It was the beginning of 2021. There was a light at the end of the tunnel. The events industry was poised for a comeback. We were going to gather again –– in person. We would shake hands, maybe even hug.
Then, new COVID variants began to spread around the world, and the future remained as uncertain as it was in March 2020.
But event professionals didn’t give up. They proved their resilience, and fulfilled our human desire to gather –– to take part in something bigger than ourselves. More than ever, they reminded us of one fundamental truth of perseverance: The show must go on.
So we reached out to the advantageous and innovative event leaders who turned uncertainty into opportunity over the past year and asked them to tell us what’s in store for 2022.
Are in-person events finally going to make a genuine comeback? Will two years of gathering virtually change the way we plan events? And what about hybrid — is it really the future?
Let’s find out. Here are 10 trends to keep in mind as we navigate the world of events in 2022.
Trend #1: The return to in-person events is community-driven
Eager to return to on-site events, but hesitant to put the pedal to the metal? You’re not alone. Only 18% of event professionals say they’re confident when it comes to planning in-person events.
While real progress has been made in the return to physical gatherings, new COVID variants can make it feel like that proverbial light is at the end of an ever-lengthening tunnel.
No doubt the road back to in-person will be uncharted territory for many organizers, and the path paved with new obstacles like fluctuating health and safety regulations.
But when it comes to in-person events, uncertainty isn't new. Speakers have missed flights and caterers have arrived late. After all, stuff happens.
The key to navigating the uncertainty –– particularly when it comes to the ongoing pandemic –– is acknowledging possible challenges in advance and adopting a community-first approach to planning.
SaaStr’s Senior Vice President and General Manager Amelia Ibarra led the planning process for SaaStr Annual 2021, the San Francisco Bay Area’s first large-scale, in-person conference since the beginning of the pandemic. The event marked the first time many SaaStr employees had met in person. Ibarra and her team knew they had to keep it all about their community to make the experience a success.
“We have to make sure our community not only feels safe, but comfortable, and that they want to come back,” she says.
Want to follow Ibarra’s lead on community-led planning? Consider these guidelines when building in-person events for 2022.
Set and adhere to consistent ground rules
Lay a strong foundation by establishing a set of rules your event team will stick to no matter what. Policies will change, social norms will fluctuate, but your rulebook stays the same throughout the planning process so everyone knows what to expect.
Ibarra and her team decided to implement vaccination requirements, indoor masking, and rapid testing onsite for SaaStr Annual 2021.
“At least if these were our rules, everything around them could kind of fluctuate,” she says. “But we knew that we'd deliver on those.”
Establishing fixed guidelines also frees up an event team to focus on how they’ll build connections and community among on-site attendees –– rather than trying to keep up with the regional regulation of the week.
Build added health and safety measures into your budget
New health and safety measures mean new line items in your event budget. Things like administering rapid tests, collecting proof of vaccination, and requiring masks, all come with extra costs.
Up your budget to account for the health and safety items that will support your community –– don’t let the additional spend blindside you later in the planning process.
Proactively communicate plans
Once you’ve confirmed event plans, communicate early and often with everyone involved.
Be transparent and proactive. Tell them about plan A and plan B, so they know what will happen if you need to shift to the contingency plan. Don’t let attendees forget that, above all else, their safety and comfort are your priorities. Furthermore, clear communication helps build and sustain partner relationships.
At the end of the day, uncertainty will always be part of planning in-person events. And while event professionals are perhaps some of the most adept at dealing with the unknown, forever wondering how and if the show will go on as planned can take its toll.
But as Hopin’s Vice President of Corporate Marketing Lauren Sommers reminds us: It’s OK not to be OK.
Keep the people you’re creating experiences for front and center in your decision-making –– and don’t ignore your own mental health. Turn to these resources if you need some support:
Trend #2: Virtual rewrites the playbook for event professionals
Industry experts agree: Virtual events are here to stay. While some might not be ready to accept this new reality, a paradigm shift has occurred –– and ignoring it isn’t likely to offer many rewards.
