Up until the pandemic in 2020, the events industry had remained largely unchanged. Recently, it has been completely flipped upside down with an emphasis on hybrid events.
The end result is that events have gone hybrid, meaning that while some people will still attend events in person, many others will now attend virtually.
This evolution killed off many stagnate companies, allowing those that adapted to grow. In the process, many found new, more scalable revenue streams and more effective ways to engage with their target audience.
A pandemic-induced transformation
Most of the world was forced to work from home when the pandemic hit in 2020. Many enthusiastically jumped in, while some had to be dragged kicking and screaming.
While there was initially a tremendous amount of chaos and uncertainty, it worked out in the long run. Employers quickly learned that their employees could be just as productive if not more productive while working from home, and because their teams no longer had to come into the office, they could eliminate a lot of fixed overhead costs.
This was a win for almost everyone. But not for those who relied on events as a core part of their business model.
Many event-based businesses collapsed virtually overnight. This included event planners, catering companies, event venues, and AV companies, to name just a few. Businesses that relied on in-person events, such as networking organizations, mastermind groups, and training companies faced the same challenges.
Entrepreneurs who stuck their heads in the sand waiting for things to change quickly withered away. On the other hand, those who adapted found ways to stay afloat or even improve their business model.
Adversity creates opportunity
Before the pandemic, Board of Advisors, a mastermind group of the world’s top entrepreneurs, would meet in person each quarter. These in-person events delivered a highly polished experience, complete with a powerful stage presence, AV crew, and concierge team to foster connections between members. But when the pandemic struck, that all changed.
The company’s founder, Mike Calhoun, quickly rallied his team to deliver the same experience for their 2020 Q2 event. Except for this time, it would be entirely within a virtual environment. They invested heavily in customized software, Hollywood-grade AV equipment, and a team to remotely support everyone from behind the scenes.
“It was a lot of work, and we probably spent more than we needed to, but we learned a lot. We learned that we were able to deliver even more value in this environment. We also learned that our overall attendance was significantly higher. This was because many people who would have missed the event due to scheduling conflicts could now attend remotely. And we learned that people want the option to attend virtually. So it was a win for all the way around,” he explains.
Calhoun wasn’t the only entrepreneur who learned this lesson. But surprisingly, most still haven’t tapped into this option yet—more than a year after the start of the pandemic.
Technology is already far more ready than most realize
One of the biggest challenges in hosting hybrid events has always been getting the proper technology in place.
In the past, event organizers had to use a patchwork of tools and software to host a hybrid event. To make matters worse, many potential attendees didn’t have suitable hardware or bandwidth.
That has changed a lot over the years. Especially over the past 18 months.
Most people were forced to work from home during the pandemic, which required at least entry-level audio and video equipment. As a result, nearly everyone now has the technological capability to attend an event virtually. Today, there are software platforms that can handle every aspect of marketing and managing your event. Over 88% of prospective virtual attendees have broadband internet, and 78% own a webcam. So technology is no longer a problem.
And as technology continues to evolve, so will the events industry. Faster processors and internet, along with better visual devices, will enable new types of interactive experiences for attendees.
Industry adoption of virtual and hybrid events
The virtual events market was estimated to be a 94.04 billion industry in 2020. It’s expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 23.7% from 2021 to 2028, according to a report by Grand View Research. As a result, organizations of all types and sizes have begun leveraging this opportunity to drive awareness, brand loyalty, and revenue.
But not everyone is new to this.
Spencer Elliott and Patrick VanDusen had launched their event streaming software company, ViewStub, several years ago. While the platform had already been growing steadily since inception, it blew up once the pandemic hit.
This is unsurprising because the pandemic created an increased demand for virtual events and VeiwStub was perfectly positioned to capitalize on this. It handles nearly every aspect of a hybrid event, from marketing, to sales, to execution. And it’s affordable for tiny events, yet can scale to handle events of almost any size. That’s a powerful selling point, especially for entrepreneurs who may not have a huge budget and a dedicated AV crew.
“Event organizers are starting to realize they are missing out on attendees and revenue by not offing a virtual option. But it’s not just about the event organizer and their profits. A virtual option lets people attend events they would have otherwise skipped due to travel restrictions, cost, or scheduling conflicts. So hybrid events benefit everyone, and that’s why the industry is growing so rapidly right now,” Elliott explains.
Throughout the pandemic, businesses across a wide range of industries have been using hybrid events, as have chart-topping entertainers. In some cases, both even have teamed up to collaborate on events together.
A hybrid event with two powerhouse brands
In 2020, Home Depot partnered with Brad Paisley for an exclusive concert for customers who bought Home Depot gift cards. The campaign was a massive success, generating over 6 million in gift card sales while providing entertainment at the height of the pandemic.
“This event was especially powerful because it was an experience that attendees would always remember,” ViewStub co-founder Patrick VanDusen said. “By focusing on that, Home Depot generated a significant return on investment. But more importantly, they improved brand loyalty. This will have a compounding effect on all of their marketing efforts for a long time to come. When executed properly, as Home Depot did, events can generate both short-term revenue and a positive long-term impact for the brand.”
Hybrid events aren’t just for giant brands
David Phelps, founder of the investment community Freedom Founders, says virtual attendance has been a vital part of his business model for several years now.
His community of highly-vetted, accredited investors collaborate on large investment opportunities. This enables them to profit from deals they wouldn’t otherize have access to. But the types of people who have the liquid capital necessary to participate in these deals typically have challenging schedules, so he had to make it easy for them to participate.
“My business is very much relationship-based, but our members are busy and travel often,” Phelps explains. “We have to ensure they could participate in the deals we bring to the table. But we also had to make it easy for them to build and nurture relationships with other members. They need that level of trust, which can be tough to achieve if they can’t make it to the in-person event. So several years ago, we began offering a virtual component to our traditional in-person meetings.”
Phelps says it has paid off because he can directly track both growth and an increase in member engagement to this strategy. That translates into increased revenue per member.
Engagement is key. It’s easy for virtual attendees to tune out because they’re sitting at home with every distraction possible at their fingertips.
“Engagement helps people process and retain the information they learn at your event, which gives them more value. But it also makes them feel valued,” Phelps explains. “So after a presentation, it’s critical to organize breakout sessions. When attendees talk about the content amongst themselves, it becomes more personal and relevant to them. It’s also important to have your team engage with virtual attendees throughout the event from within the platform and look for ways to make their attendance more impactful for them.”
What does the future hold for hybrid events?
As with all technology, hybrid events will continue to evolve with an ever-growing list of features. This will enable event organizers to deliver increasing value.
New capabilities will give attendees the ability to engage more easily. AR and VR will come into play as wearable devices become more cost-effective, AI will start to play a role in keeping attendees engaged, and as more people host and attend hybrid events new improvements will come faster.
Those who stay at the front of this race will reap tremendous advantages over their slower competitors.