Online events

  1. what can't online events replace? What are their downsides? Why is it important to return to offline?

After the introduction of numerous restrictions in early spring, the event industry was completely shut down practically overnight. As a result of the ongoing downturn, event agencies have suddenly switched to online activities. During this time, it was clear that almost all major event companies were adding "online events" to their pages. Technical companies were building studios in their warehouses or rented spaces to produce and stream these events.

My observations show that at the time, customers were quite sceptical about this type of solution, which is understandable. Even before the pandemic, sometimes we were implementing streams, usually on facebook or youtube from events organized "traditionally", i.e. offline. However, it is unlikely that anyone organized the entire event online in a rented studio. We lacked knowledge and experience, even references needed to present the client or the formula of an online event. This had an impact on clients who were afraid of such projects so in early spring, the dominant trend was to postpone the event until autumn or the next year.

Today, after six months of practice, our portfolio includes successful online projects. We are ready to create such events. However, I believe that the real development of this branch is still ahead of us.

Of course, there are certain things that we are not able to transfer to online, and this has to be taken into consideration. These include the basic elements on which the whole event marketing is based, i.e. emotions of the participants, experiencing the moment and interpersonal contact. I think it can be compared to a theatrical performance watched live and on TV. It is obvious that emotions will be much more intense in the theatre room, than in front of our own screen at home. It is the distance and the lack of direct interaction between the participants that makes the online formula less attractive. In addition, there are all sorts of distractions, which are full at home, such as children who demand attraction, ordinary duties such as cooking, cleaning or picking up the package from the courier, etc. This has a negative impact on the ability to fully focus on the content.

  1. there are currently a whole range of training courses, webinars and online conferences available on the market. How does such a multitude affect the online event market? Don't the recipients feel the overload of this form?

We must remember that for agencies, technical companies, customers or end users alike, online events are a new development forced by the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions introduced. We are still in the phase of development and looking for the best solutions, as well as gathering organisational experience. We are learning to use certain tools and rejecting others. For several months now, more and more solutions have been appearing on the market in the form of conference or trade fair platforms, which are intended to make the reception of a virtual event more attractive and at the same time simplify it. We can use many webinars and online training on a daily basis. Which, in my opinion, is very good, because each of these events has its own unique audience. I myself am using this form of development more and more often and I participate in various training courses available in the online space. Everyone can choose something for themselves here.

On the other hand, if we have more online events, then we have more production experience, which will significantly affect the quality of subsequent projects. However, it is difficult for me to determine whether the recipients are overloaded with a large amount of online content or are rather tired of the current situation and the unpredictability of the development of the epidemic. For many people, remote work or study and continuous meetings on communication platforms is something absolutely new and it can be tiring. I think that we all miss the normal, normal meetings, conferences or concerts.

  1. what is the experience of an online conference participant compared to an offline conference participant? How does the online form influence the absorption of information from events, conferences? Is it less engaging for the recipient, which makes his concentration and assimilation of information weaker?

The experience of a participant in an online conference depends on the attractiveness of the content provided. I am not only talking about the content layer, but above all about the quality of production. We have looked in great detail at the events which have taken place recently and we have a lot of conclusions which we are trying to implement in our events. Of course, we also draw on our own experience in this segment.

Let us remember that in order for an online event to be engaging for the audience, it must be thought through and planned down to the smallest detail. We approach the production of online events in exactly the same way as offline events. We analyse target groups, create a full production scenario, and even set up camera direction. We pay attention to the creation and graphic layer.

Sometimes small things can make our conference more interesting and more focused. Such things include teasers, video and audio jingles, short corporate films created especially for the event, as well as planning attractions in the form of e.g. a concert, culinary workshops or a script game.

To explain this, I will give one example from an event I saw some time ago. It was an online gala where the award ceremony took place. I was surprised when the leader went out and at first he did not know where he was going to stand on stage and then he read the names of the winners and that was it. There was nothing, no variety. In this type of projects, should be video inserts with a short info about the nominees, to present the silhouette of the winner. Then it is worthwhile to put audio jingles or even the sound of the audience's ovation when receiving the prize. The camera movement itself also makes a big difference, instead of shooting from a static shot. These are a kind of "flavours" that really make a difference in reception and at the same time do not generate large costs. Another element that we pay special attention to is camera direction and rehearsal planning. I cannot imagine an event without a rehearsal in which all the people who are on the stage even for a moment are not instructed how to stand on it, which camera to look at, how to stand up in order not to obscure the content displayed on the screen, which also happens. Unfortunately, the lack of step-by-step script practice is later strongly visible in the form of hesitation on the stage, inability to stand on it, looking into the wrong camera or, on the contrary, noticeable looking at the content displayed on the preview, which of course has a great impact on the overall reception and final assimilation of the content by the audience.

4 An important part of many events is networking and communication between participants. Can the online networking successfully replace the offline form? Why?

Making contacts and valuable interpersonal relationships is the essence of events. Personally, I believe that nothing can replace face-to-face contact when we have full interaction with the other person and the opportunity to look the other person straight in the eye. On the other hand, a form of online networking has been in existence for several years now thanks to social networks, especially those which are pro-business oriented, such as linkedin. Again, the obvious advantage is the range and convenience of use.

When it comes to networking accompanying strictly online events, we have certain limitations related to the functionality of platforms intended for organising online events. Usually it is a streamed image in the main part of the screen next to it, where there is only a chat room. This is better developed in the platforms for organising online fairs, where we actually have the opportunity to connect with the exhibitor outside the chat.

In online networking, popular messengers such as Microsoft Teams, Skype or Zoom will be better tools.

We must also remember that networking is a long-term process. Trust takes time.

  1. Will the offline events be possible in the future at a time of further restrictions? What ways to isolate participants in the event can be introduced? What will such events look like? Will there be a return to the same number of offline events in the future, or will many companies remain online?

It all depends on how the epidemiological situation develops. I think that online events will dominate until next spring. If the pandemic starts to expire, there will be smaller offline projects and, over time, larger ones. I believe that companies will want to make up for lost time and renew contacts with their business partners. And one of the best tools for this is the event. I predict that if the situation will be normalised, we will have a lot of projects.

However, it seems that we will be able to watch hybrid events more and more often, even if we return to 'normal' functioning. This formula has two main advantages, namely coverage and convenience. This will be particularly appreciated by corporations which have traditionally organised large events, such as the pharmacy or the automotive industry. And the potential participants will certainly be satisfied with the choice they receive, for example, to travel from Szczecin to Warsaw for an offline conference or to save time and follow it online.

As far as safety at the event and preventing the spread of coronavirus are concerned, I have a good opinion of the solutions which worked during the period of restrictions, i.e. maintaining a distance between the spectators, disinfecting hands in front of the entrance to the conference room, iconographic boards arranged in various places, catering provided by waiters, e.g. in the form of lunch boxes, rotating coffee breaks or ozoning the space.

During our autumn realizations the packages issued at the reception desk with disinfectant, mask and latex gloves worked very well. Let us remember that no matter how well we prepare the space in terms of epidemiological safety, we have limited influence on participants. And it is on them that the most important thing is whether they will take the rules introduced seriously. I would rather not focus on inventing further ways of isolating participants, because we can get to a wall where events will lose their meaning, because living contact is the base of an event. For the moment, the safest formula remains the online event.

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