Renew The ExperienceMay 15, 2023

Attract the Right Attendees, Regardless of Format By
May 15, 2023

Renew The Experience

Attract the Right Attendees, Regardless of Format

Holmen,Eric-Splash-110x140Eric Holmen is the CEO of Splash, a next-generation event marketing platform designed to help teams build and host virtual, in-person and hybrid events. He is responsible for driving the company’s transformative growth and positioning Splash to help its customers do what they love: create memorable experiences, new connections and business value. For more, visit

“Virtual exhaustion.” The very idea that it can be exhausting to sit in front of a screen all day sounds strange — but it’s real.

As valuable as virtual events have been for event professionals over the last two years, people are indeed tired of them. And that’s a cause for concern as event teams feel the pressure of projected lower attendance numbers this year. Low attendance numbers scare the hell out of event professionals.

In late 2021, the Splash team surveyed more than 250 event professionals for an annual events outlook report, “Getting Back to Business,” and learned that their top concern, no matter the size or type of event, is low attendance. Their other main concern is combatting virtual event fatigue. But perhaps a more significant factor that could drive lower attendance rates in 2022 is the onslaught of in-person events this year.

With the return of in-person conferences and meetings and a continuance of virtual events, attendees face an overwhelming number of events to choose from. That leaves event professionals facing increasing pressure to make their event the essential one to attend. To do this, there will be challenges, but they’re not insurmountable. Here are some thoughts on how event professionals can overcome those.

Your event attendees want more options

The first pill to swallow for event professionals is to eliminate a “one or other” approach — virtual versus in-person. Event attendees expect more choice now and offering them that choice is the responsible thing to do. Even as the pandemic wanes, some attendees will still feel uncomfortable going to a large in-person gathering and prefer the relative safety of attending remotely.

Rather than alienating a portion of your audience, offer both. Attendees who are still uncomfortable in person will appreciate the virtual component. Those who are present at the event venue won’t have their experience affected by the availability of a virtual option. Having that option alone could make a long-lasting impact on those attendees who still want to go virtual, building loyalty among this segment for future event programs.

Another benefit of offering a virtual option is broadening the attendee pool and improving your numbers. Why give attendees an ultimatum to come to an in-person event or not at all? Give them a third box to check, a virtual choice that provides flexibility and makes the event work best for them. You want all the right attendees at your event, regardless of the format.

If they choose it, they will come

After two years of canceling or postponing events, companies are redoubling efforts to make up for lost time — and revenue. Naturally, some attendees may feel overwhelmed by the volume of events this year. Hybrid models ease that tension by offering virtual and in-person options.

Hybrid events give potential attendees additional choices when deciding which events to prioritize. They might not be able to justify the travel expense to attend an in-person event, but they could attend virtually. More hybrid event options mean more flexibility in attendees’ calendars and schedules, which facilitates them attending more events overall. Another thing to consider is that choice makes for a more engaged and involved attendee. If guests choose to go virtual in a hybrid model, it’s because they prefer to engage in that way, as opposed to attending a virtual event that was replacing a canceled in-person event.

Embrace the new tech

The technology used to host virtual events has come a long way. Our 2022 event outlook survey found that nearly 6 in 10 companies are increasing their investment in event technology compared to 2021, and 46% anticipate hosting more virtual events this year than last. That’s the right approach — testing and learning new technologies to engage your audience.

But the only way to combat virtual fatigue and low virtual attendance is to offer a virtual experience that feels new and refined. Earlier this year, we unveiled an all-in-one event platform called Splash Studio to vastly improve the backstage experience and reporting for professionals running a virtual event and elevate attendees’ screen experience.

Some of the innovations we developed within a virtual setting include easy access for attendees to engage in polls or chat with attendees or speakers during a session. New networking features also enable several session hosts to moderate different networking circles, where attendees can also break out into private chats. Essentially, networking can be as structured or unstructured as event professionals want, from small groups to a wide-open platform for attendees to mix and mingle.

Bring in-person to virtual

A true hybrid experience also gets virtual attendees engaged with the in-person experience. Event professionals can do things such as stream live in-booth interviews with exhibitors on the floor, show webcasts of live in-person presentations, perhaps launch a drone video of what’s happening on the ground, or stream videos of awards or other presentations. Company events can bring remote attendees to the live stage with streaming and live online chat interaction.

The most important part of a true hybrid event experience is integration — the virtual component must be woven into the fabric of the event itself. Too often, the virtual side of a hybrid event feels tacked on, either a static simulcast of what’s happening at the venue or a parallel program that lacks the dynamism of the in-person experience. High-performing hybrid events use their virtual channel to augment and complement the live show, not just replicate it. This way, those attending virtually have as full an experience as possible and get as much value from the event as their in-person counterparts. Of course, a seamlessly integrated hybrid event is hard to achieve with outdated event technology. Hanging onto old tech or not paving the way for more choice is the easy option. But now is precisely the time to experiment, learn and improve. It won’t be easy, but it’s the only way to generate renewed excitement and deliver an experience that differentiates your event programs this year.

Educate and educate some more

Critical to the hybrid model’s success is educating attendees and setting expectations, explaining how the virtual and in-person components work together, and highlighting what attendees will recognize or is brand new. For event professionals, this means proactive outreach and communication both before and during the event. For event managers, more interaction with both virtual and in-person attendees will be required. But the payoff in terms of engagement and attendance ratios will be well worth the effort.

Events this year are launching with added pressure to make up for lost revenue and engagement. Securing more bodies for the show floor or log-ins for a virtual session will be tough. At the same time, companies hosting their events want to create an outstanding experience for employees, customers or partners regardless of how they participate.

One thing is for sure: not building out and communicating a hybrid offering will only make your job as an event marketer or professional much harder this year. Leverage the improved event technology that is available, renew the event experience for your guests, and don’t settle for a “one-or-the-other” approach. | AC&F |

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