Are Hybrid Events the New Normal?

March 30, 2021

We’re now officially one year into the pandemic and probably the most common question on the top of everyone’s mind is when will things return to normal? A great question that is extremely tough to answer, simply because it evokes a larger question – what’s “normal?”

There is little question that much has changed in the past year – in our business and personal lives. The impact of those changes will have an effect on how we go about our lives for years to come. Associations have not been immune from the challenges presented by COVID-19, as they work to safely and effectively stay engaged and provide value to their members during the pandemic. For many organizations that has meant stepping out of their comfort zones and into the virtual world for the first time.

Keeping that in mind, a good question to ponder is what has been the real-world impact of conducting meetings in this new environment?  From CE21’s perspective, we experienced a 1500 percent increase in the virtual and hybrid conferences we hosted in 2020 alone. During that period, we experienced ten years of evolution in the relative growth of online education and e-commerce as a result of COVID-19.

Initially groups scrambled to transition scheduled in person meetings into virtual events as it became apparent face-to-face conferences could not happen. The most common feedback we received from our customers during this time was that they were experiencing an increase in attendance at their virtual events. People could not travel, but they could attend an event from the comfort and safety of their homes via their computers or smart devices. This change brought with it new concerns and opportunities as we all had to learn how to operate successfully in this new virtual world.

Speaking at our recent 21-in-21 Virtual Conference, Dean West, FASAE, President of Association Laboratory shared his thoughts on associations in the Covid-19 era.

“When we studied the implications of Covid-19 for our Looking Forward 2020 environmental scan, we found that upon widespread distribution of vaccines there isn’t going to be a return to what we were used to in early 2020. We will never go back to that time. Industries and professions have undergone dramatic change, and that change is going to go on for some time. So, I call that the Covid hangover and we’re going to be adapting to that for a long time.”

“The innovations that COVID-19 has driven within the association sector are not going away,” he added, “and that represents tremendous opportunity for associations to engage their members like never before.”

According to a poll by ASAE the majority of respondents think face-to-face meetings with 100 or more attending will not happen before the third or fourth quarter of 2021. Everything points to a long recovery.

For Jim Anderson, CAE, the Executive Director for CalSAE, the ongoing challenge is how to successfully plan CalSAE’s year when there are so many questions about the pandemic left to answer. “It’s so hard because we’re used to planning everything a year in advance, and now it’s planning event-by-event because everything is so much in flux,” he said. “We’re going to go through another transitionary period as the vaccines ramp up and the amount of people that are infected go down.”

“I am pretty optimistic about by the end of 2021 things will be, I won’t say normal, but we will be able to see each other and get together in person,” he remarked. “Now having said that, because we are a statewide organization, there are a lot of people who still want a virtual option. I think the goal is to be able to expand access, not make people choose if they want to do one or the other – it’s about what’s best for them.

As we enter April there are real signs of hope to grasp onto along with plenty of reasons to remain cautious. People want to connect, to be together in the same space. It is after all, human nature. After a year of cancelling, rescheduling, and adapting on the fly, organizations are now working to determine what is the “new normal?” The answer is not certain, but the need to learn and adapt remains a priority.

In the second part of this article, we will take a look at what hybrid events look like as we begin to venture into face-to-face events. What should you be considering and how do you go about designing a successful hybrid event? Stay tuned.

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