A Look at the 2021 Events Landscape (Hint, it’s Still Virtual)

It was an ominous sign of things to come when two attendees at the San Francisco-based RSA conference contracted COVID-19 in late February 2020, and the events industry was turned upside down. As marketing teams learned how to navigate COVID-19 challenges, companies invested in alternate forms of lead generation, like strategic paid social media, and began applying buyer personas to digital content strategy.  

Looking ahead to 2021, we see several key trends which will inform event strategy and budget allocations: 

Virtual Events are Here to Stay 

The 2021 events landscape is looking very virtual. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is traditionally the first technology conference in every new year, and 2021 is no different. CES 2021 will be held January 11-14 as an all-digital experience, but they are planning to hold an in-person and digital hybrid event in 2022. Similarly, RSA 2021, originally postponed from February to May, just announced they will be going virtual, they join the ranks of Microsoft Ignite, IoT World, and more planning digital experiences in 2021. A few conferences, like Money20/20, are still listing in-person events on their website; however, Money20/20 USA pivoted to go digital in 2020 and their virtual conference, MoneyFest, is available on-demand.  

Less Panels, More Stand-Alone Presentations 

When defining a strategy for speaking at events in 2021, you might want to consider this latest trend. Conferences are investing less in panel sessions, presumably because these are harder to execute well in a digital format. For example, while HIMSS is still planning an in-person event for August 2021, the opportunity to submit for panels was not an option in their call for proposals earlier this year. Also, when Money20/20 shifted to MoneyFest, an in-person panel we secured for a client did not make the final cut in the new digital format. When planning a speaking strategy for 2021, we recommend energizing behind strong stand-alone presentations vs. panels speaking submissions. In the event an in-person event must move digital, this will give you a better chance of being included.   

Multi-Location Hybrid Meetings  

In September 2020, both IACC (formerly the International Association of Conference Centers) and the Professional Convention Management Association announced that their upcoming 2021 meetings will be hybrid events featuring multiple in-person locations. This trend of local, micro events will permit attendees to avoid travel, while also allowing in-person engagement with the necessary safety measures in-place. We will be interested to see if other national conferences adopt local and regional events in 2021, and this is a trend to watch.  

For companies looking to use their 2021 conference budget to host their own virtual events instead, please check out our guide Do’s and Do Nots of Virtual Events

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