What Recent Research Reveals About the Future of Virtual and Hybrid Events

What’s in store for the future of virtual and hybrid events in 2023? A recap of several recent research findings to guide your 2023 planning.

After two immensely challenging years, the events industry started coming back to life earlier last year. And since then, it has been full steam ahead – with many event planners, suppliers, and vendors busier than in pre-pandemic months.

But if the worldwide pandemic wasn’t enough, event professionals have also faced inflation, labor shortages, and supply chain demands, forcing the continued reshaping and repositioning of events.

So where does that leave the 2023 event landscape, and what’s in store for virtual and hybrid events?

Here’s a roundup of several recent research findings to guide 2023 event planning.

In-Person Continues to Roar Back

Ask any event planner, supplier, or vendor, and anecdotally they’ll share stories of record-breaking business, especially for in-person events.

Recent research confirms the continuing trend. In the American Express Global Business Travel 2023 Meetings and Events Forecast, optimism has been running high:

  • 77 respondents rated their optimism of at least an “8” on a scale of 1 to 10 (up from 71 percent last year).

When it comes to in-person events:

  • 68 percent of respondents said their organizations were getting close to pre-pandemic levels.
  • 88 percent of meetings in 2023 will include a face-to-face component.
  • 0 percent will be in-person only, with 38 percent hybrid and 12 percent virtual only.

Benjamin Leikach, Vice President of Strategic Alliances for Evenium, explained his similar experience. “In the U.S., we currently see an almost total return to in-person events. According to prospects and clients I’m meeting with, they are relieved to be back using the relative simplicity of a mobile app like ConnexMe versus streaming technology, dealing with production requirements and costs, and the added concerns for engaging a remote audience.”

Work From Home is Driving a Rise in Small F2F Meetings

Gerardo Tejado, Senior Vice President, Global Value Development and General Manager, Meetings & Events, at American Express Global Business Travel, pointed to another face-to-face meeting trend. “With many companies around the world operating with remote workforces or hybrid office environments, the need to bring employees together has never been greater nor more widely recognized.”

He explained, “In-person meetings and events have proven to be the most effective way to drive employee wellness and retention, instill company culture and corporate values, improve team bonding, and increase professional development.”

Consequently, Amex GBT research shows that the number of meetings during certain months and locations exceeding 2019 levels, and clients’ small and simple meetings have increased by 25 percent.

Yet Attendees Still Want Hybrid/Virtual Options

Research shows that despite easing travel restrictions, attendees still want virtual and hybrid options. Rising costs, additional health-related outbreaks, geopolitics, and attendees’ value on their time are driving these preferences for digital options:

And it’s not just attendees who are embracing virtual and hybrid. Organizations favor them too

  • 94 percent of US companies already fully embrace virtual and hybrid events
  • While nearly 20 percent of companies said they expected to be operating more in-person events over the next year, 24 percent are anticipating more hybrid events

Case in point: brands like business news publisher Forbes found tangible business success by embracing hybrid formats. The company moved from primarily virtual events in 2021 to hybrid models for 2022 and has seen event revenue rise by 60 percent.

New Rules of Audience Engagement

With the growing appetite for live events, plus the expanded audience reach that hybrid and virtual has created, The Vendry’s “Events in 2023” report points out another trend impacting all types of event design: more opportunities for audience engagement.

“The days of purchasing a ticket to an event, shuffling to an assigned seat, and being talked at are all but gone. Events will be formatted in new ways, offering activities and activations designed to make attendees feel like they go to personalize their experience instead of participating the exact same way as everyone else.”

In the same Vendry report, Jonathan Barker, Senior Vice President, Global Event Productions and Operations, NFL, highlighted, “We are playing with fluidity as we see people not wanting to be static. The audience doesn’t want to sit in one seat for too long. They want to move and socialize. They want to be part of the experience, but be able to dip in and dip out of it. We have to give them opportunities to move around the events to have different experiences in different places.”

Using Hybrid for Year-Round Engagement

Pre-pandemic, most companies and organizers typically held one yearly conference or event

But with smaller, more frequent virtual events more common coming out of the pandemic, some are seeing hybrid shifting from the “live” element of the event.

AIPC CEO Sven Bossu said, “What I’m hearing from members is that hybrid is more successful as a platform to drip feed content before a congress, and when it is used to repackage content to ‘sell’ post-congress.” This approach blurs the line between one event and the next, allowing hybrid events to become essential to engaging with audiences year-round.

Whether it’s online, F2F, or hybrid, one thing won’t be changing in 2023: event technology is the foundation for finding ways to connect attendees. Create an engaging event by incorporating event apps with polling, live Q&A, group chats, messaging, and small group collaboration or brainstorming to facilitate quality conversations and relationship building.

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