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BLOG: How technology is re-shaping the business events industry

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has forced the meetings and events industry to adapt quickly and dramatically. The need for an alternative to face-to-face meetings and conferences has led to an explosion of virtual events.

Technology has played a vital role in ensuring that these virtual events have been able to go ahead and keep the industry moving forward. Of course, virtual meetings were happening before Covid-19 but it was on a much smaller scale and down to preference rather than necessity. Now, more than ever, meetings are being held using online applications, delegates are attending virtual conferences and more learning is taking place in a digital space.

As the UK government has now announced a date for when conferences and exhibitions can resume (1st October), the team here at NewcastleGateshead Convention Bureau is feeling hopeful that we’ll soon see business events taking place again and are looking forward to supporting event planners and getting back to staging brilliant live events in our destination once again. While we are excited for the return of live events, we know that the “new normal” is going to see a huge rise in hybrid events – an event with both virtual and physical/live elements.

While virtual events have proven to be successful, there is a real desire to resume physical meetings, events and conferences. Nothing beats human interaction – the experience of a place and a sense of occasion to stir an emotional connection and foster collaboration.

There’s no getting around the fact that, in the short to medium term, capacities of venues will have to shrink to allow for better social distancing and people will travel less. Embracing hybrid events is the perfect solution to get people together who can travel safely and allow those who can’t to still engage and participate. This also helps with the industry’s levelling up agenda, allowing people from different socio-economic backgrounds to access content and learn as well.

At NewcastleGateshead Convention Bureau we are lucky to have a number of brilliant event support service partners, who are experts at working with clients on delivering hybrid events. Here’s what they had to say:


Questions

What are your top tips for event organisers working in the world of social distancing at the minute?

Big Purple: When co-ordinating a live event it’s absolutely essential to maintain effective communication with the venue – can they actually deliver the level of social distancing to guarantee the safety and peace of mind of all speakers and attendees? With these measures in place, will the event have the impact you’ve all worked so hard to achieve? If there is any doubt in minds of the event organisers then we strongly recommend taking it virtual, where there will still be countless opportunities to give everyone an event to remember.

BeaconHouse Events: Our top three tips are:

  • Work with venues and suppliers to understand the measures they are taking to bring offline events back safely.
  • Keep up to date with Government guidance and advice from local convention bureaus. 
  • When the time comes – be ready to use technology for temperature checks and crowd flow etc.

How important is the host destination and do you keep a sense of the destination when holding online events?

BeaconHouse Events: NewcastleGateshead frequently gets chosen for its excellent hosting reputation, so that must be translated online. It is important to maintain a sense of destination through branding, virtual content, and innovative online social activities, to give attendees a sense of belonging, helping to transport their mindset and engaging online.

Big Purple: When selecting a host destination, event organisers undoubtedly want to capture and convey the very best that the city has to offer. We love to showcase the beauty and vibrancy of North East England – from our scenic coastlines to the diverse architecture of the city centre and quayside. Using innovative green screen technology, event organisers are able to seamlessly integrate scenic stills and shorts to create a truly immersive experience.

How do you see the future of events moving forward?

Sparq: There has been an ongoing argument that nothing beats face-to-face communication, but our live streaming and wider digital offering has been the go-to for companies and organisations with bases around the world. Our digital team have been delivering online video since before it was a part of everyday life.

While Covid-19 has impeded the ability to interact and communicate as we did before, the silver lining may be that it has encouraged more people to reach out to collaborate virtually. Ironically, the pandemic has encouraged more face-to-face interaction than before. We are continuing communication, albeit slightly differently than before. It’s clear that there is a need for change as the industry is looking for new and exciting ways to engage audiences and we can’t wait to see the results.

R&B Group: This is a good time to go beyond event management to ‘engagement management’ – where events are more closely tied to other strategies to deliver long-term value for your audience through profounder engagements. Face-to-face events aren’t going away but they might not be the same. We’ll probably see a new approach for events, where digital takes the lead with live elements involving more locations and time zones.

What are the key things that event organisers need to consider when planning an event which has both a live audience and a virtual one?

R&B Group: Sometimes planners forget that for larger events involving lots of delegates the storage and playback of your content is important to re-engage them if they didn’t show for the virtual event. Hosting it on a fully customisable “business Netflix” style platform is critical to audience engagement over time. This EVP (event video platform) should include members only areas, paywalls, sign-in functionality, sponsor branding or adverts, analytics and more. Don’t lose that valuable content straight after the event!

BeaconHouse Events: Budget. Hands down this is the biggest consideration for us and our clients. There is the opportunity to gain additional revenue from a wider potential market, but you are also faced with venue hire PLUS cost of live streaming and virtual platform, alongside considerations such as virtual community managers to ensure we serve both offline and online attendees a comparable experience.

What are the positives of holding online or hybrid events?

Sparq: Hybrid events bring together the best of both the live and online worlds – tapping into new global audiences where engagement opportunities are immense and there are simply no restrictions when it comes to data and measuring ROI, other types of events just can’t compete.

Taking some of the physical elements of an event and piping them straight into a live stream or virtual world adds the all-important real-life element, dramatically improving engagement and reducing online fatigue. Across all types of events, from conferences to awards shows, simply put, hybrid event experiences are on another level and we can’t wait to see how they shape our industry.

R&B Group: No travel and accommodation costs, and a low carbon footprint are the obvious positives. However, when your customer shows up at your face-to-face event, they know what they’re getting: keynotes in a large hall, smaller breakout presentations, opportunities to catch up with colleagues, and maybe even a free lunch!

