8 Event industry trends your company must know about in 2021 - Unbridled Skip to main content

Written by Tim Woodring and Meagan Loyd, edited by Madison Jolly and Jordan Richart
Last year put a pause on events as we knew them to be. However, the new year has created new ways for event growth to occur. Although we are collectively eager to return to the pre-COVID-19 era, one thing is sure: your events will never be the same.

With the opportunity to reflect and innovate, 2021 has allowed for new considerations for events. The implementation of safety protocols and advancements in healthcare have enabled us to gather safely. Last year’s changes resulted in new remote and hybrid work policies, further impacting the event sphere as we knew it. As we look to a new year and new events, 2021 will be the year to form best practices in this modern event ecosystem.

Check out the this year’s list of trends.

1. The next wave of virtual events: meeting in person again

The first wave of virtual events was one of necessity — organizations could not gather because of the pandemic and needed a quick virtual solution. Since then, technology has increased dramatically, and now there is an ever-expanding market of virtual event platforms with various strengths. In addition to this, attendee preferences have changed and certain types of meetings may stay virtual for some. Studies have shown that 93% of organizers intend to keep virtual events in their portfolio. This next wave of virtual events will be one of intentionality. It will bring new potential for in-person capabilities, albeit with certain limitations. We believe virtual events will remain a component of the corporate event portfolio as we return to in-person events in the future.

2. The emergence of hybrid events

A hybrid event is an event that leverages technology to integrate in-person and virtual attendee experiences at scale. This category of event is often considered the best of both worlds, as it gives you the accessibility of virtual events with the potential dynamics of an in-person event and puts the attendee preference and experience front and center. These hybrid events enable attendees to pick and choose their in-person events while utilizing a mobile conference app or video on demand (VOD) technology. With several different hybrid event types, the opportunities are endless to engage your audience. The advantages to hybrid events are clear, but it should be noted that best practices in hybrid events are still forming. Make sure your virtual attendees have clear expectations around their experience, otherwise they could feel left out.

3. New event models and formats

Both hybrid and virtual events blur the lines of traditional events by using technology. Today’s events exist on a spectrum, from webinars to town hall events to city-wide conventions and 100,000-person online event streams. New models and formats will continue to arise as needs change. For example, one company might opt to start the year out with a broadcasted general session where attendees connect in-person regionally and build local relationships. This type of event leverages virtual, hybrid, and in-person elements. Be imaginative and be willing to think outside the box.

4. Safety

Safety is always a concern when one considers attending an event. Implementing pre-event safety strategies like vaccination status, proof of COVID testing, or acknowledgments of prior travel can assure attendees’ safety. Other opportunities like digital screening upon arrival, rapid on-site testing, and clear signage that displays safety standards are all great preventative strategies to ensure the health and wellness of your attendees and event staff. Giving attendees a choice in how they attend will empower them to practice their safety preferences.

5. Sustainability

Reducing the carbon footprint of an event is a large undertaking. Many hotels, airlines, and organizations have made significant advancements in reducing their carbon footprint through recycled signage and even 100% biodegradable masks that can be planted once you’re done using them. According to Terrapass, conferences can produce 1,000-2,000 pounds of Co2 or more, depending on an event. When planning your next event, get ahead by tracking the event’s carbon footprint and instituting sustainable practices.

6. Technology-enhanced personalization and interaction

Digital experiences can create powerful analytics that give event owners insights about their attendees.
Mobile apps can digitally bridge audience types, regardless of the event format. For example, in-person attendees can communicate with virtual attendees, poll along with live broadcasts, or participate in gamification and networking opportunities. As these apps develop, we can expect the emergence of AI-enhanced features that match your interests, location, industry, or profession.
Wearable tech can support a safe transition back to in-person events by helping attendees stay contactless. New options like smart badges or wristbands use RFID technology to provide contactless registration, payment, or digital lead retrieval, assuring a safe experience.

7. Broadcast quality production

2020 might have started with some bumpy Zoom streams, but the new possibilities set the bar high for future events. Broadcast production cannot be an afterthought. The most influential factor in attendee engagement is high-quality content. This is more important than functionalities like chat or scheduling. If the content is not high quality, you’re likely to lose attendee attention. This will ultimately impact an attendee’s respect and engagement in your company. Between the ongoing use of virtual events and remote attendance for hybrid events, broadcast-quality production can help ensure that your digital attendees stay engaged and feel valued.

8. New interests, habits, and preferences from attendees

Over the course of the 300+ days that many of the pandemic restrictions were in place, the world formed new habits. Beyond the baking of sourdough bread, the result of this is increased demand for remote and hybrid work. These new habits and preferences will certainly inform the types of events produced and how people attend them. For some, there might be a clear link to virtual attendance, but others may feel disconnected from their team or company. A corporate meeting might be less about the status of a company and more about personal connection. With new event formats, attendee preferences will shape the future of event styles.

A year of trial and error

The next twelve months will be a period of trial, error, experimentation, and learning. Event planners and clients must navigate this “new normal” along with the new possibilities that arise. Attendee preferences will continue to change as these new event strategies roll out. The power is in the quality of your attendees’ experience, so be sure to stay attuned to their feedback along the way and be willing to take risks.

Need help navigating these trends in your events?

Reach out to us at Unbridled and let’s tackle it together. We believe that events are an essential vehicle to connection, regardless of their format.