“Virtual is not going away,” says Scott Gould, author and engagement consultant. “We need to imagine a future where virtual is going to be the bulk of what we're doing. We need to plan with that in mind.”
It’s no surprise technology companies were the first to embrace virtual event platforms. The SaaStr team hosted dozens of virtual events during the pandemic, and then used the data-driven insights from those online experiences to reimagine their in-person conference in 2021.
“We added a lot of roundtables,” Ibarra says. “We added a lot of small group sessions because a lot of really great, like-minded people came through our digital events –– people in our community who should be raised up to a speaker level.”
Beyond influencing future in-person experiences, virtual event technology presents opportunities for event professionals to expand their playbooks and test new strategies.
Continue to drive reach and inclusivity
There’s no question virtual events changed the industry game in 2020 and 2021. Organizers who have leaned into virtual event platforms have expanded their event communities.
In 2022, event technology is poised to continue breaking down barriers by opening up shared experiences to attendees who might otherwise be left out –– not just due to logistical, geographical, or financial challenges, but also technological ones.
Harness opportunities for measurable engagement
Virtual event technology has opened the door to immersive event experiences where attendee engagement can be measured. The pay off? Better insights that ultimately help build brand, business, and community.
In 2022, driving authentic engagement and gathering the data to prove how meaningful it is, will shape event success. In fact, almost 85% of event professionals say access to attendee engagement insights is vital to their success.
TechCrunch Marketing Director Alexandra Ames believes virtual is changing the game when it comes to increased opportunity for engagement and personalization.
“We’re trying to limit those in-person opportunities, and instead, make it more personalized,” she says. “Make it more intimate. And use virtual technology to really scale those opportunities to people who may be a little bit more reticent to travel or can't travel. And still be able to provide a level of engagement and access maybe they haven't really experienced before.”
Keep your event community engaged year-round
Gone are the days of the massive annual in-person event –– then crickets the rest of the year. Virtual events serve up ample opportunity when it comes to frequency and scale.
Consistent, year-round online touch points are set to become even more prominent in 2022 as event professionals look to fully capitalize on the audience growth and retention opportunities on the table.
Ames already stays top of mind with the TechCrunch audience by hosting weekly online events.
“We wanted a place where attendees know what they're getting,” she says. “When they go to a TechCrunch Live event every week, they know the experience will be something new and exciting.”
While virtual events still require thoughtful planning to deliver value to attendees, they also open up a world of untapped potential. Ames seeks to apply purposeful event design to both in-person and virtual experiences.
“A lot of what we're trying to do is build in value propositions throughout our entire product lineup,” she says. “We’re trying to design experiences that tie everything together and create an opportunity anybody can experience.”
Trend #3: There is no one-size-fits-all hybrid event strategy
If virtual events are calling out for more thoughtful planning, hybrid events are up there, too.
Widely regarded as the future of events, the hybrid format truly runs the gamut from a straight, stream-the-stage approach, to dedicated, complementary in-person and virtual experiences brought to life with cutting-edge technology in TV production-like style.
GitHub Director of Corporate Events Karen Hartline agrees the future is hybrid, but she says she’s still focused on the present as the format matures.
“I think every in-person event moving forward has to have an online component to it,” she says.
Despite her assertion, Hartline admits she’s also “not the biggest fan of simultaneous in-person and online and trying to bridge that gap.” She underscores the idea there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to hybrid events, and encourages fellow organizers to adapt the hybrid model based on budget, resources, and what’s right for the event audience.
“I really think it's necessary to have two separate teams, an online team and an in-person team, just because of the workload associated with each,” she says. “Budget is always another consideration when you're looking at hybrid events, because essentially it is two separate events.”
Expect to see thoughtful innovation and testing across hybrid experiences in 2022. Hartline offers a couple possible approaches to inspire your future hybrid event strategy.
