Whether you’re a BBC correspondent getting ambushed by your toddler daughter or a parish council clerk with apparently “no authority”, everyone has experienced some degree of video conferencing calamity these past two years.
Trying to participate and be active in online meetings and events can be a struggle, especially when you’re not Home Alone like young Kevin McCallister. Everyone’s home office is different: some may have a quiet haven where they can keep the outside world at bay, while others are confined to the kitchen table, fending off all-comers in a bid for peace and quiet.
Whichever of these set-ups best describes your situation, there’s no doubt that online events struggle to provide the same networking opportunities. It is simply harder to communicate with people via a screen, and event organisers have also flagged that audience participation often takes a hit.
For all their drawbacks however, online events kept the show on the road during lockdown, offering much needed reprieve in a time of uncertainty, and with advancements like Facebook’s vaunted ‘Metaverse’, they are now almost certainly part of the events landscape for the foreseeable.
PR people know that in-person events provide an unmatched opportunity to encounter like-minded professionals; make new contacts and connections; explore new ideas; and ultimately ignite new passions and interests. For all the value they add, however, the reality is that people now value their time more than ever. If someone has to lose a big chunk of their day physically travelling to an event, the video version might appeal more.
There’s also the fact that many people simply do not feel comfortable at the prospect of large-scale mingling right now. We are not quite there yet, despite the cautious optimism coming from the top.
Things are slowly returning, but it will take a bit more time
Best of both worlds
The good news?
Hybrid events offer the best of both worlds, delivering a balanced and realistic solution for both event organisers and attendees.
Event organisers can deliver a slick, high-quality experience to as wide an audience as possible, taking all restrictions out of the equation and allowing for a wider pool of attendees, while also facilitating relevant, interesting and renowned speakers who would likely not otherwise be able (or willing) to appear in the flesh.
Hybrid events also provide an opportunity for a dynamic experience that leverages the latest broadcasting/conferencing technology, including features like live polling and Q&A to deliver an interactive experience that very often feels like the real thing. Of course, attending a virtual event cuts out all that pesky travel too, so there are undoubted environmental benefits that cannot be underestimated.
“You’re on mute”
For all their advantages, there’s no denying that hybrid events do not offer the same networking opportunities – so important across all sectors, not least PR – as their traditional counterparts. Although technology does provide some great work-arounds, nothing can really come close to in-person networking.
As incredible as the technology is, moreover, there are also the inevitable glitches and gremlins; dodgy network connections; microphones accidentally on mute; cats and kids roaming freely in front of cameras; humans being human!
As we approach the two-year anniversary of the pandemic, a strong hybrid events scene will ensure that both online and in-person audiences feel like they are getting bang for their buck.
As restrictions are lifted and society gets back to normal, there’s no doubt that physical events will return bigger and better than ever – but equally, that hybrid/virtual events are here to stay.
Matthew Walsh, Junior Client Executive at Cullen Communications joined the agency at the start of 2021. Matthew has recently completed a Masters in Public Relations from DCU and has joined the team on a more permanent basis following a successful internship. Some of Matthew’s interest areas include media relations, social media communication and corporate social responsibility.