While hybrid events are likely to be part of the future of conferencing, they come with their own set of complexities, according to Nina Freysen-Pretorius, CEO, The Conference Company.
She was speaking in a panel discussion during Africa Travel Week Virtual 2021 about how the industry could breathe life into events following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Freysen-Pretorius said it was presently easier to organise a conference either face to face, or fully virtual. “A meeting for 100 people, for example, is actually cheaper as a fully virtual event. Hybrid events are more work in preparation than live events. You need two teams – live and virtual – and it is important that virtual delegates are not made to feel like the poor relation.”
Another issue was that while virtual events were cheaper than live options, people didn’t always appreciate all the costs related to licensing, production, editing and labour behind the scenes of the virtual components, she explained.
Conferencing was more than Zoom and a Teams licence, she said, and it was not only about presenting content and research. It was important to encourage participation and engagement, while enabling networking, meetings, exhibiting etc.
In agreement, Rudi van der Vyver, CEO, We Are Virtual, said the technicalities of virtual and hybrid components had hit home. “There is a lot of reassurance and education we need to do with clients regarding hybrid events. Clients have a strange perception that we can control everyone’s connection and they get upset if a speaker couldn’t join or if they didn’t have a stable experience.”
He said his team was explaining to clients that connection and bandwidth was the equivalent of the delegate’s car when they had to drive to an event or venue. “Just like we can’t control the transport to the event, it’s the same sort of thing.”
Van der Vyver added that it was also important to guide the client to the right technology platform for an event. “This is where we provide value. We’ve bumped our heads so the client doesn’t have to. There must be a return on investment for the client, the same as a live event. If a client’s objective would be reached by a Zoom meeting, why would they want to spend on a massive platform?”
He believed the industry would have two audiences; one wanting only live events and the other happy with virtual and hybrid events due to the benefits of sustainability as well as time and cost savings.
“We are creating a whole new niche in our industry and we will be better off with this change that we have been forced to create.”
Rethink, reimagine and redesign
Liezel Short, Founder and Owner of LS Event Consulting, had to rethink, reimagine and redesign the way forward in terms of events for her clients during the pandemic, partnering in new collaborations along the way. “For me the answer was to take events home to the people themselves.”
This is how Short found herself facilitating styled shoots, transforming a backyard into a fabulous event for a core group of people, or helping clients without dedicated home offices to pretty up their spaces in preparation for Zoom meetings. She also arranged what she called ‘Dinner in a Box’ and ‘Décor in a Box’ – a VIP client wanted a three-course dinner with wine tasting so she teamed up with a restaurant to put the menu together, packaged it in a beautiful box and sent décor items for the table. She also started selling curated gift boxes.
She explained that for a corporate client who needed to meet, but who didn’t want to waste and be seen spending money, she was arranging a fully-fledged event for 70 people, using aloes, herbs, vegetables and fruit as décor items. These items would be planted afterwards and the produce sent to a local soup kitchen.
Freysen-Pretorius said the biggest thing now was for people to remain positive and support each other until we came out of the pandemic. “Collaborations are the way to go. We will experience what we had before in conferencing with this new adage to it.”
Short agreed. “We are a resilient industry. We don’t give up easily. Give us a problem an hour before guests arrive on site and we sort it out.”
There was a lot of potential for industry players to wrap their heads around, said Van der Vyver. “Stick to the stuff that we know. Focus on client objectives and through collaboration find appropriate solutions for them. Don’t be stuck in the box. The time to throw away the box has come. We can create that new normal that everyone is talking about.”