Reconsider how the in-person component pairs with the virtual one
Consider replacing large, in-person events with a series of smaller, more intimate networking and community events, paired with a large virtual experience that precedes or follows them.
“I do think in-person events need to have that online component of some sort, whether it's simultaneous, before, or after,” Hartline says. “We're actually considering doing an event where everybody starts off online and then we're looking at doing regional roadshow concepts.”
There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to hybrid, so if you have the budget and resources, think creatively about how the on-site and online components play off each other.
Offer exclusive content and experiences to online attendees
Up the perceived value of the online portion of your event by offering virtual attendees exclusive content and experiences.
“It depends on what your goal is, but there is something to be said about the perceived value from a ticket for an event,” Hartline says. “So, don't shy away from thinking through, ‘Maybe we need to charge for a ticket.’ I think you’ll get committed people who want to be there, which may help in the long run.”
Think about incorporating premium, paid ticket types and digital add-on experiences like:
- Meet-and-greets with a celebrity speaker
- Exclusive and premium event swag
- Entry to VIP-only virtual areas
- Early access to content or new products
Thinking of test driving Hartline’s ideas? You’ll be in good company –– 63% of organizers say they expect their events to be hybrid going forward.
Trend #4: Long-lasting engagement unlocks sponsorship ROI
A successful event sponsorship program has long been built on relationships. In fact, the push toward data-driven sponsorship emerged only with the rise of performance marketing and a culture of quick wins.
Now, the pandemic has sent the pendulum swinging back the other way, with event sponsors still wary of their investments resulting in a loss.
“Sponsors need to invest in events that provide them a return, but today’s short-term approach can make this difficult to realistically achieve,” explains Kathryn Frankson, director of event marketing at Informa.
And so, a more dependable approach has reemerged, with today’s event sponsor mantra on repeat: Build meaningful relationships, and they will come.
As we look to 2022, expect to see the sponsor-organizer connection continue to strengthen, and activations tightly woven into the fabric of each event, as sponsors seek to win attendee trust and engagement.
“It can be really hard to build something that's impactful, and events have become a true marketing channel for most brands,” Frankson says. “[Sponsors] just want that alignment that's actually going to give them a return…We're seeing longer-range plans and the desire for a seat at the table. It's less about a gold sponsorship and more about longer range demand gen or PR.”
The pay off? Mutual, pandemic-proof value –– and, ultimately, event sponsorship ROI.
Untapped opportunities will come into focus
Similar to the hybrid event space, the sponsorship playbook is being rewritten. Organizers have room to think outside the box with activations –– including looking at opportunities beyond the confines of the event itself.
Frankson suggests testing pre- and post-event sponsorship activations, such as quarterly or even year-round content, social media, and email co-marketing campaigns.
Shared values will be at the heart of successful activations
Today’s socially aware and politically active event attendees will dedicate their time, attention, and dollars to brands that align with their values.
Event sponsors and organizers alike are set to seek out partnerships that will drive an emotional connection with their audience.
At the end of the day, the most successful and valuable 2022 activations will be born out of shared values, and, in turn, will yield what everyone wants: deep, authentic engagement –– not just impressions.
Event technology will unlock the data to prove sponsorship ROI
This relationships-first approach is a marathon not a sprint. And while the anecdotal wins that come with it are easy to come by, sponsors still need data to justify their investments.
Fortunately, event technology is cracking the code on engagement data and attendee-level insights –– giving event organizers the numbers they need to prove their mettle in the sponsorship space.
With heightened demand to show the payoff of long-term relationship building, combined with developing event technology and only 20% of event organizers saying they’re “very satisfied” with current sponsor ROI analytics, expect to see the gaps start to close as event technology rises to the data-led occasion.
Trend #5: Event marketers need to think small to win big
Event professionals are no stranger to the old adage, “go big or go home.”
We like to make it memorable by making a big splash –– tens of thousands of people onsite, multi-day conference programs, celebrity appearances, big venues, big-name entertainment headliners –– you name it, an event planner has made it happen.
