By now I’m sure you’re sick of hearing how challenging this year has been for the events industry, but the truth of the matter is it really was.  For an industry that relies heavily upon face-to-face experience, social distancing felt like a death sentence. Although it’s not been plain sailing, the industry has remained resilient, working with hybrid and virtual events to keep attendees and staff safe.

However, people are starting to wonder what the future for events will look like. One thing that is certain is that events have changed irrevocably over the course of the pandemic. With hybrid and virtual the only way events could go ahead, the pandemic has propelled these platforms forward quicker than was initially expected and we predict elements of virtual events will become an indivisible part of future live events.

But live events will return; face to face events allow people to connect to one another and enjoy real, human experiences. It is these experiences that drive businesses forward, connect you to your colleagues and allow you to bring together ideas and work collaboratively. We don’t know about you, but we’re not ready to give that up!

Live Events Reopening from May 17th

You may feel like you’ve heard this before… Last year, the events industry was given October 2020 as the reopening date for live events.  However, due to the rising in Coronavirus cases, this was postponed as the UK went into another lockdown. Now, May 17th has been pencilled in for the next easing of restrictions for live events. So, what does that look like exactly? Large events such as conferences, concerts and sports events will go ahead with additional safety precautions in place. This means venues operating at 50% capacity (or 1,000 people, whichever is lower) while outdoor venues can have up to 50% of total capacity (or 4,000 people, whichever is lower), providing attendees are able to maintain a safe distance. To be able to host a live event, organisers must adhere to 3 key points:

  1. Organisers follow all relevant Covid-compliant guidance and complete a risk assessment
  2. Organisers and attendees adhere to all legal requirements pertaining to group sizes and social distancing
  3. All reasonable action has been taken by the organiser to reduce risk of outbreak (Gov.uk).

With these additional requirements placed on event organisers, planning a live event has become just that little bit more challenging. That’s why UKSV wholeheartedly recommend getting a knowledgeable events agency on side to help you plan a successful and socially responsible return to the world of face-to-face events.

what affect has the coronavirus had on the events industry?

Event professionals have really felt the absence of live events, despite virtual events going ahead in their place. In fact, three quarters (75%) of senior decision makers say the absence of live events and experiences since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic had detrimental impact on the marketing of their business (One Industry, One Voice). It is not viable for companies to not incorporate live events back into their events schedule, even if they have been able to replicate them with virtual.

Cancelling live events didn’t only have an effect on the marketing, 93% of businesses say the absence of live events and experiences since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic have had a detrimental impact on their staff engagement/internal communications (One Industry, One Voice). Live events add value to businesses and encourage staff interaction and engagement, and whilst you can achieve this to some degree with virtual practices, it’s difficult to achieve this to the same degree. After all, Zippia found in a survey that over half of respondents were guilty of multitasking during virtual meetings (and we would argue that in reality it’s even more than that).

woman watching virtual event on laptop

What does the recovery of live events look like?

The initial reaction to reopening live events brings forth the question ‘who will attend’? There appears to be some concern that when event managers finally get the green light to reopen their events schedule, that attendees will be either too cautious to attend, or not feel as though their presence is needed to gain value from the event if they could just watch it online instead. Both of these thought processes are valid and something that event organisers will have to account for moving forward.

There is nothing to be gained by anyone should live events open too early. That is to say, an event with strict social distancing rules may make attendees feel as though they wish they’d joined online. If the choice is between going to a live event where you must wear a mask at all times and eat lunch by yourself or join online in the comfort of your home office where you can comfortably have a conversation with your colleagues via the internet, it seems unlikely many people will show up in person.

audience at a live event conference hall

Having said that, when the time is right there really is no substitute for live events. Technology through virtual and hybrid events meant that we were able to share information at a time when it was impossible to do so in person, but virtual events were an alternative not a replacement. They were unable to replace the level of experience of networking, learning, and interaction which is often the selling-point of conferences and business events.

With this in mind, the next challenge for the events planner of 2021 is to create an event people want to go to. You might be thinking that this has always been the case, but now more than ever events are going to need to be unmissable to truly be unmissable. As we’ve already touched upon, live events will now most likely always be available virtually either during the event or after. Therefore, your event needs to have that extra allure to bring people into your physical space. Think about creating experiences for your audience, rather than meetings or conferences. Your in-person audience are now expecting more, they want experiential events that will provide real value.

There seems to be an unspoken fear within the events agency that virtual events will replace the live events scene altogether, but the way we see it – that’s not true. The fact is that virtual and live events aren’t directly comparable. Each has its own merits and uses, and virtual was a great placeholder whilst live events were off the table, but live events are able to give much more of an atmosphere and bring people closer together by shared communal experiences. It seems that event professionals agree with us, as 62% of respondents to a survey said they didn’t think that virtual events will cannibalise live events moving forward (PCMA).

people around a table at a live conference

It’s likely that as the pandemic unfolds, the return to events will evolve and change to abide by new laws and regulations and we predict they will come back in stages. How long it will take to reach the final stage where live events feel like they did in previous years, we don’t know. What we do know is it is down to the event managers (and their events agency) to always ensure the safety of their staff and attendees. There will be an increase in hygiene and cleaning measures, especially hand hygiene and the regular cleaning of high contact surfaces. Cashless options will likely be encouraged, and the regulations around food and drink will probably be tightened.

Social distancing is likely to remain in place for a long time yet, with additional safety signs and entry and exit points. This will cause events to be smaller, running at a limited capacity.

While this may feel like a headache waiting to happen, as we move forward with events this will all become second nature. These additional practices are going to make your attendees and staff feel more confident in their attendance. The industry may take this one step further with on-site testing as One Industry, One Voice found that 36% of businesses said this strategy that would give them the most confidence in the return of live events.

The events industry is poised to do what it does best, bring people together. And while it may seem a little way off just yet, live events will be back, maybe even bigger and better than ever. So, where will you be when the events industry reopens the doors to face-to-face events? Audiences are ready and hungry for real human experiences, are you?

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