Event Predictions for 2022

We asked the world’s leading marketing and events professionals from LinkedIn, HubSpot and Facebook about their event predictions for 2022 and you’re not going to believe some of their responses!

Ben Harmanus

Head of Brand Marketing EMEA – HubSpot

Event marketers lived a life of uncertainty in the pandemic. Even in 2022, those uncertainties will not be gone. Will in-person events be possible? In which part of the world? Under what conditions? Has our community become so used to virtual events that they see no value in in-person events?

Here are a few thoughts.

Virtual events are here to stay because they offer many benefits
I’ve been hosting virtual events since 2016, and I know that you can delight people with virtual formats like CX Spotlight. The digital space gives us marketers the opportunity to test concepts without the hassle of an offline event or our audience having to travel a long way to get there. And in some ways, virtual events include audiences for whom it is almost impossible to attend a distant event. These include people whose jobs do not allow them to travel for several days. But also people who can’t stay away from home for several days due to private commitments. As a father of two and coach of a children’s soccer team, I know how important work-life blending can be. Many people will not want to return to a work environment that forces them to be away from their families and friends for long periods of time or not be able to pursue hobbies. Virtual events, like virtual meetings, will therefore remain important in 2022, regardless of how the pandemic evolves.

Leveraging data and turning disadvantages into advantages
Physical events offer the advantage that attendees do not simply leave the event if a presentation is less appealing to them. Virtual audiences simply log out. On the other hand, online event hosts have a lot of data to help them understand attendees and optimize the customer experience. Such as:

• Which sessions had the most attendees?
• What was the average length of attendance, and was it possible to increase the duration compared to the previous event?
• How intense is the live interaction from session to session?
• What questions were asked in the chat?

All data flows in real-time and permanently documents the event experience in the CRM. Many optimization measures can be derived from quantitative and qualitative data.

The return of in-person events
Can we abandon in-person events? Certainly not. A sold-out Web Summit 2021 with more than 40,000 participants clearly shows that people want in-person gatherings back. A face-to-face interaction, a hug, a handshake, the dynamics that arise from spontaneous conversations and decisions are irreplaceable. In-person events also help us avoid the distractions of the home office or the office. At conferences, we pay attention to our surroundings – and hopefully not to our mobile phone or laptop. The face-to-face event experience is designed to put you in a world of your own for a period of time.

The best of both worlds
At HubSpot, we know that we add as much value to our community with in-person events like INBOUND as we do with CX Spotlight or our GROW events. The future is hybrid—either by offering a mix of face-to-face meetings and virtual events throughout the year or by merging the two.

In 2022, it will probably be surprising for many people to discover that there is no opportunity to virtually participate. It is therefore foreseeable that in the future most physical in-person events will also offer access by streaming. This is also a backup in the case that pandemic-related regulation prevents or severely restricts a physical gathering. Smaller virtual events can be used to promote and sell physical in-person events. Therefore, it is advisable to develop a coherent positioning and storytelling for the events—and to carry them out in a distributed manner in 2022.

In conclusion, every company needs to consider events in the 2022 marketing mix. Whether small biz or corporate, with small or huge budgets. Events are an excellent way to hold the attention of your preferred audience for hours. And if you want to, you can do it from the comfort of your own apartment.

Dana Pake

Director of Events – GitHub

If the past 20 months have taught us anything it’s that the future is unpredictable. The rising, the flattening and the rising again of the curve set us off on a roller coaster ride of emotions and uncertainty. But it also brought about new perspectives and approaches that reenergized an industry that was long in need of a jolt.

That jolt that brings us to the future of events will require flexibility. Flexibility of the planner to reimagine 2019 ways of designing events as we head back into IRL experiences. But also to reimagine how we approached digital events in 2020 and our foray into “hybrid” during the past year.

The future will bring continued flexibility for the attendee to engage with the content and experiences that work best for them in the given moment. How and what and where they will consume content and the ways they want to engage may change from event to event, depending on their state of mind, state of safety in their cities/regions, and frankly, state of the world.

