Powering the Future of Events: The Way Forward With Digital Connectivity
As economic activities gradually return, Lawrence Chan, Managing Director, MyRepublic Singapore discusses what events look like in the new normal and beyond
In 2020, we saw the rise of Digital Connectivity in business events. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year saw events, conferences, and in-person meetings of all scales, across all industries, being abruptly canceled or indefinitely postponed within a matter of weeks or even days. Businesses and organizations who had put in months of work in preparation for in-person events and conferences this year found themselves having to switch gears quickly in a bid to stay relevant.
With no clear end of the pandemic in sight, life has to go on – businesses cannot afford to come to a standstill, and organizations have to continually reinvent and adapt to new ways of working and hosting events or meetings. Events and conferences were swiftly taken online, with virtual events and live streams being the norm as international travel came to a halt and strict social distancing measures were put in place. While faced with initial challenges around technical set-ups, navigating and getting familiarised with video conferencing platforms, securing speakers and aligning topics of discussion in line with the current climate, most were able to quickly overcome these hiccups to execute their events online in a seamless manner.
In Singapore, where the Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, Exhibitions (MICE) and events industry form a key pillar of the nation’s economic growth, we are witnessing a gradual return of economic activity with the rollout of the Event Industry Resilience Roadmap, piloting pre-event rapid testing for COVID-19 prior to event entry, and allowing up to 250 attendees at MICE events. Now more than ever, it is vital for businesses and organizations to recognize the evolving trends which have emerged as we navigate the new normal, in order to continue staying relevant by adapting to changing consumer demands and preferences.
Live stream fatigue
At the start of the pandemic, with quarantine and social distancing policies in place to curb the spread of the virus, consumers’ digital consumption habits saw a huge shift as work, learning, recreational activities and social networking were simultaneously taken online.
Meetings, events and conferences which would typically encompass in-person interactions and networking sessions now took place over video conference platforms. This meant an individual could simply attend a keynote presentation from the comfort of their living rooms, while networking and Q&A sessions would take place over the chat functions of the virtual conference platform.
The idea of attending an event via a live stream was refreshing and exciting at the beginning – the convenience, for one, was unparalleled and it was the next best thing to an in-person conference – but it was before long that ‘Zoom fatigue’ started to hit. This is unsurprising, given how as humans, we are social beings who thrive on social interaction, and non-verbal conversation cues like body language and facial expressions which we rely on to read the room become significantly less prominent over video calls.
While live streaming creates opportunities for brands and businesses to interact with consumers ‘live’ and establish an instant connection to deliver a unique, personal experience in almost real time, the live stream experience could potentially be deterred and disrupted by poor internet connectivity resulting in buffering issues and laggy streams.
However, as live streams demand viewers’ time and attention to be in the moment, this could, in turn, become a drawback in time-pressed situations that leave one unable to stay fully engaged to the live stream. Rather than logging in to live-streamed events, consumers instead opt for on-demand viewing of recorded sessions. This provides them with the freedom and flexibility to view sessions after work hours or over the weekends based on their own schedule – not only are they able to be in control of the time investment, they can also identify sessions that are of greatest relevance or interest to them, and avoid any potential technical glitches faced in live streams.
With live streams set to continue playing a key role in events going forward, it is crucial for brands to carefully consider consumers’ demands and preferences when planning a live stream. Beyond engaging and relevant content delivery, one of the key considerations and fundamentals to get right is to ensure secure and reliable internet connectivity with sufficient bandwidth is in place, for the live stream to proceed without technical glitches which could turn participants away. This would lay the groundwork for the delivery of an immersive and engaging experience that is as close to a physical event experience as possible.
While virtual events bring about convenience to participants, consumers ultimately crave in-person social interactions and networking opportunities that physical events offer. With large scale, mass gatherings and congregations not returning anytime soon, coupled with fatigue from one too many virtual events, event planners are now bringing together in-person and virtual event experiences with hybrid events.
For instance, in Singapore, we have started to see the return of in-person MICE and trade events, such as TravelRevive, a two-day hybrid travel trade show which took place at Sands Expo & Convention Centre in end of November.
This marked the first physical trade show in Singapore and Asia-Pacific since the onset of the pandemic in February, held under the newly-developed hybrid event trade show prototype – with close to 1,000 attendees in attendance on site in addition to virtual interactions with a wider global audience. The trade show saw the launch of mixed-reality (MR) capabilities to its hybrid broadcast studio by Marina Bay Sands – a nod towards the future of hybrid event experiences.
Beyond traditional conferences and large-scale seminars, organizations are now venturing into new territories with hybrid event formats as well – such as e-sports, arts (theatre and music), company Annual General Meetings (AGMs), among others, to enable greater reach across a wider pool of audience across geographies. As one of the fastest-growing telecom operators and internet service providers in Asia-Pacific, we saw the opportunity to be a pioneer in tapping into this growing trend, to provide end-to-end network support tailored to the differing requirements of such events.
For instance, the Community Garden Festival (CGF), which traditionally featured marketplaces, garden displays, and design competitions, took place virtually in October, where gardening programs such as talks, demos and tours were taken online. In addition to broadband and equipment support, we played an integral role in setting up the live streams for the virtual festival as well.
There are numerous considerations to take into account when planning and executing a hybrid event – whether for an internal or external audience – from selecting a suitable venue to ensuring the right digital infrastructure and technology is in place. As hybrid events are set to be here to stay, brands and organizations can also work with streaming and connectivity partners to ensure a seamless delivery of events.
Driving engagement with connectivity
The events industry relies heavily on a secure, stable internet connection, to ensure a seamless and engaging guest experience – whether in-person or virtually.
The Covid-19 pandemic saw consumers’ demand for digital connectivity skyrocketing, and an acceleration of the rollout and uptake of digital solutions. Now, with hybrid events here to stay as cross-border travel remains an unlikely reality in the near future, the role of reliable, seamless internet connectivity has emerged more apparent.
Compared to in-person and virtual events, it is now even more vital for event planners to ensure hybrid events are able to keep attendees – both in-person and virtual – sufficiently engaged through creative means, given their dual nature.
Beyond a robust online marketing strategy to generate buzz around the event and incorporating elements of interactivity, event planners can elevate the hybrid event experience through the use of Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and 5G technologies.
With reliable internet connectivity, event planners will find themselves well-placed to innovate on digital experiences and take these forward, to create rich, immersive and engaging events for attendees around the world.
The Covid-19 pandemic shows no sign of waning anytime soon, but it is certain that consumers’ habits and demands have evolved by leaps and bounds over the past 11 months – and is set to keep changing as the world navigates the new normal.
While it may be a long time before events return to the way they were before, there is no question of the need for businesses and organizations to stay ahead of these ever-changing preferences, remain nimble and adapt in order to ensure delivery of engaging, immersive experiences to all participants regardless of demographic and geography.