As an event producer, I’m trained to keep calm, while making sure the event is going well, and resort to higher thinking, using my analytical brain, when things go wrong, or when being faced with the unprecedented effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is clear that the event industry has been strongly affected by the disruptive forces of COVID-19. Since the outbreak, nearly every event that was scheduled to happen before June has been delayed or canceled altogether. O’Reilly Media, known for its influential open source conferences, even took the bold step last week to shut down its in-person events unit forever.
These are tough times, but no matter how serious and sad all of this is, the world is not ending, and there are upsides as well. We have to start thinking about what’s next and what we can do right now to move forward. This is the mentality we will need to keep ourselves sane. As a former sports athlete, I constantly had to deal with the stress of uncertainty, and learn how to stay positive and thrive under pressure. As overwhelming as the current situation may be, I see it as a challenge and a huge growth opportunity for both me personally and my startup, Digital Procurement World.
“Never Waste A Good Crisis.” – Winston Churchill
The show must go on, but how?
Because of COVID-19, I am experiencing first-hand how vulnerable my annual in-person conference has become, and that I need to respond and adapt to this crisis and disruption at the same speed of COVID-19’s impact. The outbreak is permanently changing the nature of procurement industry events. I foresee that as a result of the pandemic, the number of in-person procurement events will likely fall, as companies that conduct them shift to virtual events or face financial peril. In addition, companies that sponsor the events, or pay for their employees to attend them, will reevaluate the benefits of doing so versus the costs.
So, has the day of digital-only events finally come?
Despite the uncertain environment that surrounds us, there is no reason to think that in-person events will cease to exist. However, the current challenges are likely to accelerate a widespread switch to virtual and hybrid (a mix of live and virtual components) event formats. Many event marketers fear that virtual conferences will ultimately eliminate live events. That’s wrong. In truth, virtual events and live events are two different experiences and value propositions. And, based on my own experience, in-person and virtual events don’t compete, rather, they complement each other.
Digital user experience is key
It’s important to understand that in-person events cannot be simply transferred into the digital world, since virtual events need a different blueprint. Live streaming is just one component of the digital attendee journey that we’re going to have to develop. The biggest challenge for event marketers will be to keep a remote audience engaged which typically revolves around three pillars: quality presentations, attendee participation, and virtual networking. The principles of UX including trust, usability and engagement are relevant to any digital event and community experience. We are living in the experience economy, so whoever offers the best digital event experience by creating new and enhanced value for delegates, speakers, sponsors, and partners, will win.
DPW becomes a worldwide networked community platform
At DPW, we always intended to offer a digital experience and expand the thriving DPW ecosystem beyond our 2-day conference. The current pandemic has fast tracked DPW’s own digital transformation. Generally speaking, events can be considered living organisms that rely on deep networks and meaningful connections to prosper. This is why the concept of networked communities with a focus on collaboration as the key process of community building is at the heart of DPW’s digital transformation.
The difference between an event and a community
For DPW2020, we’re excited announce the addition of a virtual conference ticket (to be launched shortly) as a complement to the in-person event, taking place 16-17 September in Amsterdam. Simultaneously, we are in the process of building and nurturing a digital procurement community and ecosystem that turns our conference attendees into participants, and motivates them to go from being consumers of information to have an active role in the generation of knowledge – all year round. For instance, all DPW2020 conference attendees (in-person and virtual) will get free access to the online community. Everyone will benefit from closer engagement with experts and speakers, tailored discussions critical to digital procurement success, and timely knowledge-sharing.
Always look at the bright side of life
Despite these tough times, now is the time to be innovative. Thanks to COVID-19, I’m more excited and inspired than ever before about DPW’s future and growing into a global powerhouse of digital procurement expertise. I look forward to experiencing new possibilities to do things differently, and to bringing together the digital procurement community that we serve in new and creative ways.
The world is changing. In the future, conferences will be accessed by a click, not only by plane. At the same time, it is my hope that our current isolation, and remote learning away from our peers and colleagues will serve as a cautious reminder of the importance of our basic human need for face-to-face social interaction.
Stay focused and humble.
Matthias Gutzmann is the founder of Digital Procurement World