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When the pandemic hit, we were in the midst of planning and implementing numerous in-person member meetings and events for 2020. Like all other organizations across the country, we had to immediately cancel all of these and quickly shift to digital meetings and a remote work environment.

In recent months, there have been signs that in-person events are coming back for good and we are excited about this news! In fact, we plan on hosting our 2022 Winter Summit this January in Florida and look forward to seeing our members and partners face to face once again. Given the choice and despite the fact that these events may look slightly different than before, we would always prefer in-person meetings and summits because they provide enhanced value compared to the digital version of these events. Here are five reasons why:

1. Virtual meeting platforms and technology are still underdeveloped

Although there were some video conferencing platforms available as part of a movement to online information access, none of them were prepared for the number of potential participants or the type of features that would help to replicate an in-person event. Many technology companies worked quickly to advance the online capabilities of their video conferencing solutions, providing a decent environment that served its purpose.

However, as you may realize from using these platforms to attend meetings and events, it is still not the same as an in-person event in terms of collaboration, networking, and engagement. There is still a lot of room for improvement for digital event technology. Plus, we all had to contend with those times when the platform crashed or our Wi-Fi was running too slow.

2. There is online meeting burnout

Once everyone got used to the online meeting format, all meetings moved to this channel. This meant that some people had one or more Zoom or Teams meeting every day – from community meetings and training to employee get-togethers and strategy sessions.

In addition to work-related video meetings, these platforms were also being used for personal interactions with schools, family, and friends. As time went by, many started to feel fatigued by having to get dressed up and ready for the camera. It also became to feel like a hassle to continually invite colleagues or clients into their own home office environment.

When we started looking at meeting together in-person, we asked many of our members to see how they felt. They were very excited to finally be able to leave the camera behind, and going somewhere to see and interact with people.

3. Engagement levels have dropped

Once fatigue set in, these online events started to feel somewhat formulaic, especially with no ability to create spontaneity with this platform. As a result, many companies found that their audiences were starting to check out. The lack of engagement was calculated by results that showed there were fewer questions asked during these online sessions and trackers that showed audience members were distracted by other things versus paying attention.

To re-engage audiences, it is important to start offering in-person events where they have no choice but to pay attention to what’s right in front of them. With the opportunity to interact more personally and connect with the information directly, participants are likely to feel more engaged with the event and messaging.

4. Some aspects of events never have worked virtually

Despite advancements in platform functionality, virtual events have not been able to replicate certain aspects of in-person events. These aspects include networking where breakout rooms do not feel the same when trying to meet and have conversations with new people. In-person, it is easier to approach people and create that sense of connection that builds the trust and value necessary to make the most of networking efforts.

The digital event environment also does not work if you would like to include vendors. First, vendors often are able to use the expo format of an in-person event to share their products and services in a way that is more tangible for the audience. Participants can touch, feel, and directly interact with vendors as well as enjoy takeaways that help keep these companies top of mind long after the event is over. Many companies attempted virtual booths over the last year and a half but have not been able to leverage the same benefits as those from in-person events.

Panel discussions also are challenging to replicate online. Not being able to see each other on stage and react to body language or assess when a participant can speak up, these online discussions become disjointed. Participants tend to interrupt and not connect with each other like they would do if they were in-person. Therefore, the benefits that come from panel discussions, including sharing diverse perspectives and creating new insights, are much more difficult to achieve.

5. The human connection component is critical for event and company success

Virtual events filled a need to keep us in contact with each other when we could not meet or collaborate in-person. They helped to deliver information and keep brands as top of mind as possible. But, that’s all that these online platforms could accomplish.

The level of human connection was still difficult to create and maintain in a way that only in-person events can deliver. That’s because a web cam is the only way to get a sense of another person’s intent, character, and motivations, not leaving the other participants much to work with to build the foundation of a relationship. Instead, there is greater room for misunderstanding than would happen if the interaction had taken place in-person.

Addressing Concerns and Changes About In-Person Meetings

While the majority of us cannot wait to get back to in-person events, we must acknowledge ongoing concerns about health and safety. It is a priority for those returning to in-person events to continue to offer an online alternative and ensure that in-person guests can feel good about attending, such as following the required local guidelines and procedures.

When planning a return to in-person events, it is also important to be sensitive to participants’ financial situations, especially in light of rising travel costs and other expenses that have become a victim of inflation. Think about where you can host it and what you can charge that addresses tighter personal and company budgets.

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