While these tentpole events –– the Dreamforces and Inbounds of the world –– will always have their place, the reality is most businesses don’t have the budgets and teams to blow it out of the water quite like that.
But, for the most part, in 2022, they also won’t need to follow suit to make a big impact. The premium experiences audiences now demand are more affordable –– and, many industry experts agree, more effective –– than massive multi-day conferences.
“As much as we want to bring lots of people together in a large environment –– and I think that will still happen –– I think the value is in the micro events that surround those activities,” says Liz Lathan, founder of Haute Companies. “So, putting a bunch of people in a room to listen to a keynote that could have been a podcast or that you heard about on a webcast sometime over the last two years when you were in your room –– I think it has to be more than that.”
Intimate, emotionally evocative events will come out on top
Lathan believes these micro events — like breakouts, workshops, and other participatory activities — create more opportunities for event marketers to engage their audiences and evoke emotion.
“Everyone knows that emotion is what drives brand loyalty,” Lathan says. “You see it in marketing and you see Psychology Today release studies saying, ‘you have to evoke emotion,’ but they don't tell you which emotions. They just say, ‘it doesn't matter, any emotion’ –– but that's not the case.”
When it comes to marketing, people want to feel something. Not only are intimate, emotionally evocative events set to take center stage in 2022 –– this will also be the year we’ll be able to measure emotional impact.
Putting figures to feelings will change the game
Lathan and her team are developing a formula that directly attributes the emotional value of an event to revenue. [*Insert tears of complete and utter joy*]
“We have finally figured out the formula for return on emotion, ROE,” she announces.
Once Lathan’s return-on-emotion formula launches in January 2022, measuring the emotional impact of events will no longer be shrouded in its classic mystery.
According to Lathan, there are five emotions you need to elicit in your program to effectively drive pipeline and revenue. While she stayed mum about four of them, she did spill the beans on one: hopefulness.
“Giving your audience hope that they can implement whatever it is you're offering, that they can advance their own career, or make the connections they need to succeed,” she says. “Or they have hope they’ll bring something back to their company that's going to change the way they're perceived or their company is perceived…We do joyous, happy things, and people respond to that. So, that is number one of our five emotions.”
Emotional authenticity will be a cornerstone of in-person events
While we wait for the ROE formula reveal, Lathan offered one more marketing trend she expects to see in 2022: emotional authenticity.
“What was interesting watching the evolution of 2020 is we all created our virtual programs and it was really about the authenticity of gathering,” she says.
Lathan predicts that after two years of dirty kitchens, sweatpants, and kids or pets crashing virtual keynotes, our collective appetite for authenticity will hold strong. And while that authentic feel might get a bit more polished along the way, those early days of pandemic-driven virtual experiences have left us with a craving for the unfiltered, honest version of just about anything.
Trend #6: Authenticity is paramount for event communities
Community building isn’t a novel concept –– in fact, it has probably appeared on many-an-annual trends rundown at this point.
This begs the question: Is there true value in building community around events or is community simply one of our favorite buzzwords?
Black In Events Founder Keneisha Williams says it’s probably the latter.
“There was a much bigger feeling of community, to be honest, in 2020 when we felt like we were all in this together — until we were not,” she says. “But, things have changed drastically since then. People are busier. People are doing things. They're not as engaged.”
In diagnosing the decline in event community participation, Williams points to some symptoms.
Communities aren’t homogenous
Communities are made up of individuals with their own personal identities. So, while a common thread may have tied event community members together, a blanket approach just won’t cut it.
“We all came together for a specific reason,” Williams says. “But everybody's so different within their own identities, within their own stories, so it's at a point now where we're trying to understand people individually.”
To keep up with the changing dynamics, Williams reinforces the need to recognize and respect individual identities and motivations by always putting people first.
