Participants Will Pay for Virtual Events If the Content Is Compelling Enough

Author: Curt Wagner       

Hague hybrid event

The Hague Convention Bureau’s first hybrid webinar welcomed five events professionals either in-person or virtually to the World Forum in The Hague. (Holland Park Media)

When planning a hybrid and digital event, your content is the key to its success, panelists agreed during The Hague Convention Bureau’s first hybrid webinar. The panel members — a corporate planner, two association planners, a meeting-design expert, and a hotel executive — discussed the viability of hybrid events.

The July 2 event at the World Forum in The Hague welcomed 65 attendees in the venue and more than 160 online viewers.

Host Tadeja Pivc-Coudyser, international sales manager at The Hague Convention Bureau, welcomed moderator Vincent Pahlplatz, general manager at The Hague Marriott, and panelist Carin Smand, executive director of the European Hematology Association (EHA), to the live venue stage. Three other panelists — Kim Myhre, CEO and managing partner at Experience Designed; Frank Yang, director of marketing & business development at KINTEX; and Guillem Torres, executive director and professional congress organizer for Torres Pardo SL— attended virtually, their images appearing on a large screen behind the stage.

While the session covered a variety of areas, including the logistical challenges of conducting hybrid meetings and who should pay for health and safety costs at live venues, panelists often returned to a key point in their discussion — that content, how you conceive it, present it, and collect data about it — will do the most to maximize attendance and revenue, and deliver ROI to attendees and sponsors.

“Audiences are willing to pay for quality content,” Kim said. “Up to this point, we’ve been lazy. We’ve had live events and we haven’t really had to learn these new skills and invest in these new technologies.” As organizers and associations “play catch-up,” he said, attendees are willing to forgive missteps “but that won’t last forever.”

Smand, who during the crisis had to transition the 25th EHA Congress into a digital event, said a lot of lessons have been learned over the past several months. As the pandemic continues, she said, so too do the challenges organizers face. The hybrid meeting model is the best way forward, she said, at least until attendee trust in traveling and meeting in person safely has been restored.

hybrid events

Carin Smand (right), executive director of the European Hematology Association, listens to fellow panelist Guillem Torres (on screen), executive director for Torres Pardo SL, during a hybrid webinar at at the World Forum in The Hague. (Holland Park Media)

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned it that you need to be flexible,” she said. “You need to anticipate changing circumstances. Even if you plan a hybrid meeting, you need to make choices that will enable you to move to fully virtual event.”

The other big lesson she has learned is that virtual events reach a much larger audience than do live events, but she did have some advice for achieving that growth: Schedule smartly and limit the number of live sessions. The EHA varied session times to allow the global community opportunities to view them, and they did not schedule sessions one right after the other in a day-long event style.

Kim added that digital content is much more shareable, and the younger generations who will become association members see and experience the world through digital outlets. Planners need to go back to the drawing board, he said, asking themselves important questions: “What am I trying to achieve? Who is the audience? What do they need from us to achieve their objectives? How do we use platforms to create those experiences?”

If they think about the human experience when designing content, organizations can attract far more viewers, Kim said. And the panelists agreed that growing an audience size will increase the financial viability of the event, and a group’s bottom line over time.

Since the income related to on-site registrations will remain lower than pre-pandemic times, Torres said, increasing virtual audience size is of paramount importance. “The huge number of potential delegates attending virtual meetings and showing support is key in financial terms,” he said. “If well-managed, the profit could be increased.”

In discussing how to charge for hybrid or digital events, Smand said that charging some kind of registration fee demonstrates that there is as much value in the digital portions of an event as the physical. Some panelists suggested that the digital side of a hybrid event offers even more value.

“If you focus on getting quality content and the right speakers,” Yang said. “I think people will be willing to participate in a virtual event even at a higher registration fee. The reason hundreds of millions people watch YouTube each day is because of the content. Good content will provide more value and attract more delegates.”

Watch the full webinar video below.

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