Katie Tyrrell is one of MM’s Events Coordinators who has been working on transitioning events online during the pandemic, as well as plan new digital offerings. Katie was interviewed by our Communications Team on her experience of working in the events industry during COVID-19.
How have things changed during COVID-19 for the Managing Matters Events Team?
The last few months have been a whirlwind of learning and transforming how we work as event professionals. Our industry went through a huge overhaul in a short period of time, so we had to pick up new skills quickly and do the best we could to deliver amazing events.
How did the transition happen from in-person to online events? The first thing I looked at was how to change up the content so that it would be suitable for the new online format. You can’t simply pick up the content meant for an in-person event and host it online. Attendees’ attention spans are different when attending an online event, and so we need to think of new ways to keep them engaged. Sessions need to be shortened, formats need to be changed and we need to allow for more breaks to prevent ‘virtual fatigue’, which in turn can lead to attendees shutting off, both mentally and literally. It is much easier at a virtual event to leave if you are not feeling engaged. The next thing to look at is the platform you are going to use. This will vary from group to group depending on the goals and objectives of their event. For some groups, networking is super important and for others, it is more about the programming or obtaining continuing education credits. Once you have the goals and objectives locked down, it’s on to the exciting part… RESEARCH! Lots and lots of research. When the pandemic hit, many companies began launching new virtual event platforms, however they can all vary greatly in terms of functionality and look. How did association boards or planning committees react and collaborate with the MM team? This pandemic was a shock to everyone so of course at the beginning, the virtual events space was relatively unknown territory for many. In saying that, most boards and committees have been quite open to new ideas and are willing to work with our team to deliver value to their members.
Throughout this time, it’s important that we, as event professionals, are able to educate our boards and committees and explain how a virtual event differs from a simple webinar and show them the amazing things we can do with a virtual event. It is a learning curve for us all and it is key to have open and honest conversations with the boards and committees we work with.
What does the virtual platform environment look like now? The virtual event platform industry has grown exponentially since the beginning of the pandemic and there are new platforms coming into the market constantly so we are continuously attending demonstrations to educate ourselves on what’s out there at the moment. In this last week alone, I have looked at 10 new platforms. Each platform comes with various features and price tags, they can vary anywhere from $2K - $30k and more for just one event. I haven’t seen a platform yet that has every single feature I would want for the ideal virtual event. Some do networking really well but may be lacking in sponsorship opportunities or reporting, for example or vice versa. However, as the months go by, platforms are adding more and more features so I’m sure that will change. The pandemic forced us all to transform and learn new skills so there is no wonder why the perfect platform hasn’t been created just yet but it’s still relatively early days and I believe it will get to that point.
How did communications about these events change? Communications to attendees and speakers have changed a lot. We have to provide a lot more instruction for virtual events compared to in person as it is no longer just a case of providing the venue, accommodation and registration information. We now have to clearly explain how to access the platform, how to use the platform and whether or not the platform requires specific technology requirements along with all the usual event information. When all of this information is just placed in an email, it can become lost in the messaging and is often left unread so we are experimenting with the idea of sending video tutorials and more visual communications now instead.
How have clients and attendees reacted to online events? Most of the feedback received has been very positive. With technology, it is almost always guaranteed that some people will have issues or not feel comfortable using the technology. However, some of the positive feedback surrounding virtual events has been the fact that attendees no longer have to travel, organize time off work or spend money on accommodation and that they can attend and have a great experience right from their own home.
Has the shift from in-person to virtual events change how you plan? Planning a virtual event takes a lot longer than some people may think, in ways it is still quite similar to the planning of an in-person event. We still have to find a “venue” (albeit a virtual one), manage speakers, communicate with attendees, manage registration and run the event on the day, along with all the other logistics that come with planning an event. It requires event professionals to be more creative and forward thinking, especially when choosing the platform to host your event on.
Once COVID-19 is no longer a threat, do you see there being a shift to more virtual events, even when in-person is an option? 100%! I do not see the events industry going back to what we considered “normal” before the pandemic. I believe there will be a huge shift to hybrid events and some may indeed remain in a purely virtual format depending on their member’s needs. The pandemic had a big economic impact on many associations and hosting events virtually helps to alleviate some of that considering the overhead costs aren’t as high as an in-person event. Virtual events have lower overhead costs and are more environmentally friendly than in-person events as they involve less travel, printing, food waste, etc. Additionally, in some cases, there has been a substantial increase in attendance as we can reach a broader audience when hosting virtual events, which is one of the amazing advantages of online platforms. That being said, the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to prepare is substantial and because this is new to everyone, sometimes, it can be seen as simplistic to organize, when it is in fact, quite the opposite.
What has surprised you?
How quickly the events industry was able to transition to a virtual world, including the attendees of these events. It was a massive change for many and it has been great to see how it was embraced and the agile spirit of the industry. It’s not entirely surprising, more so just a wonderful thing to see and be a part of.