Flexibility means options – not just IRL, digital or hybrid – but choices within those given constructs. For example, we learned that digital events democratize reach, but we also learned that to reach a wider swath and number of your audiences, you have to meet them where they are at. That means some will come to your “digital venue” or platform, but some will stay on their platform of choice, be it LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok or Twitch. And how audiences on those platforms consume content and the type of content they consume is different from platform to platform. It’s not enough to just point the stream to these channels. The future will require you to create what is appropriate and appealing to the various audiences that seek out information on those channels.

TLDR: The future of events will no longer tolerate a one size fits all approach. Rather, the future of events will demand carefully curated, thoughtful and bespoke storytelling that considers tempo and timing and don’t-turn-that-dial edutainment tailored for your various audience segments who will find the message in the medium.

Dania Riad

Events Lead – LinkedIn Sales Solutions

Thinking about what is top of mind for events professionals in 2022, there are a few key themes I expect will be part of what makes up the events landscape. After nearly 2 years of turmoil for the industry, with marketers limited to exclusively hosting virtual events, and with a lot of upskilling (and trial and error) it feels like 2022 may offer light at the end of the tunnel with a return to more traditional events.

Finding our way in the new (or ‘next’) normal
What normal looks like for you will depend on your personal situation, and where you’re working from. Key things to be mindful of will be, different health and safety guidelines, varying travel policies, the list goes on. You will find that companies and individuals are approaching in-person events differently, some with optimistic caution and some with excitement, while others are taking a cautious approach. Given this, we will still see a mix of virtual and in-person events within the industry, not to mention the buzzword of the moment ‘hybrid’ events.

Building meaningful event experiences within our new reality is what will be key for our audiences. In the medium term, meaningful in-person event experiences will sneak in—when and if it is safe to do so. LinkedIn research has shown that 78% of marketers said they wanted in-person events to return to a primary role once it’s safe to do so, and this will give marketers the opportunity to start testing the waters with those in-person event experiences that you just can’t replicate online!

Having said that, 42% of organizers will continue to produce virtual events because they are more environmentally friendly than in-person sessions. This leaves us thinking about the positive traits that virtual events have left us with, and how they are embedded into our event landscape—if we’re talking about hybrid working being here to stay, should we also be asking if virtual and hybrid events are here to stay?

Hybrid event experiences
The word of the moment seems to be hybrid, but I think it’s important to highlight that the world of hybrid is not new to the events world, it is something that has been happening way before the pandemic hit our industry. The pandemic has however accelerated how we engage with our audience. At LinkedIn Sales Solutions, we kicked off our hybrid event experience back in 2019. Prior to that, I was an advocate for adding hybrid elements to an event.

So, what has changed?

Our audience’s sophistication around the hybrid experience, and what they have come to expect has grown. For event marketers, this means exploring new technologies, including event emcees that are proficient in addressing both in-person and digital audiences. It can mean many things, from interactive ways to chat, to the flexibility to dip in and out of sessions around your workday. Flexibility and online networking are just a couple of the benefits of hybrid events.

As marketers, it offers us the opportunity to scale our event experiences and reach audiences at different stages of the marketing funnel, in different regions. Not only does it allow us to scale, but it also allows us to create evergreen thought leadership content that can be used as engaging content for an engaging event follow up and evergreen campaigns. This could include social media and video marketing.

What are the challenges of online events?
It can be double the work, and can require near enough, double the budget. The technology and production that drives a hybrid event cannot be underestimated, and as marketers, we require a wider team, as well as potential new skill sets to be able to execute on hybrid strategies successfully. We have found that the theme of upskilling has been echoed in recent LinkedIn research, with 36% of event organizers wanting better online advertising skills to drive attendees, 36% would like to be better at adding more interactivity and networking to their events.

Technology
It would be remiss of me to touch on virtual event experiences and not look at the technology. As our audience’s understanding of hybrid and virtual events grows, as does the need to innovate with the virtual experience we offer to our audiences. At LinkedIn, we conducted research with event marketers globally, and we found that 42% of event marketers worldwide would like better technical knowledge of events platforms. As the platforms become more complex, there are a few top of mind areas within technologies that I would look out for—virtual reality for one—we have seen some VR kits being sent to attendees homes to allow them to engage from the comfort of their home office.