So, what about your virtual event, there’s certainly no free lunch? What will make them log on and stay? Registration is easy, making time on the day to attend is much harder, there’s always an urgent email to answer. We can guess, or we can actually ask them? Before deciding on the details of your virtual event, talk to some customers, what would be compelling about your event to them once it’s gone virtual? By being clear about what’s in it for them, what they need to justify the time, you’ll deliver an experience that makes them come back for more.

What are the biggest challenges when holding an online or hybrid event and how do you overcome them?

BeaconHouse Events: Accessibility. Not everyone has great broadband access at home, 5G roll out cannot come quick enough. Replicating the sights, sounds, smells, and other offline experiences our delegates have become accustomed to. Changing their mindsets by exceeding expectations and replicating immersive and engaging experiences through online events.

Big Purple: Keynote speakers will of course pique the interest of delegates but also hold the potential to run into numerous technical errors, delaying proceedings and affecting the efficient running of the programme. Communication with everyone involved is crucial – are internet connections stable? Is everyone aware of, and confident in accessing, the technicalities of the software? Pre-recorded footage will undoubtedly take the pressure off the speaker and limit the potential for technical errors. Live tech support through a “green room” breakout room can also be a valuable consideration, allowing live troubleshooting should any concerns or issues arise as the event progresses.

What are you now doing to support your clients planning events from 1 October onwards?

Big Purple: Communication is key – regular updates and progress checks with our clients help us to iron out logistical considerations. Government guidelines are changing, and recommended practices are evolving; it is our responsibility to ensure our clients are keeping their teams and delegates safe without sacrificing the content and effectiveness of the event programme. Through consistent communication we can help clients navigate any issues and evaluate whether hybrid or full virtual will be the best option for them.

R&B Group: We simply do what we have been doing for over 28 years, helping event planners look brilliant by going the extra mile and delivering creative and amazing events safely, on time and on budget. We now provide Covid-19 specific risk assessments and routinely carry out comprehensive cleaning and sanitisation processes for AV equipment used and provide PPE for our technical staff.

Embracing new technology can be daunting, and the marketplace is awash with companies claiming to have the solutions. What would be your advice to people looking for tech solutions to help them?  

R&B Group: There are a number of things that you need to consider:

  • Choosing the best platform – Consider the online platform you choose to run in the same way as you would a venue for a live one. When researching, ask questions like: ‘How secure is it?’, ‘Is the virtual space big enough to hold potential visitors?’ and ‘can presentations run while someone is speaking?’
  • Keep Connected – If you know that hundreds, or even thousands of delegates will be attending make sure you can reach them. Connectivity is a two-way thing, and if you’re live-streaming an event, it’s essential that you work closely with your technical partner to ensure you can deliver a seamless broadcast and integrate interactive functions such as live polling, Q&As and more. Having a strong internet connection is no guarantee for success so it’s recommended that a technical partner is consulted before going live, who will conduct a comprehensive IT infrastructure audit and identify any resource shortfalls. Imagine inviting delegates to your live conference and them finding that the doors to the main auditorium are locked!
  • Test once, twice & thriceEvent planners know that the secret to a successful event is good planning and rehearsals. Your event production team should check sound and lighting before an event starts and speakers will have their script, or presentation compiled and practiced in advance. The importance of testing the delivery of a virtual event – including sound levels and lighting is potentially greater than for a live one. If attendees aren’t happy they can simply leave with the click of a button.

BeaconHouse Events: Do not jump in for the first platform you test, or plump for a name you know. There are so many different features that could enhance or limit your event. We work with clients to research solutions that suit the event goals, including multi-platform delivery. 

What should an event planner be looking for from their chosen venue when looking to hold a hybrid event? 

BeaconHouse Events: We are so lucky to have great relationships with a wide range of venues in the city that have been extremely flexible and accommodating in an uncertain time. We will be looking to work with venues that offer live streaming solutions and quality Wi-Fi, PPE packages, creative catering solutions, new technology and high hygiene standards. 

Big Purple: Again – a stable internet connection is critical. When planning a hybrid event, organisers should question whether the venue is suitable to physically house the production and recording equipment required to guarantee that planners deliver the same quality of experience for their virtual delegates as their live attendees.


A little bit about our contributors

BeaconHouse Events
Beacon House Events offer a flexible approach to event management by tailoring their services to the requirements of clients and working smarter with technology to deliver virtual experiences during the pandemic and are now working on hybrid event experiences using a variety of online platforms and channels to meet the demand for the ‘new normal’.
www.beaconhouse-events.co.uk

Big Purple
If you have an event, Big Purple can transform it into a virtual or hybrid event to remember. Using a number of features, from green screens and remote presenters to pre-recorded videos and live Q&A sessions in addition to presentation content, they can help to create bespoke live feeds to stream your event to laptops and smart devices.
Read about Big Purple Capture – Big Purple’s virtual events service
www.bigpurple-productions.com

R&B Group
For over 28 years R&B Group have delivered AV production services. Their secure ‘on & offline’ hosting EVP (event video platform) provides a fully customisable “business netflix” for streaming your hybrid event, hosting content, custom mobile app, brandable layout for sponsors and adverts with a member’s area, paywalls & detailed analytics. They also provide Mobile TV studio, HD cameras, staging, sound and lighting systems plus the technical project managers and technicians for a stress-free event.
Read R&B Group’s guide to virtual and hybrid event broadcasting
www.rbgroup.co.uk

Sparq
Sparq is a dynamic technical event production specialist. They work in collaboration with their clients to create stunning live and online experiences at every scale. Their unique 360 service spans full technical production right through to live streaming – enabling them to standout in the new events landscape.
Read about Sparq’s virtual and hybrid events and meetings services
www.sparq.live


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