“After every event, what are we doing to capture where people are?” Williams prompts. “How is our content focused on people –– what their needs are and meeting those needs? I always start with people first by figuring out how we can attend to them and make them feel represented properly.”
Today’s global communities are distributed across time zones
Ever been on a group message thread and checked out for a few hours –– only to realize you now have 100 unread messages? Or been looking for a Slack response from someone who’s three time zones and five days of PTO away from you?
Technology has, in many ways, helped people around the world discover, access, and strengthen event communities.
And while the benefits of these global connections are clear, the spread across so many time zones has played into communication gaps and an overall decrease in community engagement.
Community leaders have their work cut out for them
Change is happening at a good clip and event communities are feeling the breakneck pace –– particularly community leaders.
“One minute things can seem like everything is OK,” Williams says. “Then the next minute, they’re not. As community leaders, we have to account for our audience, our community, evolving in that same motion. So, we have to be on the ball all the time.”
Williams highlights the fine line event community leaders are forever walking between spearheading initiatives that bring everyone together in meaningful ways, while maintaining an environment that gives all members a voice.
Event communities can make a comeback through authentic relationships
With all these forces now tugging at event communities, how do we continue to nurture and strengthen the connections they offer?
According to Williams, the solution is authentic relationships and putting people first.
To nurture the event communities of today, she suggests:
- “Dropping into” your community: Have one-on-one conversations with your members to better understand their worlds.
- Recognizing and rewarding engagement: Find ways to highlight and reward your event community’s top contributors.
Williams elevates the most engaged members of the Black in Events community by profiling them in an annual publication, 100 Highlights.
“People love seeing themselves recognized,” she says. “Some people may already be well known in the event space. However, a lot of the professionals that we spotlight have never been featured on a list of top professionals in the event industry. So, it's inspiring, and that's the point.”
When all is said and done, the most successful event communities will thrive by leaning into this year’s most important trend: engagement.
Trend #7: Your event strategy needs an engagement strategy
Building a thriving event community today certainly poses challenges –– after all, many variables are at play.
Williams isn’t alone in the conviction that cultivating more authentic relationships will lay the necessary foundation for community building in 2022.
“A community is not a MailChimp mailing list, and community also doesn't just happen because people happen to be there,” says Scott Gould, author of “The Shape of Engagement.” “People don't become family just because you call them that.”
But in order to develop authentic relationships and build committed communities, event professionals will need to focus on one crucial –– and often elusive –– piece of the puzzle: engagement.
Engagement is at the heart of every community, but it’s often misunderstood. And, for event professionals, it can feel like a difficult thing to get right. In fact, more than 40% of event organizers say engaging audiences has been their biggest challenge in 2021.
“Engagement is togetherness,” Gould explains. “It is a snazzy business word that means organizational relationship building. If somebody's engaged in a conversation, they are together with it. If they're unengaged, they're not together.”
According to Gould, engagement comprises three psychological components:
- Cognitive (the head), which involves how we think and process information and therefore what we know.
- Behavioral (the hands), which connects our thoughts to our behavior, essentially what we do with what we know.
- Affective (the heart), which centers on the bonds we develop with people, things and ideas, and what we become.
When it comes to engagement, most event professionals understand these three elements are at play — if only instinctually — but even the most skilled organizer stands to benefit from Gould’s predictions on how event engagement will play out in 2022.
Partners will expect a seat at the table
Partner expectations are making a repeat appearance in this rundown, following their initial mention in relation to event sponsorship trends.
Gould believes pandemic-related uncertainty is driving tighter event planner-partner relationships, and in turn, engagement-led collaborations.
“I think the first and most important trend for any event planner for 2022 is actually partner engagement, which is one that you wouldn't expect,” Gould says. “But with the way variants are creeping in, with the way travel is constantly being disrupted, any event planner has to have solid relationships with their partners, their sponsors, their attendees, their speakers, their suppliers, the venue, the tech experts, the whole thing –– because everyone's got to be on the same page and recognize this could change at any moment. Your partners are your team, and you need a team that is so engaged it can flex and adapt to any situation at a moment’s notice.”
