This year (2020) is teaching us a new way to live, learn, and do business. Due to this horrible pandemic, we are rethinking many aspects our of lives.
One of the important questions that we are facing both as humans and business people is which specific things need to be done in person and which things could and should be done remotely. I watched this Bloomberg Technology interview with Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO) and I loved her phrase “we will learn what has to be done in person.”
Entire industries could be redefined because of this “simple question.”
Every day, we read and watch news about companies allowing their employees to work remotely post-COVID. Many of them, like Twitter, are no longer asking their employees to go back to the office unless they want to.
Real estate in Manhattan (and many other cities around the world) will be affected by remote work.
Industries like EdTech and Telemedicine will accelerate dramatically and video will continue to grow in ways never imagined. In the United States, E-commerce accelerated at the same rate in eight weeks than it did a whole decade before.
And what about the live events industry?
Virtual events will have a second chance after launching as “the next big thing” in the early 2000s. New startups in this category like Hopin, RunTheWord, Bevy, and many others are funded by super-sophisticated VC’s in the Valley and all over the world, backing smart young entrepreneurs and rethinking the whole value proposition for the virtual events category.
Trillions of dollars invested in convention centers, hotels, arenas, stadiums, and overall infrastructure servicing the live events industry have been basically paralyzed for the last three months, and, it seems that live events will be returning in the slow-motion, at least for the rest of 2020.
Meanwhile, I keep thinking about that question. Which things will we continue to need to do in person? Should I need to go back to the office for a meeting in the future, or I could simply Zoom in?
Should I take that plane for that conference or corporate event and invest thousands of dollars and days of my life? Or will simply learning about those topics that are relevant for me online and participating in digital meetings and product demos that are critical for my company be enough? I believe that there is no right or wrong answer. Each event, industry, and community will be different, but the overall pressure and rationale to attend face to face instead of digital-only will be very strong.
Those in doubt will probably decide to join the online version only, and, if they connect with the event community, go back face to face next year. Those investing the time and money for the physical event will certainly not come back if the ROI is not clear.
Let’s go a bit more into detail about the B2B events industry. A 2.5 Trillion dollars industry that is currently under a potentially historic opportunity for reinvention.
Every single stakeholder in the events industry – and there are billions (yes billions of them) – who participates in business conventions, trade shows, conferences, festivals, etc. will be rethinking how they will reconnect with events.
In many articles before, I shared my opinions about why face to face events should not disappear. Not only that, but also why technology should be a fantastic opportunity for growth, providing better and more opportunities to all these stakeholders.
Covid-19 is teaching all of us many interesting lessons. One of these learnings is that there is a clear opportunity to rethink which activities must be done in person and which activities could be done digitally.
As humans, we will continue to need face to face interaction. As I wrote in the past, we will meet again. But, we will probably be a bit more selective. A new way to work, learn, and meet will be accelerated. Again, innovation will be probably created by startups, incumbents will quickly partner with these startups or acquire some of those startups and scale growth and innovation in many new concepts.
As we experienced before, amazing tech companies were created during big crises. Without a doubt, this crisis is unprecedented and I’m sure that will generate massive opportunities. After more than thirty years in the media, tech, and events industry I could not be more excited to see the innovation and great companies that will be created during the next couple of years.
Many times, innovation hurts. Change is difficult and painful. But necessary.
The next generation of live events will be different, probably smaller in the beginning, but way better in quality and added value. Many creative entrepreneurs will build new and better opportunities for all of us to meet, to connect with each other, to generate trust, and do business together. When I did my partnership with Reed Exhibitions in the early 2000s, at that time the largest global event organizer, the phrase that we used to describe our work was “we are relationship brokers.” It was a simple way to say that we connect buyers and sellers in ways that establish relationships that could be effective. Twenty years and many crises later, that thesis remain intact. Events generate relationships by facilitating trust and helping buyers and sellers to identify each other, meet, discuss, learn, and build opportunities together.
Tech and digital engagement will augment these opportunities. Virtual will not replace face to face. We can accelerate speed dating via virtual meetings, but, the real business will be done face to face, and, trust will continue to be built through experiences and time together.
You can identify your next friend, a friend with benefits or wife/husband using dating apps, however, “the magic” continues to happen face to face.
In the end, when we decide which things will need to be done in person in the future, we will certainly benefit from using technology today, tomorrow, and every day that follows as a way to augment opportunities until we are ready to meet face to face. At that time, we will understand why, as human beings, we will continue to appreciate the “magic” that happens when we are together and meeting face to face.