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Coronavirus creates “new normal” for B2B conferences

The pandemic is significantly changing the landscape for in-person conferences, congresses and trade shows. Most professional conference organizers are postponing their events to next year, with any paid registrants switched to the future event. In the meantime, we are all missing opportunities to meet with our customers and prospects.

Because of the Coronavirus, most European countries prohibit public events, such as a congress. Or the number of participants is limited. But the truth is that many potential participants and visitors are not interested in participating in events as long as the corona crisis is not under control.

Digital becomes the new normal

In light of these restrictions and concerns, a new trend is emerging: why travel thousands of miles when a conference can also be followed virtually?

It has become a lot easier in recent years to follow a conference remotely. New technologies such as live streaming and centrally-controlled robotic cameras make professional broadcasting much less complex, and therefore more affordable. With digital environments today, you can get a lot closer to the experience of traditional events: watching keynotes, engaging in dialogues and networking.

Google offers a good example: immediately after canceling its cloud conference, Cloud Next, Google launched a virtual version. Google Cloud Next '20: Digital Connect was a free, digital-first, multi-day event with livestreams of keynotes, breakout sessions and interactive learning, with experts on hand ready to answer questions. While the in-person event was traditionally held over a single weekend, the virtual version took place over multiple weeks.

Virtual reality and 3D as an alternative

Several startups are launching an alternative approach to physical events that have been cancelled due to the coronavirus: trade shows and conferences in virtual reality (VR) with professional speakers as avatars. Unlike a webinar, an event in VR offers direct interaction with the audience and participants can also network with each other.
Traditional congresses and trade shows can be digitized into a virtual world where you can check out the exhibition stands, meet people, attend presentations by international speakers, and get to know the latest products.

A textbook example of an organization that managed to adapt quickly is Tomorrowland. This year it transformed itself into a digital festival with the help of 3D and special effects. In addition to music, there were also many interactive experiences, such as games and workshops.

These are some of the key benefits of online conferences:

  • They’re more sustainable
    Visitors and speakers don’t have to travel by plane or car. This ensures significantly reduced CO2 emissions. In addition, you also avoid (plastic) waste, food waste and goody bags (that no one really appreciates.)
  • There’s no travel time
    Since an online conference can be followed entirely from behind your screen, you don’t have to worry about any travel time. We hear from many participants of virtual conferences that they especially like the reduced travel time. It’s time they can spend on their work, or with their family. The time spent on travel is also a crucial factor in making the decision whether to attend a live event or not.
  • They offer greater reach and more ticket sales
    The reach of your business events is increased by giving participants the opportunity to experience the event when they cannot physically be present. In addition, as an organizer you don’t have to be restrained by the maximum capacity of the space in which you organize the event.
  • The costs are lower than for physical events
    The significant reduction in costs for items like location, technology, catering and speaker logistics make online conferences a cheaper alternative. Of course, you can't charge the same ticket prices as for an offline event, but the margin remaining with an online event is much higher.
  • Partners and sponsors get more data and attention
    Partners and sponsors of digital events are positive about this innovation, because a lot of interesting data can be analyzed digitally – much more so than with regular offline events. In addition, they’re not just tucked away in the corner of a location with a stand, but can now prime-time their branding in many ways.
  • They provide a better experience for attendees
    The online experience of participants differs from physical meetings: online is more varied, more visual, sharper and more interactive. VR and digital tools allow you to increase interaction. You can also use live Q&A sessions, surveys, polls and break-out rooms.

Tools to organize online conferences

HeySummit, 6Connex, Hopin, vFairs and Run the World are some of the many tools that can be used to organize online conferences with digital halls, keynote areas, panel sessions, breakout sessions, sponsor lounges and various networking environments.
The coronavirus is accelerating digitization, and changing the landscape of physical events. This creates a wide range of opportunities in B2B for your company to differentiate itself from the competition.

If you would like more information about online conferences/fairs, please contact us at +32 (0)55 59 10 01.

Anne-Mie Vansteelant
Anne-Mie Vansteelant
COO | Managing Partner at Living Stone

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