Before COVID-19 hit, in-person events mostly focused on networking, thought leadership content, engagement, follow-ups, and the likes. There were activities focused on human interaction to create ideas and opportunities for each other.

When COVID hit, we had to go digital and the space to innovate and spark ideas reduced. Yes, there is the technology that allowed talk series, Zoom webinars, and so on, although the personal connect went missing.

Social capital in the event experience vaporized. This impacted the economy, mental health, and many other aspects of human interaction. Before the pandemic, even though we did have virtual events, there was not much thought given to social capital, assuming they would be receiving it at other events or day-to-day activities.

We needed to digitally transform the event experience by focusing on technology to recreate and restore social capital.

Firstly, you need to have a meaningful intellectual conversation that allows people to engage with each other leveraging the best of technology.

Secondly, networking experiences must allow people to meet on varying scales, even if it is a happy hour with a small group of people.

Events must focus on creating the following currencies which make up the social capital:

  1. Access currency – The access you create for the audience and those part of the event
  2. Relationship currency – The relationships we need to drive
  3. Opportunity currency – The opportunities we create

If you do not create any of this one, then the virtual events do not add any value to anyone.

Digital Transformation has become a 21st-century buzzword and is synonymous to how we experience the world around us, in a world where we are expected to remain indoors. How have your maneuvered around digitally transforming events?

Most processes of the event industry are either manual or paper-based. Now that everything has gone digital, the whole planning process has evolved too — from managing, scheduling, and communication to promoting. As an event organizer, you must embrace digital tools like Venmo, AirMeet, Hoppin.

Automation is a vital piece of the digital transformation puzzle. For instance, the work we do with Speaker Engage allows us to automate agenda planning, speaker communication, sponsor communication, and curation pieces.

For me, Excel processes are manual. To collaborate, you will need to send emails, wait for them to respond, print it out later, etc.  But on Speaker Engage, you can automate an Excel with an information process that allows you to curate, communicate, track, and understand how a person is interacting with our events.

Let’s look at event registration – a step that involved quite a lot of manual processes. Now, registrations happen seamlessly on Eventbrite. Although people could Zoom bomb, there are processes to check these occurrences.

Even at an online event, you must have the right kind of process to allow the right people to enter the right environment – you must have the proper checks and balances to facilitate registrations.

The events industry is embracing digital transformation at conferences and meetings. According to you, how can event organizers leverage digital transformation to create automated processes that are scalable?

As an event organizer, I stress on listing out processes – from planning an event, curating your speakers, curating your sponsors, etc. and segregate them as manual or automated processes.

Automated processes are usually collaborative and allow multiple stakeholders. Is the data accessible for more people? Can I share it? In case of information on a word doc, it is only with me. Then do I have to send it in an email? The recipient has to find it, work on it, and then send it back. That’s a lot of manual processes.

For instance, in the Microsoft Teams environment, I can send the document and collaboratively work with the recipient. The automation in this process would be an AI tool for grammar and sentence checks and even create social media posts.

So, list everything, and then start to think about automating the processes. This will allow you to scale your event. Automation and collaboration are two sides of the same coin.

Enterprises are taking great interest in investing in new automation technologies, which means a total overhaul of existing systems and practices. What, according to you, are the key areas enterprises should focus on?

There are three key areas that enterprises need to look into while automating technologies.

First, enterprises must assess the entire events platforms they intend to use and conduct a survey to figure out what platforms people are comfortable with.

Once they take the above assessment, they need to look at events and figure out which platforms need to be consolidated or streamlined. The streamlining process should be applicable for planning, organizing, collaborating, promoting, and so on.

Thirdly, you need to understand and finalize all functions required to execute an event and have an infrastructure that supports them – be it meetings, connections, networking, promoting, etc.

A skill that I see great promise in the future of virtual and in-person events is moderators. I think moderators will become one of the most highly sought out roles. It will be one of the most valuable skills to acquire, and there will be a higher number of moderators blossoming through this rise in opportunity. We will have more virtual events, and I think more people will become community curators. There will be revolutionary changes in how people gather, connect, work on ideas, and mobilize movements.

Prior to the global shut down, while organizing events, most of the processes were manual. Be it sending out an invite to a speaker, booking a hotel, distributing passes for the audience, etc. Now that everything is digital, what is the industry’s biggest challenge, and how has it affected the user experience journey? 

The biggest challenge right we see in the events industry, whether it is organization or audience, is technology selection. Even though tools are abundant in the market, many do not have the skill or bandwidth to understand them. The experience has shifted from attending events in halls or auditoriums to attending them in rooms.

Offline, the experience would be to have the speakers up on stage and hand them a mic. Now, they have a wide range of speakers, logging in from all corners of the world where the data bandwidth might be less. They need to incorporate networking as well as have a breakout session.

Another experience shift is in the engagement. How do you keep people engaged in an online experience? So, if you do not think about holding an engaging experience with value-add, it will be hard to keep attendees attentive.

As far as user experiences go, it can get frustrating if the audio is terrible, the video is bad, then the content and engagement are awful.

Digital transformation will have an ever-evolving effect on the events industry. What can we expect in 2021 and thereafter?

The events industry will go through a significant transformation. I think people are now quite comfortable working from home and are fine with online events. If you can integrate the social capital, then it would be a success. You could still have in-person events and online events at the same time.

Event organizers will have to open up to more people. Streaming will become part of the mainstream event experience. That’s the first effect, in my opinion.

The second one is, even in the hybrid environment, you will have satellite experiences. People will have satellite parties where there could be a conversation or a theatre experience happening, and so on. The bottom line is that a large event would not be physical. Even if it were physical, it would be an option people can choose.

For example, we are working with a group that will be hosting an event on September 30th. It is a UN event. The attendees will be dignitaries and diplomats from different industries and countries. Although geographies separate the participants, we will come together virtually to solve some of the pressing problems of the day.

The usage of virtual reality will become much more common, not unlike what we see in Star Trek. Speakers can be projected to different stages. Holograms will become mainstream, and virtual reality will be the norm where networking would not be in-person but still meaningful.  There will be a rise in more relevant conversation and action.

Chaitra Vedullapalli
Author

Chaitra Vedullapalli is recognized as an Influential Business Leader with a passion to enable digital equity and access to achieve economic prosperity in our communities. She is the Co-founder and CMO of Meylah and the co-founder of Women in Cloud. Chaitra sits on many boards and drives global conversations with United Nations and top Corporations.

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