Events in 2021 & beyond: what’s next and 6 useful tips


Setback is the mother of innovation. The events sector showed its creative side in a great way in the past year, by adapting largely to the new reality at the speed of light. Even though points of light appear on the horizon, it remains coffee grounds in many areas. What will be the new normal for events? In this article I share my expectations.

More than ever, we have seen the importance of human interaction to us as a social race. Physical interaction, analyzing each other’s body language and working together. Something we have been doing for centuries and is therefore ingrained in our brains. The rapid and mandatory transformation has shown that an awful lot of things can be facilitated digitally. And sometimes even better and better. But human contact can never fully transfer to the cloud.

Events are for 85% of marketing executives crucial for their marketing mix. A recent survey among 30,000 Dutch visitors to events shows that a big one 95% again longs to attend a business event, sports event and entertainment.

The coming year starts well. The Dutch government has the test events of Fieldlab approved. These are organized in February to prove that events can be organized safely. Even give big names in the sector that we can write off the coming festival season, the Back to Liveconcepts ready to be launched in good spirits.

Big challenges, big business cases

Yes, I also really crave physical gatherings. And I also see the added value of the unexpected contacts you then make, which trigger all possible emotions in you.

If we look at startups such as Uber and Airbnb, you see that they have become big by tackling major challenges in their sector. The biggest challenges in the world are the biggest business cases (in my view). And now we suddenly see that all major challenges in the event industry (from sustainability issues such as CO2 emissions, plastic use and waste to working with new technologies such as AI and AR / VR) are solved by means of great technology.

The large tech companies are currently investing an insane amount of money in online event solutions. Like Apple with NextVR and the Web Summit in Hopin invested, making the company now worth $ 2 billion.

Advantages of online events

About the various major advantages of online events, I wrote an article earlier. Over

  • the significantly greater reach in terms of visitors and speakers,
  • the disappearance of many obstacles such as travel times and certain costs, but also over
  • the amazing possibilities to offer virtual layers of content around an event.

Personally, I also really like that many events are now also more accessible for people with a small wallet; further democratizing knowledge and inspiration.

The hybrid is normal

In my view, event thinking needs to be transformed. From making concessions to seeing opportunities. Normally embrace the hybrid and look at all the great, complementary online and offline elements with which a hybrid event can be successfully set up.

At TED we have been doing this since 2006. We were already organizing cool physical events with a virtual environment. This strengthened the physical events on the one hand, and on the other hand made the event accessible to the many visitors who could not attend. At some TED events in the Netherlands we had 20 times as many registrations as seats.

Research not only shows that 96% of event organizers expect physical events to largely return. It also shows that 55% are through all learnings of the past year feels encouraged to organize even more events.

Step up the event game: 6 tips

The show will go on, but with some major changes. All organizations have seen what is possible online in the past year. And I even hear from several customers that they will not return to the ‘old normal’ because of this. Large companies report significantly post-corona fly less and big research van AdWeek shows that 50% of consumers also expect to attend far fewer events. Not only the sustainable and cost aspects of travel play a role in this, but also the lasting anxiety for large groups of people.

1. Hybrid 2.0

The standard idea of ​​furnishing a room with furniture and circulating a Zoom link for one stream of speakers really needs to be rethought. How do you achieve the desired results? By creating a stimulating, hybrid experience that constantly motivates the audience to be involved. Quality over quantity and speed, in which the customer is really put at the center again and the work is based on his or her wishes and motivations.

2. The big TV show

We are all massive Zoom-tired have become, but now also play Netflix. The lesson I have learned in the past year when organizing hybrid events is to really see the whole as one big TV show. People have been clicked away and the competition is fierce, so spend the budget that you save on location and catering on the technology. This really makes the difference for the visitor and his experience.

3. Digital event manager

Organizing online events ‘just do it’ is really out of the question in 2021. In addition to fully committed to the right technology, it is also really a must to fully commit someone to the hybrid experience and involvement. Not only because of the many, new challenges that hybrid events bring to the organization (such as completely redesigning the customer journey, ensuring constant interaction, great experience and good networking opportunities), but also because of the completely different demand and customer journey of the visitor.

4. Permanent stimulation

Research shows that 85% of participants in online events are more engaged than in physical events. For organizers, involvement is also the main KPI for measuring success.

In my view, this goes much further than just giving visitors the opportunity to ask some questions after a keynote. Offering continuous opportunities to get involved in all kinds of ways is indispensable for a good hybrid event. From giving VIP benefits, such as ‘behind the screens’ and ‘meet the speakers’, to offering a content platform where participants can constantly engage in discussions with each other.

5. Play a game

Gamification at events has always been one of my favorite elements to devise and set up. Not only does it ensure much better visitor engagement. I also clearly saw in the studies that the enthusiasm of the visitor was increased. In addition, it offers much more unique opportunities for sponsors.

Here too the possibilities are endless. From digital quests with Scavify of Goosechase and virtual trivia to reward attendees for signing up early, attending sessions, and interacting with tools like Rybbon.

6. Freemium

Hybrid events also present many challenges, including in terms of budgets. Due to the difficult economic times, I expect (and unfortunately I already see) that many budgets for sponsoring or setting up events will be greatly reduced or lost. In addition, late research see that visitors only want to pay 10-30% of the regular ticket price for a hybrid variant. This really requires a lot of creativity and flexibility on the part of the organizer, in order to be able to set it up successfully within a certain budget.

Fortunately, online also offers more opportunities to generate money. Think of video ads, promotional content and in the past year I have also seen many successful ‘freemium formats’. Then the basis of the event is free of charge and there are also all kinds of paid, additional elements available. By offering much more content, providing opportunities to watch videos and network, you really give participants a reason to pay for this.

Events anno 2021

The first vaccinations have been put in place and the first major physical congresses are already carefully planned for 2022. It will according to expectation however, it will be at least until 2024 before the conference market returns to the level of 2019. Meanwhile, the cool, new hybrid possibilities continue to pile up. From hologram-keynotes to events that become organized in a game like Minecraft, with performances and merchandise stalls.

I think this will only increase the number of events. Just like the experience of the visitor and results for the organizer. I look forward to all the great developments we will see in the coming year!


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