The events industry sustained some heavy knocks in 2020. By the end of February, virtually all events for the first half of 2020 were canceled or postponed, and most second-half events eventually went down the same route. At the end of 2021, the events industry is bouncing back stronger than ever. A range of innovative virtual events trends have kept the industry going despite the disruption to the live event schedule.
Over the past couple years, we’ve seen massive changes in the events industry. Many of these changes would have happened eventually, albeit more gradually and with less urgency. Virtual and hybrid events were already starting to become established prior to 2020, but the pandemic greatly accelerated the pace. With most live events canceled or postponed, event planners quickly adapted. Where possible, they pivoted to virtual events. And they developed strategies for modifying the live event experience for online spaces.
We saw some amazing successes, even early in 2020, when event planners had very little time to prepare for the switch from live to virtual events.
One of those early successes was EFI, a global leader in high-end commercial printing, with over 20 million users of their printing products, productivity software, and other services. Their annual January conference was forced to quickly transform into an online-only version, and despite the tight timeline, they wanted something special. But EFI didn’t just have that short timeframe to contend with; they were also entirely new to the world of digital events.
What they did have was the ProGlobalEvents team powered by BeyondLive’s 3D virtual platform. We created an eight-day 3D virtual experience at a virtual San Francisco Bay location, with a general session theater, breakout rooms, and an Expo Hall. More than 1,000 people attended from over 50 different countries. The full event included 450 live sessions and featured a calendar-syncing agenda that every attendee could personalize.
That early, massive success helped pave the way for many more virtual events in the following months. But it was only the beginning. We’ve seen the world of digital events come alive in the last two years.
The biggest trend is simply the sheer number of virtual events that have taken place over the last few years. Most notable has been the increase of virtual events in the corporate setting. With employees working at home, the use of virtual meeting technology increased massively. In one survey, respondent companies increased their virtual meeting tally by 290% in 2020, compared to 2019.
Virtual Event Platforms
Prior to 2020, the closest most people got to attending a virtual event was watching a webinar in their web browser. Seemingly overnight, webconferencing platforms such as Zoom saw massive boosts in user numbers. The first dedicated virtual event platforms started to appear, with features that went far beyond what a simple webinar could provide—everything from gamification elements to enhance user engagement to advanced analytics to help event hosts make the most of the wealth of data that virtual events provide.
3D Event Environments
Most virtual event platforms provide a user experience that’s more or less similar to using a traditional website. But why stop there? There’s always room for more innovation. Three-dimensional event environments place event attendees inside a digital venue they can explore as if they were there. At a virtual trade show, for instance, attendees can explore a virtual exhibit hall, visiting individual booths. They can even do many of the same things they’d do at a live booth, from viewing products and demonstrations to scheduling sales appointments.
BeyondLive’s 3D virtual studio is especially groundbreaking. It What’s allows presenters and speakers to be filmed from anywhere in the world, then inserted into a 3D virtual set in real-time, as though they were actually there. 3D virtual studio can do this with multiple people at once, even if they’re in different physical locations. Learn more here.
Certain elements of live events are hard to replicate online. Consider the sheer spectacle of LG Global’s video wall at CES 2019 and Google’s multistory playground installation at the same event, where visitors were treated to an experience not unlike a ride at theme park.
Luckily, we don’t need to give up in-person events in order to reap the benefits of virtual events because now there are hybrid events. There’s no need to choose between virtual and live when we can combine elements of both into the same event. And since attendees can choose between in-person and online attendance, they’re accessible to everyone.
What Virtual Event Trends Will 2022 Bring?
In some respects, it’s more difficult than ever to predict what the future holds for the event industry. Even so, there are some clear virtual event trends developing, and exciting innovations are on the horizon.
Live Events Are Back, But Hybrid and Virtual Aren’t Going Anywhere
At the end of 2021 and heading into 2022, it’s clear that hybrid and virtual events are now a permanent part of the industry. They’re no longer just a distant, second-best option, and they’ve earned their own place in the event planner’s toolbox. And even though live events are returning to the calendar, virtual events won’t be taking a back seat anymore.
The world of online events now offers a new and exciting array of options for events of all kinds, from corporate meetings to conferences to trade shows and more. In the future, we’ll see the promise of virtual events fully realized as they take their place beside live events and become an equivalent option instead of a fallback.
By the end of 2020, 71% of event planners were already saying they planned to continue cultivating their virtual audience, even after the return of live events. And 67% of event professionals said they thought the future of the industry was in hybrid events.
And it’s not just about the pandemic. There are issues of sustainability that virtual and hybrid events can help address too. By one estimation, switching an event format from live to virtual can reduce the total climate pollution from that event by up to 98%.
Evolution of the Hybrid Event Model
The events industry certainly hasn’t been static over the past couple years, and we can expect to see it continue to evolve even further. One aspect of this may be the development of new configurations of the hybrid event model. We’ve already seen some interesting developments in 2021, for instance with the IACC’s 2021 Americas Connect conference. For this event, the IACC replaced its single large conference with a “multiPOD” approach. This included a number of concurrent events held in cities across the country. Each pod was run as its own, independent event. And all pods were linked together via an online portal, allowing for cross-country, real-time collaboration.
As the hybrid model evolves, we can look forward to seeing more unusual and flexible configurations, with varying combinations of live and virtual elements. A single event might include multiple concurrent mini-events taking place in locations across the country and even throughout the world.
Changing Up the Virtual Event Format
When it comes to attendee engagement, live events still have an advantage over virtual. According to a 2021 virtual event study from Bizzabo, just 42% of virtual attendees watch a session all the way through. The average session is 54 minutes long, and attendees are engaged for only 68% of it.
That’s not surprising! That’s around 20 minutes longer than the average virtual session should be. If attendees are engaged for two-thirds of a session that’s almost an hour long, then the optimal length for a session is 35 to 40 minutes.
These are the kinds of simple changes we can expect to see in virtual and hybrid events as the industry gets a handle on what makes these events different from live ones. Initially, many event organizers focused on creating virtual events that mimicked live ones as closely as possible. But we’ve learned you can’t shoehorn live content into a virtual format.
In 2022, we’ll likely start to see virtual events that are more attuned to the needs of online attendees, like shorter sessions with more frequent breaks and interactive elements designed to boost engagement and keep virtual attendees focused for the duration of a session.
We may even see these kinds of changes filter through and have an effect on live event content. For hybrid events, where part of the audience is online and part is at a live venue, the content will need to cater to both audiences. This may mean live content at those events is modified to have more appeal for the online audience, while remaining of interest to live attendees.
More Data-Driven Events
Virtual and hybrid events generate a wealth of data, but few event organizers are using it to its fullest extent. That data is the key to understanding virtual audiences and to creating engaging content. The future of virtual events will rely heavily on data analytics.
This doesn’t just mean analyzing data after an event is over. It’s also real-time data analysis—tracking engagement metrics during a livestream, for instance. This kind of analysis will help pinpoint when an audience’s attention starts flagging. Real-time monitoring gives you the chance to deploy a poll, start question-time early, or find some other way of boosting engagement on the fly. Essentially, data will be used to help manage an audience to keep them engaged, attentive, and in the right frame of mind to absorb information.
Virtual and Hybrid Events Are Integral to the Future of the Industry
Virtual events and their hybrid cousins have proven their worth. More than just an alternative to live events, they’re driving innovations that will help ensure the events industry remains robust and healthy in the future. Key virtual event trends in 2022 will see these events evolve in ways that make them even more valuable.