Event Tech Live Founder Adam Parry discusses the wins and challenges his expo faced as the pandemic forced its first virtual outing.

Hi Adam, tell us how the exhibition’s latest format transpired, and how it was received..

Early on in March, we had to make the decision to translate our fully face-to-face exhibition to a hybrid model. We essentially planned two events, the physical and virtual, which we were due to stitch together. But November’s lockdown restrictions meant we had to go fully virtual.

Upon reflection, I’m glad that we had the opportunity to focus purely on an online event, as to do them both simultaneously over the five days would have been a mammoth task. As we move forward, I think we’ll see a much more condensed versions of events, as organisers take the strain of hosting virtual and physical elements at the same time.

The event was a success beyond our wildest dreams. I think one of the things that was always good about the expo, is the subject matter is applicable to anybody supplying or producing events anywhere around the world. Physically taking place in London made it predominately a Eurocentric event and in previous years, we’ve attracted 47 different countries to the event. This year, we doubled that. We had 2,500 unique visitors, returning up to 6,000 times between them, which was fantastic.

The actual time attendees spent watching and engaging with content was way more than we could have actually anticipated from a physical event. In some cases, doing it virtually allowed more people to participate in a session than would have been able to at the event. Our biggest stage allowed for 150 participants seated, but online, our biggest session welcomed in excess of 400. Plus, some of the most popular sessions were from speakers in different parts of the world that we only managed to bring on board due to the reduced constraints around travel.

I’m sure there were challenges along the way..

It was a completely new way of working. Virtual events are a different beast, so there was a slight change in roles between the team and a need to quickly upskill. One of the biggest challenges was deciding what to try and what not to try – for example, what formats and session length times might work.

Another was communication with the audience. Even though it’s an event industry event, many had yet to engage with a virtual offering at that time, so it was a first for many when it came to navigating the platform, requesting meetings and engaging with exhibitors. Probably the biggest challenge was clearly and concisely providing our attendees with that information, without swamping them with emails, and similarly keeping exhibitors and sponsors up to date with our plans as new information from the local authority, the venue, our health and safety team, and industry associations came out.

What advice do you have for organisers, and how do you see the future..

Don’t just take your exhibition and put it online for the same amount of time. Try different formats. Do it more than once in a cycle and build it out as a campaign for your exhibitors and sponsors. Use the same technology and platform, but rather than try and do one big event, split it up into smaller bite sized chunks – perhaps do something quarterly, dividing each event into four themes.

From the exhibitor perspective, they still get access to the to the entire event, plus it expands the lifespan, allows you more time to get people into it, and helps you split the load into something much more manageable. From that first event, you can then refine the process for the next, and so on, providing a better experience for everybody all-round.

I think one of the benefits we’ve seen with virtual events is increased accessibility – with content delivered online, there’s less of a barrier to entry. Our revenue model had good profit margins too. As long as you manage the cost of marketing, technology and staffing, I can see a lot of pure play event organisers using digital as a way to increase revenue streams within their business. It’s a nice way to carve out a smaller niche in your target community and deliver them even more value.

Lots of people want to geo-clone their ideas, taking what works in one region and transposing it to another, because they know there is an audience there. But that can be quite risky and labour intensive, so I think virtual could be a really good way to test the waters in new regions with your event format and brand.