The results are in from our eighth annual Conference Industry Survey! Well, almost. We are in the process of analyzing and compiling the data, which will be published next month. While there are several interesting themes and trends that we want to dig into further, here is one we couldn’t wait to share: In 2022, meeting planners are drawing a line between virtual events and virtual content.
What’s so special about in-person events? Shared experiences
Organizations typically offer a variety of educational content, from instructor-led and e-learning courses to webinars, podcasts, and publications. What makes conferences so special is the community that is built around a series of shared experiences.
According to our survey data, most virtual and hybrid conferences that were held in 2021 contained a significant amount of live-streamed content to replicate the shared experience of an in-person event. To pull this off while also keeping virtual audiences engaged, organizations invested heavily in technology platforms, A/V resources, and staffing.
Trying to replicate an in-person conference in a virtual setting is unsustainable for most
While some of our respondents did see success with this virtual and hybrid event format, a majority felt it was too time and resource-intensive and did not see the necessary return on investment. In fact, data from the survey clearly shows that regardless of whether meetings were delivered in-person, virtually, or as a hybrid experience in 2021, most saw significant decreases in attendance and revenue.
And even if some organizations wanted to continue with a virtual or hybrid event experience in the future, they may no longer have the staff to do so thanks to the Great Resignation.
There is value in virtual event content
According to the survey results, meeting planners are significantly less interested in delivering a virtual event experience in 2022. At the same time, they acknowledge that virtual events did reach a wider audience and, in some cases, attract new attendees. The social component of these events could not compete with an in-person meeting. But the educational content was still just as valuable.
Moving forward, 80% of respondents are making their session content available on-demand after the conference ends, and a growing number are offering it to more than just their registered attendees, for an additional fee. In fact, nearly 60% plan to re-use their conference content to generate additional revenue for their organization.
On-demand access to recorded sessions will become the new standard
Pre-pandemic, it was common for session content to only be available to in-person attendees. Some organizations made speaker slides and other handouts available to anyone after the fact, but without the presentation context, they had little value to non-attendees.
If the survey data holds true, then moving forward it will become standard practice to record session presentations and offer them as part of a tiered registration package—essentially what we’ve referred to as “hybrid-lite.”
Taking this extra step harnesses the best of all worlds:
- Increases the reach of the conference to those that can’t attend or no longer want to travel
- Offers a “soft” introduction to new prospective attendees, allowing them to see the value of the event before they commit to the in-person experience
- Provides flexibility and choice to those attendees that want it
- Creates an additional source of revenue for the event
Things to consider when offering on-demand access to recorded conference content
While providing on-demand access to conference content as an option to attendees is simpler and more cost-effective to execute, there are some important considerations that should be worked out ahead of time:
- How are you going to record the content? Will you record sessions on-site? If so, this requires a moderate (but not prohibitive) amount of on-site A/V and logistical support—particularly if you also want to record the Q&A portion of the session. Or have your speakers record and submit a separate version of their presentations for distribution to a wider audience.
- Are your speakers on board with recording and distribution? This additional component should be accounted for in your speaker agreement, including any distribution terms. With some speakers, such as your keynotes, this may not be an option, and that’s okay. It helps to provide a compelling reason to attend on-site the next year.
- Is your audience okay with being recorded? If you are recording session presentations live on-site, then make sure your bases are covered for potentially including any attendees in recorded content that is distributed beyond the event, as the terms of registration.
- How are you going to distribute your on-demand content? It’s important that you have a place to host session content that is easy to set up, provides user-friendly search functionality (by speaker, topic, or even keyword), and provides the necessary access control. If you have access to your IT resources, then it might make sense to host the content on your organization’s website. Otherwise, a third-party platform designed specifically for this purpose may be a good option.
Is 2022 finally going to be a rebound year for the conference industry?
According to our 2022 Conference Industry Survey, most of us are optimistically hopeful. We have had two years to adjust and are much more confident in being flexible with how our events are delivered. This does not necessarily mean we’re reverting to 2019 status quo. It’s clear that choice, flexibility, and virtual access to education will continue to be important to conference participants—even those that do attend in-person. Even as we evolve away from virtual events, it will be important to use virtual event content to expand the reach and revenue of the conference.
And stay tuned for our full 2022 Conference Industry Report coming soon!