"Life is like a Monday morning Zoom meeting; you never know what silly but distracting background Greg in accounting will use.”
If you work in the events industry, there is a good chance that the last time you actually worked an event was over two months ago, and for many of you, this is the longest you’ve gone without an event in your entire career. And there is also a good chance that you are desperately looking for solutions.
Yes my friends, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit our profession like a Muhammad Ali right cross, brutally and with lightning speed, knocking the entire events industry to ground in one crushing blow.
“Float like a butterfly, sting like COVID-19.”
And as the entire event industry attempts to regain its consciousness and hobble back to its feet, it is also possible that you have worked an event in the last two months. In fact, you might have even worked several events. Heck, some of you might have even been thriving these past two months.
Okay, that last sentence is probably a bit of a stretch...
But some of you could be thriving in the very near future, for as the title of this article indicates, we are in the middle of a major industry-wide pivot to virtual events, and like any major paradigm shift within any industry, those who are quick to adopt and innovate within restructured marketplaces and environments usually emerge as trusted industry leaders with an assortment of new opportunities.
In fact, our co-founder, Rob Corrall, and our sister company, Second Song, recently converted and executed an entire wedding as a virtual event, from ceremony through reception, and their entire process and and journey was featured in-depth by Wired.
At Conference Crashers, we began pivoting to virtual events as early as March.
While the emergence of virtual events and their rapidly-rising status as the new industry standard is probably not news to anyone who is reading this article, my original question from the title of this article remains to be answered: Are virtual events here to stay as the new normal, or are they just a temporary solution to a temporary problem.
Let me start by saying that I don’t think anyone can answer this question with 100% certainty as nobody is capable of predicting the future, especially to such a complex and delicate situation with literally hundreds if not thousands of variables at play.
(And if you are capable of predicting the future, you should definitely be working on Wall Street or in Las Vegas instead of the events industry. Nevertheless, I digress...)
It is with that framework of thought, that literally nobody can accurately foretell the long-term future of the events industry, that I will attempt to deduce a reasonable prediction to my own rhetorical question by examining some key truths and opinions from a wide range of experts in various fields.
So, as recording artist Pink would say…
“Let’s get this analysis-of-the-future-of-virtual-events party started.”
To understand the longevity of virtual events, the first question we need to ask is when are traditional large scale events returning, because until they do, virtual events are basically the only option.
Now again, there is no definitive answer for this question as the future is unknown and every city and state will have freedom to enact their own guidelines, but what we can do is we can look at the overall consensus of predictions to this questions from a broad assortment of recent statements from a variety of government and industry leaders.
“Attending sports events or concerts with packed crowds probably won’t happen until 2021 at the earliest, say health experts and government officials.”
“Large weddings, religious rites of passage and services, reunions and other big gatherings will likely be on hold until 2021, too, say health experts.”
May 6th, 2020
“Uncertainty about the coronavirus and the challenge of protecting audiences and artists is prompting many prominent presenters to wait till next year.”
“...concert promoters, theater presenters, orchestras and dance companies are ripping up their 2020 calendars and hoping 2021 will mark a new beginning.”
“‘I think 2020 is gone,’ said Anna D. Shapiro, the artistic director of Chicago’s storied Steppenwolf Theater Company.”
“‘It doesn’t seem likely we are going to open in the fall,’ said Jay Marciano, the chairman of AEG Presents, one of the industry’s biggest promoters.”
May 24th, 2020
“It could be a while before cities like Los Angeles or New York City allow for large scale gatherings like concerts or sports events.”
“LA Mayor Eric Garcetti said large-scale events might not be approved until 2021, according to several news outlets.”
“Garcetti said, ‘large gatherings such as concerts and sporting events may not be approved in the city for at least 1 year."
April 15th, 2020
Now mind you, anything could happen in the next seven months, and obviously the discovery of a COVID-19 vaccine could and would change everything, but considering these most recent remarks, it would appear to me that the large-scale events are most likely out of the question for the remainder of 2020, which means virtual events are most likely here to stay until 2021.
“It was a pleasure doing 2020 virtual event business with you, virtual business man!”
To consider the future of virtual events past 2021, I think we must consider a few additional unknown questions, including:
I think these are all important questions to consider, and again, they are questions to which we can not answer concretely at this time, but there are many linked articles above where you can explore and examine what some industry leaders are saying.
And on the counterpoint, please allow me, if you will, to call into play the intangible experiential aspects of a live event that no virtual event can ever replace.
The feeling in your stomach when the bass drops.
The shared feeling of human energy when thousands of people mass assemble share an experience of sport, art or culture.
The sheer inexplicable joy of witnessing and experiencing the wedding of a loved one or friend, or a concert by your favorite artist, or a theater production that moves you emotionally, or any other event that connects your empathetic being to everyone around you, also witnessing and experiencing the exact same event.
“I can’t believe I am at a John Mayer concert. Hold it together. Hold it together. Hold it- oh god he’s so smooth!”
It is for these reasons that I do believe that when live events do return, whether it be 2021, or even 2020 if we are blessed with a miracle vaccine, virtual events can never fully replace the human experience of a live event that has led them to endure for centuries.
Film and television did not kill theater. CDs and Spotify did not kill the concert. The Vegas Chapel and the local courthouse did not kill the wedding.
“It’s like, sick beats unite us all man. They are like... art and stuff.”
While I think the transition back to live events could be slow, and even painful, and while I also think that virtual events will probably never “go away” and will always be an “option,” it is for all the reasons listed above that I predict live events will again reclaim their throne as the premiere way to experience live entertainment.
So in summary, to answer my original question, the very headline of this article - Virtual Events: The New Normal or a Temporary Solution? - I say the answer is both things:
Virtual events are the new normal for a year or two, but that new normal is only temporary.
This article was written by Mike Rylander, a creative-jack-of-all-trades.
Mike is the CEO of Conference Crashers, a corporate event entertainment company that is eager to help you and your company plan and execute your next or first virtual event.
Learn more at CrashYourConferece.com.