I recently had the pleasure of participating in a virtual panel discussion organized by Government Marketing University titled, "Fusing Government and Industry: Event Go or No Go." The webinar looked at the current reality of in-person event planning and attendance using research findings as well as anecdotal observations and experiences.
Market Connections conducted a survey of government event attendees in January to get a pulse on their appetite for attending face-to-face (F2F) events. The findings of this research echoed the responses we received to our most recent survey. People are slowly but surely reintroducing in-person events into their schedules and planning. The latest survey found 40% of respondents plan to attend at least one in-person event in 2022. This is a considerable jump from the 25% that reported attending a 2021 event.
How We're Going Back
People are dipping their toes in attendance with most preferring smaller (100 people or less) events that are close to home. Other than ongoing concerns about COVID, there were no additional major deterrents to joining a F2F event. Vaccine and mask mandates were actually seen as positives, with people welcoming them as part of the in-person experience. Organizers are responding to this readiness to attend events with over 300 in-person events already listed on GovEvents.com through June. Seventy of those events list a vaccine mandate.
Impact of Telework
As the panel went on to discuss, the bigger challenge for F2F events will be managing the new reality of telework. With 75% of the federal workforce working from home at least part of the week, coordinating events with planned onsite office time will be a new factor in the timing and format of events. If people are going to leave their home office, they are more likely to do so for a full day event rather than a brief luncheon.
Walking the Hybrid Tightrope
Virtual events have opened up new audiences for many organizations, allowing people who would not be able to travel to an event access to the content. This value of increased exposure should not be discounted but needs to be balanced with the need for in-person gatherings. Market Connections' research found that if an event was hybrid, one third of registrants would take the virtual option.
When deciding whether to go hybrid, organizations will have to determine the objective of their event. Do they want to prioritize networking opportunities by driving people to be at an event in-person or broaden the reach by offering an online option? Hybrid events will also require additional production logistics to allow online attendees to see and hear in-person attendees.
Tom Suder, CEO of Advanced Technology Academic Research Center (ATARC) noted that online attendees may also benefit from additional programming while trade show floor networking is happening live. He suggested, "You need to have programming for folks online, maybe live interviews so they can get a sense of what is happening on the floor and capture some of that in-person energy."
Beyond attendees, virtual and hybrid events have opened the door to different speakers. Many government speakers that are unable to commit to traveling to an event (even if it is local) are now able to share insights with attendees from the comfort of their desks. Having speakers participate virtually at live events is a great way to expand the insight and content offered to attendees. Alexa Tsui, VP of Capture and Strategic Partnerships at MetaPhase Consulting highlighted one innovative use of hybrid speakers she experienced on a recent visit to the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum where they had experts available via a live stream on kiosks to answer people's questions about the aircraft of display.
Planning with Flexibility
The panel agreed that the next couple of years will see a lot of experimenting in the event industry with a huge focus on being flexible in all planning. Darryl Peak, Head of US Federal Partnerships, Global Public Sector at Google Cloud, reminded us that the "riches are in the niches" and that marketers and event planners have to now, more than ever, really define what makes their brand and their event stand apart. Who really is their target audience? Then design a program and the promotion of that program around the needs of that group.
To hear more insights including how organizations are using social media to fill the in-person gap you can download the full presentation here.