The Future of Events

By Yvonne Wilcox

13 July, 2020

After the past few months, with lock-down and social distancing, how will events look in the future, will they even exist?
Hundreds, even thousands of events have either been cancelled or postponed, including the CIPR’s own Excellence Awards celebration.  The event’s sector is worth a total of over £42billion in the UK, employing around 570,000* across all types of events.
Within the charity sector, events have taken on a significant role within fundraising with a 700% increase since 2007*.  
Many charities rely on a range of sporting events as a source of revenue.  If these events can be held following the government guidelines (at the time of the event) there is no reason why they can’t continue.  Many charities have turned to e-sport or virtual events to help boost income during lockdown.
I don’t think any of us expect ‘things to go back to normal’ anytime soon, so how will events look and will people want to attend?  How will the industry need to adapt?
One thing I think we can all expect is that events will be smaller with whatever ‘social distancing’, and anxiety there is around being in close proximity to people again.  This will be highlighted even more if there is a second wave of Covid-19.  Therefore a proper risk assessment of any event will need to be carried out before any information on the event goes out.

Connecting and communicating effectively with your stakeholders is really important at times like these, so that you are keeping everyone informed even if you are unable to meet, therefore the e-newsletter is central to keeping clients, staff and stakeholders engaged and involved. 

To start you will need to approach the planning of the event; ensuring confidence in the organisation and how they will guarantee a safe environment and have policies in place to reduce the negative impact of possible cancellations, this will need to be covered with the venues and well as attendees.  Contingency planning has never needed to be higher on the list of priorities than now.  Who, in January, would have thought that all the events in the UK, and most of the world, would be cancelled, large and small alike, even the Olympics!
You then need to guarantee your attendees will be safe and equally important - feel safe.  Obviously check the cleaning policies of the venue and ensure that there is enough hand sanitiser for the people attending.  This is going to be the new norm for all events.
Look at the space and number of people, I think we will almost certainly have fewer attendees, but will need more room for the smaller numbers.  Budgets will need to be adjusted, whether charging more, absorbing the costs within the organisation or negotiating venue costs.
Although finding insurance that covers communicable diseases may be difficult, if your event is large with high overheads, it would be worth looking at event specific insurance, just to make sure you are covered.
Alternatively, it might be more effective to take the whole event virtual.  There could be some unforeseen beneficial consequences; they are better for the environment with less travel, saving the attendees time, fewer restrictions on numbers of attendees and cheaper to organise – with no catering or venue hire, but that does mean you don’t have the same opportunity to network.

One way to help increase attendance without the physicality is to, in part, still use the virtual option – be it Zoom, Teams or Google Hangout, having some attendees in the room and the rest on screen.  Virtual meetings and events have been around for a while, so they are not new.  The CIRP Not-for-Profit group has used this hybrid option for the past year, and it has worked well.  It has allowed people from different parts of the country to join in our various events and to actively participate; when without this option they would not have made it to the event venue.  
Hybrid, especially as technology improves, may be the future, allowing those who want or are able to come together to meet but still enabling equal access to those who are shielding or are unable to attend, because they are unable to travel to the venue. 
Things to consider for the future of events:

use of virtual technologies
combination of virtual and live events
sanitation policy
use of hand sanitiser stations
cleansing of venues
venue’s use of thermal scanning
seating layout
distance floor taping
government guidelines (these are changing all the time, so know what they are at the time of your event)
I don’t know about you, but I miss the interaction and networking at (socially distanced) face-to-face events with actual people rather than their screen versions and can’t wait to find an effective way around this ‘new normal’.  Events may look a little different in the future but, in one form or another, they are here to stay.

Yvonne Wilcox is an independent consultant with over 25 years’ experience in media and communications. She has worked for a range of charities, was Chief Executive of a small health charity and is a member of the CIPR Not-for-Profit Committee.

*Stats from The 2018 Pulse Report