Virtual to Hybrid: Associations Redefine Event Experiences Post-COVID
By Karla Jimenez, CPA, Director, Managed Services & Consulting
Associations play a vital role in bringing professionals from various fields together to network, share knowledge, and discuss the latest trends and developments in their respective industries. Traditionally, these objectives were achieved through in-person events such as meetings and trade shows. However, since the outbreak of COVID-19, associations have been forced to structure their events in new and innovative ways.
Virtual meetings and trade shows quickly emerged as the go-to solution in the wake of the pandemic. Associations embraced technology designed to replicate the engagement, learning, and networking opportunities that in-person events offer. Virtual meeting platforms have proven to be valuable tools that allow attendees to interact, participate in live sessions, and even visit virtual trade show booths. These platforms have helped associations maintain a sense of community and connection despite the physical distance. Furthermore, by eliminating travel barriers, virtual components have also made events more accessible to individuals from diverse geographical locations, fostering greater inclusivity and participation.
However, associations also recognize the enduring value of face-to-face interactions. Now that the pandemic is behind us, many associations are once again offering in-person meetings and trade shows. Face-to-face interactions allow professionals to build deeper connections and establish more meaningful relationships. Meeting someone in person and engaging in conversation often leads to valuable collaborations and partnerships. In-person events create an environment where attendees can learn from each other in real time, share insights, and exchange ideas — an interaction level that is challenging to replicate in a virtual setting.
In-person events also provide a more immersive learning experience. Trade shows allow attendees to participate in hands-on workshops, observe live demonstrations, and engage directly with products and technology. These experiences often have a greater impact as attendees can see, touch, and experience firsthand what they are learning about. Immersive learning environments foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of the subject matter.
Today, associations are using a variety of formats to structure their in-person events. For example, some associations are organizing pop-up events, which are smaller and more intimate and often held in unusual locations. These events offer attendees a unique and memorable experience, while still providing the benefits of face-to-face interactions. Pop-up events create a sense of exclusivity and excitement, making them highly sought-after. Another popular format is the hybrid event, which combines both in-person and virtual components. This allows remote attendees to participate virtually, while those attending in person benefit from direct interactions. Hybrid events provide flexibility and can reach a wider audience.
Critical to virtual events, technology also plays a crucial role in enhancing the in-person event experience. Associations are leveraging mobile apps to allow attendees to connect with each other, access event information, and participate in interactive activities. These apps foster networking and engagement, maximizing the overall event experience. Social media platforms are also utilized for event promotion and to engage with attendees before, during, and after the event.
Overall, events are essential for associations to fulfill their mission, engage their members, provide value resources, and advance their industry or field. They create opportunities for learning, networking, collaboration, and advocacy, contributing to the growth and success of the association and its members. While virtual events have their advantages in terms of accessibility and convenience, the return of in-person events acknowledges the intrinsic value of human interaction and the unique experiences they offer. Associations are adapting to the new reality of hybrid events, using creative formats, and leveraging technology to enhance the in-person event experience.