YYour engaging experience does not have to be so high touch, you can send virtual vouchers for lunch and coffee, or vouchers to cover subscriptions for mindful apps to encourage wellness. Accessibility innovation is also what is top of mind – ensuring that you are aware of your audience’s diverse needs will play a role in the evolution of our virtual and hybrid event elements.

Daniel Curtis

Chief Strategy Officer – emc3

Whenever a new technology arrives, it takes a while for the industry to catch up with the early adopters and welcome it with open arms. Event tech 2.0 (20.20??) namely virtual conferences have been adopted possibly faster than any other upgrade to tech I have ever experienced. From the start of the pandemic, it took a matter of weeks before virtual events were everywhere… and just a few months before they were being seen as a long term solution, and not just during a pandemic. Now, in 2021 we, and others like us, are producing as wide a variety of virtual events, in style and design, as we ever produced in IRL.

So, looking forward to 2022 there are exciting times ahead; here are some predictions for the year ahead in events:
• Having had an enforced break from in-person events, companies will take the opportunity to refresh and relaunch their event brands—even those which had been super-successful.
• Event Owners will invest a greater proportion of their budget in content creation than ever before.
• As storytelling through well thought out content keeps improving, a professional host, who brings it all together will become a must.
• The social aspects of events will return in person but with less emphasis – big blowout parties will be nice-to-haves.
• All sessions, including breakouts, will (should) be filmed to use as secondary content (why wouldn’t you?)
• Virtual events will provide a bridge between larger, annual, in-person events; they won’t be seen as an either/or, but rather as an essential marketing tool for a live event strategy.
• Keynotes will be delivered remotely to a live audience; this will open up more opportunities to hear from speakers who don’t want to fly around the world unnecessarily. With high production value, the experience will not be significantly worse for the audience.
• Business cards are dead! The integration of LinkedIn profiles into in-person networking, through QR codes on badges or event apps, will become the norm.

Denise Hibbard

Events Marketing Manager – Zapier

Experimentation will be key in 2022. Event organizers will explore models that are inclusive of those who aren’t interested in, or able to, travel but aim to bring back the much-needed in-person connection so many have been missing since early 2020. This will include hybrid events, which offer the benefits and flexibility of both in-person and virtual models, as well as “micro-events” which give organizers greater control over the event space and allow for stronger risk mitigation.

Having a virtual component will also drive organizers to think strategically about what technology to include in their event marketing stack—and how that tech helps them perform better. Right now, we’re seeing a shift from a lot of tech providers to not only offer hybrid solutions, but also bring innovation to networking opportunities, and provide a total attendee experience, rather than strictly delivering content. As time goes on, we’ll likely see the event lifecycle extend beyond the closing keynote as technology affords more points of engagement beyond the in-person event.

More sophisticated technology will also support a shift in how organizers measure engagement and impact as they demand better metrics from their tech—and they’ll need new tools and approaches to manage this information. Finding ways to free organizers’ time to focus on the most creative and critical challenges—like planning sessions, risk mitigation, and content delivery—means they’ll need new ways to manage the mundane and manual tasks that come with managing an event. Things like maintaining consistent data across a variety of apps or ensuring information is delivered to attendees in a timely, personalized and relevant manner will become ever more important.

Our new virtual-forward space has lowered the barrier to entry for organizers and brands that couldn’t afford the costs of a physical, large-scale event, or for those seeking to attract a more global audience. For example, this year, Zapier held its first user conference—all done virtually. Our customer-focused event had speakers and attendees from the UK, Australia, Germany, and cities in between. It was a great way to get our customers to meet and network with each other, all while hearing from Zapier experts on how to best use the product.

Virtual first also opens the possibility for event marketers to work locally—finding specific markets to enter for smaller, focused events. The term “micro-events” has been tossed around quite a bit over the past few years as a solution to not only the challenges of the pandemic but to bringing the attention back to a focused target audience. Micro events also provide another way for attendees to connect, even as part of larger events, where the organizer may provide opportunities to connect with a local network while also attending a convention virtually.

