Face-to-Face Event Attendance in 2022

In-person events are returning and planners are examining their attendance numbers and what they can do to increase them. Members of the PCMA Catalyst community discussed the topic.

Author: Convene Editors       

Educon audience

Attendees listen to a session during PCMA EduCon 2022 in early June. Members of PCMA’s Catalyst community discussed the challenges of attracting attendees to their events. (Jacob Slaton Photography)

PCMA’s Catalyst community offers members a platform to ask each other questions, share ideas, or, as the website says, “communicate and collaborate.” Here’s a sampling from a recent Catalyst discussion.

“We recently had our first in-person event in 2022 and our attendance numbers were down,” Lisa Simpson, CMP, vice president, events and supplier relations for the American Staffing Association shared on the PCMA Catalyst forum. “I’d like to get feedback from others who have held a meeting this year, or are close to holding one, to see how your events are doing. For those who have already had a meeting this year: Are you seeing an increase or decrease in attendance? [What are the] factors — COVID, travel restrictions, pent-up demand for live interaction, etc.? Are you offering a virtual option? If so, do you think this has an effect on live attendance? Do your virtual offerings make a profit?

For those who haven’t had a meeting yet this year: Are you budgeting for an increase or decrease in attendance from their last live meeting, and why? Any other insight or guidance would be greatly appreciated to share with my senior management team.”

I’m on the vendor side, providing in-person audiovisual and virtual-event technology needs primarily to associations and am happy to share what my clients have been seeing as we come back to in-person events. We started coming back with in-person events as of April 2021 and have steadily increased the number of events and audience sizes since then.

Attendance has been a mix. Early on, we were seeing very low numbers, so we emphasized hybrid solutions with lots of virtual engagement. Since January 2022, we’ve seen steady increases in attendance with a recent 10,000-person citywide breaking an attendance record in early March. Several of my other association clients are seeing registration taking huge leaps in the final 10 days leading up to the event, so keeping your registration open longer may make sense for you.

Trade-show floors have been packed as vendors want that face-to-face [interaction] again. We’ve also seen big numbers for education — particularly education that has [continuing education credits] attached. We think that is due to people who didn’t like learning online wanting to maximize their time on site. Regarding COVID, we’re seeing about a 50/50 split with events either following local regulations (meaning little to no mandate) and the other half having some sort of “prove you’re vaccinated or recent test” by using some sort of post-registration portal.

Ninety percent of our clients are at least streaming the general session or plenary. About half are capturing the breakouts and all business meetings and board meetings seem to be true hybrids via Zoom or Microsoft Teams. We do have one association client staying virtual one more year as they have been successful in capturing a larger virtual audience than an in-person one and it has worked well for them. We’re strategizing now for 2023 and how to create a true virtual/in-person hybrid so they can continue to capture that audience that can’t or won’t travel.

Troy Peters, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development, Video West Inc.

I am a meeting planner in Sydney, Australia, and we have delivered three association conferences in the past eight weeks. We have seen an increase in attendance more opportunities for networking, and evaluation feedback to date has indicated that attendees like the changes, but want more. We didn’t have any travel restrictions in place during the delivery of those three events.

Only one of those conferences had a virtual option, as did the same conference in 2021 — we had a very small window when we were able to do. However, we have changed our programs up and incorporated live events in 2021— however we have seen a drop in virtual attendance and an increase in face-to-face. Our event pipeline is also indicating an increase in attendance over the events we held in 2019, with many of those events deciding to not have a virtual component.

In relation to whether virtual offerings make a profit, that totally depends on the registration price point, and we are charging a virtual fee that is equivalent to the face-to-face registration fee, minus catering and collateral costs. In our case, yes, they are making a profit at the moment, but I think that this is less likely going forward as more people feel safe participating in face-to-face [events]. I would mention, however, that our largest increase in attendance was at an event where we did daily rapid antigen testing on site. We have some clients that consider this to be most important and I can see this happening for the foreseeable future.

Julie McGraw, Managing Director, GEMS Event Management Australia

Read previous Catalyst discussions in our Catalyst Questions Archive.

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