On Wednesday 3rd June, Hire Space hosted 'Business And Events In A Post-Pandemic World - Part 2', hosted in partnership with Swapcard and London Filmed. During this event we delved into 'Hybrid/Virtual Event Experiences & Event Tech Skills'.
The first session of the morning was titled 'Is There Potential For Designing New Experiences With Hybrid Events?'. Discussing this was Nikki Clare, Head of Events & Client Services at Hearst Live, and Kim Myhre, CEO & Managing Partner of Experience Designed. Juliet Tripp, Senior Events Manager at Chemical Watch, moderated the session.
You can watch the video below, or read on for our key takeaways of the session.
Table of Contents
Put the experience first
Naturally, COVID-19 has caused us to review how we deliver messaging to customers. Nikki informs us that at Hearst, the focus has been on pivoting business to virtual events in the short-term, but for longer-term, hybrid events will absolutely be the main focus and priority. She has been working with consumers and suppliers to garner more insights and emphasises the importance of multi-sensory experience, whether they come to a live event or tune in virtually. We all know the power of live experience, so the aim now is to deliver those elements as best as we can but in a hybrid model.
Nikki says that planning is key - it's about finding different ways to get products into people's hands, even if they're watching along online. Commercially, hybrid events can give event partners the opportunity to engage with an audience they perhaps may not have been able to engage with previously. Equally, the consumer needs to have a strong, powerful experience wherever they're tuning in from.
Kim adds that merging live and virtual platforms together is extremely important, and that it isn't as hard as it seems: live streaming, broadcasting, event TV, on-demand content etc are already becoming increasingly popular elements of live experiences, so developing these skills and knowledge now are essential to prepare for hybrid events.
Opportunity in the madness
Kim suggests viewing the lockdown as an opportunity to reassess and reevaluate. While tragic, he notes that this pandemic has forced businesses who have perhaps grown a little too comfortable in their event strategies to really think about the formats of their events and to question what is the most productive way to get their messaging out there.
He goes on to add that we can now put more emphasis on the live aspects of being together, what that means to people, and how we can facilitate that. Digital can then become more consumable, sharable and powerful.
Nikki gives us an example of Hearst's annual event, Women's Health Live. This event was pivoted to virtual this year and resulted in a large community being built around it. Having seen the response to this in a digital medium, it is more apparent than ever that virtual events can build a really strong community online. Nikki says that going into 2021, Hearst want to retain this sense of community and so are planning to take a much more integrated approach.
Quality over quantity
Online experiences are all about the quality, curation and production of content. Live content delivery is not always in the best format, or curated in the best way with the best speakers. Having said that, at a live event, where it's harder for people to up and leave, there may be more of a captive audience even if the content isn't high quality as the audience have physically travelled there and are more invested in attending the event.
It's not like this in the digital world! At a virtual event, your audience could literally leave your event with the click of their mouse. If the audience isn't engaged or interested in the content, they will leave, so focusing on the quality of what your offering to your audience is really important. Kim adds that offering the audience opportunities to actively participate is going to be key in online experience production moving forward.
Nikki agrees that making sure the experience is as strong at home as it is in person is crucial. Technology allows us to do that in smart ways (e.g. with breakout rooms and different levels of access to content). We need to be sure that our content is rich and that we're providing attendees with the opportunity to learn a skill, not just necessarily hearing from a really high-profile speaker. Check out our piece on brands who nailed the virtual event experience for some inspiration.
Raising the bar
For Nikki, it's crucial that venues implement extremely high quality technology to facilitate hybrid events. For an organiser, a key desire for a hybrid event is that they are able replicate the same experience for both in-person and online attendees, so as to avoid online delegates feeling like they may be 'missing out' on anything.
It's important suppliers rise to this challenge and offer solutions to tackle this, eg providing the same backdrop at the venue and online to ensure attendees and speakers attending virtually are receiving the same quality experience as the in-person attendees and speakers. She adds that suppliers who offer a '360 package' will be most successful, offering elements such as ticket inspiration, multi-streaming of content and the ability to provide content both live and on-demand. We're all so used to consuming content constantly, so quick turnaround times are also going to be key.
Nikki adds that event organisers want to see these innovative solutions from suppliers but they also need to be cost effective. We are most likely heading into a global recession, meaning event budgets may well be tighter. Therefore, we need to work hard to deliver the best ROI for our commercial partners and consumers and find creative ways of monetizing the events.
Shift in strategy
Kim advises that as an industry, we will need to look at how we manage crowds in venues and focus more on who our target audience really is. Focusing on who is engaged with the content is so much more important than the sheer number of people tuning in. Therefore, this will subsequently have an impact on venues and how they sell their spaces: it will be less about trying to sell every square meter of their event spaces, and more about creating safe environments that reflect the brand's aspirations. This will require more creative thinking into their classic sales approach. You can read more about our Safer Events Accreditation for venues and organisers here.
Do you have any tips on how to get online and in-person participants to interact?
Taking points from group psychology principles, Kim suggests establishing ground rules for how you manage panel discussions, such as using a timer so everyone gets an opportunity to speak. You can also use some kind of gamification to make it more fun whilst simultaneously involving everyone.
Nikki advises organisers to think about the power of building a community: creating a platform where all of the delegates can interact and engage. Naturally, it will be slightly different because the attendees are not physically there, but there are different options. For example, you could send products or goody bags to virtual attendees just as you would provide for physical attendees.
How do you enable multi-sensorial experience at an expo, particularly encouraging virtual attendees to interact with the exhibitors?
Kim states that many exhibitions are not so much about selling a product as they are about meeting potential customers. Exhibitions have become a crucial medium to network and connect with industry peers. Using VR and AR, you can create compelling materials and experiences for attendees digitally or physically. He predicts that we will actually see more of this in hybrid events - using virtual and design technologies to help bring products or experiences more to life in a live format.
Will there be any events that do not have a virtual event going forward?
Nikki answers that as we still believe very much in the power of live events, there absolutely will be events that simply don't translate to a virtual setting. Nikki gives us the example of the Harpers Bazaar Women of The Year Awards - this event wouldn't make sense to run virtually, especially with the sense of occasion and calibre of attendees that that event attracts. The virtual event 'replacement' for some live events simply won't translate well.
Kim adds that in this day and age we live in an online experience, so even at live events without digital components, people will still be using their own tools within that experience. Organisers will simply have to adapt and understand that we live in a digital world, so attendees will find a way to introduce digital to their experience with or without you.
Nikki Clare, Head of Events & Client Services, Hearst Live
Nikki is Head of Events and Client Service for Hearst UK’s events division – Hearst Live. Hearst UK publishes 23 brands including Esquire, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping. The events business connects with over a million people a year through events such as Bazaar At Work Summit, Country Living Fairs, Esquire Townhouse and Red Smart Women Week.
Kim Myhre, CEO & Managing Partner, Experience Designed
With more than 20 years in marketing, brand strategy and events, Kim is a recognised industry leader and innovative agency executive. He has a unique combination of strategic, creative, commercial and international experience which has earned him industry-wide recognition as an expert in integrated engagement marketing and live and online brand experience. He is often quoted in business and trade publications and is a frequent speaker at industry events.
Juliet Tripp, Senior Events Manager, Chemical Watch
Juliet is Senior Events Manager at Chemical Watch, with 10 years’ experience in the industry having worked on a huge variety of events for a diverse range of guests; from rock stars to royalty! Her role involves planning and running international and virtual conferences and she's also a regular speaker and moderator at conferences and events.
If you want to check out the other sessions from this event, you can find them here.
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