Event planners sound off on the future of the industry

What do events look like for the rest of 2020, and into 2021 and beyond?

I absolutely love my industry.

I always say that event planners can move mountains — be they people, places, or things — to create an extraordinary experience. When you think about it, the fact that event planners would rather be running around on-site in the middle of nowhere makes them a MUCH different type of person than those who would rather sit behind a desk all day. We’re energetic, resourceful, and nimble. We make stuff happen.

That said, I want to be honest about the place that the event industry is in. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought our industry to its knees. Multi-day conferences? Gone. Festivals? Not happening. Sporting events? See you in 2021.

But given our resourcefulness, we’ve been able to adapt, be it to move events online or figure out other, more creative solutions. Now that we’ve settled into the place we’re in right now — I’m not going to say "the new normal," because it’s always changing — Zoom events no longer feel like the middle school substitute who’s fumbling to figure out a VCR. There’s some intention and professionalism behind virtual events, and maybe even a little burnout.

So, where do we go from here? What do events look like for the rest of 2020, and into 2021 and beyond? I spoke with some other event experts to get their thoughts. Here’s what we’re forecasting for the event industry:

How we treat people has never been more important. The business we were in might never entirely come back, and a lot of people might walk away from it. And that’s okay. And on a larger scale, everyone has suffered in some way from this experience. We’ll have to put even more of a laser focus on mental health, compassion, and making people feel comfortable.

Large-scale events will likely hold off until Spring 2021. Perhaps by then we’ll have some new information, herd immunity, or a vaccine. We might see some smaller, salon-type events popping up towards the end of this year and into next, but cramming people into a conference room with no windows simply isn’t happening. And location will play a big part in how events roll out If the past 12 weeks have taught us anything, it’s that every day is different, every week is different, and every city is different," says Tamara Francois of The XP Agency. "As planners, we can just be ready, pay attention, and be actionable with the times and how the cities are rolling out different regulations."

The key for virtual events is to adapt, adapt, adapt. If you’re going to do a virtual event, figure out ways to make it worthwhile and to bring the in-person experience into it. Maybe you mail attendees swag bags. Perhaps you kick off the event with a dance party to get people moving and excited. If it’s a more high-end event, maybe you send everyone lunch from a local restaurant. Plus, timing will be everything: Gone, for now, are all-day events. You have to be mindful of your audience, and that no one wants to sit in front of a computer all day. The max is three hours, with multiple breaks. Also, we need to set some new standards. "I’m hoping that we come up with different nomenclature for the virtual experiences, so that attendees know what to expect. Everyone knows what a conference, or a meeting, or a salon is," says Lisa Milgram of 141 Events. "The lack of that common language is a challenge that would be helpful to figure out."

Hosts and attendees will have to figure out what’s worth it for them. We have to think about what people’s risk aversion will be. How much do they trust the event planner, or brand? New health and safety procedures will have to be put in place (more on that later), and as a brand, is it worth it for you to endure that? What are the benefits you’re getting out of an in-person event?

In-person events will require a whole new standard of safety. In addition to social distancing and limiting the number of people coming through an activation at once, we’ll have to come up with a variety of ways to make people feel safe and welcome. Meals will be have to be rethought. Hand sanitizing stations and single-use items will be the norm. Lisa recommends that every event have a well-articulated health and wellness policy that’s prominently displayed. No matter how it all comes together, people are going to want to know what’s being done to keep them safe.

And no matter how events DO actually manifest moving forward — because 2020 has been nothing if not unpredictable — we can at least be confident that event professionals will be able to roll with the punches.

Lisa notes, "The upside is that planners by nature are nimble; they’re able to do more with less, to be a budget magician and get creative. We’re going to have to double down on that agility and experiment."
I couldn’t agree more.

Laura Mignott is the founder of experience agency DFlash.

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