Planning for the Future of In-Person Client Events

July 1, 2021

Adam Olalde

Adam Olalde is the CEO & Founder at Xtreme Xperience, which enables people to experience the adrenaline and allure of the world’s finest automobiles in a heart-pounding, yet safe and affordable setting.

COVID-19 changed how people interact with one another, but it could not squash the need for in-person connections that engage audiences. In-person events are coming back because people crave face-to-face interactions and experiences. For example, Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference was virtual in 2020 but the company plans on welcoming more than 170,000 attendees to its 2021 event in San Francisco. And Salesforce is not alone, with a PULSE Survey from leading events media company Northstar Meetings Group noting that 81% of surveyed meeting planners plan on holding in-person events in 2021. There’s pent-up demand for in-person meetings, especially smaller-scale gatherings that use technology tools. 

How can companies capitalize on this demand? To plan for a return to in-person events and to best incorporate digital tools, here are four strategies for field marketers, channel marketers and sales teams to put in their toolbox:

Develop localized gatherings.

Throughout 2021, smaller event gatherings should be the norm. This means we won’t yet see too many massive trade shows or conferences with tens of thousands of attendees. Firms are taking a more regional approach to events to engage with clients without asking them to fly across the country and stay multiple nights in hotels. 

Smaller gatherings present multiple benefits for companies and attendees. They provide more time for one-on-one interaction to enable deeper sales conversations with high-value clients (because relationships are key!). Fewer attendees also mean social distancing is easier to achieve. Field marketers should pitch smaller meetings to maintain safety and present a comfortable low-stress environment for all attendees. 

Pick the right audiences.

Smaller gatherings mean smaller guest lists. Companies might need to narrow the focus of their event so it relevantly connects with the target attendees. Event teams will need to improve their cross-functionality with other departments such as field operations and sales. Increasing collaboration throughout production results in a manicured guest list that has potential for the biggest result. 

When the vision and purpose of the smaller event aligns with the right people, everyone involved experiences a productive dynamic. The company hosting the event gets in front of potential sales and partners, and the attendees learn more about a possible engagement. It provides a showcase for companies to display their strategic value and build their brand with the right crowd. 

Use digital tools to enhance irreplaceable in-person connections.

Events in 2021 and beyond will reflect the broader trend of digital transformation and usage of video and cloud-based tools. However, these tools should serve as complements to in-person events that are needed to build personal connections and offer new experiences. We’ll see growth in the hybrid model, where in-person events blend with virtual participation, which opens companies to potentially unlimited audiences. But in-person events will remain the best way to present tactile and visceral experiences to participants and to engage with other people in a way that cannot be duplicated with digital communications. 

Communicate early and often.

Social distancing and mask guidelines will remain in place for the foreseeable future, even as cases fall and sectors reopen. Attendees will only participate if they feel safe, and developing this feeling requires frequent and transparent communication from the event organizer. Event managers will need to demonstrate in every facet of their productions that they have the customer’s safety in mind. This means following the latest social distancing protocols by managing traffic flows, blocking off seats, or breaking into smaller groups. We’ll also see an expanded use of outdoors spaces, including patios and other suitable areas that offer the enhanced safety of outside air. PPE requirements will continue, and in-person event planners can utilize this to offer customized masks, sanitizer and other items as welcome kits. Organizers will employ multi-channel communications to share their safety-related efforts, leveraging social, email, websites and any other avenues where their attendees “live.”

In-person events are coming, and companies need to prepare to capitalize on the coming economic resurgence. Throughout 2021, event planners and brand managers will develop focused attendees lists, add digital connectivity and improve their communication skills to successfully reintroduce in-person events to the world.


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