Meeting Mentor Magazine

December 2023

What Online Event Attendees Really Want

While the pandemic has upended so much in the meetings and events industry, community, networking and learning still are central to an event’s success. According to a recent Harris poll, outlined by Futurist John Gerzema, CEO, Harris Insights & Analytics, at the Center for Exhibition Industry Research Predict conference held online in September, more than a third of those surveyed cited connecting with friends and colleagues; meeting influential people and building relationships; and being able to receive industry training, content and product information as being even more important now than ever as events have shifted online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, while these factors are even more vital than ever, the poll, which was conducted last April and again in September, also found that online event organizers still have some work to do to facilitate those connections and learning opportunities. Some progress has been made in addressing participants’ top concern — their ability to make personal connections and interact with each other, which 52% listed as a top concern in April, dropping to 45% in the September poll. Despite the progress, however, this remains the most-mentioned challenge.

It would appear that event organizers also are getting more adroit at community-building in the online environment, with 31% citing this as a challenge in September, compared to 35% in April. This goes hand in hand with participants saying it’s getting a bit less challenging to recreate the in-person event experience online, with 39% of the September participants saying it’s a challenge, as opposed to 44% in the April survey. Other improvements from April to September include:

• Technology issues, which were cited by 44% in April, remained a challenge for fewer participants in the September survey (39%).

• Access to executives also appears to be a challenge more are resolving, with 24% citing this as a top concern in September, down from 29% in April.

Some areas remained relatively stable, such as the availability of swag (cited by 30% in both polls); and the difficulty in separating event time from the normal working schedule (23%).

And then there were a few areas that appear to have become more challenging over the past several months. As digital events have become the norm over the past several months, not surprisingly there was a small bump in the percentage of those who said they found it hard to maintain focus for long periods of time, rising from 35% to 39% over the two polls. This may have something to do with the increase in the percentage of those who were finding it difficult to dedicate time to focus just on the event, from 25% to 27%. Low production values, overly long and boring content — and content that misses the mark — also are areas of increasing concern that likely are making it harder for attendees to maintain attention.

So what would make an online event a must-attend? According to the Harris poll, sessions where they can grill subject matter experts are increasingly attractive (rising from 41% in April to 47% in September), as are online content guides or actual humans to serve as content ambassadors (31% to 40%). Other elements of increasing interest include:

• Online swag stores

• Job-based individualized content tracks

• AI-powered personalized connections

• Pre- or post-event services

• Auto-schedulers/assistants

More than 160 people attended CEIR Predict to discuss emerging trends such as those outlined by the Harris polls. “This year’s program focused on what the near future may hold for the B2B exhibitions industry given the impact of COVID-19,” said CEIR CEO Cathy Breden, CMP, CAE, CEM. In addition to the Harris polls, participants heard from Alex Chausovsky, economic advisor, market research and future trends analyst, ITR Economics; Nancy Drapeau, PRC, vice president of research, CEIR; and Sam Potolicchio, Ph.D., president, Preparing Global Leaders Forum; distinguished professor/vice dean, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.

During Predict’s closing CEO panel, Yancy Weinrich, COO of Reed Exhibitions, said, “Emotional intelligence and adaptability to change are key as we move forward. Our business will not look the same as we move forward. We will look back and say, ‘Wow, that was a tough ride, but we did it, and we did it together.’”

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About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually.

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