Co-creation and equity are the secret ingredients of meaningful engagement
Ever wondered why we’re attached to our crafts, doodles, poems, proposals, or even the DIY furniture we make?
“The psychology of creation is profound,” Gould says. “When I make something, I'm far more bonded to it emotionally. It's known as the IKEA effect.”
Events that offer equitable co-creation will be at the forefront of true engagement.
“Events should be a place where attendees make something that they can actually go on and use the following day,” he says. “And where you, as the event host, are remembered — because you were the facilitator of that making.”
Gould believes creative engagement will make or break events moving forward.
“Most of today’s events are not geared toward empowering creation,” he says. “Rather, attendees come and they sit and listen – even in so-called ‘workshop’ sessions. And, I think the time is ticking for these types of events. We desperately need to start embracing making some stuff and actually creating real change and tangible value.”
Virtual event technology will create a world of engagement opportunities
If meaningful engagement is the holy grail of 2022 event strategies, virtual event technology will seek to provide event professionals with a full ecosystem of tools to make those engagement dreams a reality.
“Look at the Metaverse, look at Facebook's rebranding to Meta, just play this forward by a few years; heck, we're mostly there,” Gould says.
As creativity and innovation continue to flourish in this space, event tech will aim to stay a step ahead of new ideas, forever redefining what it means to come together online.
Virtual events have already fostered this togetherness –– during a time when we needed it most.
In 2022, expect to see next-level engagement strategies fueled by memories of a time when conferences were about gathering brilliant minds, bumping up against a desire for new ways to connect –– and the ever-developing technology that’s poised to make it all happen.
Trend #8: Health-conscious attendees reshape food and beverage
Ah those days of yesteryear when your conference meal was dictated by the answer to that age-old question: “Chicken, fish, or steak?”
The food and beverage landscape has been evolving for decades with an increasing focus on providing options for a range of dietary preferences and requirements. But the pandemic sent it into overdrive –– in many cases out of pure necessity. After all, breaking bread goes hand in hand with gathering, and culinary experiences are inherently sensory.
The rules of the COVID road are certainly difficult to follow when serving food or drink –– nevermind eating and drinking –– at an in-person event. Navigating the brave new world of social distancing, masks, and high-touch surfaces –– when not so long ago, restaurants were closed and Lysol-ing groceries was common –– has posed specific challenges for those designing the food and beverage experience at physical events.
Catering to in-person audiences comes with a side of new expectations
According to Lental Productions Chief Experience Officer Lenny Talarico it will be the health- and safety-conscious event attendees of 2022 who will drive the reinvention of the in-person culinary experience. And, it will be up to event professionals to determine what their budgets can accommodate.
“People have become a bit more demanding in many ways post-pandemic,” Talarico says. “And that has trickled over into the way they eat, the way they shop, and the way they consume food and beverage.”
The complexity of delivering on these demands is real. But, paying attention to what attendees want will be the difference between inclusivity and exclusivity –– whether guests get a sense of belonging and closeness, or the nagging feeling they’re not being catered to (pun intended).
As on-site gathering-goers seek to make their voices heard, expect to see some changes.
A reimagination of the traditional buffet
“I believe that the buffet will continue to exist and it’s going to evolve in the way that it’s serviced,” Talarico says.
Prepare for buffets to continue becoming less self-serve and more staff-serviced as a way of reducing crowds at food stations and minimizing high-touch situations.
Talarico adds that lingering consumer questions about what’s in our food and, in turn, what’s going into our bodies, will transform the types of food available at buffets. This focus on wellbeing will produce demands for things like organic foods and health-conscious options tailored to a variety of dietary requirements.
Low-contact or no-contact grab-and-go options
As the pandemic lingers, attendees will continue to gravitate toward convenient and safety-conscious meal options –– with an added sprig of sophistication.
