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The new normal will be more new than normal

Simon Burton, VEI Co-Founder & Director

It’s 25 years since the dot com revolution and the ever adaptable, ever resilient event industry faces another Heidelberg moment. In those 25 years event organisers and suppliers have shaped a global industry that combines the essential human need for social contact and interaction with savvy use of tech and digital platforms.

All of us who love events, who love their power to forge relationships and tell stories, to unlock serendipity and create opportunity, eagerly await their return. They are the bedrock of communities, both public and professional. But in the meantime something very interesting, something powerful, something which has the potential to make events even more fundamental to marketing in our tech dominated world, is happening. It’s a metamorphosis moment; a moment from which events of all sorts; from trade shows to awards, sports tournaments to music festivals, cultural celebrations to medical conferences, are set to emerge like resplendent butterflies, dazzling and full of life.

The move to virtual that the coronavirus pandemic has forced has led to the rapid creation of new event formats, as well as new events. This sector is after all creative, imaginative and inventive. Stripped of their live components, event professionals have invented new wheels and without the presence of the original wheel, without the presence of the original cart even, have been able to throw off the legacy of “this is how we’ve always done it”. To write the rules anew on a blank sheet of paper.

We’ve seen new possibilities and new audiences, innovative ways of engaging with old communities and powerful was to build new ones.

Virtual sounds at first as if it stands in opposition to physical events, but nothing could be further from the truth. The new breed of events that we are seeing emerge, that will continue to emerge and evolve, as we discover our new normal, no longer have digital as a bolt on to the physical event but as integral cogs and moving parts that are intrinsic to it. Virtual isn’t the old event plonked online, virtual is an understanding of what made the old event great and the translation of those elements into a digital format.

Many of the skills and knowledge required to produce physical events are readily transferable to Virtual Events. There are differences however of timing, focus, production, suppliers and platforms, but the intent and principles are the same. How do we bring communities together to trade to, share ideas and knowledge, to build relationships? How do we quickly learn new skills to deliver experiences for clients and audiences in the new world?

Physical events that understood tech is integral to the engine rather than a set of go-faster stripes have found the transition easier. The new normal will be more new than normal. These are uncharted waters and the event industry has the entrepreneurial talent and the expertise to navigate them.

The most exciting part of this for our amazing industry, which has suffered so terribly in the pandemic, is that the hybrid events which are being originated will be exponentially more powerful, more connected to their communities. These blended events will facilitate new interactions and new opportunities. Present new ways of measuring our impact. New formats, new ways of interacting, of networking, learning, researching, celebrating, entertaining, competing, buying and selling.

The essence of what makes an event will stay the same, but in the strangest of ways lockdown has expanded our horizons.


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