Virtual attendees were almost unheard of at conferences until March 2020 when suddenly organisers had to integrate virtual into their business model. The majority embraced virtual and it quickly become a viable model that could work alone or be combined with a live audience to become a hybrid event.
With virtual, another revenue stream has been created for event organisers, but the virtual aspect of an event creates another cost. With options to attend events in person or virtually, conference organisers have spent the past few years reflecting on the value proposition between the two options and whether there should be any difference in cost.
The atmosphere is a large part of what attracts people to live business events. It’s a tough job to recreate that buzz from afar for someone who is perhaps alone.
In-person conferences provide the perfect opportunity to network and connect with like-minded people. Live business events facilitate learning, perhaps even beyond your current field, and create a platform to present your ideas. The same can be possible for online virtual events however, it can be much more complicated to connect attendees and deliver the same value or learning and new business opportunities, especially without the correct set-up and technology.
Contrary to popular belief, virtual business events can actually cost more than live.
For starters, if you want to replicate the in-person experience and ensure a seamless stream of your event, you’ll need to invest in right technology. We’ve all been there, sat in on an online meeting with a weak connection and a lag that makes it almost uninterpretable – annoying right? Well, imagine that on a mass scale… cutting corners on the tech is not an option.
Hiring a venue to host the conference is still going to cost the same whether you fill it with people or not. To create a professional atmosphere, hosting in a venue or a studio is recommended. Speakers and hosts will still need to be paid, and you’ll still have the same catering costs. You will need to make sure you choose a venue that has the technological capacity to host a virtual business event with enough support staff to ensure the event runs smoothly online without a glitch.
There is still a lot of potential to gain revenue from sponsors for both the live and online events. Branding and sponsorship at a business event will be the same for the in-person element of a hybrid event. Digital sponsorship is growing in popularity and offers a lot of benefits for both sponsors and delegates. There is plenty of online space to brand your conference and promote sponsors, so there will be no reduction to revenue. In fact, there is the potential to increase revenue from that of solely in-person events!
We asked Rob Sherwood, Managing Director at Hub Exhibitions his thoughts if virtual delegates should pay less. “Whilst there’s an operational saving, the sponsor revenues are likely to be much reduced… Also, I think the cost of the virtual platform would surprise a lot of people and the amount of work from the organiser is the same if not more.”
So, a lot to consider when pricing up the event. Paul Macdonald, Partner & Chief Community Officer at Bio Market Insights believes that both virtual and live events are ‘two different products doing different things. Value determines price and so whichever product is offering more value than that should have the premium price’.
When it comes to virtual vs in-person delegates, the question of price comes back to value proposition of the attendees, as it always has. The one clear benefit of a virtual element is that you can open up attendance to an audience much larger than the venue you have and to others that otherwise would not be able to attend. Various other industries have demonstrated this, The London Film Festival saw a record year in 2020 following their first hybrid business event with 40% more attendees taking part from outside London.
Hybrid business events seem like a match made in heaven, allowing those attending in-person to enjoy the atmosphere without the need for delegates to travel in to attend. This will have a huge impact on the sustainability of events and the reduction of one’s carbon footprint. Particularly for large, international events, delegates who may have had to fly long distances now no longer need to make the trip at the expense of the environment. Going hybrid also increases the accessibility of a conference, opening it up to delegates who may struggle with health conditions or impairments and are unable to travel to, or attend the event in-person.
It’s quite possible virtual attendance could become more appealing, yes you don’t get the live buzz but there are other benefits such as reducing planetary impact, reduced commute, being able to tune in and out, work around your work/life, you can easily make notes, record screens if the organiser permits to keep key takeaways and information.
Conferences face the challenge of balancing running costs with creating value. If tickets for virtual events are priced too low, no one will see the benefit of attending the live events. Creating an authentic and valuable experience is vital when creating a business event worthy of higher ticket prices.
With the increasing narrative around sustainability, hybrid events also offer a new alternative that keeps the welfare of the planet at the forefront. Paul MacDonald notes that “Planetary protection will be one reason why international travel will slow in the future…here is where we could see virtual events start to improve its yield and evolve into a premium product.”
To help establish the authenticity of your hybrid event, make sure to include all the same perks and incentives that an in-person business event offers. Ensure that the virtual attendees are receiving the same value for money but incorporating elements that make live events so much fun. Consider having an active registration ‘desk’ for admitting virtual guests into the event as well as sponsor exhibitions to showcase your partners.
Live Q&As or polls are a fantastic way to keep virtual attendees engaged and feel included in your event. Once you have live-streamed your conference, share the content on-demand. This will open it up to those tuning in from different time zones and allow guests to go back and re-watch their favourite bit, whenever they feel like it. Chat functions, breakout rooms and social media threads are great assets to help guests network and build connections, in the same ways they would be able to, had they attended in person. Networking is a huge attraction for guests attending in person, so make sure that you’re offering the same opportunities to those taking part virtually.
Here at Congress Centre, we are perhaps one of the best-equipped hybrid events venues in London with a state-of-the-art AV offering and with unique décor, you know the backdrop will be stylish and memorable, online or in-person! We have successfully hosted many virtual and hybrid business events over the last two years, such as the 152nd annual congress for the Trade Union Congress and CWU National Briefing.
If you’re looking for somewhere knowledgeable to hire to host your next hybrid event, we’d love to chat and see what we could do for you. Contact us on 020 7467 1318 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.