Major 2021 Event Trends Gleaned from 500+ Sales Calls

Four major 2021 event trends based on the most common challenges and opportunities event planners shared with us over 3 months and 500+ conversations.

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In the past three months, our sales team has run over 500+ calls with both existing and potential clients. These calls have represented event planners across industries including business events, real estate, impact and innovation, software and technology, medicine and healthcare, finance and education. 

Over the course of these conversations we noticed a pattern emerge. No matter their industry, most event planners had similar concerns. These conversations were illuminating: as event professionals reached out to us searching for a solution to create better, more engaging connection opportunities for their communities, they shared their pain points, challenges, and even the opportunities that were looking forward to in 2021. 

A quick preview: While the most common 2021 event trend forecasted was the emergence of hybrid events, we also heard planners intending to experiment with recurring and ongoing event experiences. 

These planners shared their struggle with participant engagement rates in 2020, and we learned how in 2021 the very idea of “engagement’ was going to evolve to become more conversation-centric. 

We observed, and heard from planners that a traditional approach to networking did not work in a virtual setting. For almost a decade, we’ve worked towards changing the networking mindset into a peer learning one, and we believe that 2021 might be the watershed year when that finally happens.

Our 500+ conversations with planners around the globe were full of insights. In this piece we will dive into the following four major 2021 event trends gleaned from the calls:

  1. Hybrid events will become common in the second half of the year
  2. Event planners will experiment with recurring and ongoing experiences 
  3. Engagement will equal to conversation 
  4. Event planners will approach event networking with a peer learning mindset

Hybrid events will become common in the second half of the year

Source: Caleb Oquendo from Pexels
Source: Caleb Oquendo from Pexels

The arrival of hybrid events has been by far the most popular prediction for 2021 event trends. While a few event organizers we spoke with were planning to host a hybrid event within the first 2 quarters of the year, the majority saw the second half of the year as a more realistic timeline for hybrid events. 

In the best case scenario (depending on factors such as Covid19 vaccinations, participant safety concerns, etc), we expect planners to start experimenting with hybrid events towards the second half of the year. Here’s what we’ve learned about how planners are envisioning hybrid events in 2021:

  • Hybrid events will have a smaller number of in-person attendees than what was usual at live events pre-covid due to health and safety concerns.  
  • Venues will redesign their space to accommodate both in-person and virtual audiences. Here are a few examples of venues who have begun this process. 
  • Planners will continue to apply best practices learned over a year of organizing virtual events such as shorter sessions, speaker training sessions, and more. 
  • Planners will come up with separate engagement strategies for virtual and in-person audiences. 
  • The trends towards inclusivity and sustainability will continue and become even more important in 2021, with hybrid events following suit.  

But the most common refrain we heard from planners was their need for guidance in designing hybrid experiences—from their peers and from their event technology suppliers. This makes sense, after all an “overwhelming majority of event marketers have never hosted a hybrid event.” 

The uncertainty around hybrid events is similar to how many of us were feeling before we pivoted to virtual. And just like that period, 2021 too brings an exciting opportunity to continue to re-invent event experiences to better serve the needs of our participants. Since hybrid events are relatively new and unexplored models for business events, we get to experiment, disrupt, set the rules, and ultimately learn from our experiences—together. 

The most common refrain we heard from planners was their need for guidance in designing hybrid experiences. This makes sense, after all an “overwhelming majority of event marketers have never hosted a hybrid event.” 

Event planners will experiment with recurring and ongoing experiences

Source: Getty
Source: Getty

In 2020 event planners have not only gotten comfortable with organizing virtual events, they have innovated, creating unique virtual experiences that have eased the loss of in-person events in 2020. 

Virtual events proved to be a successful means of reaching large audiences, and their lower cost of production (compared to live events) meant that event planners could use virtual events to gather their communities multiple times a year, strengthening their relationship with their audience base. 

In 2021, planners will work to create event communities i.e. groups of people who regularly attend the same event, forming deeper relationships with each other, and ultimately deriving a sense of belonging and community from these events. 

This trend was confirmed by a number of organizers (particularly those working at associations) we spoke with, who informed us of their intention to host recurring events throughout the year. 

