What to Expect When Planning an In-Person Event in 2021

It may seem strange to think about planning an in-person event after the abrupt move to virtual ones last year, but event organizers are eager to schedule face-to-face meetings for several reasons. As one event organizer writes in Forbes, “Virtual events are here to stay, but once the situation improves, we should opt for in-person events whenever possible.” 

Why the urgency to return to in-person? For one, COVID-19 vaccinations continue to increase at a rapid pace, with the country reaching the Biden administration’s 100-day goal of 100 million vaccines by day 58, even exceeding 200 million vaccines by day 92. And, although virtual events can be more cost-effective and scalable than on-site meetings, one of the main pain points that many organizers repeatedly hear is that without face-to-face meetings, there are missed opportunities to network, collaborate, or have dynamic discussions within a particular industry.  

Attendees Want to See and Interact With Top Quality Speakers

In an interview with Conference & Meetings World, Virginie De Visscher, a senior director at  Destination Canada Business Events, emphasizes that “We are hearing more and more from audiences that they are ‘Zoomed out.” Between virtual and hybrid work, the last thing many conference attendees want is to be tasked with sitting in front of their computer at a virtual event. 

To incentive conference attendees back to conference rooms, event organizers need to be sure that they are attracting and vetting top speakers. Finding engaging speakers is a must for several reasons. For one, people are tired of staring at screens in virtual meetings. It will be more likely to entice attendees who are on the fence about in-person events if they see the marketing for top speakers with a proven track record of being dynamic and engaging. 

However, finding those speakers requires top software programs that are robust enough to vet them. Software and systems that can accommodate the specifications of an organization and its events are key because creating customizable scoring and reviewing will allow for a better quality selection of top candidates.

In-Person Events Are More Expensive–But Worth the Cost

A common complaint in the events industry is the rising cost of many vendors. Food and beverage costs, for example, have risen dramatically. According to the USDA, the Consumer Price Index for food rose to a 20 year high in 2020, and enhanced safety protocols, broken supply chains, and increased labor oversight only added more cost to the restaurant and catering industry. But these costs are not limited to food and beverages: Virtual web hosting, for example, can be up to $100,000 on many virtual platforms.  

Even worse, 66% of marketers expect budget cuts for events. Nevertheless, these cuts and increased costs do not mean you should scrap your in-person event. If anything, you should budget for it because it’s worth the cost.

To get people in the door, you can tier your ticketing price based on the experience or offering, onboard more sponsors with the promise of in-person engagement, and get creative with ways to upsell to attendees. 

It may seem as though hosting a virtual conference is a savings to the organization when, in fact, it only costs slightly more per attendee to host in-person events than virtual ones. In addition, there are numerous ways to monetize face-to-face meetings that are simply not possible when hosting virtual meetings.

You Need a Pandemic Compliance Advisor to Save Time and Money

Whether your in-person event is a few hundred or several thousand people, you need to onboard an event planner who is certified in pandemic compliance. While it may seem like an added expense, an expert in pandemic compliance can actually save you time and money.

How? For one, a Pandemic Compliance Advisor is well-trained and up-to-date on the latest safety protocols and recommendations both federally and locally. In addition, they have relationships with vendors and venues that understand these COVID-19 protocols, which means they can negotiate event logistics and pricing. 

Also, PCAs can help you easily pivot your event should unforeseen regulations or public health mandates arise. By helping you navigate these changes, they can save you the stress of anticipating cancellations when there may not be the need for them.

Don’t Abandon All Virtual Conferencing

While planning an in-person event should be a top priority for organizations this year to ‘return to normal,’ they should not abandon virtual events entirely. If 2020 taught the industry anything, it was how to be creative and provide value for attendees off-site.

In fact, 71% of planners say they will try to maintain some aspect of digital strategy for their in-person events, mainly because digital offerings are more scalable than in-person ones. Earlier, we mentioned tiered pricing. A simple revenue-generating strategy is to offer virtual access at a lower price for attendees who cannot attend (or are not comfortable attending). 

There are many ways to offer virtual incentives for off-site attendees, including access to speakers and panel guests in a more intimate virtual conferencing setting. Event planners can also create stations where in-person attendees can interact with virtual ones. Or, there can be the option to watch a recording of sessions or presentations for a fee.

Ultimately, keeping some elements of virtual conferencing in place can be a great monetization strategy and increase the scope of your marketing efforts. 

Target Your Marketing Language Around The Benefits of In-Person Events

After a year of virtual breakout rooms, it is key to stress to your audience the value of in-person ones. One of the main reasons people are willing to travel and meet with strangers in their industry is to network and connect with them. 

Underestimating this shared value among attendees could cost you in getting them excited enough to show up.

In all your messaging to conference participants, be sure to emphasize the value not only of your speakers but of the quality of the individuals attending. Create positive communications about the value of congregating and networking again after a long year. Push the importance of seeing and connecting with individuals who are changemakers in their industry.

In addition to helping source and vet the best speakers, an abstract collection and events management software can help to streamline this communication. Creating consistent, targeted marketing emails and communications that can be easily tracked and changed to match the needs of your conference attendees is vital to the planning of any event.

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