The secret’s out: In-person events are alive and well. After nearly three years of social distancing, face mask mandates, and other necessary safety measures, the in-person events industry is finally ready to make its big comeback in 2023.

But before organizers jump back into the ebb and flow of event planning, it’s important to note industry changes that occurred over the past few years.

Ready to make a successful return to in-person events? Learn how to adjust your event plans for this new era of events.

How have in-person events changed?

It’s no secret that COVID-19 altered the course of event planning. According to a Skift Meetings report, when surveyed in March 2020, 90% of event professionals reported some or most of their business was gone. A paltry 5% experienced a minimal amount of disruption.

The good news is that the industry is in the midst of an unprecedented rebound. But before you can return to in-person events, it’s important to know the full story. Let’s take a look at three major changes in the event industry that will continue to impact events in 2023:

Event planning goes virtual

When event planners realized the value of online events as a flexible, engaging, and global alternative, the virtual format quickly became the go-to solution across the industry.

Why? Because the benefits are almost undeniable. Pivoting to virtual events allowed organizations to cast a wider net and attract a larger portion of their target audience. With the help of event technology, planners can live stream content to remote attendees around the world without needing to worry about venue capacity, catering, transportation, and other physical considerations. 

Thus, virtual events are also a less expensive and time-consuming alternative. Combined with the ability to reach a bigger audience, event planners can deliver impressive ROIs and long-lasting and engaging content. 

Despite the rise of online events, marketers are still easing their way back to traditional event planning in 2023. According to American Express, two-thirds of event planners expect in-person events to return to pre-pandemic levels within one or two years. Although virtual technology has risen to prominence, there’s still no replacing the power of face-to-face interaction. 

Thus, it’s no surprise that event organizers were split between the types of events they hosted in 2022. According to Webex Events data, here’s how events ranked last year:

  • 76% of organizers hosted virtual events.
  • 56% of organizers hosted in-person events.
  • 55% of organizers hosted hybrid events.

Although the virtual format reigned supreme in 2022, in-person appears to be closing the gap. Looking ahead, 46% of event professionals are planning a 50/50 mix of virtual and in-person events in 2023.

Attendee expectations have shifted

Now that virtual events are a worthy alternative, attendees require a little bit more convincing to register for an in-person event. If audiences are going to go out of their way to travel to a venue, it needs to be worth their time and money. They expect more engaging experiences, ample networking opportunities, and long-lasting memories. 

So, how do you wow your in-person audience? The short answer is simple: event technology. Remember that returning to the physical format and leveraging the power of the virtual experience aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, according to MarTech’s latest Event Anticipation Index, the majority of survey respondents believe virtual elements should still be included at in-person events. One respondent wrote:

“Given climate change, travel challenges, and increased viruses, I think events should have online virtual opportunities that are both synchronous and asynchronous and facilitate in-person gatherings in the locale where people are.”

Incorporating virtual elements into your physical event is perhaps the most effective way to elevate the in-person event experience and truly engage your target audience. 

An emphasis on health and safety

Safety has become a top priority for event professionals and attendees alike. Just a year ago, marketers were less likely to attend an upcoming conference due to health concerns. Today, according to MarTech’s survey, more people are willing than not to attend events in the first half of 2023. For the second half, almost 50% of respondents are “extremely likely” to attend in-person events.

Despite growing optimism in 2023, the emphasis on safety remains. A strong majority of MarTech’s survey respondents believe vaccination should be mandatory for attendance.

How to make a safe and successful return to in-person events

There’s a lot of optimism in the events industry—and there should be! To make your return to in-person events as safe and successful as possible, cover your bases by keeping the following in mind.

1. Selecting the right venue

People gather in front of window overlooking city at Chicago event venue

Great venues are essential to the physical event experience. You want an event space your attendees will love, but also one that doesn’t cut any corners when it comes to health and safety. Here are some key considerations:

  • Think about your attendees: What type of venue would best fit your target audience? Consider their buyer persona and which event space would cater to their unique needs. Would they prefer a great big convention center? Or maybe somewhere easier to navigate?
  • Experiment with outdoor and indoor options: Indoor events are often the most appropriate, but you also risk packing too many people into a single area. Look for a venue that offers plenty of space to stretch your legs and get some fresh air. On the other hand, outdoor events are also a good choice, as they inherently offer more wiggle room for attendees to feel comfortable.
  • Budget space for social distancing: Keep in mind that some event attendees are still wary about getting too close to others. Ensure your venue has plenty of space for socially distanced interactions, especially if you expect to reach maximum capacity.
  • Consider your technology needs: Event technology is a powerful tool that the best in-person events will champion in 2023. Make sure you book a venue that doesn’t limit your ability to integrate virtual components into your agenda as seamlessly as possible. Think about your essential elements: lighting, staging, seating, etc. The more flexibility you have to experiment, the better.

