Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know just how much the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted entertainment industries across the globe. Annual festivals like SXSW and Summerfest, which are known for being held rain or shine, had to cancel their 2020 plans last minute as a result of the worldwide outbreak leaving many people without jobs and many industries unsure of what would happen next. Over the past year of being in this pandemic, we have seen industries embrace tech and evolve beyond the traditional ideas of work, productivity, and results. After a long, grueling year for everyone, events such as SXSW made their return by embracing these new and innovative ideas.
SXSW made its return in March 2021, with an entirely virtual lineup of films, panels, meet-ups, live music, and keynote speakers, many of which touched on the exact topic of innovating amidst a pandemic. I chose to sit in on the recorded discussion between Mike Hubrich, Caroline Hicks, and Anissa Cooke where they talked about just this. “Did Tech Save The Events Industry?” was a pre-recorded discussion between events industry professionals where they touched on topics ranging from how their jobs have changed, to how to keep audiences engaged virtually, to testing out new platforms for hosting virtual events, and even discussed topics such as Zoom Fatigue and the impact of these virtual events on introverts in comparison to extroverts. The main takeaways I gleaned from this discussion was that keeping an audience engaged virtually is a difficult challenge in the digital, pandemic landscape and it requires thinking outside of the box to try new things and get attendees excited about the event. Find new ways to engage audience members through new platforms, discussions, live chats if an event is pre-recorded, and in general, get involved. Virtual events are much easier for people to show up to but they are also much easier for people to decide against. With that, and the Zoom Fatigue that has inevitably set in for everyone, it is important to create new, exciting spaces that make people want to be involved while also recognizing the needs of different audience members. Introverts may need to turn off their camera, take a step away for a minute, or just watch without interacting to have the best experience for them while extroverts may need to start conversations and be more interactive in the space to find it worthwhile. Additionally, there are pros and cons to virtual events but all of the speakers agreed that following COVID-19, it is likely we will see virtual event options remain available in the future as a new way of allowing events to truly be worldwide.
In general, this discussion didn’t touch on any ideas that were too groundbreaking or unheard of since the beginning of the pandemic but Hubrich, Hicks, and Cooke created an open conversation about just how events have and will continue to change and how the events industry will now be better prepared to handle situations like this.