“Think of the bento box, think of the lunch box,” Talarico says. “But I think what we’re going to see is more upscale, bespoke packaging –– something that communicates a sense of security in how that food was prepared and packaged for individual consumption.”
Sophisticated non-alcoholic and low-alcohol beverages
Talarico notes that, in many cases, the pandemic has driven people to either drink more or less.
“Either they over-alcohol-ed or they cut off cold turkey,” he says. “So what we’re seeing now is a trend of people consuming alcohol in a more appropriate manner, and in many cases, drinking less.”
Expect this trend to be expressed in the form of pre-packaged beverages with low-alcohol content and more sophisticated non-alcoholic options that go well beyond a can of soda.
While event food and beverage options will be served with heaping sides of health, safety, and security, event professionals should continue to focus on what has always been top of mind in this space: quality and giving the people what they want.
Trend #9: Sustainability takes precedence in the "new normal"
Event sustainability isn’t new. But for the most part, we’re all now sitting up in our seats about it as we head into 2022.
This is set to be the year we finally stand up –– in part, due to broad consumer demands.
In fact, 67% of Generation Z and 71% of Millennials say climate change should be our priority right now, and nearly one in three consumers have stopped purchasing certain brands or products because they had ethical or sustainability-related concerns about them.
“It’s hard to believe we’re still talking about event sustainability 25 years later,” says expert and consultant, Shawna McKinley. “It’s a topic that tends to reinvent itself in a variety of ways. And, it's never been more important than it is now.”
With pressure to stay competitive and relevant, event spaces are poised to genuinely embrace sustainability holistically –– and put forward a good faith effort to openly report on outcomes.
“More so than ever before, event stakeholders are asking organizers to embrace a more environmentally-friendly approach,” McKinley says. “And that's putting pressure on today’s event community to really prioritize sustainability and to transparently communicate how we're reducing our carbon footprint, as well as how we’re mitigating or offsetting our events’ environmental impact.”
Attendee expectations, widespread corporate social responsibility initiatives, and sponsor demands will all continue to power the acceleration of this trend.
McKinley offers three thoughtful, community-driven ways to prepare as we head into 2022.
Approach event sustainability holistically
Small-scale, siloed, low-effort initiatives like recycling sidestep the wide-reaching approach needed to holistically address sustainability –– plus, they no longer offer the PR mileage they once did.
“Event professionals are amazing at recycling, getting rid of bottled water and other varieties of low-hanging fruit. But these steps typically reduce event emissions by 1% at best. Today it's not seen as enough,” McKinley says. “We need to set clear intentions — reducing emissions and improving access key among them — and tap into our biggest opportunities to achieve these goals.”
Her advice? Think about how sustainability initiatives will be perceived through the eyes of attendees and other key event stakeholders. Ask yourself if the measures you’re putting in place will just look like lip service or if they’ll honor the full weight of the climate crisis.
Evaluate the impact of shifting to virtual or hybrid
The event industry has taken steps toward building a more sustainable future by leaning into virtual and hybrid experiences. But there’s still a need to evaluate what makes the most sense on an event-by-event basis.
“The reality is online event formats are hands down the lowest impact,” McKinley says. “Event technology is a more effective way to significantly reduce emissions because it allows people to opt out of high-carbon activities like flying.”
As virtual event technology continues to expand what’s possible online, the question of whether an event should take place in-person, virtually, or in a hybrid format will continue to pop up –– along with a good, hard look at how to make the experience what it needs to be in the most sustainable way possible.
Be open and honest about your event sustainability strategy
Figure out how you’re going to holistically address sustainability across your event strategy, then be transparent about it.
“I'm being asked more and more about what the business case for events is in a sustainable business world that’s focused on net-zero carbon emissions,” McKinley says.
She encourages event professionals to forge ahead confidently without overcomplicating it.
“If there's any silver lining of the pandemic, it has helped us to prepare for what's to come,” she says. “Because I think the key things are cleaner, lower-impact activities that are also more resilient to changing circumstances.”
