While I continue to use the “corona” coaster metaphor for event professionals. We are on that roller coaster that pulls into the station giving you the illusion the ride was over, and suddenly it catapults you back on the track for another go-around (backward).  Two times in 2021 cases were down as both vaccinations became widely available and boosters became more prevalent. In early July and November, it felt like the ride was pulling back into the station.

Suddenly Omicron hit.

But we just barely figured out how to navigate our current situation?

As I have talked with our clients and my event professional friends about virtual events, there were undoubtedly successful elements such as wider audiences and content-heavy events still delivering educational substance. But the virtual fatigue and lack of desire to consume content for many hours of the day for multiple days (unless required for certification) has also set in. 

Nearly all have shared that past nearly two years has reaffirmed for them and their organization that in-person events continue to offer audiences the best ability to connect and network, build communities, share content and create commerce. Freeman’s research only further confirms this in their recent study that “85 percent of respondents say in-person events are irreplaceable because of their ability to drive commerce and networking that creates partnerships and innovation.”

Competing Interests to the Return of In-Person Events

Show organizers continue to hear from their exhibitors and sponsors that are no longer interested in participating in virtual events. They have not seen the return on investment and are often willing to sit on the sidelines or invest their marketing resources in other areas till the in-person event returns. We have adopted the same approach to our exhibiting, citing the same reason.

On the attendee side, the picture is certainly more mixed with attendees. Some are very eager to attend, while others are still more cautious. But in a similar Freeman study, “despite some concerns over the Delta variant, the majority of attendees and exhibitors want to return to in-person events, and over 90 percent are not opposed to additional health and safety protocols to enable them to gather safely. So barring restrictions that prevent a show to stage, why do we deny these two audiences to connect?

But is it Safe?

We all pledge the “duty of care” as an event’s organizer. I would suppose that we have reached a new phase of the pandemic where we are aware of the risks and have either made or not made accommodations to navigate our new world reality. I would further argue that our in-person events are arguably safer than shopping at our local big box store.  

Epistemix and Freeman recently published data that said the risks of COVID-19 infection at events were as much as eight times less than the metro area where they were being held. It goes on to state that for recent August events, the infection rates were as much as 95 percent lower than the U.S. at large. Why?  In-person business event participants are more likely to be vaccinated, reflecting a vaccination rate above 80 percent and creating vaccination coverage that drastically cuts transmission of COVID-19 at those events, regardless of the gathering size.

So again, why do we deny this opportunity?

What about Vaccination or Masking Requirements?

There are certainly many considerations around requiring vaccinations, given the controversy and political nature. However, the FDA recently granted full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people ages 16 and older. In addition, many cities, municipalities, and more businesses are moving back to indoor mask mandates. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) also announced vaccine mandated for their event in January of 2022. Other shows have also moved forward with vaccination requirements or proof of covid negative test. These large-scale events cleared the way for many to consider this a viable option depending on your audience.

But Our Show Will Be Smaller!

What I love the most about a recent article in TSNN, titled Please Stop Asking if Attendance was Down at Shows Running Right Now, is Jennifer Hoff of Taffy Event Strategies and Trifecta Events quipped “You are asking the wrong question” when it comes to overall attendance.  I must agree with her. While the sizes of events are smaller, the interaction, networking and general satisfaction are way up, according to show organizers who have held in-person events.

One show organizer shared that their exhibit surveys showed companies (because of restrictions or budgets) typically only sent higher-level decision-makers to their event. They didn’t send interns and lower-level staff to wander the aisles. As a result, exhibitor’s felt they had more time to interact in more meaningful conversations with a better buyer. What exhibitor doesn’t that?  Stop connecting the size of attendance to the quality of engagement.

But Other Events Have Cancelled?

Indeed, some events have succumbed to cancellation in the past several weeks. While those tend to make the news, they are far fewer than the others are regularly staging across the country. Each event audience is different, and only your organization, through informed data, can know the ability to stage. But we have to move past some of the emotional and personal opinions around this issue. Your audiences are navigating COVID in their everyday life and the data shows, professional events are far safer than our daily duties within five miles of our homes.

In-Person events will be smaller, but they also will be:

  • More profitable (over their virtual counterparts).
  • More engaging.
  • And more satisfying for every audience.