning, making the case for in-person will become critical. Why should people leave their homes/offices to go to an in-person event when online has been working fine? The key to re-selling the event may be networking. Webinars have proven their mettle in delivering content, but the connections made in a face-to-face environment have not been successfully replicated.

In-person networking is more important and attractive to industry participants looking to make inroads with government customers and partners. Government attendees are more interested in best practice sharing with peers, something they can get online. Driving home this divide are findings from the PSC survey of the contracting industry that found 50% of respondents favored in-person events but also saw 80% saying their company would not allow them to attend in the coming months.

So, how do we draw government people back to events to meet the networking needs of industry? The draw may be hands on demos and experience with technology that they cannot do online. Additionally, once it's safe, advertising an event as a way to reconnect with your agency after being remote for so many months (and likely continuing a good bit of remote work) may be a way to draw government attendees into events and provide industry with the face to face interaction they desire.

For more findings, check out the presentation and webinar playback here.

Be sure to check out GovEvents for a complete listing of events, webinars, and a library of on-demand events.

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