Events, conferences, and trade shows may be on shaky ground now, but post-pandemic, the live events will see a revival. Why? People need in-person interactions and experiences.

Boy, has it been a year. Or should I say, an almost year. For someone who’s been heavily involved with marketing live events and conferences through online channels for the last five years, I can say that my ideas of what the new normal will bring change every day. 

As many events and conferences begin to find new footing and start making plans to move forward, we know that it will take years to fully recoup what we’ve lost and regain ground. The same goes for many other industries. In the last few months, many people have asked me, “Do in-person meetings still matter?”. My answer has been:

YES, WHOLEHEARTEDLY.  And when we recover, they are going to be more important than ever. 

WHY? For two reasons:

  1. People need people. We’re social creatures and we crave in-person interaction. 
  2. We’re a communal species. Humans aren’t meant to be alone; the isolation we’ve faced during the pandemic has made and will make community more important than ever because we can’t do everything alone, and we don’t want to do everything alone. 

As these conversations continued to unfold, many of the men, women, and fellow industry colleagues I was speaking to resonated with what I was saying, and began to ask if I had quotes, studies or any resources they could use to share with their teams and customers. I dug deep and here are two key concepts, supported with a few resources:

Two Key Concepts About Live & In-Person Events

  1. Live events, conferences, and trade shows support our need for socialization and environments where people can learn from each other, build trust, develop new relationships and/or deepen existing relationships/partnerships. 
  2. While technology is great, certain aspects of events don’t translate well online. Take retail-related trade shows –  buyers want to see physical products in person. They want to touch and feel them. What’s more, there are certain, more complex aspects of those interactions between buyers that can’t be done via email or videos.  That includes negotiating pricing, clarifying terms and other details of writing orders. 

The same goes for learning. We’re distracted enough by our screens. When we sit in someone’s presence, like at a speaker event, we more actively participate in learning and can retain that knowledge much more effectively.  The same even goes for more experiential events like Coachella, SXSW and NAB that span multiple event categories. 

In my honest opinion, once we get to next year, the supply and demand for live events, in-person conferences and trade shows  — not virtual ones — will once again explode. Here are some great statistics and resources to support that.

The Psychology of Human Interactions

  1. “A virtual conference is a poor, poor substitute for an in-person conference. It’s the difference between watching a YouTube video of a play and being onstage yourself.” –– Joshua Benton, NiemanLab, to Financial Times
  1. “Short bursts of social interaction promote cognitive functioning. “Socialising is, in essence, a great warm-up exercise . . . for business negotiations that require more focus and creativity.” – Oscar Ybarra, University of Michigan
  2. “Humans crave physical interaction with other humans. We want to be part of a tribe of other humans. That’s baked into our neuroscience. Our brains thrive around being around people who are just like us.” –– David Meerman Scott, best-selling author and neuroscientist

Statistics That Support The Return Of Events

  1. Face-to-face interactions are 34 times more successful than emails –– Vanessa Bohns, associate professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University
  2. 76 percent of event planners anticipate the need to provide virtual alternatives concurrently with physical events –– Northstar Meeting Group 
  3. More than half of meeting planners anticipate they will resume face-to-face meetings in the first half of 2021, with 19% resuming in Q1 and 36% resuming in Q2.

Event Participant Perceptions on Traveling 

  1. A survey of more than 4,700 Americans from the Pew Research Center found that 40 percent of people believe the worst of the pandemic is over, up from 26 percent in early April. 78 percent report they have at least tentative trip plans in 2021; 33 percent plan to attend a convention. 
  1. As Americans’ daily stress levels have recently increased, there will be a greater prioritization of having new experiences, escaping boredom and simply finding joy. Openness to travel—and feeling they will have a good time doing it—continues to bloom. Nearly half of American travelers feel a high degree of stress in their daily lives. But while stress is up compared to a few months ago, the propensity to worry about coronavirus is down.

Straight From the Experts’ Mouths

I spoke with event marketing expert Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes and she had some key insights to share. Here’s what she said:

Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes, mdg, a Freeman Company:

“I have no doubt that the pent up demand will win, as humans are inherently social creatures. And while we’ve learned that some event offerings, such as educational sessions, can be replicated online, most others have fallen short. 

Attendees are craving the serendipity, the sensory immersion, the opportunity to gather with their tribes, the kinesthetic learning, the buying and selling, and more that physical events deliver.  

While I don’t anticipate a return to physical events of pre-pandemic size and nature until the latter part of 2021, I believe that when they do return, they will serve as a vitally important catalyst in restarting industries and helping the nation’s economy recover.” 

Check out Go Live Together and this video on the future of live events that shows that 50% of people plan to return to events in July 2021.

To piggyback off my conversation with Kimberly, Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us Podcast then launched an episode with Pria Parker that brought all of the ideas and stats I’ve cited together: 

“COVID has led us to not take gathering for granted. When we have a viable vaccine, enough people have safely taken it, and ‘it’s all go’, we’ll be rushing back to each other. “  – Priya Parker, Author of The Art of Gathering

While many experts estimate full recovery could take up to five years, there is no doubt events and conferences are coming back. What will be interesting will be how digital channels such as email, social media, digital content, and advanced analytics are used as drivers more than traditional forms of communication used pre-pandemic. 

It will be exciting to see how technological platforms, like online marketplaces, become a part of a new breed of online to offline ecosystems and offerings. Lastly, it will also be interesting to see how live event formats change to meet new ways of interacting with one another.

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