The business events industry has been hit hard by the disruptive effects of COVID-19. Since the onset of the pandemic, hundreds of events have been cancelled all over the world and waking up to the news of cancellations or postponements has given rise to new ways to operate and adapt in these uncertain times.

However, what defines us is how we react when difficult situations arise, and it has been inspiring how the business events industry has risen to the challenge and pulled together.

The business events industry is all about connection and face-to-face interactions and has many event organisers wondering whether their meetings can still go ahead. In most cases, the answer is yes, whether that means at a later date, or in an alternative format.

This crisis has presented opportunities for organisations to demonstrate resilience and flexibility, by finding new ways to operate and kick-start innovation to shift to virtual gatherings as an alternative temporary solution.

While the immersive and meaningful experience of physical meetings cannot be fully replaced, incorporating virtual meetings into the business events landscape is a viable option in the interim.

While many of us have participated in a Skype meeting or FaceTime before, we’ve rarely seen the scale of virtual meetings like we are engaging with today as a ‘business as usual’ mode in the ‘new normal’ we find ourselves in.

Of course, acknowledging the possibilities of virtual meetings does not equal underestimating the value of face-to-face business events or the destination appeal of a host city. After all, business events, conferences and meetings are where knowledge is exchanged, research breakthroughs are discovered, legacies created and where fruitful professional relationships can be forged. Business events bring professionals together and connect them to associations and destinations in a more direct and relatable way, which can generate real tangible benefits.

With the above in mind, let’s explore the advantages of virtual meetings which serve as a short-term solution for some organisations:

  • They act as an enabler and a tool to safeguard business continuity and ensure priorities and short-term organisational goals are met.
  • They offer a way to keep teams engaged and facilitate a sense of community and belonging.
  • Cost effective with no barrier or distance issues, providing an easy access option for attendees.
  • Virtual meetings can be presented in different formats, from one-way webinars and one-on-one interviews, to interactive workshops and panel discussions.
  • They provide professional development opportunities for employees during times of challenge and transformational growth.

However, organisations and associations should think carefully before switching their meetings to the virtual format. As any, this crisis will have an expiry date, and the economy will slowly recover and business-as-usual will resume.

While virtual meetings have their benefits, there are also some disadvantages to consider when making the decision to hold a virtual meeting.

  • There is no personal contact and face-to-face interaction, which is globally recognised as the most effective form of communication and learning.
  • Lack of social connection. There are no opportunities for general networking, connection and strengthening relationships. Meetings are business orientated and don’t follow a holistic relationship approach.
  • Connectivity and technology issues may present challenges and reduce the reliability, stability, and effectiveness of the meetings.
  • They may be less engaging in concept as visual connections provide a level of accountability to attendees.
  • They can appear to be less transparent and authentic as they lack the face to face interaction.
  • They don’t provide the platform for product samples and experiences or the dynamic essence of regular meetings.
  •  Risk, security, privacy, and confidentiality issues present an extra layer of difficulty.

Identifying growth opportunities and postponing your events, rather than rushing and switching to virtual might be the best approach during these times. But, if your event must go on at least there are a few alternatives you can consider.

Utilising these times to innovate, learn, improve business processes, upskill staff, revamp systems and update content will have positive results in the long run and once the industry returns to full steam.