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The future of corporate events is hybrid

Rapid-fire event cancellation notices and invites to (poorly produced) virtual events littered the inboxes of B2B audiences at the start of the pandemic. Luckily, there are plenty of learnings for organizers and sponsors to implement as the landscape continues to transform.

As corporate event planners head into 2021, the general consensus is that virtual will remain the status quo until a coronavirus vaccine is widely available, or the pandemic subsides by other means.

In a May 2020 survey of US marketing professionals, The 614 Group asked what types of events would likely occur post-pandemic. The answers consisted only of virtual possibilities, including live video feeds, digital community building, and virtual experiences with physical elements delivered to attendees pre-event. More innovative events that respondents were looking out for in 2021 included augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) experiences to demo new products.

But the shift to hybrid will start in 2021. A Global DMC Partners survey of event planners worldwide in September compared strategies for 2020 with those for 2021. While virtual events were the main touchpoint for most respondents in 2020, only 30% said they would execute virtual-only in lieu of in-person events in 2021, versus 42% who said a hybrid approach, which included a face-to-face program with a virtual element, would be their strategy.

A hybrid strategy allows event organizers to start exploring what future in-person events might look like, while also ensuring the digital component is still a focus. Hosting an event that involves a scaled-back face-to-face element with a virtual extension can also help organizers think about their contingency plans, as laws and restrictions on, as well as attendee comfort with, in-person gatherings change over time.

Most sources we interviewed anticipate that by H2 2021, small-scale gatherings will commence, but even once companies allow employees to attend events and travel for work, it is not likely that events will return to their pre-pandemic glory.