2. Promoting the event

When it comes to event planning, communication is key. After all, events don’t promote themselves. If you want to stick the landing when you return to in-person events, you’ll need to communicate essential information as effectively as possible. Here’s what you can do:

  • Start early: Give yourself enough time to maximize attendance and promote your event with proper due diligence. Start early (about five months before the event) and leverage communication channels your target audience is likely to use. If you have pre-recorded or existing content, use it to your advantage. This can be an effective tool for engaging potential attendees and driving interest in your event.
  • Share safety measures before registration: Communicate your safety measures during the pre-registration phase to reduce safety concerns from attendees. The earlier you explain protocol, the likelier your target audience will feel comfortable registering and showing up on the big day.
  • Build a website or landing page: Potential attendees need a central location where they can learn about and register for the event. This is a great place to share important safety protocols, agendas, guest speakers, and other information that might interest your target audience. Plus, it’s an easy way to collect email addresses and attendee data.
  • Send reminders: After registration, leverage the contact information you’ve collected and remind registrants of your upcoming event. Regular reminders are a great way to simultaneously maximize attendance and get people excited about what’s in store at your event.

3. Engaging your audience

As an event organizer, it’s your job to make the event the best it can be. Remember: Attendees are expecting one-of-a-kind experiences in 2023. Fortunately, that’s where event technology comes into play. Here are some great ways event tech can maximize engagement at an in-person event:

  • Mobile apps: Creating your own custom event app complements the in-person experience by matching your event’s branding and offering value-added capabilities. For instance, an event app can map the layout of your venue and help attendees get where they need to be. Apps also offer touchless networking tools that bridge the gap between guests and facilitate connection.
  • Pre-recorded content: Physical events don’t necessarily need to be live—at least, not 100% of the time. Recording content ahead of time, such as an interview or product launch, can keep attendees engaged while in-person speakers get a break from the action.
  • Gamification: With the help of your mobile app, you can gamify event activities and encourage participation with prizes, leaderboards, and friendly competition. Scavenger hunts, for example, invite attendees to interact with sponsor booths, earn points, and more.
  • Interactive tools: Give attendees a chance to voice their opinions through your custom event app. Ask guests to participate in a live poll or Q&A session, or share their thoughts—all within a single interface.

4. Impressing your sponsors

As partners invested in your success, sponsors play a pivotal role in the event industry, which means you need to keep them satisfied and deliver on your promises. Unfortunately, that’s not always easy, especially in person. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to drive sponsorship engagement at your next physical event:

  • Notifications: If you’re leveraging an event platform to your advantage, you gain the ability to send targeted alerts, banner ads, and push notifications to your attendees. That means you can promote sponsored booths, drive traffic to your partners, and make sure your guests are interacting with brands throughout the event.
  • Live display: Showcase your sponsors on a live display throughout the venue. This is a great way to promote sponsored content, educate attendees, and increase engagement with your partners without interrupting the flow of event content.
  • Sponsor profiles: Give sponsors more visibility with special placement inside your mobile event app. Sponsor profiles are a place for attendees to learn more about a brand, download documents, and virtually interact with exhibitors.
  • Metrics: When you implement virtual technology into your event, you also gain the ability to track KPIs and metrics important to your sponsors. This is essential for proving ROI and demonstrating success before, during, and after the event.

Event safety best practices

Now that you know the steps you need to take to return to in-person events, consult these best practices to make your events as safe and successful as possible:

  • Make your safety plan accessible to all organizers and staff members for quick reference.
  • Post safety protocols where attendees can easily find them, such as a mobile event app.
  • Allow attendees to easily upload proof of vaccination during registration.
  • Offer touchless check-in and instant badge printing.
  • Don’t forget to factor safety measures into your budget.
  • Give attendees a contactless way of networking and exchanging information
  • Keep the hybrid format in your back pocket as an option

What do these best practices have in common? All of them can be easily implemented using event technology. With a comprehensive event management platform like Webex Events, you can deliver on your promise and provide attendees with an experience that’s as safe and secure as it is engaging and exciting.

Whether you’re notifying audiences on a custom mobile app or facilitating connections through attendee profiles, Webex Events has everything you need to take your in-person events to the next level.

Want to take a closer look? Request a demo today.