Events: Physical, hybrid, virtual – so which is it?

The transformation of a sector that lived from personal encounters

In spring of this year, the person who lives out his or her professional passion as an event manager suddenly found himself or herself without events. As an event manager without events, the first thing you had to do was wait and it happened...nothing. Cancellation after cancellation, postponement after postponement, to some point, into the unknown. Planning, which is the event manager's greatest passion and most important tool, was suddenly no longer possible. 

Merkle had also set up a full calendar of events for the year 2020. Own organised events, those with our software partners and those of major organisers in the industry were to be found on it. While things looked gloomy at the beginning, the first rays of hope began to appear in early summer. Not in the form of physical events, but an increasing number of organisers took up the challenge of running their formats virtually. In our industry we are at home in the digital world, but how can content be transported, how can emotions be brought across the screen and how can we still create the most personal encounters possible between participants, even in a virtual setting? All these questions had to be answered.

A traditional event takes virtual paths

Der Smart Business Day letztes Jahr

In autumn, Merkle also took up this challenge and put our flagship event, the Smart Business Day, on a virtual footing. For more than ten years, the Smart Business Day has been an established date in the calendar of many of our customers. Now, instead of an afternoon with a view of Lake Zurich, the event was spread over three mornings and organised via an online conference platform. And what we had already mastered in physical form par excellence, we wanted to deliver in virtual form: a high-quality event that would meet the expectations of our long-standing participants.

A little more technology instead of canapés and flowers

Hinter den Kulissen des Smart Business Days

What quickly becomes clear: where there is no longer any need for delicious catering or pretty floral decorations, the technical demands are all the higher. In order not to fall into the "just another webinar" trap, a technically flawless setup had to be created to deliver a smooth stream into the participants' living room or home office.

Once you have sifted through the jungle of online conferencing tools and chosen the right one, you need to set up a clean technical flow. With "we can do this simply by Zoom in" or "a YouTube stream should do", it is not enough at this point. Now, at the latest, it is clear how important a professional technical setup is when it comes to creating clean transitions between the moderator and the externally added speaker, who can also talk to the moderator in Q&A in real time. Not to mention playing intro trailers and information slides between sessions.

Data-driven Marketing. Leadership. Business Innovation. Virtual Networking.

The speakers at the Smart Business Day 2020

In addition to all the technical refinements, the content and the exchange between the participants must not be neglected. The first virtual Smart Business Day was held under the theme "Data-driven Transformation". Together with our customers Danone, Siemens and AMAG, we were able to present our guests top-class speakers who provided exciting insights into the topics of Data-driven Marketing, Leadership and Business Innovation and highlighted the importance of the topic of data in a wide variety of aspects. The line-up was rounded off by speakers from the University of St.Gallen, dentsu, Merkle and the well-known science journalist and author Ranga Yogeshwar.

What used to take place at the bar table during coffee breaks is now found in virtual rooms. No matter whether by matching function or individual selection, the exchange between the participants should not be neglected. The beginnings were still timid, the exchange felt a little forced, but after the first attempts it became clear: actually, it's quite nice to try it out in a playful way.

Will virtual be the New Normal?

The question remains as to how the hosting of events will now develop. The industry will no longer be what it once was, but perhaps it doesn't have to be, considering the benefits in terms of sustainability and environmental protection. Doing things virtually will continue to accompany us for a while and we will probably see a graduation between virtual, hybrid and at least in the medium term smaller physical events. So now it is time to stay on the ball, because the implementation of virtual events will become more professional and participants will get used to certain standards. And those who experiment with joy and courage and try out new things will definitely always win one thing: Experience and a new way of looking at things.