Another interesting trend that will emerge is of ongoing events. Ongoing events most commonly refers to attendees having access to the event platform over a longer period of time (typically 24/7 over 365 days). At events such as these, recorded sessions and other content will be made available to attendees throughout the year. Event participants will also use these platforms to deepen connections formed at the original event. 

To summarize: in 2020 event planners saw the benefits of virtual events and developed best practices to successfully broaden their audience. In 2021, they will apply the knowledge gained over the past year to not only reach, but retain these audiences. Therefore, we are certain that in 2021 and beyond, event planners will experiment with the recurring and/or ongoing event model to create and engage their communities on a yearlong basis.

Virtual events have proven to be a successful means of reaching large audiences, and their lower cost of production means that event planners can use virtual events to gather their communities multiple times a year, strengthening their relationship with their audience base. 

Engagement will equal to conversation

Source: Youssef Shoufan

In 2020, one of the most common hurdles event planners faced in hosting successful virtual events was low participant engagement rates. In a previous article on how to engage participants at virtual and hybrid events we noted:

“Low engagement in the virtual setting is the result of multiple factors that include but not limited to a lack of effective engagement features on existing virtual platforms… in terms of engagement features, most virtual event platforms are not particularly forward-thinking, relying mostly on existent staples like live polling and surveys. While useful, these tools alone are clearly not meeting planners’ and audiences’ needs.”

The last year taught us that tools such as polls and surveys were not sufficient in combating low audience engagement because they did not meet the real need of the participants, which was ultimately to experience authentic moments of connection. 

We saw that event planners who were able to successfully engage their audiences were ones who didn’t just rely on “engagement tools” offered by their event platforms. Instead they were ones who designed their content as jumping off points for conversation between their participants.  

Event planners will take this learning with them into 2021 and re-think the very core of their event design, when it comes to engagement strategies. They will create human-centric programming and use their content and event tech features to inspire real conversations both among participants and between participants, organizers and sponsors.

The last year taught us that tools such as polls and surveys were not sufficient in combating low audience engagement because they did not meet the real need of the participants, which was ultimately to experience authentic moments of connection. 

Event planners will approach event networking with a peer learning mindset

Source: e180

If you’re familiar with us, you know that Braindate is a technology and a service that helps participants at events learn from and connect with each other. So, when event planners reach out to us, it is primarily to bring a networking solution to their events.

Over hundreds of sales calls we conducted in the last three months, we saw that when it comes to networking, event planners’ objectives are the same: they want a solution that can help their attendees connect with each other and form valuable (often, business) relationships. 

Despite the emergence of a number of virtual event networking formats—1:1 meetings; speed networking; chat roulette style mixers— survey of event planners have revealed that networking continued to be a challenge for most virtual events in 2020. This is because existing virtual event solutions have a traditional approach to networking i.e. these solutions create a networking experience where participants can most efficiently exchange information and ultimately engage in business development. 

While there is nothing wrong with that, 2020 taught us that participants, especially during a time of social isolation, wanted an experience that went beyond amassing new LinkedIn connections. They want to have authentic conversations and connect with each other as humans. This will remain the case for 2021 and beyond, especially as more and more people are transitioning into remote work environments. 

In the new year, event planners will need to re-imagine the networking experiences they create so that their events become spaces where their participants can connect with each other and their community. We can confidently say that approaching networking with a peer learning mindset is the best way to create a satisfying participant connection experience. 

Having brought peer learning opportunities to 100+ virtual events in 2020, we know that when participants meet to learn from each other, they have better conversations, and as a result, form more valuable, lasting connections. This is not just a prediction but something we are certain about: the future of networking in 2021 and beyond, is peer learning.

Having brought peer learning opportunities to 100+ virtual events in 2020, we know that when participants meet to learn from each other, they have better conversations, and as a result, form more valuable, lasting connections.

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These 2021 event trends were gleaned from real conversations that we’ve had with hundreds of event planners and we’ll be keeping these insights top of mind as we plan for 2021. 

However, we do acknowledge that after having lived through a year where the unexpected became the norm, it is possible that 2021 might be completely different from what we expect. 

The one thing we’re certain of, is that we are going into 2021 with great hope. Last year was undeniably difficult, but we learned a lot: about ourselves, our work, and the communities that surround us. And we’ll be taking these learnings into 2021, as stronger, more agile versions of ourselves.