A trend I’m most excited about is the increasing emphasis on utilizing outdoor space. Even as COVID restrictions subside, many attendees have come to appreciate outdoor events. Venues of all sizes have been working quickly to adapt to regulations by enhancing their outdoor offerings, so we will likely see organizers take advantage of these new or improved spaces as we return to more in-person events.

And whether events are outdoors, indoors, or a combination, expect health measures to continue to be a critical part of event planning. Organizers will need to develop risk management plans that factor in health risks and look to reduce risk with solutions like contactless check-in, sharing information using QR codes, health passports, and attendee testing.

In 2022 expect to see more hybrid and completely virtual events, a greater focus on technology in helping organizers plan execute events as well keep attendees engaged, and a continued focus on keeping attendees safe at in-person events with rigorous COVID protocols.

Julius Solaris

VP of Marketing Strategy, Events

In-person/Hybrid Events: The Future
The current environment requires flexibility. Planners demand flexibility to choose the best way to connect people. Whether it’s in-person, hybrid or virtual, we believe planners will make the best possible choice for their audience. Attendees need the freedom to choose how they want to attend an experience and when to attend it. The industry will move away from dogmas such as ‘do virtual’ or ‘do hybrid’ to a shared experiences approach where planners and attendees are empowered to make the best decision for maximum engagement.

Experience will win.
Simple and rewarding experiences based on great content and interaction will win market share. As a result, audience expectations will grow. An average virtual event won’t cut it, and a boring in-person activation won’t move attendees. The shift will be to designing the most usable experiences, regardless of the method of consumption. There is no space for making audiences feel alienated because they can’t travel or other barriers. Strong event programs will include a multitude of touchpoints, accessible to all, and with the best possible experience in mind.

FOMO will change.
The role of FOMO post-pandemic will change dramatically. Increased burnout and stress will require planners to use the full spectrum of tools available to make attendees not feel left out. After having access to virtual events, sometimes for free, recreating barriers to entry could seriously impact the wellbeing of attendees. In-person experiences are the ultimate way to relieve the tension that mounts through online interactions. Yet, planners will need to keep using virtual to give more opportunities to those who cannot attend in person to feel part of a community. The word engagement will change towards a more inclusive definition.

Kelly Cheng

Head of Growth – Goldcast.io

2022 Events will be Virtual and Hybrid in format. Virtual events are here to stay, and 2022 will be the year of figuring out and scaling Hybrid experiences. Event and Field Marketers have been challenged to replace in-person events with lower production and less engaging virtual events throughout the last two years.

In the upcoming year, the in-person aspect of Hybrid events will be an added challenge. For Event Marketers, it will be critical for GTM teams to prioritize and capture event engagement and interaction data in Marketing Automation Platforms and CRM systems seamlessly, from both virtual and hybrid events. Given the digital shift in the events industry, roles and responsibilities of the event marketer will continue to converge with content, digital, and marketing operations roles. Organizations must foster open communication to master the complicated workflows of successfully executing virtual and hybrid events.

Neil Thompson

Founder & MD – The Delegate Wranglers®

For anyone who knows me, hopefully, they’ll tell you I am an upbeat and positive person, and this piece will be no different. But as a former event manager of over 20 years, I am also a realist so my optimism will be tinged with reality too.

For my predictions, I’d like to cover two aspects:

In-person/Hybrid Events: The Future
At the Delegate Wranglers, we feel that we have our finger firmly on the pulse of the event industry. And because of the highly engaged nature of the DW Facebook community, we see all the things people are asking for, the current trends and we look at the sheer number of enquiries every day. And to that end, we are very pleased to report that the graph for incoming enquiries onto the group is very steadily rising and in fact, it has gone up quite sharply since the start of October – which is a great thing.

Now, if you ask most people in the industry, they will tell you that all they want back is in-person events like they used to be etc. But I’d like to offer a different perspective. Let’s not be aiming to get back to what we had, but let’s embrace the future and see where we can go – that is the key.

This amazing industry of ours is always moving forward, adapting, being creative, solving problems and making things even better each time – so I’m predicting that shouldn’t go backwards, this industry always needs to go forward. The world has changed, and we have to adapt.

