Hosting events


28th February, 2022

Hosting events in a time of disruption

Hosting events has been an interesting proposition in the past few years. Here, we take a look at how organisers are innovating and what you can do to stay ahead.

‘The show must go on’ is a commonly heard phrase, especially in the world of events and performance art. Unfortunately, recent years have left many event organisers reconsidering this axiom.

Recently, we spoke with a number of operators involved in the events industry to find out how they’re innovating online, to investigate the rise of hybrid events and to seek helpful tips for other organisers to better meet business objectives in 2022.

Online events help soften the blow

Online events have been the saving grace for many organisations since early 2020.

Jeremy Fleming from Australia’s Stage Kings had to pivot his business quickly when lockdowns occurred.

“The complete shut-down of the event industry on 13 March 2020 as a result of COVID-19 had an immediate and devastating impact on our staging business,” he said.

“Overnight, we saw the cancellation of nearly 100 percent of our upcoming work, losing millions of dollars of future revenue.

“This would have certainly been the end of Stage Kings had we not pivoted to making our IsoKing work-from-home office furniture.

“This new line allowed us to keep our staff working and employ an additional 70 out-of-work event staff.”

Another opportunity came for Fleming and Stage Kings from the growth in online events that came a bit later.

“As the only events that could run throughout COVID have been virtual, it created opportunities for us to build sets for these.”

While people may not always be able to attend occasions in person, event producers still need many of the elements they always have, including set design, sound and music, videography, photography, graphic design, marketing, sales, and more.

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Challenges in going online-only

Online events have kept many businesses going since early 2020. However, as we all know, it’s not the same meeting and interacting with and learning from people in a purely digital environment.

George Hedon from the Pause Fest says that running small online events is okay, but problems come when running bigger operations.

“It’s harder for large tech festivals and multi-day events to deliver well in digital.

“You pretty much need to create a ‘Netflix’ kind of TV channel with subscriptions and totally change your business model,” he said.

Two fundamental problems come from generating engagement online and choosing the right online platform to deliver your event, Hedon believes.

“No one has figured out how to engage and entertain the audience online, and networking is not really happening with the event software that’s currently on the market.

“Few events are trying something different.”

But Hedon also acknowledged that, when it comes to “monster events, the sheer size of the audience makes it work.”

Business owners in New Zealand have found some of the same issues as those in Australia.

Sarah Blair, the Community and Events Lead at NZ’s Ministry of Awesome, a supporter of high-growth startups and innovators, agrees that attendee engagement is the biggest issue with online event offerings.

“We’re now in the third year since COVID hit. It is becoming harder for people to stay focused on a Zoom session for an hour,” she said.

“In the beginning, people wanted more than anything to be able to jump online and see one another.

“Now, though, we’re starting to see higher rates of a drop in attendee numbers for online events.”

Another factor, according to Hedon, is that event platforms for online delivery simply aren’t imaginative enough.

“They’re forcing you to create the event the way they imagined the user should experience it.

“But I’m not sure they have asked users what they want and considered COVID in the user experience.”

There are other downsides to using online platforms, especially for large events.

“You completely rely on their event people to help you deliver it,” said Hedon.

“Imagine if you’re running a network channel and your production crew is in another country.

“If you don’t have great support, all your work will be worthless when it comes to delivery.

“Having top support staff that can help you deliver and manoeuvre their software and onboard speakers and attendees, and set it all up, is of utmost importance.”

What are hybrid events?

With difficulties in comfortably planning and committing to in-person events still an issue, more firms are opting to run hybrid events that typically include some face-to-face elements and some digital ones.

It seems this is becoming the new norm and could be what’s on offer for quite a while yet.

Maxine Tod from the Professional Conference Organisers’ Association (PCOA) said the changing nature of travel restrictions are causing event organisers to hedge their best.

“Whilst we are seeing more confidence from clients in planning events going forward, the constant challenge of snap border closures continues to be of concern.

“The hybrid event is a key solution to this,” she said.

“Planning a hybrid event allows more flexibility should there be impromptu changes in regulations around attendance at a meeting and reduces any uncertainty for attendees travelling to a certain location.”

When discussing hybrid events, it’s essential to note that different people define them differently, too.

