Virtual Events and its Impact on Attendance Rates in the New Normal

The recent global health crisis has put an additional spin on the ever-evolving business landscape. All around the world, big and small organisations have been facing both logistical challenges and financial repercussions of cancelling or postponing physical events on a very short notice.

After the understandable period of disbelief and uncertainty organisations have gone through this year, business leaders have started gathering their thoughts and brainstorming solutions to overcome the difficulties experienced by millions of people around the world.

Thanks to modern-day advances in connective technologies, marketing teams were able to run their corporate events virtually. Notwithstanding, it is undeniable that this transition resulted in some kind of loss.

In the shortest of times, the go-to model of corporate events had to be reimagined. Physical events have been a staple of the business world for as long as anyone can remember as in-person interactions have traditionally resulted in successful partnerships and collaborations. Roundtables and workshops have offered numerous opportunities for knowledge-sharing, whilst social gatherings such as happy hours and corporate dinners have provided event attendees with the comfort necessary to foster rapport in a relaxed setting.

Thankfully, while all major shifts or new trends come with their own challenges, they sometimes also present surprising opportunities for growth. Many professionals are now getting the opportunity to continue working from home, while some have decided to find freelance jobs and work at their own pace. The shift from physical to virtual events has had an incredibly positive effect on attendance, reinforcing a trend that had already been observed in recent years.

Event Digitalization: How Have Attendance Rates Been Affected?

According to a recent marketing survey, in May 2020 the average no-show percent for virtual events across industries was reportedly 35% – slightly higher than that of physical events. Businesses lucky enough to have the means to host their own events online reported an attendance of up to four times as high as the one observed with their physical counterparts in the previous year. A great example of this has been Salesforce World Tour Sydney, which attracted 80,000 attendees to its virtual convention vs its 15,000 physical participants in 2019. According to data, an overwhelming number of businesses have reaped the same benefits regardless of the sector.

While some of the advantages of physical gatherings are harder to replicate in the virtual medium, online events also have something unique and equally irreplaceable to bring to the table. In fact, virtual corporate events can tear down those common barriers that are often in the way of physical events.

Pre-pandemic, prospective attendees would have to deal with far more logistical challenges. The need to plan for travel and accommodation, potential childcare arrangements, and last-minute illnesses would all potentially stand in the way of reaching the desired attendance. Online events make it possible for audiences to participate from the comfort of their own homes, and with little to no preparation over the time leading to the big day. The lower production costs of virtual events also translates into more affordable tickets for the paying audience, which in turn will likely lead to better ROI for the organisers: a win-win.

Another interesting aspect to take into account when analysing the booming trend of online events is the conversion rate. According to a Bizzabo study, over half of all virtual registrants will actually show up on the day of the event despite the so-called Zoom fatigue which has now become part of our vocabulary. In fact, the interest in online events is at its peak.

Since March 2020, The Ortus Club has hosted over 100 virtual executive events in dozens of countries in three different continents. During this time, the company has observed an attendance rate of 85% – with Hong Kong on top of the list rating 90% and the US at the bottom rating 55%.

Ortus has also registered slightly lower attendance rates in larger-scale events – possibly due to the fact that guests are currently searching for more intimate and personalised events. Other factors such as the relevance and novelty of the topic and possible schedule conflicts with similar online events also played a role in the company’s overall attendance ranking.

The Future of Events

With online events proving to be far more affordable, inclusive, and with better ROI prospects –  not to mention 100% safe from spreading infections – what should we expect the future of the corporate event landscape to look like?

The answer to this question seems to lie in the hybrid event model. While nobody knows for sure how much longer the healthcare crisis will last, research seems to show that several physical events will resume sometime in 2021.

Counting with the finest connective technology, corporate events will compensate for the limited guest capacity caused by the inconvenient, yet necessary social distancing measures by running events that bring together the best of both worlds.

While not everybody will be able to share the same physical space, online screening and video conferences will help to bridge the gap between actual participants and attendees from all over the world. In fact, the availability of the option to host events online is one of the many perks of being a freelancer and online professional.

Activities like Q&A’s, workshops, and panels can be run interchangeably on both mediums, while corporate shows and entertainment will likely still be performed live and also enjoyed by thousands of virtual attendees.

Additionally, reducing the size of physical events will also allow for more sustainable and eco-friendly gatherings. Besides catering for smaller crowds, consuming less energy, and generating less waste, fewer people flying to attend the physical event will also help reduce carbon emission significantly.

Better yet, environmental practices may even work in favour of a brand’s image. The growing concerns around conservation, along with a more mindful utilisation of natural resources, has sometimes led big corporate events to be criticised. An example would be the so-called trend of flight shaming, popularised by many environmental activists over the past two years.

When asked about whether they planned for physical events to make a return in the near future, about 92% of corporate leaders around the world agreed that they most definitely will in some shape and form but that digital events are definitely here to stay.

The Ortus Club is a leading marketing agency specialised in both physical and online corporate events, executive knowledge-sharing discussions and roundtables dedicated to the c-suite. Their commitment is to provide ideal environments for business leaders to build meaningful business relationships while conversing about specific topics.

One response to “Virtual Events and its Impact on Attendance Rates in the New Normal”

  1. Although it has been a hassle to organize virtual events during this pandemic, it has been a great year. As an event planner myself, virtual events have made it possible to create more affordable and intimate experiences. According to me, virtual should definitely be explored more even if everything comes back to normal.


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