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The future of business events?

An interesting think-piece on the Hubspot Blog recently suggested that the future of trade events is going to be ‘hybrid’. I think there may be something in this.

As I’ve mentioned before, I do think the trade show and conference industry as we’ve known it is on a downward spiral of doom. Fewer people wanting to visit means fewer exhibitors, means fewer people wanting to visit, and so on.

The article says:

In 2019, Microsoft hosted their annual Ignite event in Orlando for one week. It was the most successful Ignite they’d ever had, with well over 27,000 attendees. That is, until the fall of 2021 — when they hosted over 270,000 attendees in a virtual version of the same event.

Bob Bejan, Microsoft’s Vice President of Global Events, is unsurprised by this shift towards virtual, and believes it was always destined to be the future of events. He told me, “The pandemic is really just an accelerator of something that was going to be inevitable anyway, but probably would have taken five or six years instead of just two.”

Virtual events can lower the cost for visitors, and therefore the price of admission; lower the costs for vendors; avoid travel and crowds; attract better speakers; and provide a better record of the event.

But of course many people learn and network better in person, and sales is unquestionably more efficient in the real world. So can we have ‘hybrid’ events?

I’d bet the house on it. There are many ways in which it might work, but as Bejan points out: “We had one big epiphany when we delivered a streaming version of our Las Vegas show, and found that the largest audience of people watching our keynotes watched from their hotel rooms.”