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What Will Tomorrow’s Conferences and Large-Scale Events Look Like?

Posted by Andrea Keating on May 15, 2020

When talking about the future of B2B conferences, events and tradeshows, it’s important to specify that you’re speaking about the distant future rather than the months directly ahead. The COVID-19 pandemic and the wave of social distancing strategies countering it have rendered mass gatherings unfeasible for the spring, the summer and a potentially significant amount of time after.

With that said, businesses still need to connect with their clients, partners and internal stakeholders to get their messages out to the public about new products and other major announcements. For the moment, digital models have taken off in the events world, a trend that may continue even after people receive the all-clear to congregate.

It’s worth thinking about a few aspects of the conference and event industry. Namely, the immediate and eventual future should be considered separately, as the steps being taken today are very much defined by the historical moment. It’s important to think about the technologies that are bridging the gap between the improvised present and the next evolution of conferences.

Conferences in the Era of Coronavirus

The current slate of digitized gatherings taking the place of in-person conferences includes many thrown-together events. Companies have hurried to adjust to a world without standard gatherings. DirectIndustry E-magazine reported that following the 36,000-attendee RSA Conference, two participants contacted the coronavirus. Whether or not they were infected at the event, the message was still received. Even before states began mandating social distancing, companies were shifting to online.

DirectIndustry noted that companies unwilling to simply call off their events have pivoted to an online model. IBM used livestreamed presentations and forums to keep in contact with the developer community after its Think 2020 conference was called off. IBM’s Edward Barbini stated that internal feedback on the change was positive. Employees saw it as a sign the company prioritized their health.

Despite IBM’s early example, DirectIndustry added there is still some hesitation about the value of moving to all-digital conferences. Will these events deliver the networking and informative content professionals attend industry gatherings for?

There are many new efforts to replace conferences with virtual events. In the early going, the focus has been on the basic features of gatherings that are easy to replicate. As with the IBM show, keynote speeches and sessions have gone online. However, these digital events don’t allow for the compelling conversations and chance meetings between attendees that often led to more valuable connections than the official agenda.

Some companies are trying to create more all-inclusive conferences for online spaces. Especially with the specter of long months without traditional gatherings, these operators are hoping to set new standards. Wired noted that such startups have thus far failed to reshape the industry, especially with several major events planning their return, tentatively, in 2021. But what will these shows look like when they open their doors again?

cta 1 virtual events

The Return of Mass Gatherings

While predicting the return of B2B conferences, ZDNet shared some sobering reminders that there’s no way to return to 100% normalcy. The events landscape has already changed. For example, O’Reilly Media has decided to accelerate change in its business model. It’s learning events and conferences were a major part of the company in the past. But that division has now closed down, seemingly for good.

There are other, smaller signs that the event space will never be the same. Independent conferences may not survive the mandatory cancelations this year. According to ZDNet, the Drupal Association’s future is in doubt without its annual 3,000-attendee DrupalCon, which was a major source of income for the group.

Once companies are cleared to hold face-to-face gatherings, there will be demand from attendees and exhibitors. ZDNet did note, however, that this will not be enough to bring the space back to its previous scale. The cost-benefit math for conventions will have to be redone, and some organizers and attending businesses are likely to decide to either stick with online gatherings or simply go with fewer conventions on the calendar.

The online gatherings of the future may represent an upgrade in some ways. When many leading events are held as online gatherings, more companies may feel empowered to participate. The complete removal of travel costs and the potential lowering of ticket prices may lead to events that are more widely attended than ever before, if only virtually.

Video Content Now and Then

Video has been a compelling part of corporate communications for years, but as the line blurs between live gatherings and online presentations, its importance will only rise. When executives give in-person presentations backed by video, the multimedia was already an integral part of those speeches. When an entire appearance is being delivered by video, the presentation and the multimedia become completely intertwined.

If your organization has virtual events coming up, either as a host or a presenting attendee, a renewed focus on video content can help you make a good impression on your audience. Every business at one of these conferences is relying on its multimedia to get messaging across, and you can stand out when you focus on high-quality video.

One of the most compelling reasons to reinvest in video is that this renewed focus doesn’t have to stop paying dividends when in-person events return to the schedule. Companies able to produce compelling videos have a repeatable and entertaining way to put their branding in front of partners, clients and the public. Whether events are virtual or live, that’s an effective part of your company’s tool kit.

While your business adapts to the immediate and far future of events, you can enlist Crews Control to help with your creative needs. Our video services include outsourced editing of your internally shot footage, as well as motion graphics and animation, prime content options when your team can’t be together to film. For information on these offerings and more, contact Crews Control today.


  1. Andrea:
    Appreciate your insight and thoughts on the meetings and events industry post COVID-19. Over the past few weeks I have read multiple articles that pretty much concur with your predictions for the industry moving forward.

    Being perfectly honest with you however, I am getting a wee bit of the ‘doom and gloom fatigue’ from this one way traffic. Where are the articles and viewpoints that offer a more positive future for an industry and infrastructure that has been around for a very, very long time that stretches across the United States and that generates billions of dollars annually to the GDP? Are you seriously proposing that the industry as we know it is in a free fall of decline and will continue to die a slow and inevitable death? While you are not directly saying that, you kinda get where I am going.

    One of the fundamental differentials of our industry is the ability to survive . To adapt and adjust to the ever changing circumstances that is thrown at it. We all have a vested interest to advocate in a responsible way for the parties that have a seat at this industry table. Virtual and Hybrid meetings, while filling a much needed void at this time, is in my opinion not the future and WILL NEVER replace the advantages, opportunities and uniqueness of a live event.

    As soon as a vaccine is discovered, I predict that attitudes, genuine fears and comfort levels will also be re-discovered. Yes, I agree it will take at least two years for things to get back to what we will accept as being in the past ‘normal times’ but live in person meetings will return.

    Here is one last thought for you – do you not find it quite alarming and worrying never mind scary, that hotels and venues are now working overtime to tell us about what steps they are taking internally to sanitize their properties in order to be ready for opening? Many of these steps, I for one always assumed, was common practice. When the SARS outbreak was in full flow and the 2018-2019 flu epidemic seemingly rampaging its way across the world – did I miss something, did hotels close? Were meetings and conventions cancelled? Didn’t the meetings industry post record accounts?

    • Christopher,
      Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I can see your perspective from your experience with the meetings and events industry. I agree; there are not many resources out there right now that pose a positive immediate future for the meetings and events industry. While I don’t think it is in a never ending free fall, my intention for the article was to look to ‘near future’ of events, as we all try to navigate a world where large gatherings are not just possible for the time being. It is our shared hope that personal meetings can resume once a vaccine is developed, because I too do see value in face to face interactions that coincide with large meetings. And yes, I do think these new measures can be taken as alarming, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen a pandemic such as this before. Stay well!

  2. Good article. Thank you. One thing you should note is that a major component of conferences is the element of networking. Although virtual conferences can convey a good part of the content, It is often sadly lacking in the human interaction component. A poorly lit and badly framed WebCam shot does not come close did the communication strength of a well shot and produced video. Compounding this problem is the fact that even some of your best presenters lose their energy when speaking without an audience. Presenting without an audience is off-putting and the resulting video shows it. Since webinars and virtual presentations are going to become the new normal for sometime to come, you might consider packaging a half day shoot with a professional who also comes with a ring light, cell phone stand, and prompter software which runs almost tablet and cell phones. What you would be offering is a half day shoot that comes with invaluable coaching And some useful products that new customers could use over and over again. We are starting to do it and it’s being received well. For what it’s worth

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