By Christine Martin  |  Feb 16, 2021

New criteria for event planning in an unpredictable world

This choice of topic would be pretty bold in the best of times, and if a global pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that ‘predicting’ and ‘controlling’ are dangerous words to throw around when change is the only constant.

But I suppose that is the point: as event professionals, our instincts, our training, our entire careers are predicated on meticulous planning. Clients are telling us that juggling so many variables - from regional lockdowns to international travel restrictions to more hopeful news of vaccines - is not only exhausting but also making forward planning their event program nearly impossible.

Now, GES can’t promise to fix our upside-down world, but we can share strategies and tactics to help you plot a route through to the other side. In our recent webinar with BizBash, we shared the following criteria and tips.

Three Key Criteria For Mapping Your Event Strategy

It’s important to hold on to the constants when everything seems uncertain. Whether your event is in person, digital or hybrid – the essential tenets of your event strategy remain the same. Our role as event marketers is to help people connect – be that for social, emotional, educational or commercial reasons. Creating a sense of community and emotional connection to a brand is what live events do best and that basic, visceral, human need for belonging is more important now than ever before.

So, here are three criteria we encourage all our clients to explore in the event strategy or ideation phase:

1. Trends and insights: Explore macro trends, including consumer behavior beyond your industry as well as market-specific trend analysis.

2. Attendee mindset: Garner behavioral analysis to map out what your event attendees really want. Dig deep to understand their pain points and emotional, social as well as intellectual needs.

3. Impact: Utilize pre- and post-event surveys, brand impact scores and event engagement analysis to objectively measure your event against your goals.

Goodbye Virtual, Hello Hybrid

Predicting the return to ’business as usual’ is a fool’s game but we are seeing a definite shift in our clients’ approach to their event programs in 2021. The virtual event has proved invaluable in keeping event brands, communities and companies connected in the last year, but audiences and marketers are craving more from their digital-only plays. We are now actively delivering hybrid events and seeing increased requests for more help strategizing on content, engaging smaller in-person audiences and TV quality broadcast studios and production values so the online experience banishes the ‘Zoom Gloom.’ If we’ve learned one thing in the last year, it’s that you cannot simply ‘rinse and repeat’ your once successful live event formula on a virtual platform.

Here are some tips from the school of hard knocks…aka the real world:

Seven Tips For Creating Immersive Hybrid Experiences In 2021:

1. No apologies necessary: Everyone had to change their plans in 2020. Don’t apologize that your event had to change due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Embrace the change, take advantage of the opportunity to innovate, and be confident in your new and exciting digital experience. For any marketer, belief in your product is your greatest asset – so put your best foot forward and watch attendee sign-ups soar.

2. Create Marquee Moments Online and In-Person: Every agenda has its keynote speaker, industry hero or big celebrity interview that is the ‘FOMO’ trigger point on the agenda. These ‘marquee moments’ create a real sense of shared community and experience. The TV world calls it “appointment viewing” and it’s the holy grail of any programme maker. Replicating the sense of occasion and the emotional investment that goes with it is especially critical in truly engaging an online (and zoom-fatigued!) audience.

3. Make it Feel Live, Even if it’s Not: Pre-records and VOD have their place in your virtual programme but the live experience is so much more compelling. Look at how other channels are using virtual to reach live audiences. The LA Times Book Club is a great example - bringing high profile authors into readers’ living rooms and answering their questions in real-time. For book fans, this is golden and we can now replicate these types of ‘fan’ interactions and experiences in our own events.

4. Plan Pre-Event Engagement: This tip is true for events regardless of format. The attendee journey has multiple touchpoints and savvy marketers are building anticipation and engagement long before ‘go-live’ day to ensure registration converts to attendance. Pre-mailing personalised agendas, arranging pre-show meetups and VIP hangouts, sending video teasers of your new product ‘reveal’ – there are many marketing tactics in your armory. The more attendees invest in your event beforehand, the more likely they are to show up.

5. Balance Content and Socializing: If content is king, then socializing – or networking – is queen. Time and again attendees tell us that the single most compelling driver for attending an event is “The Serendipity Factor.” In other words: informally and often accidentally finding like-minded individuals, meeting their peers, bumping into industry icons, new business partners or indeed real-life partners (it happens!). It’s the events industry’s secret sauce. Don’t overpack your agendas and ensure you create space both physical and digital to facilitate great networking opportunities and your event NPS scores will rocket.

6. Re-Imagine How We Gather: Social distancing will inevitably be with us for some time and for experience designers the need to reimagine our physical event spaces is an opportunity to innovate. Losing the formulaic floorplan ‘grid’ and replacing it with organic shapes, and free-flowing areas for traffic to move is liberating. We are seeing more creative use of outdoor spaces, fun and engaging new ways to queue (think Disneyworld), automated catering stations, contactless registration areas and inviting seating arrangements in reduced capacity auditoriums. Necessity really is the mother of invention.

7. Gamification: This has long been a buzzword in the event professionals’ lexicon and for good reason. Borrowing techniques and digital plays from the gaming world is the proven way of not only increasing engagement but accelerating learning and retention of information. Use features such as leaderboards, unlockable achievements, speed dating networks based on AI and share digital, Insta-friendly swag that posts directly on to your social media channels. The options are limited only by your imagination and the resulting data exhaust for measuring your audience engagement is invaluable.

Bonus Tip: Events are critical to business success

Live experiences – both digital and in-person – are still the most powerful way to emotionally engage your audience and change hearts and minds. They are proven to drive customer and employee behaviors and can transform the perception of your brand or business. Whether you call yourself an event marketer, experience designer or event professional – what we do matters and makes a difference to the bottom line.

Digital, in-person or hybrid events should always be a key part of your marketing mix to deliver brand awareness, sales results, and amplify valuable signals to internal and external stakeholders.

Let’s make sure we keep the show on the road.

About the Author

As Executive Director for GES Events EMEA, Christine is a strategic thought leader who collaborates with clients, colleagues and industry partners to reinvent events and experiences for the 21st century. She is a seasoned senior executive with extensive general management and board-level experience in publishing, events and the creative industries. Christine’s roots and expertise are deep in marketing, sales, and customer experience and she is passionate about unlocking the power of live events to deliver customer value and build strategic sustainable business growth. She is also a director of CM&Co.