“A hybrid event can take numerous forms, combining a portion of the event being in person with a virtual component,” said Tod.

“This may mean teams located in various ‘live sites,’ perhaps in each state of the country, and linking via telecast-style presentation.

“Some have preferred a live conference where you have an audience attend whilst also streaming to additional attendees watching from their home or office locations.”

Hedon also notes there’s no clear definition of hybrid.

“In 2020, I ran in-person events with online streaming, which now called hybrid. That kind of solution is straightforward and doable,” he said.

“However, there’s also the idea of creating a different online event with its own additional revenue stream and a specially curated program just for online audiences.

“This is fine, but who can afford to deliver two events at the same time with multiple productions? This concept turns into yet another monster event.

“It’s great if there is a market for it and an event company thinks that’s the right thing to do, and they have the budget for it. But I’m not sure many events will be able to afford this type of hybrid experience.”

In NZ, Blair identifies plenty of pros and cons to the hybrid event option.

“At the very heart of it, events are about bringing people together for a common purpose. The pro with hybrid events is that we can bring many people together, all over New Zealand (or the globe),” she said.

“It doesn’t matter where you are, you can be a part of it, and this is something that startups have jumped at the opportunity to do.”

The main downside is around connection, Blair believes.

“We lose that in-person connection that we would normally have with one another at a live event.

“It is much harder to create those meaningful relationships through the screen, online.”

Tips for success in this challenging climate

1. Review business objectives

Tod says it’s vital for event operators to review their business objectives before planning a virtual, hybrid, or other type of event.

“The budget needs to be a priority as there are still considerable costs to be considered when delivering in this format, with AV and production critical components,” she said.

“There’s also the online support required to ensure attendees receive an optimum experience.”

Hedon agrees that before jumping into delivering another event, business owners should ask themselves why they’re doing it and for whom.

“The audiences have changed a lot and keep changing, plus rules of engagements alter day to day,” he said.

“Organisers need to look into the purpose of their business and make a decision based on what they feel is the right thing to do right now.

“Some may have expanded their services, while others may have decided to start small again. The right approach is based on what works for your specific business, makes sense, and ticks some boxes.”

2. Consider topics carefully

Tod also suggests event organisers research and carefully choose topics for discussion at events.

“Which speakers are chosen, and the content they present will be drawn from overall event objectives and any specific industry requirements,” she says.

“However, some key themes resonate across a broad range of sectors with high desirability.

“Have your speakers cover the hot topics that are relevant to your audience.”

3. Look for unique approaches to partnerships and sponsors

Another tip from Tod is to consider how you can be innovative regarding partnerships and sponsorships.

“During the recent financial climate, it became more difficult than normal to gain the support of traditional sponsors,” she said.

To obtain the financial backing you need, then, “consider wider markets to acquire sponsorship.

“For example, investigate allied services that may not have traditionally been approached.”

Other options include offering flexible terms and sharing exhibition booth space, too.

4. Add physical components for virtual attendees

Plus, if you’re going down the hybrid event path, consider creating physical bonuses for virtual attendees.

“You could create a ‘swag bag’ or develop pre-packaged meal components to send to attendees who can’t attend in person,” said Tod.

“These are also excellent sponsorship opportunities.”

5. Digital events don’t have to be free-to-attend

It’s also a good idea to always charge a registration fee, even for online-only events.

“Charging a registration fee confirms the value of participating,” advised Tod.

“Plus, enabling people to attend virtually may well increase registration numbers since the event reaches a broader audience.”

6. Centre your focus on the common causes that foster community

Blair thinks event attendees have become comfortable staying at home or in the office and not getting out and about so much.

She suggests event organisers make a point of reiterating to the audience, in all marketing and promotion collateral, why they should get out of their bubble.

“It’s vital to meet new people, create connections, and be a part of something bigger.

“After all, humans are inherently social creatures. It’s essential for people’s well-being.”

The reality is that the events industry has been through much upheaval in the last two years and must continue to innovate and pivot as we all navigate through the ongoing pandemic and the fallout that comes with it.

As an entrepreneur, be open to changing things up and trialling new ideas to see what works best for your business, team, and clientele over the coming months.