Despite the upheaval in how we meet and gather in 2020, there were actually more events available to the government market. GovEvents.com had nearly 5,500 events listed on the site for the year as compared to 4,200 in 2019. Of course, the major difference was in-person versus online. Typically, about 70% of the events on GovEvents are in-person. The online events posted are generally webcasts along with a handful of more immersive virtual events. In 2020, that number flipped, with 94% of events being webcasts or virtual. The vast majority of in-person events were held January-March, with a few in-person gatherings happening over the summer before seeing all events go back to virtual in the fall
Additionally, event organizers saw many of their online events better attended than they would have been in-person. Registration and attendance was up for events of all sizes, tapping into an audience that may have always wanted to attend, but did not have permission or budget to travel. Employers, looking for ways to help their teams balance work and life and maintain a connection to peers more strongly encouraged and enabled people to attend these online events.
Even with the success of online events, there is a yearning to get back to meeting in person. While we don’t want to rush into meeting in-person before it’s safe, we’re talking to our event partners to see what they are planning in terms of mixing in-person and virtual events for 2021. Currently, all events listed on our site are virtual through the end of March. Starting in April, we see some more events with in-person locations listed, but many of these are still hedging their bets with only listing “save the dates.” For the most part, organizations are looking to June 2021 as the date by which they see in-person events being a real possibility. Many companies have travel restrictions in place through June, making attending events a non-starter.
Those that postponed to early spring hoping for in-person are now facing the decision of sticking with a live event, canceling, postponing, or going virtual. Event sponsors, like DLT Solutions, have said if they committed to an in-person event and it flips to virtual, they will continue to honor their plans in a virtual format according to Melissa Perez, DLT’s manager for Campaign Management.
With this in mind, many groups are taking a hybrid approach to events. For example, Government Executive Media Group is currently planning digital-only events with the hope of making some events hybrid. These hybrid scenarios would allow for exclusive experiences for a small, in-person audience to encourage interaction and networking but will also be streamed digitally to provide the content for a larger audience. David Powell, Executive Director for event organizer, Federal Business Council (FBC) commented, “We’re moving full-steam ahead with 50+ virtual events and plan to transition to hybrid events and/or traditional face-to-face events later in the year. We’re jumping into 2021 with a full schedule of event opportunities to meet the ongoing need to communicate and collaborate.”
In making the switch to in-person, companies are looking at vaccination rates, infection rates, and the level of government restrictions in making decisions regarding in-person events. As these numbers start to show a safe environment for in-person, small events will be the first to make a comeback, with larger events following as circumstances allow.
While adaptability seemed to be the mantra for event success in 2020, flexibility will be the mantra for event organizers and attendees in 2021. Everyone is now conditioned to prepare for the unexpected, and the hope of the event community is that by the second half of the year, the unexpected will mean having the privilege of meeting in person. However, those in-person events will be changed by the experience we’ve had meeting online with new, unique experiences we could not have imagined a year ago.
Kerry Rea is president of GovEvents