Here are shifts in events that Convene’s editors have their eye on for 2022, based on what the past year has taught us and what experts inside and outside the events industry forecast for the year ahead.
Less Is More
Quality over quantity, less is more — these adages feel more germane now than ever. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling bombarded by the onslaught of content coming at me every day, be it webinar invites, Substack newsletters, or updates from online communities I’ve joined. I’ve noticed, however, that of all the sources I subscribe to, the ones who push out less I tend to pay attention to more. There’s just so much noise that when someone has distilled their message down to one simple, tangible takeaway, it seems to carry more weight.
I think consumers of events, digital and live, feel this way too. I hear many saying it will take no less than a truly exceptional experience to prompt them to travel, for reasons that vary from cost to work-life balance to climate change. As a result, I think we will see companies and organizations start to rethink their big-picture strategy and put their energy into hosting fewer but more impactful live events. — Jennifer N. Dienst
Digital Events Will Borrow Storytelling Tools — Not B-Roll — From Filmmakers
The digital event management platform Hopin brought serious star power — no less a luminary than Olympic gymnast Simone Biles — to EventMinded, a complimentary, digital, mental-health summit for event professionals held on Oct. 12. But what most stayed with me was its tender, unconventional opening. It started, not with an introduction by an official host or emcee, but a short series of taped vignettes of event professionals, who first spoke about the challenges that the pandemic had brought to their work and personal lives. Then the speakers were handed iPads and viewers watched their faces as their colleagues talked about the impact their leadership had had on them.
It was only three minutes long, but it set a tone that made the event feel more like broadcast entertainment than a webinar — I felt like I was witnessing something special. And it introduced the topic of the emotional toll that the pandemic has taken on event professionals, and the support that can be found in community, in a way that invited, rather than demanded, engagement by participants. I hope it’s a sign that we’ll see more digital events use creative ways to tell stories — and break out of the webinar mold — in the future. — Barbara Palmer
Finding Middle Ground for Virtual Events
In 2020, event organizers were thrown into the world of virtual events with little time to plan their “pivot” (a word that will now be met with groans until the end of time, I suspect). As a result, virtual meetings held early in the pandemic were often stripped down, with a heavy focus on content and little entertainment value. But when the pandemic showed no signs of stopping in 2021, organizers knew attendees were battling Zoom fatigue. Virtual events had to fight for their attendees’ attention, which gave way to high-tech virtual events with that featured 3-D environments and digital avatars to make attendees feel immersed in the action.
As we move into 2022 with Omicron variant cases on the rise, it looks as though virtual events will remain commonplace in the industry for the foreseeable future. We’ve seen both extremes of what a virtual event can look like, so what’s next? I predict a happy medium in which content and connection are key. When I recently spoke with Megan Martin, account executive for JUNO, she agreed.
“In 2020, the pendulum swung so far. So many of us were diving into fully virtual events for the first time ever,” Martin told Convene. “And so we’ve swung so far one way because we had to, and then we were like, ‘Okay, that didn’t really work. People are expecting [more].’ Then we swung the pendulum so far the other way to these hyper-produced, crazy expensive virtual experiences.”
But now, Martin said, the industry is finding a “middle ground” where organizers “have the data to support what people are looking for and what they really want,” she said. “I think in 2022, we’re going to find what actually needs to be produced, how produced it needs to be, and how to leverage the technology in our favor to make those connections. I think people just want to connect, get their content, and have a great experience online.” — Casey Gale
The Second ‘P’
I am working on the January/February cover story on how to think like a futurist, and I have been watching German futurist Gerd Leonhard’s recent keynotes at in-person events around the world. Leonhard puts you in a mindset where you focus less on what’s right in front of you and stick your neck out to look around the corner. In one of his presentations, he quotes from Silicon Valley–based technology forecaster Paul Saffo, who said, “Never mistake a clear view for a short distance.”
Putting that quote in context, Saffo, I learned, was talking about change, which is never linear. “Our expectations are linear,” he said, “so we routinely overestimate short-term change and underestimate long-term change.”
For our industry, as we return to in-person events, I don’t think we can underestimate the profound shifts caused by the pandemic — not just the exponential rise in digitization but a shift in values. Leonhard says going forward, every organization will have to be rated on four “P’s” — people, planet, purpose, and prosperity. I think attendees will be evaluating whether to attend an event based on the first three — whether they will make meaningful connections with other participants and whether it aligns with their purpose (i.e., the work they do) as well as having a larger impact and bettering the world we live in.
The world we live in — it’s that second “P,” planet, that I am keeping my eye on. We devoted our entire November/December issue to the topic of sustainability to underscore the global events industry’s need to reckon with our heavy environmental impact. The pandemic’s pause on in-person events enabled all our stakeholders to think more deeply about this.
A recent article in Nature spotlighted how the trend toward virtual and hybrid conferences may be an effective climate change mitigation strategy. “We find that transitioning from in-person to virtual conferencing can substantially reduce the carbon footprint by 94 percent and energy use by 90 percent,” the researchers wrote. “For the sake of maintaining more than 50 percent of in-person participation, carefully selected hubs for hybrid conferences have the potential to slash carbon footprint and energy use by two-thirds.”
Not words many industry organizations want to hear as they hope for in-person attendance to return to pre-pandemic levels. But having foresight, Leonhard says, involves intuition, understanding, and opening your mind to all possibilities. “The world we’re living in,” he said, “is confusing, paradoxical, ubiquitous, and chaotic — pay attention.” — Michelle Russell