The future of events in a post-COVID era

This post is sponsored by Clearwater Communications.

Clearwater Communications (CwC) is an multi award-winning, boutique, event marketing and management agency. Based out of both Hong Kong and Singapore, CwC works with world-class clients on their internal and external brand activations, campaigns and events – online to offline – in Hong Kong, Singapore, throughout Asia, and in the virtual space.  

With expertise in event marketing, CwC and its passionate team of event experts reimagine events and brand experiences – to increase impact, influence, accelerate conversions and deliver measurable, effective results for their long-term, global clients.  

Like for most event management agencies, COVID-19 global pandemic has forced CwC to pivot, evolve, reinvent, adapt and reimagine live events into virtual and hybrid experiences.

In a Q&A with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, Min Liu (pictured), founder and managing director shares insights on the virtualisation of events; the know-how to create unforgettable, engaging, and effective virtual event experiences which overcome the challenges of a COVID-19 world; and how she envisions some future changes in the event industry where hybrid events will be the new norm.

1. Do you think that COVID-19 has forced progress on the event industry?

Liu: COVID-19’s disruption of our industry has made us rethink, reshape, redefine and reimagine to engage with audiences in the new normal.

CwC's business focus transformed from live events to virtual and hybrid, inspiring us to forge new vendor relationships, driven by our quest to find the best platforms and state-of-the-art technologies for our clients to engage their audiences, the way their audiences wanted to be engaged.

Our new partnerships have given us access to the latest reimagined virtual event technologies, strengthening our CwC client offer, because we can offer something unique, which our clients have not seen, nor experienced before.

Our 2020 learning curve was steep, but our CwC team embraced the challenge and progressed, earning trust from our long-term clients and new briefs to execute next generation, virtual event experiences.
Events will never be the same again, so we need an industry renaissance to remain relevant, resilient, and agile. For CwC, overcoming COVID-19’s challenge of challenges further ignites our passion, and makes us more determined to succeed.

2. Can you share some of your recent virtual event projects with us?

Liu: The CwC team has activated virtual events for our corporate and public sector clients: DHL Express, American Express, Temasek Polytechnic, Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants and the Hong Kong Construction Industry Council. It also has more virtual events in the production pipeline.

With global audiences’ Zoom and webinar fatigue, our approach has always been to do our virtual events differently. This is so that we can engage our audiences through the surprise and delight at experiencing a different kind of virtual experience, which is more immersive and interactive. This is done by leveraging CwC’s years of creativity and live events expertise.

3. Which recent virtual event has given you the greatest challenges?

Liu: At Clearwater Communications we love a challenge. We recently delivered the first-ever virtual event experience for our long-term client, the Hong Kong Construction Industry Council for their biggest annual event: CIC Sustainable Construction Award (SCA) 2020 Conference. This purposeful awards event attracted 2,000 practitioners from the construction industry to share knowledge and experience in innovative technologies and green materials, to continuously nurture sustainable development and low carbon construction.

CwC fully virtualised the event for the first time. The challenge was one of logistics, where we had to get everyone together for the awards presentation at a time when people could not come together in large groups. Our solution was to use Chroma Key for shooting 50 awardees and 10 VIPs, in three filming locations on three separate days, with full COVID-19 safety compliance. We directed every awardee to seamlessly match with special computer graphics effects, on-stage and off-stage animations and the 3D virtual stage design.

4. What is the formula for virtual event success?

Liu: We need to transform virtual events into unforgettable virtual experiences, which participants look forward to and find value within. We need to improve virtual event quality, and overcome virtual pain points of shorter audience attention and lower emotional engagement. Virtual events also need to be more interactive to earn audience engagement, attention and conversion. As such, we need to reimagine virtual events to be experiential and effective using:

  • Structured, shorter programming slots – with a clear purpose and a call-to-action.
  • Multiple charismatic speakers and global contributors versus few keynote speakers.
  • Quality brand narrative and storytelling through multisensory, multimedia content.
  • Personalised content based on pre-captured delegate preferences.
  • Better brand aesthetics and multisensory virtual event design to create an experiential mood.
  • Experiential kits containing compelling event materials sent to delegates in advance.
  • Event-themed F&B delivered to every delegate.
  • Make virtual more sociable with virtual receptions, happy hours, networking, social walls, virtual photo and video booths.
  • Instant, digital, lucky draw prizes redeemable locally to retain attention.
  • Optimise audience engagement activities with video content, breakout meetings, downloadable content, Q&A, virtual live chats, gamification, surveys, social stories, social integration, CRM, and polls.
  • Improved virtual networking to create long-term digital networks and communities.
  • Advance delegate onboarding, with help-desk support.
  • Network stability, reliability and data security

5. Do you think the future of events will be hybrid?

Liu: The future of events will definitely be hybrid. Hybrid is the solution to the new normal, allowing audiences to choose whether they attend in-person or virtually. Hybrid events also work for clients and agencies yielding valuable data-led insights.

Hybrid is a new emerging event format, blending a small, intimate, live event experience for around 50 guests, with a large-scale, next generation, live-streamed, pre-recorded or on-demand virtual experience, accessible to a global audience without limits of geography nor physical boundaries. 

CwC is working on a growing number of hybrid event briefs, which harness both our live and virtual expertise. We are competitively advantaged to deliver superior hybrid events because of our years delivering award-winning, live, event experiences and because we understand the optimum blend and interaction between offline to online event experiences. 

Hybrid events have given the event industry new challenges:

  1. Creating programming, content and experiences to meet the needs of both a live and virtual audience, without any audience bias.

  2. The blending of the live and virtual experiences together, so both live and virtual audiences achieve equal engagement and experience.

  3. Selecting the right event tech stack comprising a nimble mix of web-based casting, communication and engagement apps which drive engagement and build long-term digital communities and social media integration, to optimise the delivery live and the virtual experiences concurrently.

  4. Giving the growing virtual audience a voice, to shift the traditional focus from the live to the virtual audience.

  5. Deciding whether to create exclusive or shared content for live and/or virtual audiences or to use the same content for both.

The emergence of hybrid events gives us the chance to rewrite the event rules, reimagine new ideas, try new tech and innovative tools to engage both a virtual and a live audience concurrently. These include global speaker diversity, artificial reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and extended reality (XR). It also allows the beaming of 3D, life-size, human holograms anywhere in the world live into the event. These tools help create a sense of presence, extended on-demand audience engagement and the creation of digital communities arising from the event.

Events will never go back to what they were before, so we need to focus on opportunities, not losses. As event professionals, we have adapted to fast-paced operations and an evolving, ever-changing situation so the CwC team are certainly anticipating interesting times ahead.

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