6 Trends Impacting In-Person Events Post-COVID

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Physical events are back, but the approach might feel different than before the pandemic.

As it turns out, video did not kill the in-person conference star. The pandemic may have put a periodic damper on international travel, but the push to return to physical events is quickly gaining traction internationally.

Our event team has compiled a list of 6 emerging trends impacting post-pandemic in-person events, the challenges they pose, and some practical event management strategies and tips you can use to plan proactively.

1. Mixing personal and professional in-person event objectives to enhance lifestyle

The pandemic’s “work-from-home” model has encouraged workers to reassess their personal and professional priorities in favour of a healthier work/life balance. People have become more family-focused and are seeking experiential, immersive activities that emphasize wellness and improve quality of life.

Here’s a hidden opportunity to leverage your corporate event to meet the entire family’s needs, while integrating diverse, creative experiences into your social agenda and event design. Both will extend your event’s value and appeal beyond traditional conference offerings.

Experiential family-friendly vacation destinations

Practically speaking, we find that more than ever conference-goers are extending their stay and bringing along their families or significant others to transform their work trip into a full-fledged vacation. After long lockdowns everyone’s itching to get out and explore, so consider a location with rich cultural flavour and nearby tourist attractions. Destinations paired with local tours and excursions are often a hit.

Holistic, engaging design elements

In this post-pandemic world, small activities or unique touches that go beyond to delight—and demonstrate that you prioritize your attendees’ personal well-being—are considered attractive. Whether it be a health-conscious vegan-friendly gourmet dinner, yoga stretch breaks between sessions, or a complimentary smoothie bar, this is your chance to surprise your audience with thoughtful, intentional design elements that upgrade your attendees’ daily routines into an elevated experience.

2. Condensed event length

This emphasis on lifestyle, family, and the experiential—and arguably, the extended time we’ve spent at home in front of screens—has reduced our collective attention span for work-related content. As a result, we’re seeing fewer, shorter sessions spread across a reduced number of days.

But economizing content doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing quality. The challenge is to be more intentional with your event’s content strategy. Evaluate how your product, service, or messaging shines best: Is it through partner presentations or demos? Leadership round tables? Direct your teams to be more selective with the type, format, and amount of material that you present to your audience and trim the fat.

3. Transparent health and safety guidelines

Yes, social distancing is still relevant, and it’s being implemented between booths—either by reducing the number of exhibitors, or by reworking the show floor layout to increase space. Additionally, hand sanitizer stations are being installed wherever possible.

But the trick to maintaining a safer, hygienic environment is in setting clear expectations and consistently communicating them. Attendees will feel confident in your proactive efforts to keep everyone as safe as possible. Use signage such as floor stickers to direct traffic or posters outlining masking policies. Ensure that all policies are clearly delineated in your communications both leading up to, and during your event.

4. Fewer event attendees

COVID has undoubtedly impacted international travel. Flight cancellations, delays, layovers, and lost luggage are just some of the unavoidable realities deterring larger pre-pandemic numbers from travelling to international conferences.

Fortunately, the benefit of hosting a (relatively) smaller event is a more intimate setting that cultivates stronger business relationships. After years of separation, people are craving face-to-face social contact again. So, when considering the advantages of creating engaging experiences (see our first point), opportunities to mingle and network can be a real asset over traditional methods of information exchange. In fact, platforms that prioritize one-to-one industry connections are viewed nowadays as a sign of industry expertise and thought leadership.

5. Maximizing limited event resources

Understaffing is a big issue right now, with huge shortages plaguing vendors and the hospitality industry at large. Be prepared to encounter trash build-up, rushed guestroom cleaning, and lingering plates in restaurants. An effective way to optimize skilled labour is to embrace a sustainable event philosophy of resource conservation. This means that you design your conference around the ethical principles of “reduce, reuse, recycle” and incorporate self-serve operations whenever possible. Planning a social event where servers circulate appetizers? Try opting for food stations instead.

6. Adopting a “flexibility first” approach

Due to unpredictable travel schedules and health disruptions, event registration policies are now more lenient out of necessity. Organizers are exploring a range of options when a full refund isn’t possible—including transfers to a following year, or credits that can be passed along to colleagues.

Furthering this effort to remain accessible during ever-changing circumstances, many conference organizers are choosing hybrid models to live-stream key sessions. In addition to enhancing accessibility to those who couldn’t make it, going digital increases inclusivity, allowing organizers to cast a wider net and reach previously untapped audiences.

Final thoughts:

The demand to return to a physical, in-person event structure is real and thriving. However, to woo back audiences and help people feel comfortable again, organizers need to respond with a more personal, flexible, and intentional approach. In times of uncertainty when things are constantly in flux, being human and quality-driven goes further to attract the right people and make every connection more meaningful and memorable.

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