June 2021: The sun is shining, vaccines are flowing and people around the world are beginning to slowly look ahead to life beyond COVID-19.
The cautious re-opening of society naturally raises a lot of questions for organizations and event professionals. Virtual events have become the name of the game over the past 15 months, and although the sudden transition to all things digital was a huge challenge for the industry, it turns out that going virtual can be pretty great.
In fact, here at Fluid, we believe virtual events are here to stay – and will permanently transform the landscape of events, for the better.
Our hunch is backed up by insights from event planners and attendees across the industry. One recent survey found that over 70 percent of event planners intend to continue incorporating digital strategies into events even after in-person gatherings are allowed to resume. Another revealed that 57 percent of event attendees believe virtual events are able to fulfill the majority of their objectives online.
The success of virtual events over the past year – with a full 73 percent of event planners saying they’ve been able to pivot their events to a virtual format – is one of those bright silver linings that’s emerged from an otherwise devastating pandemic.
Here, we’re sharing a look at how – and why – virtual and in-person events will likely continue to happily co-exist in a post-pandemic world.
As any event planner who’s dabbled in digital gatherings over the past year can tell you, virtual events come with three huge benefits: they enable greater accessibility, they dramatically increase the potential to reach new and bigger audiences and they can often result in the creation of impactful content that can be used again and again.
Let’s look at each of these benefits in a little more detail.
Put yourself in the shoes of your guests: You’re juggling a busy schedule, you have a million things you have to do and someone is always vying for your attention.
Attending an in-person event often means taking hours out of your day to get ready, get to where you need to go and get back home again – leaving a growing backlog of items on your to-do list.
Sure, lots of people love taking time out of their day to mingle at an in-person event. But what about those who would like to attend but just don’t have the time – or even live too far away?
Cue hybrid events. At Fluid, we’re seeing growing interest in providing guests with options – meaning events that are offered both in-person and virtually. This means smaller in-person events combined with the ability to attend virtually for those who just can’t, or don’t want to, make it in the flesh.
It also means higher attendance, happier guests and better outcomes.
With greater accessibility comes greater reach.
Say you’re running a national charity with a presence across the country – but each year, you keep getting stuck hosting the same events in the city where your organization is headquartered. That means you’re continuously tapping the same guest list and, in doing so, limiting your ability to reach new audiences and build greater awareness of your cause.
Virtual or hybrid events make physical location a thing of the past.
When you take your event online or add a digital component, you’re essentially opening it up to the world – creating new possibilities for fundraising, partnerships and awareness building.
Case in point: This past May, the Fluid team produced a virtual research symposium for Roots of Empathy, an organization committed to changing the world through the power of empathy. Roots of Empathy had been hosting this event in person for many years, with around 200 guests attending the Toronto-based symposium.
But when we took it virtual, we were astounded by the response: well over 4,100 guests registered from 52 countries around the world.
As we always say, virtual events are not Zoom meetings. To make them exciting and engaging and offer unique experiences to guests – just as you would at an in-person event – it’s critical to produce creative, high-quality content.
Using video, photography and other media, the possibilities for creatively showcasing your organization’s mission and impact are truly endless.
That’s a great thing on its own. But even more exciting is the fact that the creative pieces you produce for your virtual or hybrid event can be used again and again – making for a pretty outstanding return on investment.
For example, take a look at this mission moment video we produced for True Patriot Love Foundation’s virtual gala last fall. While parts of this narrative are specific to the event, it’s general enough – and powerful enough – that it has been repeatedly used in donor meetings, in stewardship reports and for a wide variety of other needs.
Before the pandemic, there was a lot of talk in the events industry about gala fatigue – a growing sense of burnout among both guests and staff that accompanies the arrival of gala season each year.
Traditional galas – complete with hundreds (if not thousands!) of guests, a catered dinner, exciting performances and edge-of-your-seat auctions – will likely always have a place within the landscape of fundraising events.
But the move to virtual galas or smaller digital-first fundraising events has opened a lot of eyes to the fact that all that work to produce a major gala may not always be necessary – or even a good investment of time, energy and money.
In fact, the vast majority of non-profits that pivoted to virtual galas over the past year indicated that their events were a success, achieving goals for both fundraising targets and guest engagement.
As we mentioned earlier, virtual or hybrid galas are a great way of reducing the impact of fundraising events on guests’ time and energy, leading to improved guest satisfaction and positive event outcomes.
And without all of the typical event logistics to plan for – booking a space and entertainment, worrying about décor, settling on a menu, managing guest flow – they can also significantly reduce the impact on staff, leading to a happier and less frazzled team.
We need to mention here that virtual events aren’t just for fundraising!
Many of the non-profits we’ve worked with throughout the pandemic have found virtual events to be incredibly useful for engaging volunteers, board members, employees and other stakeholders.
For example, Fluid client the Mississauga Food Bank recently hosted a successful volunteer recognition event online. With a typical turnout of around 50 to 70 volunteers at the organization’s annual in-person event, the virtual model saw over 600 guests register!
Similarly, organizations like Kids Help Phone have found that digital platforms can be a highly effective way of delivering board training and orientation sessions.
And many healthcare institutions – like Women’s College Hospital – have been hosting medical “grand rounds” virtually, opening up these normally in-person-only education sessions to the broader public.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. There are so many instances in which a virtual or hybrid event model may be much more effective than an in-person one!
Finally, another major – and often overlooked – benefit of virtual events is their ability to reduce your organization’s carbon footprint.
A 2020 study found that online events or other streaming experiences can reduce total climate pollution related to events by anywhere from 60 to 98 percent. That’s huge!
By eliminating the need for guests to travel to your event, the waste produced by major galas printed materials and more, you can play a pretty significant role in helping our planet heal.
When it gets down to it, we’re just really excited about how virtual events are diversifying the industry.
Online events open up so many possibilities for creativity, engagement, reach and accessibility, and we truly believe they’re here to stay.
If you want to chat about how your organization can use virtual or hybrid events to expand your reach and impact, reach out to us today! We’d love to explore ideas with you.