As proven drivers of business development, sales, and profit growth, trade conferences have come to play a crucial role in commercial life. This has been especially so for companies and industries that have a constant requirement to address international audiences.
Attendance at industry-specific conferences has enabled delegates and sponsors to communicate directly with existing and potential customers, as well as stay abreast of the latest technical and commercial developments within a particular community. They have provided a forum for ideas and knowledge to be exchanged and where the products, services – even entire companies up for sale – could be showcased to an audience that, by definition, was both captive and sure to be interested.
Such conferences have been such a roaring success over the years that, according to Forbes magazine, in 2018 the global events industry was valued at $1,100bn and predicted to continue to grow at a compound rate of over 10% per annum.
As with a lot of other things, COVID-19 has completely changed the dynamics of what we used to regard as normal. From being in such an enviable position, event organisers have had to adapt to a world where even influential people with big budgets are no longer able to travel freely. And where there is no longer a need for expensive travel and hospitality, or even glossy brochures for attendees.
However, any resulting savings in terms of executive time and financial costs must be weighed against the loss of significant business and networking opportunities. And there remains an appetite that needs to be satisfied.
So, out of sheer necessity, the age of ‘virtual’ conferencing has dawned, where the use of technology makes it perfectly possible to put images, data, people and even live interactive sessions online. But because there are no longer any physical limitations, borders or boundaries, the creative challenge has been to create the right atmosphere and rewarding experience for top people and businesses to want to participate.
Instilling the feeling of exclusivity or professional intimacy over such a broad platform presents huge communications challenges and it will take time to get that right. However, having attended and sponsored several virtual conferences last year, I’m confident that these problems will be overcome. Techniques will improve, the use of social media to support these events will improve, and the events will improve.
It is not the same, my view is we aren’t there yet, but it’s what we have for now. We can all play our part.