What will events look like next year? Can we expect in-person events to return? Our recent industry report reveals the answers to these burning questions.

At the beginning of 2020, the events industry, like so many others, was completely blindsided. Companies with a year’s worth of events in their pipeline had to face incredibly difficult decisions about whether to cancel, postpone, or adopt a virtual or hybrid solution for their events. 

Fast forward 8 months to October, which is iconically the busy season for events, organizers and marketers have successfully shifted their entire strategy to take their events online. But do they anticipate the triumphant and long-awaited return of live events, or is this new virtual landscape here to stay?

In order to discover what predictions the industry has, we surveyed almost 400 event marketing professionals in mid-senior level positions. We uncovered valuable insights that point to what the future of events will look like.

To get the full scoop on what event marketers anticipate for the rest of 2020 and 2021, download the Evolution of Events Report.

1. More than 80% of marketers agree that greater audience reach is the most positive effect they’ve experienced from their shift to virtual.

There is truly no limit to how large an audience you can reach by leveraging virtual events. Take it from Gainsight, who grew their 5,000 person tech conference into a 22,000 strong online experience. Digital events eliminate the need for travel, venue capacities, and other costs or logistics that might ordinarily prevent more guests from attending an event. By taking away these obstacles, event organizers are seeing a substantial increase in their potential for audience reach. Along with a larger audience, marketers have found it easier to book speakers – another result of decreased business travel – as well as generate and convert their pipeline.

Positive Shifts of Virtual - Audience Reach

Despite the challenges and setbacks of this virtual era, organizers are seeing benefits to going virtual. That’s why event professionals like Jennifer Hoffman Roach (Head of Audience at Bloomberg Live) who recently joined us on the IN-PERSON Podcast, are planning to integrate a virtual element into their live event strategy, even after in-person experiences return. 

2. Attendee networking and engagement remains the number one hurdle that marketers face as they navigate the virtual events landscape.

Virtual Event Challenges - Networking and Engagement

As the effects of COVID-19 continue to create lasting impact on the industry, event marketers are just as, if not more concerned about providing value for their attendees. To resolve this, organizers are turning to technology to create interactive elements that delight and engage their audience. However, technology alone is not enough to fulfill the need for a truly engaging experience.

Planners will need to become increasingly innovative in order to deliver exceptional experiences for their attendees—in many cases drawing ideas from outside of the mainstream events space. For instance, at (Almost) IN-PERSON, HubSpot’s Kim Darling mentioned how she and her team are drawing inspiration from event professionals in the gaming industry who are building communities. The challenge isn’t to make virtual events as engaging as in-person, but even more so, by curating memorable content and creating an environment where attendees can authentically interact with the brand.

3. The Majority of marketers (63%) plan to resume in-person meetings in 2021.

Virtual events may be the only option available for the moment, and event organizers are seeing advantages to this new digital landscape, but live events are a crucial and irreplaceable part of our lives.

It’s human nature to be social, and ultimately, people crave face-to-face interactions. They are a fundamental part of what makes events so enjoyable, which is why event marketers are eager to bring back their in-person events. That’s why we believe – and most event marketers agree – that in-person events will be back and stronger than ever.

Resuming In-Person Events 2021 - in-person events

While there is some uncertainty about how long it might take, it’s clear that most organizers have already begun to plan their in-person events for 2021. This is an inspiring insight into what we can expect to see from event planners next year.

4. An overwhelming 97% of marketers are confident that Hybrid events will become more prominent going forward.

Hybrid events will combine the best of both virtual and in-person experiences and will set the tone for the future of the events industry. Given that the majority of marketers feel confident about the return of in-person events in 2021, and virtual offers its own set of benefits like reaching greater numbers of attendees and accessing a greater variety of speakers, it follows that hybrid events will be a key player in the near future.

Invest in Hybrid 2021 - Hybrid Events

There is a huge opportunity to leverage digital solutions to capture event insight and create interactive experiences, especially once in-person events resume. As we near the end of the year, we should expect hybrid will be a major focus of event strategy in 2021. 

For a deeper dive into the future of events in 2021, download the full Evolution of Events Report.

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