It all tracks back to putting people first. With broad demand for every industry to address the climate crisis, your best bet is to drive clarity with your audience around the sustainability initiatives you’re incorporating. Then, make good on promises to report on progress –– even if it’s not perfect. If this year’s event marketing trends are any indication, people will appreciate the honesty.
Trend #10: “New normal” means new A/V considerations
We can continue to debate the existential question of 2021: to hybrid or not to hybrid? But the reality is industry experts broadly believe growth in the world of hybrid events is inevitable. Now, it’s just a matter of how that world will take shape over time.
With hybrid events encompassing a far-reaching spectrum of sub-formats, the technology –– specifically, the audio-visual technology –– to support them has come a long way.
“I used to tell people, picking a virtual event platform is like trying to buy a car,” says Wallace Johnson, managing director of WLJ Consulting. “All of them have four wheels, power windows, power steering, and the core basics.”
But the pandemic altered this course, and it’s now evolved well beyond the straight faces-on-a-screen situation that was at play for many years.
Johnson has not only changed his tune, he’s also excited about the innovation still to come. In the meantime, he offers considerations for event professionals who are ready to embrace hybrid in 2022.
Rethink venue strategy to achieve A/V excellence
Let’s call a spade, a spade: The cost of an on-site venue combined with all the technical infrastructure necessary to pull off a high-production hybrid event stretches many-a-budget thin.
To make hybrid a more realistic option –– while still achieving A/V excellence –– Johnson suggests:
- Being cost-conscious when choosing a physical venue: Pick one that offers affordable and all-inclusive rates for network solutions and other integrated equipment. In most cases, the difference between just recording your event or having a hybrid event is simply an internet connection.
- Looking to dedicated A/V teams to bring audio-visual components to life: Whether it’s an in-house team or external A/V experts, tap into folks who can help run the show and capture high-quality live event content that can be made available to virtual attendees asynchronously.
- Possibly charging for in-person attendance: Think about the benefits for both audiences (in-person and virtual) and market those experiences to let the attendee decide which one is best for them. Both versions will have value but not having a hybrid option shouldn’t be a choice.
Raise the bar on production value and creativity
High-quality production technology already exists, but finding novel and creative ways to use it will be key in 2022. Johnson says an innovative approach is, “especially relevant when used to connect multiple sites or remote presenters.”
The cinematographic magic of the scenic, virtual backdrops used in movies can be yours –– albeit for a pretty penny. But there are other lower-cost options that will still level up your event production value: more thoughtful content and room set ups, multiple camera angles, smaller-scale LED designs, and other interactive digital displays.
The bottom line? Creative event production will increasingly land a starring role as part of the storytelling experience used to engage attendees.
Don’t sleep on automation for efficiency and comfort
Johnson notes the expansion of services in the technical automation space is one to watch.
This automation can help make certain virtual, in-person, and hybrid event logistics even more seamless with everything from touchless check-in kiosks and automatic badge printing to non-intrusive temperature checks.
As virtual event technology continues to develop, and new ecosystems are created within those platforms –– driven largely by integrations –– event professionals have an increasing number of opportunities to reap the benefits of innovation in the automation space.
The result? Increased efficiency and comfort for all.
Let’s write the future of the event industry together
As we enter 2022 and begin to test, explore, and stretch these event trends to their limits –– with visions of hybrid dancing in our heads and champagne pops still echoing in our ears –– we can collectively acknowledge we’re all writing the future of the event industry, together, every day.
So, give yourself permission to move boldly through the year, equipped with our industry experts’ voices whispering in your ear.
Rethink traditional approaches. Focus on engagement. Build authentic relationships. Be honest. Embrace innovation. Take care of yourself. And — to the best of your ability –– accept the unknown. Because if there’s anything we’ve all learned, being prepared pays off, but you never know what’s just around the corner.
Here’s to the new year, and creating experiences that help us feel closer than ever.