We can all remember the days (pre-March 2020) when online events/communication was the elephant in the room for our industry. We almost didn’t want to look at it in case it meant the start of the end for the in-person event. Now with everything that has happened in 2020 & 2021, we have to realise that the genie is well and truly out of the bottle and it’s all about embracing both sides and moving forward and that does mean hybrid events as well as in-person. In my opinion, this is certainly the short term future.

Before moving on, I’d like to clarify one thing about hybrid events – they can mean different things to different people. To our clients, they probably mean that we can run the event in person and beam it live to countless others around the world, thus extending the reach. The harsh reality of hybrid is that to do it really well, it costs money (and as a guide) – in fact, nearly as much as it costs to do the in-person event. And just as importantly, it needs to be designed as a separate event to the in-person side with different outcomes, different ways to receive data and information. It’s important to understand this.

The other side of hybrid is the opportunity to beam speakers into an in-person event from around the world and thus saving money and all the environmental benefits that go without the need for travel. There are many other variations of this and as time moves on, I’m sure we’ll see many creative uses of it. Sustainability is quite rightly a HUGE thing, given the battering the world and its population have taken recently, and as a result, clients and suppliers are taking it very seriously these days – the hybrid option offers a great way to build on this.

So, what does this mean for the future? In a recent poll at an event I hosted, we asked the attendees, what do we think will be used for most events in 2022 and the results were intriguing: over 90% ‘hybrid’, the rest thought ‘in person events’ only and nobody voted for ‘online only’. I think this demonstrates that our clients are definitely enticed by the prospect of that additional reach that hybrid can give you, but let’s be clear, it’s the engagement side that events are all about. It’s the reason we put on these amazing spectacles at event launches etc. Hybrid can do some amazing stuff but it’s hard to ever give you that ‘goosebumps’ moment that live things can.

So, whilst this looks like I’m advocating all things hybrid, it’s not strictly true. One thing that gets forgotten about is that with every hybrid event there is the in-person side of it too. And this is our opportunity to demonstrate what we do best in enthralling, captivating and engaging our audiences so that those who watched online get the flavour but not the full taste of the event we’re delivering. I think you will see creative event agencies constantly raising the bar with the production & the sheer spectacle side of in-person events so that everybody who attended can have that ‘I was actually there…’ moment. Events are all about creating memories after all and I think we will see this come to the fore.

Mental Health & Sustainability
Finally, I’d very much like to quickly talk about mental health and the well-being of the industry and how it’s appearing to be changing.

At the start of my career as an event manager, there were occasions when I was pulled from pillar to post by clients, as well as my own high expectations, with the exacting demands of the job – it kind of goes with the territory for being an event manager. If you want to do a brilliant job, you really care about it – and with that attitude, it costs a pound of flesh! These days, I see a definite change in our attitudes – people are being kinder, nicer, more respectful and more realistic about deadlines on the whole. This is a great thing and long may it continue. In fact, it may be one of the legacies of these crazy times – along with sustainability which is extremely high on clients’ agendas and one that is fully being embraced by more and more venues and suppliers. This is a fantastic thing for the industry and also for the planet and fits perfectly into our adjusted attitudes for a more caring and supportive society in general.

Summing up, it’s all about moving forward with our attitudes. Embracing the technology, smashing it out of the park with in-person event experiences and looking after the planet, and each other. Easy, isn’t it? 😊

Siri Brudevold

Event Executive – TikTok

I believe 2022 will see the return of live experiences in a more permanent, global way—even for those of us who have remained cautious up to this point. However, the technical literacy of event planners has probably increased exponentially over the past 18+ months.Whether we’re working client-side or agency-side, we’ve all been forced to think of new ways to bring experiences to our audiences. (I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve found myself asking a few times if I still work in events or TV production!) The net that virtual and hybrid events have cast over the events landscape is too wide to ever go away, even as we return to live. Now that those doors have opened, there will be no closing them.

With our new, ever-expanding knowledge of the available virtual event technologies, 2022 will be the year that defines and decides long term strategies for us all—with some people firmly planting their feet on the physical ground of live experiences, others diving fully into the virtual world and most of us somewhere in between, making critical decisions based on cost, audience, reach, and specific goals.

It will be interesting to see where everyone lands after another 12 months, and why they ended up going down that path.