Virtual events vs physical events – which is best?

Virtual events vs physical events – which is best?

The difference between virtual and physical events

Over the past couple of months the events industry has changed dramatically. Events that are usually attended by thousands of people in huge conference centres have been postponed to later in the year, and some have even decided to give virtual events a go.

While we may see a return to live­ events in the last few months of this year, it’s unlikely they will be exactly the same as they were before. Although face-to-face events and travel might be on pause right now, it is still important for brands and destinations to maintain their relationships with customers and provide something of value to them. This will mean that when business does begin to return to normal you will be able to hit the ground running.

So, will lockdown encourage people to consider virtual events more? And will COVID-19 make people more cautious about attending events and exhibitions in person? We think they both offer something unique and have a place in the future of events.

Getting the most out of your budget

There may sometimes be the added pressure of making sure you get a return on your investment when you attend or exhibit at a live exhibition. That said, there’s no denying the impact that physical presence in a space has.

Seeing an eye-catching stand at an event has far more impact than some graphics on a screen. You can also use your presence at a physical event as a way to create content to promote your brand – whether that’s a Q&A session with your founder or footage of people interacting with your team members. This can add a human dimension to your business that will appeal to your customers.

While there are many benefits to attending a live event, virtual events give you the opportunity to get more out of a limited budget. They don’t always have to happen live, and even if they do most platforms have options for the event content to be accessible after the time and date of the event.

This potentially opens you up to exposure to a far wider audience than you would have at a live physical event. If you have opted for extra digital sponsorship exposure from a live exhibition, you may find that actually your exposure to the online world can go just as far. That said, your digital presence may not be felt as strongly as it would at a physical event where you can have face-to-face conversations with people and create content together.

Making meaningful connections

One of the major selling points of being present at a physical live event is the face-to-face opportunities it offers. Being able to have one-to-one meetings, or even just have a quick chat with people at your stand, gives more opportunity to make real and meaningful connections. Not to mention the reunions you can have with friends you’ve made along the way. So far technology hasn’t been able to replicate this online, and when people attend a virtual event there’s no telling whether they’re fully engaged with that experience or barely listening while they answer emails or continue to work.

However, virtual events are more accessible than physical events and so you might have more opportunity to find the people you want to connect with. Virtual events also offer the opportunity to capture more data on attendees, and through taking part you might be able to the attendees after the event and then reach out to the right people afterwards.

Providing a ROI

Of course, the purpose of taking part in events is to gain some ROI. Live exhibitions and events might require more of an investment, but the face-to-face interactions they make possible can mean that you get a great ROI. It will be interesting to see if social distancing measures impact the ROI for physical live events and how we adapt them to ensure they are safe to attend, yet still provide value to exhibitors and attendees. There are now options available to make collecting data on potential leads at physical events much easier, and it will be interesting to see how this technology further develops to account for social distancing.

Virtual events are a popular option right now as physical events can’t happen. But once they do return it is unlikely virtual events will disappear completely. They provide an opportunity for exhibitors and attendees who are less able to travel to connect and for event content to be consumed on demand and when it best suits the audience.

When it comes to deciding between virtual and physical live events, the important thing is to make note of what your goals for taking part and then compare how each option will be able to help you achieve that. Have you been enjoying virtual events during lockdown? Are you excited for the return of physical live events and exhibitions? Let us know in the comments.

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Albertine Brandon is a style and beauty influencer with expertise in social media, influencer marketing and content strategy. She has created content for her own channels for close to a decade and has interviewed some of the UK's top social media talent, including Suzie Bonaldi (Hello October), Dodie, Stephanie Yeboah and Emma Blackery.

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