Virtual events: Will this be the new normal?

With a call for workers to return to the office on 1st August, Boris Johnson seems to be signalling a further step along the road to normality. But what will normality look like for UK businesses?

In April, at the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak, 47% of the UK’s population were working from home, a monumental growth from the 5.1% of homeworkers reported in 2019.

Given the sharp increase, the sudden need for remote working posed a challenge for companies who found themselves unequipped for the sudden change. 

In particular, the issue many businesses found themselves facing was the challenge of holding conferences and events without being able to occupy the same space. That said, many found that virtual platforms became a winning alternative to face-to-face events once the initial hurdles and technical issues were overcome. 

Now, however, circumstances are changing once again. With the 1st August date announced, more and more companies are gearing up to return to the office. But does this spell the end of the line for the virtual event?

Covid-19: Virtual Meetings & Events

In the wake of Coronavirus, many businesses have had to adapt to remote working circumstances in order to keep operations running smoothly. 

So, after changing to embrace virtual platforms as the sole method company events, are businesses and business leaders going to switch back to live conferences without a second thought? 

We’ve carried out some research to find out. 

We surveyed a selection of UK employees at manager level or higher to find out if they will continue to hold company events virtually going forward – and if so, why. In doing so, we hoped to find out if virtual events are here to stay.

The Value of Conferences & Events for Running a Business

Virtual events have taken off, there’s no doubt about that. With video conferencing platforms seeing an unprecedented boom and the virtual events platform market benefiting from a rapid spike in demand, it’s clear businesses have embraced virtual solutions. When it comes down to it, the integral role of conferences and events in businesses has helped popularise virtual solutions during COVID-19. 

For businesses, holding regular company-wide meetings and events remains one of the most valued methods of communication. When asked why company-wide meetings, general meetings and conferences were so important, 70% of our surveyed respondents said they were an invaluable way of sharing mass information with a large number of people. 57% cited networking as an important reason, 56% said they are good for boosting company morale, and 44% said they are an effective way of generating enthusiasm amongst employees. 

Only 11% said they saw no value in company-wide meetings and conferences

Since the vast majority of our respondents agreed that events are a crucial part of running a business, it’s no surprise so many turned to virtual platforms as the only viable solution during lockdown. But the question is: are virtual events here to stay?

Are Virtual Conferences and Events here to stay?

In short, yes.

When asked ‘Will you either start or continue to hold meetings, annual general meetings or conferences virtually moving forward? ’ a staggering 68% of respondents said yes. On the other hand, 14% said they will only hold live events, 14% were unsure at the time of asking and 4% said they wouldn’t hold any events at all. 

So, what does this tell us? Ultimately, these results indicate just how much virtual events have taken hold within businesses. According to Forbes, there has been a reported 1000% increase in virtual events during this time. The fact that a majority of these new adopters are willing to continue on with them speaks volumes to the newly realised value of virtual events as a direct alternative to live ones. 

The Demonstrated Power of Virtual Events

Why are so many businesses keen to continue with virtual conferences & events? 

The most popular reason seemed to be that virtual events are, for the most part, just as effective as live ones. Of those asked, 69% said a virtual conference is just as productive as a live one. On top of this, 62% said they felt employee attendees were equally engaged during virtual events as they are during live ones.

Space requirements, convenience and finances are also an important factor, with 48% admitting that the cheaper price tag of virtual events was an advantage. 53% also preferred not having to worry about finding a space large enough to accommodate a large number of attendees.

Just 24% said they thought virtual events were not as effective as live ones.

The Future OF Virtual Events

With 68% of our surveyed UK business leaders still planning to carry out events virtually, it looks like virtual events are here to stay – so it’s important to know how to make them just as impactful as live ones.

Maximising the potential of a virtual platform is key to creating an engaging event. Here are some quick tips to help you make this happen:

Optimise your content: Remember the formatting differences between live and virtual events. In the latter, you don’t have the advantage of face-to-face contact and stage presence on your side. For this reason, any speaker or presenter’s performance is naturally going to have to be slightly more content-focussed with a clear message and relevant takeaways.

But don’t neglect style! Though a lot of thought should go to the expertise of the speaker, as with every performance, being engaging is still crucial. Be sure to select a performer who has the right tone, style and technical setup for your event. If you need help determining who the best choice is for you, talk to one of our specialist advisors. A good starting point, however, is knowing the demographics of your audience, as this will dictate which speaker style will have the most impact.

Leverage the virtual format to create a richer event: A lack of venue may have some drawbacks, but one of the main benefits is that your budget will go further in other areas. Without venue, accommodation or travel costs, more budget is available for higher-profile guest speakers from a variety of geographies, who will also charge less because they don’t have to travel.

Speakers, adapt your performance to the screen: When performing to a camera as opposed to a live audience, one of the best approaches is to think of the event like a 1:1 talk. Tricks on how to achieve this include, talking to the camera and not the screen, and adjusting your posture to look more engaged (much like you would in a conversation).

Use technology to elevate a performance: If performing at a virtual conference or presenting in a company-wide meeting, keep your performance interesting to the audience by harnessing the unique features of your virtual platform. This can include using sound and video editing to create a sense of dynamism and movement without actually having to move from place to place. It can also include pre-recorded elements to add different layers to your performance. But be sure these added elements don’t distract from your overall content and message! And if in doubt, keep it simple.

The recent explosion in virtual platforms is testament to the power of technology. We live in a world where it is possible to connect with hundreds or thousands of people simultaneously, without having to meet in person. It seems that, for many businesses, the newly discovered power and convenience of virtual solutions is set to cause a shift in the conference industry. Now companies have realised the full benefits of virtual events, going back to the way things were before the pandemic seems unlikely. It looks like virtual conferences and events are very much here to stay.