Although virtual professional gatherings have created an entirely new space for entrepreneurial innovation, the prospects for in-person events have suddenly brightened. Key questions about attending a trade show or other business conclave in 2021.
June 13, 2021 4 min read
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From Zoom birthdays to virtual summits, nothing tracks closer with our perception of the pandemic than the way we think about events — professional events being no exception. I’ve followed this trend closely over the past year, surveying 100 executives in December 2020 on their trade show and event plans for 2021, and I’ve watched as perceptions writ large (as reported by the company, SalesRoads) swung from overtly pessimistic to cautiously optimistic. Although the virtual reimagining of events has created an entirely new space for entrepreneurial innovation, the prospects for in-person professional gatherings/conclaves have never seemed more real, and attractive. With that in mind, it’s certainly worth considering attending and/or organizing a trade show or other business event in 2021. But there are some pivotal questions to ask first.
How Many People Will Show Up?
Whether you’re looking to book meetings or simply network, headcount is a keystone consideration that will impact any event’s return on investment. When I spoke with those revenue leaders in December, more than 30% of them told me they wouldn’t attend an event until the second half of this year. But another survey (which tracked closely with my original research) conducted in March of 2021 found the number of executives who won’t feel safe at an in-person event in the second half of this year dropped to 20%. In other words, the public is more bullish about in-person events, but that dynamic could always shift, so keep colleagues’ pulse on their interest in attending events. Its size, cost of attendance and the general ebb-and-flow of the pandemic will certainly have impacts on the final headcount. All need tracking as you plan which events are worth an investment.
What’s the Role of Virtual?
A lasting ramification of the COVID-19 outbreak is the explosion of remote-access events. Indeed, of those 100 executes I spoke with, not one categorized virtual/hybrid events are merely a fad. In fact, a CEO of a prominent NYC-based event company told me the expectation is that as much as 40% of its attendees will be virtual moving forward.
This has serious implications, of course, for event strategy. If you plan on organizing a hybrid event that offers in-person as well as virtual attendance options, a critical need is balancing focus between in-person components and the virtual audience, weighing the additional expense of in-person structure against its added benefit. You may find that extra investment isn’t justified if the majority of your audience decides to attend virtually.
Will Demand Justify Investment?
A central finding of my research was that companies are having success pivoting from in-person events to digital alternatives. In fact, nearly 60% of surveyed executives told me they wouldn’t restore their trade show budgets in entirety because they were finding success with other marketing channels. But, with the prospect of in-person events shining brighter now, will executives stick to their guns or pivot back to in-person options?
The reality is attendees may be reluctant to invest in accommodation if they’re not confident the event will happen. In turn, this could impact your ROI. If you’ll need to secure funding for attending a tradeshow or other in-person event, be prepared to validate its investment to executives.
Is In-Person Right for ICP?
The acceleration of digital selling over the past 14 months has been great for some sales and marketing teams. However, for a number of prospects, Zoom meetings will never be as effective as true face-to-face interactions. As a result, the most important question to consider is, how do your buyers like to be sold? If they prefer engaging with vendors in-person, limited-attendance events could mean high-quality interactions with the decision makers who do show up. Conversely, if your product necessitates a high-velocity pipeline, sticking with virtual events may be advantageous while attendance is limited. Ask around your network to see how prospects are thinking about in-person events before making any commitments.
Needless to say, we continue to be in uncharted territory, and only you can decide what is an acceptable risk to your health. But it’s also key to factor in financial exposure and the opportunity cost of a failed event. The return to in-person gatherings is an exciting proposition with a lot of unknowns, so approach yours strategically, and enjoy the show!