By ITB Community and Dan Rivlin, CEO at Kenes Group
As the world tries to anchor itself amidst the COVID-19 crisis, professional conference organisers (PCOs) will need to apply a new perspective to event management and audience engagement. ITB Community had a catch up with Dan Rivlin, CEO at Kenes Group, to hear his views on the near and long-term outlooks for PCOs, together with actions that they should consider in the months and years ahead.
What do you think will be the new perspective that PCOs will adopt in the post-COVID world?
There is a tremendous change anticipated for PCOs.
We are going to see different types of meetings. Everybody talks about hybrid, but hybrid is not even a single type of meeting in itself, and I am not sure that it is going to be the only thing on offer on the market. Virtual and in-person events will remain. The key will be in knowing how to address them all and expanding our expertise accordingly.
There is a significant amount of investment going into virtual event platforms. We hear constantly about all kinds of high-tech companies that are raising money to get into virtual meeting self-service platforms and we will need to adjust to the change this will bring.
We will see more and more clients who have the capability to do events by themselves, at least the virtual part.
Because virtual meetings are becoming a commodity by themselves, PCOs will have to develop new skills to be kind of TV-production companies and, at the same time, know how to stage events on-site. That may create differentiation between PCOs — those who decide to focus only on on-site, those who may focus on virtual, and those who would provide a combination of these services. PCOs’ expertise will have to quickly evolve to match the new needs of our customers—this is for sure.
What do you think will be the evolution of hybrid events? How do you see them developing in the near future?
There is not one term, nor one understanding of what a hybrid event is.
Before COVID, what we used to call a hybrid was an event with a majority of the delegates on-site and a certain percentage of them (not a very high one, around 20 per cent) was remote. Sometimes the virtual audience could engage and ask questions, but mostly they were observing the event from home, just like watching a football match on TV. The real thing, the vibrant energy and interaction, was happening on-site. There are still formats like that and they will continue post-COVID, assuming that most people are ready to go back on-site, which is a big assumption at this stage.
Another kind of a hybrid format is what we call “fifty-fifty” — half of the people are on-site; the other half are virtual. We have to develop a whole new model on how we support the sponsors and attendees in this case. We have a lot of questions about the communication needs of all stakeholders. We need to create new networking experiences for the different types of participants. The fifty-fifty hybrid event is therefore going to be very challenging and requiring a lot of resources to pull off successfully.
Another option is to have a smaller on-site meeting, for example, 20 or 30 per cent of the participants attending on-site and the rest—attending virtually. One of the big questions in this type of hybrid is how do you address the networking experience? Will the networking activities be for all attendees and happening at the same time? Or are you going to have different options for the on-site and virtual audiences without trying to find a common ground?
Finally, some will focus on doing in-person meetings only. Then the challenge is having to offer an experience as great as, or even better, than the pre-COVID events that people remember. We would have to assist participants to meet more and create more value for them so that they want to come back on-site again.
Can you give PCOs some practical tips when they start to plan their first hybrid event?
All events will become more and more like shows.
People will not accept Zoom fatigue or countless hours of long presentations, both online and in-person. We have to create shows that are interesting for people to attend, meet, and exchange knowledge and know-how.
The market is going to come back flooded with meetings and events, but also people will be much more aware of the events they can choose from.
Maybe that is where PCOs can start: decide on the type of meetings they want to create and then focus on their execution.
Coming back, it will be really hard for PCOs to forecast the number of people that will show up on-site versus those online. These first events have to be done in collaboration with good partners—venue providers and suppliers—who are flexible, because we would not know until right before the event starts, what will be the numbers and the needs on-site. We should have the ability to shift between virtual and on-site quickly, and we won’t be able to do that without the solid backing of all partners involved.
The financial challenge is another thing. If before COVID, we had to solve a lot of questions regarding the rotation of international meetings and staging them on-site, now the number of questions has tripled. PCOs will need to plan meetings carefully, stay flexible, adapt to a changing situation, and be creative to do things differently. I think that the PCO of the future if we are still going to call ourselves PCOs, will be known for adaptability and the possibility to adjust meetings from one format to another.
The future of PCOs is going to be challenging, yet very exciting.