A large group of in-person attendees are watching a presenter on an event stage.

Lessons Learned from the Return to In-Person Events


Key Takeaways:

  • Virtual events forced corporations to engage audiences more creatively, giving rise to new innovation when planning in-person events.
  • Making connections continues to be the driving force powering in-person events, and is now playing a larger role in event strategy.
  • While implementing virtual into the overall event strategy is important, corporations predominantly want an undiluted experience.

Anyone who has worked in the event industry the last two years has heard the mantra: “Hybrid is the future of events.”

And yet, in-person events continue to play a dominant role in the event landscape. Having planned 200 in-person events in the last year, the team at Unbridled has seen corporations looking for new, innovative ways to produce content for their events, and hybrid and virtual have had a lot to do with that motivation. Clients aren’t asking to do TED talks anymore, they’re interested in providing their audiences with a deeper level of entertainment and engagement—in person.

When face-to-face events resumed, the power of the in-person connection breathed new life into events. Today, the live event industry is more on fire than ever before—in creativity, connectivity, and compassion. Hybrid events may not have played out as many speculated, but the necessity of hybrid powered and motivated event planners and brands to do better by their audiences.

So what have we learned from the return of live events?

As an event management, production, and creative agency, our team at Unbridled has these lessons to share:

Events have become more entertaining and engaging. Attention span anyone? Today’s sessions are shorter in duration and provide greater entertainment value to keep audiences more engaged. Virtual events created a catalyst, one that inspired new ways of content delivery.

As the pandemic wore on, event planners had to be innovative in their ideas if they wanted to captivate a virtual audience—and overcome the wide world of internet distractions. That’s when planners began to take some tips from television production and the entertainment style of TV. The translation to in-person events? We’re seeing live event sessions play out like Saturday Night Live sketches, engaging audiences with more creatively produced content.

This demand for more evolved content has also been a result of greater social awareness. The hierarchy of presenters has created a cause for pause. Executives aren’t necessarily the only ones giving the keynotes anymore. Brands are reaching deeper, finding more diversity within their organizations. Being a key presenter at an event is no longer pinned to a person’s level of authority in a corporation—it’s more about the value they bring.

Corporations don’t want to dilute the in-person experience. While corporations may find themselves conflicted, especially if they have remote workforces, the majority of brands don’t want to invest money in an event and spend a significant portion toward hybrid—they want an undiluted live experience. This means that while virtual continually plays a role in live events, the level of integration is predominantly a basic video stream or recording—far from the force we thought it would be when the pandemic started.

In-person events disrupt the disconnection. No one can refute the impact event tech has had on the event industry. It gave us all a pathway to connect when meeting in-person wasn’t possible. One of the leading surveys in terms of employee engagement is Gallup’s Q12 Employee Engagement Survey, which includes whether or not you have one close friend in the workplace. Yet, one of the sour fruits of the pandemic is that friendships at work dwindled or went dormant. Unbridled believes that in-person events have the potential to help solve this. As gatherings hCW resumed again in person, creating opportunities for face-to-face connections are especially significant. Clients who never had events before are now hosting in-person experiences to broker connections between disconnected audiences.

Making attendees feel safe is a priority. When we plan in-person events, there’s a level of care that needs to be shown toward people and their comfort levels. Being packed into seating like sardines isn’t an option for some people who are still concerned about safety. Ensuring health standards are in place and that socially distanced spaces are being included in accommodations are important elements in event planning protocols. You need to give people the space they need to feel event if it’s more important for some than others.

Connecting attendees is high priority. Before the pandemic there was a lot of sitting involved with in-person events—from the Uber to the plane to the six-hour session. Tech companies helped drive networking for virtual events, which has carried over into in-person events. Ensuring shorter sessions and allotting more time for attendees to network has become a common practice. And the networking dynamic has changed. No more forcing people to walk into a room of strangers and be social. We can connect attendees through geofencing, apps, and advance matchmaking based on interests or location, making networking opportunities and interactions deeper and more inclusive of all personality types.

Look at your event strategy as a whole. Condensing events has become more common, and virtual is a part of that strategy. Whether you produce corporate town halls throughout the year or smaller virtual events tied into your main, in-person event later in the year—the point is to talk to your audience and to approach your whole events ecosystem with newfound tools and intention.

Looking to plan your next in-person event or retool your overarching event strategy? The team at Unbridled wants to hear your story. Let’s talk.