In Person vs Virtual Events: No Contest

In Person vs Virtual Events: No Contest

Originally published May 2020 and updated in September 2020.


Imagine that you are a rock star. You have made a fortune, which has come from many sources, from performing at live events to selling countless records, CDs or downloads and from being paid to appear on TV shows. Whenever there was an opportunity to bring your music to your fans, you did just that. You were lucky, your management team understood what to do as the world changed and moved on. They were your guiding light and you trusted them.  And of course, they were also paid for their efforts.

But what would have happened if your management team hadn’t been doing their job quite so well? For example, they decided that you should only do live gigs and your income was based on that one source. Well, you would be missing all sorts of opportunities to connect with your fans.

In our analogy, the management team are basically the event organising team and the rock star is their client.  I am sure you spotted that already. So how does this example apply to event professionals and the world they work in?

It applies because we have a complete mix of event professionals and how they use events. Some would be mortified to consider doing anything other than an in-person (traditional) live event. Whereas, other planners use all the event options and techniques at their disposal to help their clients achieve their event objectives.

Whilst it is healthy to have differing views as that leads to greater choice for clients, it is not good to say that one type is always better than another. This is dangerous thinking. To create such a binary argument is not helpful. To develop a contest mentality is not useful.

In fact, there is no contest. And there shouldn’t be. Each event type has a job to do.

Depending on what a client needs will determine what event option is best. At a traditional in-person ‘live’ event, attendees and other stakeholders are physically in the same space. For a virtual event, people log on and participate from wherever they happen to be. The hybrid option combines both the ‘in-person’ attendees with remote delegates who attend via a web-link.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, virtual events are playing a key part. They are prominent and rightly so because they enable events to happen even though delegates are unable to travel and meet. This demonstrates their value.

When the lockdowns are over, live events and hybrid events will come to the fore once again. However, that doesn’t mean to say that virtual events can then be discarded. All event types will continue to play their part long after the pandemic crisis is over.

The organising team that uses everything in their armoury to help their client and understands that there is no contest between event types, will truly turn out to be the real rock stars in the end.

Four months on…

Since putting this blog post together, there have been some changes in attitude on the value of in-person and virtual events. Some event planners have doubled down on their messaging that in-person events are the only way to go.

They are very excited about being able to hold in-person events because as someone recently stated ‘the only way of developing relationships is face to face’, but here we are in a virtual world doing business by video calls and using the phone. It may be that their argument doesn’t hold up, but it is one that can be understood by most people.

However, other planners, have embraced the virtual events space and are now making sure that their event strategy discussions include virtual as a matter of course.

Whilst it’s a mixed bag of opinion, I get the sense that there has been a shift, although small, in attitude towards virtual events and their effectiveness. It is no longer quite as negative as it used to be.

The next developments for all event planners have to be focused on increasing the ROI for sponsors, exhibitors, speakers, delegates and stakeholders. Whether it is an in-person, virtual or hybrid event, they each need to stand out from the competition. Whilst you could argue this has always been the case, Covid-19 has highlighted choice for delegates in a way that wasn’t previously obvious.

Delegate expectations are continuing to increase. That means all event professionals need to be top of their game. They need to succeed in a sector that is adjusting to a new song that is being created in part by the audience (delegate choice) and in larger part by a virus that doesn’t care what type of event is run.

For the time being, the virus continues to take centre stage and the job of rock star organisers is to put it in the shadows and provide a performance that delights everyone.


Paul Cook will be moderating a panel on The Future of Venues at IBTM World Virtual this year as part of our IBTM TV content stream.

Find out more here.

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