Making Events More Resilient After COVID-19
The past few weeks have been brutal. Those of us in the event industry were hit first and hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. We’re all punch drunk and struggling to find our footing as we battle to save our businesses in extreme uncertainty. It would be easy to sulk and dwell on what we’ve all lost and how much it hurts, but we don’t have that luxury. It’s time to fight back, we have shared problems that need to be solved quickly.
The “we” I’m talking about are event organizers, marketers and technology vendors like Attendify. Yes, I have a vested interest in convincing you of my point of view, but like everyone else I’m trying to make the most out of this incredibly challenging moment and make sure we never find ourselves in a similar crisis again. The event industry is not resilient and needs to change.
You may see things differently or have a more optimistic outlook, but here’s where I think we are:
- In-person events will be cancelled for the foreseeable future.
- When events come back, there will be a stigma associated with large gatherings.
- The event industry is vulnerable to another pandemic or even a bad flu season.
- The looming recession/depression will hit events hard.
Coronavirus is the perfect storm and we’re not prepared. There’s no way we could have seen this coming and we shouldn’t blame ourselves, but if we don’t act now it’s on us.
The in-person dynamic that makes events so amazing and irreplaceable is also our greatest vulnerability. Part of what makes event planning such a stressful job is that there’s rarely backup for the myriad of things that can go wrong. From micro issues like a keynote speaker missing a connecting flight, to the macro crisis that we’re living through today. Events are a high-wire act; we’re always vulnerable, always on edge.
We need systems to make events more resilient and that means event planners and event technology vendors working together. We have to use this moment to become more resilient and the biggest step we can take is to create a truly great virtual event experience. I know – there’s so much that can go wrong with virtual experiences and they can never substitute in-person events, but we have to think bigger and today is the perfect time to experiment.
Building a Virtual Backbone:
The world has changed and our thinking needs to change along with it. We need to find a way to preserve what makes in-person events great, while using virtual as a backbone that makes events more resilient. Events need to take advantage of the limitless reach of digital channels to build communities and audiences that wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago. The big question is how do we get there?
I’m sure you’ve heard about or used Zoom in the last few weeks, or similar web conferencing technologies. Most of these technologies are mediocre, but Zoom is an exception and works amazingly well (encryption controversies aside). Attendify uses Zoom for all its internal meetings and customer calls, and these days I’m even having virtual dinners with family in San Francisco on a weekly basis. I’ve used Zoom hundreds of times for work, but was amazed how intimate those dinners felt. They’re not perfect, but they’re meaningful.
Zoom is a great source of inspiration, but even the best web conferencing tool won’t give us the virtual event experience we’re capable of building. Events are not the same as a 1:1 or group conversation. Events are dynamic, multi-track experiences. There’s so much going on at an event at any given time and that energy is hard to recreate in a virtual setting.
Solving the Virtual Puzzle:
Over the past week I sent two emails to our entire customer base to share a first look at what Attendify is building for virtual events. I’d like to share that here with the broader #EventProfs community. I’m sharing a work in progress because Attendify needs your help. We need insights, feedback and honest opinions about what we’re building. We’re only ready to share one screen, but it’s a really important one, this is what a virtual session can look like:
Here are a few highlights:
- Menu – on the left hand side you’ll see a menu with access to every feature Attendify’s offers. All the features in our apps will be available in the virtual experience.
- Schedule – immediately to the right of the menu you can see the full schedule with a clear indication of which sessions are live. Attendees can search and filter.
- Live Stream – in the center we have the live stream and all the session information. This includes links to speaker profiles, documents and more.
- Social Features – On the right hand side are all the social tools, including an activity feed for the session, a list of attendees who joined, polling and Q&A.
Goals & Principles:
Our goal is to deliver s meaningful product within approximately 2 months. It’ll be far from perfect, but it will improve every day and most importantly it will adhere to a few basic principles that are guiding us:
- Turn-key – we’ve already heard from clients that running virtual events is not something they’re used to and don’t know where to start. That’s why we’re making the setup process exactly like creating an Attendify event app — in fact it’s the very same process. Build once to get a mobile app and virtual experience so attendees can connect on any device.
- Immersive – the entire event needs to be at your attendees’ fingertips in a virtual setting, it can’t feel like a regular website with embedded videos. You need everything that makes an event great to come together: content, networking, and community.
- Multitasking – great events energize attendees by creating experiences, encouraging learning and catalyzing opportunities. You’re never doing just one thing, you’re fully engaged and trying to take advantage of the time as best you can. A great virtual event platform will enable that same desire and ability to multitask.
How you can Help:
We’re not saying we have all the answers, or any of the answers, but we’re going to try to find them. Working together to make the event industry more resilient, more dynamic, with greater global reach can only happen if we use this moment to do the hard work and change. Here are a few ways you can help Attendify (or any other event technology vendor that you’re excited about):
- Share your vision for a great virtual event experience. What does it feel like? How will it work? What features are most important to achieving your goals for running the event? You can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Track Attendify’s progress – sign up for our email newsletter by visiting https://attendify.com/blog/ and you’ll receive weekly updates on our engineering progress, early looks at mockups, etc.
On behalf of everyone at Attendify I’ll end by saying thank you to all our clients and users for supporting us over the years. We’re hurting like everyone else, but we’re going to do some of our best work over the course of these next few months and build something that makes a difference. Thanks in advance for your advice, insights and any other help you can provide along the way.