Online Events Grow in Wake of Coronavirus

Author: Barbara Palmer       


Instead of scrapping their events amid COVID-19 concerns, more organizations are moving their face-to-face programs online. The multi-hub format, with multiple connected venues like this meeting with 18 hubs in Spain, combines the benefits of both.

Key takeaways from Maarten Vanneste, founder of ABBIT Meeting Innovators:

  • Advances in technology have made online meetings through digital videoconferencing platforms like Zoom easier, making them an option for face-to-face events cancelled in the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
  • Virtual meetings will be part of the toolbox for meeting designers or meeting professionals in the future.

As efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus by restricting travel ripple across the globe, a growing number of event organizers are opting to move meetings online as an alternative to canceling them. That includes the Salesforce World Tour Sydney 2020, originally scheduled to take place March 4 — and which drew 12,000 participants to Sydney, Australia, last year. The “reimagined” meeting now will take place entirely online, with a daylong agenda that includes keynote speaker Billie Jean King, multiple panels, and breakout sessions.

Similarly, the leadership team at enterprise software company Workday, citing concerns over a growing number of global cases of COVID-19, said it will move its annual internal sales meeting of around 3,000 participants planned for March 2-4, to an online-only program.

And some canceled events, including Art Basel Hong Kong 2020, are using digital platforms to deliver a part of the event experience. The art show will display work from galleries that were accepted into the Hong Kong show online in “viewing rooms” that will be available during the scheduled show time.

Maarten Vanneste

The ability to bring meeting participants together online across geography and time zones, once was “complicated, risky, and expensive,” Maarten Vanneste, the founder of Belgium-based ABBIT Meeting Innovators, told Convene. But in the last couple of years, thanks to advances in technology, equipment, and the expansion of service providers, online meetings have become the opposite: easy, low-risk, and inexpensive, said Vanneste, who now acts as a consultant to ABBIT. I do believe that this is going to be part of the toolbox for meeting designers or meeting professionals.”“The Internet quality is there. The equipment is there. And there are companies” — ABBIT among them — “which specialize in providing online meeting services.”

 The Multi-Hub Meeting

The videoconference platform Zoom, for example, now can support meetings of up to 1,000 people at a time, and organizers can use it to create up to 50 different breakout rooms at once, Vanneste pointed out. (This week, Bernstein Research analysts reported that Zoom has added more videoconferencing users so far this year than in all of 2019, thanks to COVID-19.)

A senior consultant for the Meeting Design Institute, Vanneste  — whom Convene interviewed by Skype while he was behind the wheel of a self-driving Tesla in Antwerp — is an advocate of “multi-hub” meetings, a hybrid meeting model where participants gather face-to-face in geographically dispersed venues, connected by technology. Both attendees and speakers have cameras, “so that the sound is connected in all directions, and the video is connected in all directions,” he said.

“Multi-hub makes it much more exciting than a webinar or a webcast,” he added, “because it’s two-way and it’s interactive.” The hybrid hub model offers opportunities for meeting attendees to share a meal or a drink together, while making it possible to organize an international conference that can take place over a day or less, Vanneste said. And in the face of travel restrictions, he added, fully online-only meetings are an option, with speakers distributed over the hubs.

For planners, there’s been a technical barrier, Vanneste said. “Planners have been adept and really specialists in travel and hospitality, and they could book audiovisual. This takes it to the next level, and it’s a little more complicated. I do believe that this is going to be part of the toolbox for meeting designers or meeting professionals.”

What Events Professionals Need to Know About COVID-19

PCMA has created a COVID-19 resources page to help event professionals find reliable information about the outbreak and to share events industry-related resources to ensure they are prepared.

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