Insiders at VidCon, CES and Expo West on Post-COVID Conferences
For Fast company ‘s Shape of Tomorrow Series, we ask business leaders to share their internal perspective on how the COVID-19 era is transforming their industries. Here’s what was lost – and what could be gained – in the New World Order.
Jim Louderback, Managing Director of VidCon
In early 2020, we achieved a skill that I really didn’t want to have: canceling shows. Our audiences were all locked in their homes. They wanted to connect with each other and join their favorite creators. So we transformed a group of physical event producers into digital online event producers and went from one major event in each of our markets each year to 10 to 15 each week around the world to reach our audiences everywhere. ‘they are.
Events are about connection, community, and content. Distribution agreements take place at the conference. Business relationships are created. We held separate networking sessions, bringing together a small group of people around a particular topic. And we created a 24/7 VidCon Discord community where anytime, anywhere in the world, people could come and talk about topics.
When you’re not doing your annual event, you need to keep the audience and communities connected. We offer free weekly programming that includes virtual concerts and performances, panel discussions, question and answer, online dating and greetings, and other interactive events, and have attracted over 1.5 million attendees .
They want community, they want content, and they want links. “
Jim Louderback, Managing Director, VidCon
VidCon will return to its annual real-life event in Anaheim, Calif., In October. For the first time, we are introducing a digital ticket, so the public can attend in person or online. After the event, we take the business-oriented IRL workshops, keynotes, fireside discussions and panels and make them available on demand. It allows you to catch up later on sessions that you can’t see live or if you didn’t attend.
The event industry has been pretty hidden for a long time. Success now means you have to be as nimble and practice as much creative destruction as startups have done in the tech space in the past 10 or 15 years. Before COVID-19, we had vague plans to do this stuff, but they were longer term. COVID-19 has forced us to step up.
What COVID-19 has done for events is to help them focus on why they exist. It helped us understand what our audience really wants. They want community, they want content, and they want connection. When you come back face to face, it shouldn’t start and end with the event. It should be an experience that you can deliver every day and every week that results in a face to face event.
Carlotta Mast, senior vice president and market leader for New Hope Network, trade show organizer for the natural and organic industry
Our big natural products show – Natural Products Expo West – was scheduled to take place the first week of March 2020, just as we all came to understand the impact of COVID-19. We launched a platform called Natural Products Expo Virtual, focused on product discovery, networking and learning within the natural products industry. It becomes an important part of our business moving forward and will support all future in-person events.
There are a lot of things you can do online. For product discovery, you can set up virtual booths where exhibitors can post content about their company, products, and mission.
But there are limits. Connecting buyers and sellers, for example, is very different in a virtual platform. When you walk in a natural products fair, you go from stand to stand and discover all the products. This is just not possible online because you lose the sensory element. Physical events are also better for making connections, including the fortuitous moments that occur when you are walking down a hallway or sitting next to someone at a reception.
We will be hosting Expo East in person in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in September. We will provide both physical and virtual access to the event, using our virtual platform to make it easier for retail shoppers and other attendees to plan their Expo experience, find products and people. who they want to connect with, follow up after the show and access all content.
Making the show more sustainable is also a priority. We recognize that trade shows have an impact on the environment, and through our Expo sustainability program, we strive to identify and address these impacts to achieve continuous improvement year after year.
Social unrest during COVID-19 also intensified our focus on diversity and inclusion in networking and negotiation. Black Americans make up 13% of the American population, but only 2% of our industry leadership, according to a benchmarking survey we conducted in 2019. Creating spaces that foster belonging is essential, and we made it. a priority for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability or background – feel welcome and included at our events.
During Expo East, we partner with Included, a peer group for top black industry professionals, and the JEDI Collaborative to create new programs and events. We can use our platforms for greater inclusion.
Karen Chupka, Executive Vice President of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)
CES takes place every January. In 2020, we had around 170,000 attendees and 4,500 exhibitors. After COVID-19, we were forced to go completely digital, and we knew we had to completely rethink how it was going to work for CES 2021. Our event is where companies launch and showcase products. This is usually done live and you get the excitement of an unveiling. When the spectacle is not in the real world, you lose the ability to touch, see, and feel something.
Small businesses make up around 80% of exhibitors at events and often communicate with people as they walk past their booth. Since small businesses use trade shows as a mechanism to get new business and meet clients, they have had to find ways to use the platform to connect. To help you, we’ve created an online area where businesses can submit B rolls of their products. They could use the videos to tell the stories. We tried to keep the price low for small businesses because we knew they probably didn’t have the money to hire an agency to set up a digital experience for them.
Another thing we were able to do was put in place a system for participants and exhibitors to interact. We created a directory of all participants and people on the platform could request meetings.
We also left the platform open for 30 days after the event to give people time to really explore and connect. Typically, an in-person event is condensed into two or three days. The extension of this deadline gave everyone the opportunity to network after the event.
We plan to be back live in Las Vegas for CES 2022. We’re retaining the elements that help tell stories and bond, especially for those who still won’t be able to travel in January. For example, at an in-person event, people cannot always watch all of the conference sessions. But last year, about 86,000 people attended the event, and 34,000 of them returned several times to review content, find new content and visit new businesses.
In the future, I believe events will become a hybrid. We are only just starting to understand how the two come together.