Real-Life Examples Show the Importance of In-Person Events

Perhaps we once took for granted the larger role that face-to-face events play in our society, but the past year has shown us that they are far more than economic engines. These case studies show how physical events have given fledgling industries a foot-hold and path to success.

Authors: David McMillin       
Convene Editors       

Marly Gallardo illustration

“Gathering is an essential part of being human,” as the hotelier and former Airbnb executive Chip Conley told Convene — and an essential part of our society’s progress. (Illustration by Marly Gallardo)

It’s fairly simple to bring an idea to life.

Buy a domain name for $2.99, find a web hosting service, and choose a professional-looking template. Voila! What first took shape in your mind can be

shared to the world via a link. In a digital-first landscape, the first step for many entrepreneurs is developing a digital identity. According to Siteefy, a website about websites, 542,700 new URLs are created each day.

But easily made doesn’t always translate to stickiness. Another Siteefy bit of data: More than 85 percent of all websites are inactive. And of the 15 percent that are active, how many have generated enough traction to become a force that can reshape the world?

For the biggest game-changing concepts, it takes more than screen accessibility to move the needle. In a world where everything exists online, the key to mainstream acceptance is actually found offline. Convene looked at three transformative ideas that easily could have died on the vine just a few years ago. Today, they are changing what we eat, where we stay when we travel, and how we pay for our purchases.

One of the most important factors in their incredible success? Face-to-face gatherings. Let’s take a look.


Earn one clock hour of certification by visiting the Convene CMP Series web page to answer questions about information contained in the articles listed below.

The Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) is a registered trademark of the Events Industry Council.

Meat of the Matter 

How a “fringe” diet lifestyle became mainstream, thanks to strategic business event planning. Read More

Opening Doors for Airbnb

How the Airbnb Open event demonstrably accelerated the company’s growth. Read More

‘The Community Needed to Get Together’

A digital financial system took off only after its champions met IRL. Read More


“We interrupt this regularly scheduled virtual auto show with breaking news: There are people attending the 2021 Shanghai Auto Show in person!”

That was the breathless opening line to a story capturing the highlights of the show on Driving, a website for auto enthusiasts. Not only was the mid-April Shanghai Auto Show notable because it was one of the first large in-person shows held in China in 2021 — there were around 1,000 Chinese and international companies participating — it was a chance to actually look under the hood at an industry and touch, feel, and see its future.

But the show in Shanghai also made headlines for another reason. A disgruntled Tesla car owner seized the spotlight on Day 1 by climbing onto the roof of a red display Model 3, repeatedly yelling, “Tesla’s brakes don’t work!” The protester captured the attention of the media, which then scrutinized Tesla’s lackluster public response in addressing concerns about malfunctioning brakes.

Leaving aside the question of whether or not the protester had reasonable grounds for her actions, the publicity she created underscores an essential truth: Things happen at IRL events that can’t be replicated in URL. It would be hard to imagine a complaint in the chat box of a virtual platform generating similar attention.

At the same time, we have seen over the past year the power of digital events to create communities, share knowledge, and make important connections. Our stories on the following pages don’t discount the value and benefits of online events, nor is it a call to action to return to physical events the way they were, no matter what, and simply view our past year of digital experimentation and success as a stop-gap measure. We know they are now part of the fabric of business events going forward.

What you find going to the links on this page simply demonstrate — via case-study examples — what we all know to be true: “Gathering is an essential part of being human,” as the hotelier and former Airbnb executive Chip Conley told Convene — and an essential part of our society’s progress. We can’t wait for the live events industry to rev up its engines — to quote what has become an industry refrain among CVBs — when the time is right. — Michelle Russell, editor in chief

Related Stories

Missed Connections 

Marissa King, an expert on social networks and connections, on what the pandemic has done to our networks, and the upsides and the downsides of connecting digitally. Read More

No Footprint to Leave Behind

CVBs may be able to measure the economic impact of the loss of face-to-face events over the past year to their destinations. But how to calculate what the absence of events has meant to local charities who have long benefited from groups’ community-service efforts? Read More

Work From Anywhere but Meet in One Place

The digital nomad movement has gained ground during the pandemic, for sure. But it has pre-COVID roots and its pioneers are planning an in-person gathering to help it flourish — and to get destinations’ support. Read More

Why In-Person AI Conferences Are Critical to Society’s Future

An article in The New Yorker earlier this year clearly spelled out how conferences serve as the de-facto lens for ethical considerations of artificial intelligence (AI) applications. Read More

Become a Member

Get premium access to provocative executive-level education, face-to-face networking and business intelligence.