After nearly two years of COVID-19, and with the Omicron variant still spreading, there is a clear shared desire to move on. While there is currently no “going back” to the way things were in 2019 and before, as our habits, technologies and approaches have evolved across the industry, there is still an optimism that in-person events will come back on some level.

When looking at just three of the many live events that took place in January, there are a lot of takeaways to be found. For example, CES 2022 still occurred, despite a reduction in total attendees. We saw new innovations in booth design and virtual reality/augmented reality, so that physical spaces could be utilized in new ways. Additionally, events like PCMA Convening Leaders 2022 and the 2022 SEARCH Foundation Annual Event were held.

In the next installment of my multi-blog series highlighting industry insights in the aftermath of a successful IMEX America 2021, I reached out to industry event professionals to ask them one simple question: What do you think is going to happen in 2022? Four key schools of thought emerged.

  1. Many professionals are over predictions and focused on rebuilding. Speaking to a range of event professionals, it became clear that they preferred the idea of focusing on making versus predicting. This blog was first going to simply be a prediction piece, but it evolved as the sentiment emerged that it’s time to focus on the future we’re going to build and how we can build it. As Dahlia el-Gazzar, industry event technologist and owner of DAHLIA+ Agency, said, “I believe we should be focused on intentions with alternative plans versus predictions. We just went through almost two years of predictions upon predictions.” I agree, so I’ve made it a key mission at VenueIQ to focus our content on topics the events community can gain actionable insights from. (Read related VenuIQ articles Hybrid Event Essentials7 Interactivity Pillars for Virtual Events and our State of the Industry Panel.)
  2. Hybrid is here to stay, with in-person coming back throughout the year. Per Shawn Shapiro, event planner at Redstone Agency, “2022 will be about quality over quantity with content and other factors in the event process. I think you will see a large shift towards hybrid events, especially in the first and second quarter, with an increase of in-person events as the year progresses. As in-person does return, I do think we will see a virtual piece stay for many events, which will help to connect to larger audiences and make for a more immersive and global experience moving forward.”

Diana Canellis, who heads up sponsorships at Techsytalk, echoed Shapiro’s insights. “Hybrid or bust!” she said. “Smaller in-person regional events with virtual capacities will thrive—similar to events after 9/11, where regional events became more popular. I think people will continue to enjoy working from home but will be interested in smaller networking events (with proof of vaccination or COVID-free tested attendees), closer to home. And for event professionals, this will help with risk (budgeting) instead of larger in-person events and potential no-shows—even though it will mean more work!”

  1. Shorter sessions are the key to attendance and engagement. As Kyle Kocinski, implementation manager at Endless Events, put it, “We are seeing that shorter sessions will help bring success this year.” Long-form discussions are becoming less popular than more direct, information-heavy approaches. I have seen success from some of our clients in 10- to 15-minute rapid fire presentations, almost “Shark Tank”-style. It packs the virtual or hybrid event with value, offering more frequent and informative sessions and making it more likely people show up and interact.
  2. COVID-19 will be reaching endemic status. Geoff Woliner, owner of Winning Wit, said, “My gut says that Omicron is the last wave before COVID takes its place as yet another seasonal pain in the neck, rather than a world-stopper. We came halfway back in 2021. I think we may come all the way back by the middle of 2022.”

I agree with much of what’s been said here. After nearly two years, there’s no doubt that despite adapting and evolving, the pandemic will be a welcome exit from the events industry.

But we have learned that there are some types of events, such as monthly education series, that make more sense on virtual, as it extends the audience 10-fold and increases accessibility. We will still see resources pooled toward doing one or two annual conferences or major gatherings alongside smaller events. Therefore, I do believe we will see a mixture of virtual, hybrid and in-person events throughout 2022 and beyond, as we continue to innovate and find new ways to meet safely.