The evolution of events: Tips for creating a successful enterprise events program
When planning your events program for the new year, reviewing your past event performance, challenges, and trends can help guide future strategy. During our recent global conference, WebexOne, I had the pleasure of discussing the evolution of events with Forrester Principal Analyst and guest speaker, Conrad Mills.
First, we discussed top event industry challenges and trends backed by data from a recent Webex Events survey. We asked event professionals about the top challenges they’re facing in the following areas:
- Engagement and collaboration
- Event design and experience
- Content creation
- Event production
The results showed us that event attendance is top of mind for event professionals, and that in-person, virtual, and hybrid are here to stay.
Then, by comparing Forrester survey data pre- and post-pandemic, Conrad found several insights to guide the future of events. For example, today’s B2B marketing buyers see increasing value in events and their ability to move a customer through the buyer’s journey. As a result, they plan to increase their spend in event management technology.
But with increased investment comes a need to level up and ensure ROI. To do so, event organizers should make their events more inclusive, sustainable, engaging, and interconnected.
Gain inspiration for your events program with these highlights, and watch the full session for even more tips on how to make your events program successful in 2023 and beyond.
Current state of the events industry
According to the Webex Events survey we launched prior to our Event inspiration: trends and ideation workshop, these are the top challenges and trends shaping the industry right now.
Top industry challenges
The substantial increase in virtual events during the pandemic caused event fatigue. The challenge of event fatigue, compounded with economic forces (inflation, threat of recession) and increasing event and travel costs, has placed pressure on event attendance across formats.
The solution? Event professionals need to lean into better content and production, take into account health and safety considerations, and make the right choice about their event format — virtual, in-person, or hybrid — to maximize the benefit for themselves and provide value for attendees.
Other top reported challenges include:
- Event attendance
- Finding the right format balance
- Event costs
- Virtual event fatigue
- Health and safety
- Top event trends
In recent months, in-person events have made a comeback and the hybrid event format is re-emerging as a key component of a successful event program. We’re seeing this play out in our platform usage data which shows that customers are planning all three formats (virtual, in-person, and hybrid) almost equally within our platform. Watch the full session to access the remaining top trends identified in our event survey data.
Evolution of events
Conrad shared rich data points and trends from Forrester’s recent Enterprise Marketing Events Trends Survey (Source: Forrester’s Q3 2021 B2B Enterprise Marketing Events Trends Survey), which boils down to these key points:
- For a number of reasons backed by data and shared in the session, virtual events are here to stay.
- For in-person events, organizers are leaning toward smaller, more localized experiences.
- Events are becoming increasingly important to well-rounded marketing programs.
- Event sustainability matters.
- Event technology empowers event organizers with richer data and more opportunities.
Buyer’s approach to event technology
Comparing Forrester’s B2B Buying Study data from 2019 with 2021, Conrad shared that buyers overall perceive events as more valuable when it comes to moving attendees through the customer journey. In particular, those surveyed rated virtual events 5% more meaningful to the discovery stage (Source: Forrester Buying Study 2019 and Forrester B2B Buying Study 2021).
The survey also shows that attendees increasingly value engaging with event content on their own terms. For example, at the discovery stage, webinar replays increased by 8% during the same time period between 2019 and 2021 (Source: Forrester Buying Study 2019 and Forrester B2B Buying Study 2021). This underscores the important role on-demand capabilities will play in successful event programming.
When people see value, they invest. According to Forrester’s Marketing Survey, just under 60% of respondents plan to increase their spend on event management technology for both virtual and in-person events (Forrester Marketing Survey 2022- B2B). This shows that event professionals not only see event technology as a value add but as an expected component of a modern events program.
Why the hybrid event format is an asset for enterprise event professionals
Traditionally, event organizers saw in-person events as engagement drivers and virtual events as a means for gathering rich data and insights. Bringing both in-person and virtual together, the hybrid format presents the opportunity to deliver high levels of engagement and insight. Because of this, more than half of people surveyed by Forrester expect all flagship marketing events to become hybrid within two years (Source: Forrester’s Q3 2021 B2B Enterprise Marketing Events Trends Survey).
Speaking of flagship events, we used a hybrid approach for WebexOne. While the event was largely virtual, we held satellite in-person events, like our Partner Summit and analyst & press gatherings, plus a number of in-person watch parties in cities around the world. I joined colleagues in our San Jose office for filming, but Conrad spoke with me right from his home office in the UK.
When you consider hybrid events, or in-person events with online elements, Conrad noted the format evolved significantly over the last couple of years. He explained there are essentially two approaches to hybrid events: hybrid attendance and hybrid experience.
- Hybrid Attendance: Offers attendees flexibility to attend an event in-person or virtually. This could include a primary virtual event with smaller in-person watch parties or a primary in-person event with satellite watch parties.
- Hybrid Experience: Provides a primary experience, either virtual or in-person, that integrates a secondary means of interaction. For example, Webex Events hosted a hybrid experience that combined an in-person experience in Indianapolis, Indiana, with a virtual experience where attendees from around the world could engage and network with virtual and in-person attendees directly through the virtual event platform.
Today’s hybrid events must include interactive and engaging elements to immerse the audience in the event no matter their location. In his presentation, Conrad gave examples of leveraging the hybrid experience in ways that provide meaningful value to both the attendees and the organizers.
How to plan for the future of events
So, what does this all mean for navigating the future of events? I’ll share the high-level points Conrad shared, but be sure to watch the session for details and examples of how to incorporate these suggestions into your events program for 2023 and beyond.
Consider external factors that affect attendance, like COVID-19 resurgences, the rising cost of travel, and a looming recession
- Plan for higher attendee expectations.
- Make your events more inclusive and environmentally sustainable.
- Rethink how to invest in your events program.
- Build a balanced, connected event mix by making full use of the extended range of event types .
- Integrate event technology with your wider marketing and sales ecosystems.
- Incorporate more digital elements into your in-person events.
At the end of the day, events exist to enable community and gather people together, so it’s crucial that event organizers and marketers consider how each event creates a stepping stone along the process of building community for their audience and delivering value for their attendees.
For exciting new Webex Events feature announcements that enable you to put attendees at the heart of your planning, as well as my full conversation with Conrad, watch the on-demand session here.
Mar 30, 2023 — Richard Barnes
Mar 28, 2023 — Lorrissa Horton