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Returning to face-to-face events

Have you missed going to conferences? Networking in person and chatting over coffee? It’s been a while since most of us have been able to due to the Covid crisis – and whilst we’re eager to get back to hearing expert tips, meeting peers and checking out what’s for lunch, some may still be hesitant about the prospect.

Over the past year, event planners have had to become incredibly innovative and creative, opening up new ways of using virtual event platforms, but what is the future of events? We spoke to Edward Smith, Lead Event Organiser at Peterborough Biscuit and Louise Rushworth, Events Manager at Cambridge Network, to gain their insight on events now, and what we can expect in the future.

What challenges do event organisers face post-Covid, and how can we overcome them?

ES – I think a large part of returning to face-to-face events will be ensuring an audience feels safe. For the first year of coming out of lockdown, I would imagine there will be continued social distancing, sanitising stations and face masks etc – and these elements must be clearly communicated to your audience. Yet every event manager should know that the key to getting people to attend is to make the experience unmissable. Events always were constantly changing even before Covid, so managers need to continue to be flexible: we just have to adapt and create even more compelling events that people want to attend.

LR – I’m most concerned about not putting people in situations that they may find risky, and that attitude to risk differs so much from person to person. I think there may be challenges around gaining people’s trust again, both in us as organisers and the venue. But I’ve seen some good examples of posters with clear instructions of what is expected of visitors – and simple measures such as this, in addition to setting out clear expectations at sign-up, will be really helpful and reassuring.

Do you think virtual events are here to stay?

ES – I think virtual events have given us a great opportunity to talk to new audiences who don’t usually attend networking events or go to meetings that are further afield geographically. We host a networking event called the ‘Biscuit Banter’, and our first was virtual because we were still in lockdown. This meant that the event was accessible to businesses that can’t spend over an hour driving to get there and resulted in us attracting a whole new audience.

Personally, I think some people will be a little apprehensive to get back to seeing people face-to-face, but equally, there will also be people gagging to get back to meeting people again! And so, a mixture of both virtual and in-person may become the norm.

LR – I think there’s a place for virtual events, they’re quick and easy to organise and can be low cost to host.  Attendees don’t have to use their valuable time to travel to a venue and we’re all getting more comfortable online. Plus, they can attract audiences from anywhere, not just the immediate geographic area.

However, you don’t get the same buzz as in a physical event, or the serendipitous conversations or the sense of catching up with people who you haven’t seen for a while. Also, you don’t get to visit other locations, which is always interesting. Nor do you seem to have time online to get to know new people, to hear their stories or share an anecdote or sense of humour. All that said, I think there’s a strong case to be made for virtual events and it’s great that we’ve made that leap into them.

 

Peterborough Biscuit

Getting back to normal will take some time, with face-to-face events looking quite different in the interim, what can we expect to see in the coming months?

LR – From September, I think we’ll have a mix of virtual and face-to-face and we’re looking into the logistics of this now. Some of our future webinar speakers are preferring to remain online, possibly because it’s easier to plan for and it’s more convenient for speakers from outside the city, plus our audience numbers haven’t suffered online. But we’ll keep an eye on the situation as it unfolds over the summer.

I think a return to face-to-face events will look a little different, with more security and safety measures and information to be sent out, possibly live streaming to a virtual as well as a physical audience. They may also need more people to run them. And there are several questions around refreshments. We’ll see how the next few months pan out.

Do you have examples of good ways that people have used virtual events?

LR – One of the first great virtual events I attended was run by Form the Future, where they combined a panel of speakers who were socially distanced in a studio, together with a couple of virtual panellists taking questions from the virtual audience using a webchat function. It was beautifully produced by Somersault TV and did indeed look like a TV programme!

Virtual event with PA Consulting
Virtual event with PA Consulting

I also have to mention our own session, where PA Consulting wanted to do something different to a zoom presentation. They orchestrated and did a superb job of walking our virtual audience around their facilities, showing engineering labs, some prototype-making and a digital twin demonstrator – all hosted on their mobile phones.

What are your practical top tips to consider as we return to face-to-face events?

ES – Get feedback – ask people their opinion. We always ask attendees for feedback which can prove extremely valuable. Particularly in the current climate, it would be good to gauge how safe people felt, and if they would recommend the event to others, given the Covid-secure measures that you will have undertaken.

Have fun – overall events are supposed to be fun and engaging; there needs to be a good atmosphere about them, and this is more important now to encourage people back into attending. Make sure you pack your events full of interesting content or exciting (and safe) interactions to make sure your audience enjoys their time at your event.

I think there’s a place for virtual events, they’re quick and easy to organise and can be low cost to host. However, you don’t get the same buzz as in a physical event, or the serendipitous conversations or the sense of catching up with people who you haven’t seen for a while.”

Louise Rushworth, Cambridge Network

Here at Allia Future Business Centre, we look forward to welcoming you back to booking for your large meetings or conferences as soon as you feel comfortable doing so.  We’ve worked hard on making our centres Covid-safe and have adapted our spaces – plus we now offer individual lunch boxes for events through our catering partner Orgin8. We’re now taking bookings so please do get in touch   hello@futurebusinesscentre.co.uk

Interested in attending The Peterborough Biscuit 2022? More info available here: https://peterboroughbiscuit.co.uk

Check out Cambridge Network’s vast array of future events here: https://www.cambridgenetwork.co.uk/events