Report: Covid effect sees digital events on the rise long-term

New research finds people are attending more virtual events but they’re increasingly looking for more innovative and engaging event experiences

There’s been a sharp growth in online events driven by remote work during the coronavirus pandemic, which could become permanent, according to a new study by Redback Connect.

Almost two in three Australian respondents now attend six or more digital events a month. And live viewing is increasing, with four in five respondents attending at least half of all digital events live rather than on-demand - up from two-thirds who did so in 2019.

More than half of the respondents to the Australian study also expect to attend even more virtual events this time next year.

“Australians now attend virtual events so often, they know they can achieve most of the things that used to be done face-to-face in the digital environment -- at greater convenience and for a fraction of the cost,” said Redback founder and CEO, Jeff Downs.

The digital event specialist’s research, perhaps not surprisingly, has found four in five respondents say virtual events can be as good as or better than their physical event counterparts.  The most common digital events attended include webinars, internal company meetings, workshops, briefings, external conferences and customer meetings.

However, the study, which comprised quantitative analysis of more than 1500 digital events conducted from July 2019 to June 2020 as well as quantitative and qualitative research with 100 survey respondents, includes a warning about people leaving digital events early.

Downs said virtual event organisers must guard against ‘digital event fatigue’, with 86 per cent of respondents saying they have abandoned a virtual event early - up from 66 per cent a year earlier. The most common reasons to leave a virtual event early include content that is “not what I signed up for” and presenters who are “too salesy and not educational enough”.

“People won’t put up with irrelevant content, disengaged presenters or a poor technical experience. Digital events must offer valuable content and be executed well, with engaging presenters, easy-to-use technology and crystal clear audio,” he said

The research also indicated some misalignment between when organisations are scheduling digital events and when people want to watch them. While people appreciate the convenience of virtual events, they will watch the content on-demand if the live time doesn’t suit. But the increase in virtual events is raising the bar for the quality and design of the experience, with audiences becoming increasingly sophisticated, demanding a more social, innovative and engaging event.

“People are looking for meaningful social, educational and commercial ways to interact with each other whether in the virtual or physical event world,” Downs said. 

“They have taken to video conferencing very quickly and are open to the use of innovative technologies such as virtual and augmented reality. They want event organisers and presenters to cater to different learning styles so they can more easily remember and recall what they learn when attending virtual events.”

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