Flexibility is the new currency for events: Five ways to turn uncertainty into opportunity.

Events are back! Along with this wonderful news, we’ve experienced a feeling of relief and excitement across the event industry in recent weeks.

Curtains are reopening, red carpets are rolling out and champagne flutes are clinking, creating the memorable experiences and buzz we’ve all been missing. But the rules of the game have clearly changed. The pandemic has acted as an agent for larger cultural and technological changes (see our last long read) and has shifted perceptions around the safety and security of attending events: a feeling that is here to stay.

As a result, event organizers across the globe need to understand the new requirement for success, which is nothing less than a total rethink of the elements that have made our events successful for so long.

Previously when events were digitized, the digitization focused on the same kinds of experiences we were used to creating. Now, a different, deeper kind of innovation is needed. 

At zkipster, we asked industry leaders to assess the tools, factors, and mindsets they need in order to manage the new and challenging shifts at their post-COVID events. It was no surprise that the single most important shift they reported is the increased importance of flexibility. As an operational factor, flexibility is akin to a new currency: it’s the single biggest driver for event organizers when responding to the changing needs of both guests and hosts.

Flexibility is the new currency

Flexibility, really? Hasn’t it always been a key characteristic of the event industry?

Yes, but for decades it was instinctive: trends evolved naturally and only served to make events run more smoothly, from digitization to interactivity, from multimedia content to immersive storytelling. Never before have we needed to question everything in the same way we are today, when flexibility has become the precondition for every aspect of our events. Put simply, event planners need to be prepared for pretty much anything, at any time.

Flexibility is the only cure for combating uncertainty.

The uncertainty factor is here to stay

Pressure to provide maximum flexibility comes from all sides, and we find ourselves having to meet new sets of expectations. Expectations from those “behind the curtain” on one hand: the event contributors, sponsors, service providers and performers, and crucially also from all those “in front of the curtain”: guests, customers, press and event attendees in general.

The pandemic has introduced a hitherto unknown level of uncertainty and the rise of a last-minute culture that impacts everyone. We can no longer make assumptions. Three factors of uncertainty in particular are new to us, but will remain in place for the time being:

1. Sudden rule and regulation changes for events and social gatherings by public health authorities.

Even though most COVID-related restrictions have been eased or lifted, state and local authorities around the world have a variety of legal tools in place so they can respond quickly and impose sudden new restrictions on events. This maintains a high level of uncertainty when it comes to event capacities, hygiene measures, and travel restrictions.

2. Pressure on supply chains worldwide makes it more difficult to manage materials shortages, and staff shortages are yet another uncertainty factor.

Component suppliers providing everything from tech to basic items like paper face shortages as global supply chains remain disrupted. At the same time, long lockdowns have made many event professionals move industries and locations, putting the supply of well-trained staff under increased pressure. The uncertainty is further heightened for event organizers when shortages occur at the last minute.

3. Guests’ drastically changed behavior and expectations during COVID.

Before the pandemic, virtual event attendance had mostly been a niche or emergency measure, only resorted to in very specific circumstances. Now, with both organizers and guests having adjusted to creating and attending meaningful virtual events, guests increasingly expect to be able to choose how they attend until pretty much the moment the event begins.

Virtual and hybrid event attendance is no longer a pandemic-related emergency solution to a lack of alternatives. It is now the new normal, with guests having grown accustomed to the flexibility and the comfort of not having to travel.

According to event professional community EventMB’s 2021 research, 71% of event planners said they would continue to employ a digital strategy even after live events return. But what creates increased comfort for guests also creates a new level of uncertainty for all parties involved: from capacity and seating management to catering, sponsorship, security and maintenance planning. 

So is this uncertainty an existential threat to our industry?

We don’t believe so. Quite the opposite, actually. It merely asks us to go back to the trait that has always served us so well in our industry: total flexibility.

If handled right, this seismic shift could provide one of the biggest growth opportunities in history for our industry. In 2020, the virtual events market was valued at more than US$ 94 billion globally, and it is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 23.7% between 2021 and 2028. We believe that those of us who are ready and willing to play by the changed rules of the game will thrive.

Image by Headway via Unsplash

Flexibility is a question of technology

But how can we manage and maintain this flexibility in a brave new event world? Technology offers the only toolkit for this new degree of flexibility. We recently surveyed zkipster’s industry leaders about the ways tech needs to empower the event industry, and have compiled their most critical to-dos for you.

Five things you should consider in order to up your flexibility game:

1. Unify your digital tools to decrease friction points and bridge communication gaps in your pre-event organization, communication and marketing, as well as tasks during and after the event.

Use fewer tools that are compatible with each other. Set the scene for your event starting with the invitation then oversee all your guest communications in detail with zkipster’s Invitations feature.

2. Use technology that seamlessly connects on-site processes – from seating management to stage management – with the management, moderation and experience of the virtual attendees, and your communications with them.

This approach means you will be less concerned by any last-minute changes from physical to virtual attendance. Create dynamic seating charts and shareable tables with zkipster’s Seating tool.

3. Manage physical attendees the same way you would virtual guests by fully digitizing communication, ticketing, check-in, etc. to unify processes and avoid managing costly parallel structures while increasing data insights.

Use zkipster’s Sessions feature to create and manage smaller sub-events within a larger main event, and the Check-in app for contactless guest check-in.

4. Build solid, lean business cases around hybrid events, rather than separate ones for live and virtual events.

Unifying your business case into one hybrid approach prepares you for all kinds of last-minute changes and drastically reduces the risk of commercial fallout. Digital tools like zkipster enable you to take this approach, and let attendees of all types become commercial factors for success in all circumstances. zkipster allows you to switch seamlessly between live, hybrid and virtual event formats.

5. Build your brand digitally – and early.

Use the entire scope of digital media to curate your guests’ experience: start storytelling from the first digital touchpoint and continue it beyond the event, reducing the experiential gap between live and virtual experiences. If your event is a highly-experiential and immersive digital journey, it’s easy to provide a matching physical experience for the group of your guests that will experience the content live. 

Bottom line: if we can think of it, we can prepare for it, by managing audiences’ expectations, closing the experiential gap between live and virtual content, and using technology that empowers us to adapt and account for sudden changes.

With flexibility, even unprecedented scenarios can be managed.

At zkipster we are focused on empowering you to create flexibility for all your event scenarios. During the pandemic, zkipster helped in-person events all around the world successfully pivot to virtual and hybrid. We offer seamless native integration with Zoom, and our API allows for tailor-made integrations with your organization’s digital tool kit, from Slack to JoinMe to Vimeo.

We seamlessly facilitate your event operations while being a one-stop solution for managing guests, check-in, communications, and virtual content. 

We are event enthusiasts and event professionals ourselves, so nothing is more important to us than the guest experience. That’s why zkipster allows event operators to fully customize the experience for their guests, so you can build and curate an event brand from the second your guests first hear from you. We are storytellers, performers, art lovers and social animals with an experienced tech team behind us. Why is this important? Because flexibility and spontaneity run in our veins, too.

So let’s use technology to do what we do best, together: tell meaningful stories, establish communities, and create memories for people to cherish, to learn from, and to be inspired by.