The move to online has confirmed what we already knew. The technology is here, it was just waiting for us to embrace it.

Like everyone in the events industry, H&E North has been closely monitoring the pandemic and its effect on our community. The incredible resilience of event planners and showrunners has been wonderful to see. The move to online events, which if you have been reading H&E North for the past few years, has been brewing for a while now, has forced a generation of event profs to explore the possibilities of virtual meet-ups, global hang-outs and widespread webinars to replace face-to-face networking for the foreseeable.

It’s obviously devastating that the event you have been organising for months will no longer take place in the format that you originally envisioned. Certain aspects like the catering and the atmosphere of your chosen venue cannot be replicated for your attendees online, but by salvaging your event and understanding its true purpose – usually sharing knowledge and allowing clients to come together to network ­– it can still be worthwhile taking place in an online capacity.

As anyone in the event industry knows, no amount of planning can predict the weather, a venue or speaker cancellation, or indeed, a global pandemic. When unexpected setbacks derail your event, a contingency plan will help you decide your next move. The bottom line is, despite your expertise and experience, adaptability is still the most beneficial skill you need as an event professional. And with a variety of digital formatting options available, you can more seamlessly pivot to meet any given challenge.

Manchester’s Mustard Media is a case in point. Marketed as ‘Europe’s leading festivals and events accelerator’, following the outbreak it was tasked with completely reinventing its offering and launched the ‘Business Keeps on Dancing’ webinar series, providing leadership with others for the events sector on how to adapt to the changed environment. Shortly afterwards, it devised a new Virtual Events Lab for its clients and the wider sector. The key was to engage and maintain its customer base, as well as use this new marketing opportunity to maintain its brand recognition.

Things to Remember
Don’t forget, having an event online automatically opens up your guestlist for attendees who might not have been previously able to attend, that includes new potential clients and markets for you to utilise post-virus. It might also suddenly mean that your dream speaker who couldn’t make it before can finally log in and represent your brand or initiative.

However, make sure you do not simply try and dump your planned event wholesale into an online format. Demonstrations or certain ice breaker games may not work online, but events based around discussion or a sharing of ideas are ideally suited to a move to livestreaming or online meetings. Supposed to be incorporating a product launch? Why not host an ever-popular live ‘unboxing’ experience instead before a real unveiling in person can be rescheduled?

Make sure you still schedule in regular breaks for your attendees too. Though they will be relatively stationary, just as you would with a normal event, you want your attendees to be alert and open to learning, not checking their phone or trying to find an opportune moment to sneak off to the bathroom. Letting your attendees succumb to digital fatigue guarantees that they will be easily distracted by their immediate environment too. Remember a typical TED Talk is often 18 minutes, so try adding a short break every 30 minutes and a longer break every 90 minutes.

Hannah Martin of Talented Ladies Club

Hannah Martin of Talented Ladies Club

Choosing the Right Platform
“Don’t scrimp on trying to find free solutions,” says Hannah Martin, founder of Talented Ladies Club which offers online training sessions for businesswomen. Finding the software to host your event is key. “You get one chance of impressing online, and tech hiccups from trying to patch together a collection of free software solutions won’t give a great impression. It also adds to your stress and can impede your performance.

“For the same reason, if you’re using new technology have a trial run first to get a feel of how it works. This enables you to iron out any potential glitches and means you’ll feel more comfortable and less stressed for the live run.”

The popularity of Zoom speaks for itself. If you’ve taken part in a Zoom quiz session in the last few months, then you’ll know how effective the platform can be for memorable engagement! The video-conferencing app has seen a huge rise in downloads since lockdown, and is now being used by millions for work, social gatherings and large-scale events. Zoom lets you connect speakers, sponsors, panellists and attendees, maximising face-to-face interaction…from a distance. Designed for managing audiences, you can quickly promote an attendee to a panellist so they can interact live, with other interactive features including hand raising, Q&As and polling enabling additional engagement, while PayPal integration even allows you to charge a registration fee for attendance.

And if you feel that you are missing that all important space to network, broadcasting live to your attendees is a perfect opportunity to drive them to your social media channels to continue the conversation elsewhere. Why not even create a unique hashtag just for this?

Mark Heyward of Northern Hive

Mark Hayward of Northern Hive

Here to Stay?
With lockdowns slowly being relaxed and certain businesses, especially in hospitality, allowed to open again, does this mean that the trend for online events will disappear as quickly as it began?

Mark Hayward, CEO of Northern Hive, a PR and marketing agency with experience of event management in the hospitality, technology and B2B space, explains how this move to online has simply accelerated the inevitable: “Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, the tradition of boarding a plane to a conference, paying for hotel stays and dining out at lavish networking events was already in decline – albeit slowly.

“Concerns around our carbon footprint, reduced budgets, and more flexible working arrangements have been influencing something of a digital transformation over the last decade. More conferences have adopted live streaming of speaker sessions or product launches for example.”

But Dave Ball, the Events Director at FMI, an incentives and events agency warns that 2021 will be the real test for event profs: “Restarting the events industry in 2021 is going to require expert planning and a great deal of flexibility, but al

Dave Ball of FMI Agency

Dave Ball of FMI Agency

so faith that people will want to connect once again, when the virus has passed. While an online conference or webinar is cost effective in the present climate, it sometimes doesn’t lead to long-term loyalty and crucial two-way engagement; and that’s what we need to consider when looking to the future.

“Investing in events for 2021 may seem daunting at the moment, but from my years of experience working in this industry, it’s the only route that will motivate and inspire people once again.”