How conference owners and events managers can mitigate financial risk with cutting edge technology
Alex Paine writes about the evolving nature of the conference industry and how technology can help conference organisers minimise risk and capitalise on new revenue streams, as they adapt to new ways of operating.
2020 has seen the events and conference industry turned upside down, flipping from being a steadily growing industry to having 96 percent of business events cancelled or postponed, leading to 92,000 expected industry job losses.
Conference organisers have scrambled to take their events online, adopt new technologies and make the most of the content already designed and developed. However, despite even the most agile conference organisers pivoting their approaches quickly in response to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, there is undoubtedly still significant financial risks that industry leaders are facing every day.
There are three main opportunities for conference organisers to not only mitigate financial risk as they weather this economic shift, but also to introduce and capitalise on new revenue streams.
1. Capitalise on content, not ticket sales
Business and financial risk are not new to the events and conferencing industry – risk has merely been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Pre-pandemic, conference organisers would optimistically balance outlays related to venue hire and catering with ticket sales. Today, this is not a sustainable option, as the likelihood of last minute changes to schedules, travel capabilities and audience drop-outs are higher than ever.
During these times of uncertainty, instead of adopting a ‘wait and see’ strategy, conference organisers and businesses leaders need to be on the front foot and start futureproofing their events and conferences against change, which is the only foreseeable aspect of events and conferences over the next 12 months.
This means adopting the latest technology that allows for immediate changes, flexibility across geographies and time zones, and control over event and post-event revenue generation. Instead of financially relying on ticket sales – which have high chances of leading to ticket refunds – to justify whether a conference should go ahead, conference organisers need to focus on the flexibility and availability of the content itself, ensuring it can be accessed from anywhere at any time.
2. Leverage the renewed globalisation of conference content
Whether the pandemic will reverse the progress made to date with business globalisation is still an unknown. But as professionals around the world are moving to work, live and play at home for longer periods of time than ever, the demand for online content that fits the individual audience member’s schedule – not that of the conference organiser – has skyrocketed. This means professionals are increasingly demanding and expecting conference content to be available on their preferred channel, in their time zone, and in a way that enables them to interact with the speakers and sponsors beyond the rigidity of an hour-by-hour schedule.
Furthermore, changes to travel restrictions have made conference organisers and business leaders re-think how they conduct business on a global scale. Expecting interstate travellers for national team meetings, overseas delegates for major industry conferences and widespread local and international attendees to training and information seminars run by international peak bodies, is no longer the norm. And yet, the need for international collaboration and communication has never been greater.
Although the conferencing industry has been disrupted, this is not the end for conferences. In fact, this is simply the beginning of a new era of cross-border information sharing and engagement. With the latest technology, conference organisers and business leaders can create subscription-based access to content, instead of one-off content delivery on stage or via a webinar. Instead of a set 15 minutes for Q&A at the end of a conference, members can spend hours or even days at a time developing questions before or after an event on their own schedule and in their own time zone. This provides speakers with the opportunity to properly address enquiries as well as ensure none are missed.
With technology, conference organisers can redefine the parameters of an event and turn a one-page, one-day run-sheet into a multi-month content calendar driving ongoing revenue.
3. Don’t sweep up-front costs under the rug – say goodbye to them for good
A common misconception around the financial outlays of a conference is that they are inevitable. Before the pandemic, when in-person conferences were the standard, significant down payments on venue hire, catering, audio equipment and more were expected. Since the pandemic, many conference organisers have taken a ‘hybrid’ approach to conferencing, where they have created a makeshift studio and invited speakers to that studio to record or livestream the content to an audience tuning in from home.
However, this approach still requires venue hire and equipment costs, as well as the need for speakers to travel to the venue which limits the types of speakers who can attend and also introduces potential health risks. Overall, it’s not a genuinely ‘hybrid’ approach to events, where the audience gets the best of both online and offline content access.
Conference organisers looking to truly reduce up-front costs need to ensure they are embracing the latest technology to deliver high-quality content from speakers in remote locations. It’s time to say goodbye to physical venues and extortionate audio equipment fees. The latest virtual conferencing technology amplifies the quality of recording and listening within your personal devices to replicate an in-person conference atmosphere, while introducing the added flexibility of being able to record and listen to content at different times across multiple geographies. In short, the potential for the quality of content is higher, while the up-front costs are drastically diminished.
As our economy, communities and businesses continue to shift around the coronavirus pandemic, the conference industry will also continue to change. Impacting factors will include isolation and social distancing measures, interstate and international travel restrictions and expectations around remote working. These factors will change week to week over the coming months, and conference organisers who take a proactive approach to leveraging technology to maintain engagement with their audiences will outlast competitors.
Alex Paine is the CEO of The Virtual Conference Network.