The COVID-19 pandemic is profoundly disrupting the events industry, and virtual events appear to be the only immediate way forward. However, the terrain is still quite unfamiliar to many, and the format presents new challenges. New roles are emerging among event professionals to ensure the success of these events.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on carefully laid plans and agendas for events in 2020. Virtual events currently seem to be the only way forward for events subject to travel restrictions, widespread lockdowns, and uncertain recovery timeframes.
A few weeks ago, EventMB hosted a three-hour online event to accompany event planners on their journey to pivot to virtual. 64.3% of over 2,500 participants acknowledged at that time that they had never been involved in planning a virtual event.
As the planning and production process of virtual events is quite different from live events, it is likely that event planners will have to add other skill sets to the ones they currently rely on for their face-to-face events.
In this article, we will share our vision on the new event industry roles about to emerge or become more prominent in 2020.
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What Is in Demand?
We looked at several job offers for event managers/coordinators posted in the past month or so.
Interestingly, posted advertisements from some companies such as Apple, Samsung, Lowe’s, etc. showed no substantial difference in the job requirements usually expected for these positions (communication, budgeting, organization, time management, etc.).
We can only assume that large companies with internal events positions bet on live events to be back to normal in the near future, or that people in these positions will have resources available in the company to help them handle virtual events.
However, we did find some offers requesting experience in developing impactful digital, video and/or interactive content — all things necessary for a good virtual experience. Some companies were more online-oriented in their job offers, including virtual events in the job description, or asking for specific experience in online event management.
We also found offers specifically targeted at virtual events specialists. These generally fell into two categories: event technology managers for virtual events/webinars and livestream event hosts.
We also scoured relevant groups on LinkedIn to determine whether any emergent event planner concerns related to planning their pivot to virtual to translate into new roles. Event planners were mainly looking for recommendations on technical platforms and products, but a few were looking for people who could share their expertise in running virtual events. In addition to best practices and guidance, there were also some requests for Zoom experts.
Four Roles We Think are Going to Emerge
Unsurprisingly, the main trend emerging from the job posts and the voiced concerns of event planners is that event planners are going to need a higher level of technical acumen if they want to successfully pivot to virtual.
Some of the new demands of virtual events can certainly be covered by event planners or their usual partners, but others, especially for small teams, will likely have to be outsourced to more specialized partners.
These are the four roles we think are going to become prominent in the coming weeks.
We wrote some time ago about the emergence of event technologists, who are responsible for planning and implementing the technological strategy of their organization’s events programs.
With the multiplication of virtual events, they will be responsible for sourcing and implementing the technology used for these events, and they will be the point-of-contact for event technology suppliers.
To take on that role, event planners will need to deepen their technical skills, understand the types of tools and systems involved, and familiarize themselves with the landscape of vendors that support virtual events. As it is a highly specialized function, it might be best to delegate to one specific individual in the events team, or if that is not practical, to rely on outside help.
Virtual Event Tech Support
The potential for technical issues is exacerbated with virtual events, and they have to be addressed very quickly because the entire event infrastructure is essentially event technology. There is nothing to distract attendees from a potential glitch.
This could be an expert on the implementation of Zoom or other platforms that emerge to handle virtual events.
It can be an outsourced position (for example, Zoom offers professional services to help with the implementation of Zoom Rooms), but we also imagine an in-house IT team delivering this type of support, especially for events teams in large companies. In any case, either the provider of the solution or the IT team will need robust support teams to help with a growing number of virtual event technologies.
Providers will also need to develop comprehensive support plans and be very reactive. Zoom, for example, has experienced some security issues these past weeks due to the increased interest in their product, therefore attracting the attention of hackers and meeting hijackers.
Virtual Event Production Specialists / Technical Producers
One of the major challenges of virtual events is retaining attention, and as AppleBox co-founders Taylor and Joseph Estes pointed out in our Pivot to Virtual event, high quality production is a worthwhile investment and goes a long way.
Technical producers and production companies have experience in dealing with audio and video equipment, internet bandwidth requirements for live streaming, etc. Whether you’ve chosen to prerecord your sessions or present live, they can walk you through all the scenarios that can occur when hosting a virtual event, and help planners, speakers, and moderators set themselves up for a high quality presentation.
Beyond making sure your presenters are familiar with the online event platform you've chosen, they can also assist with run-throughs by offering support during camera and microphone checks, providing instruction on optimal angles and lighting, and generally consulting on how to keep both prerecorded and live videos looking professional despite being shot remotely.
The MC or moderator role is just as important for a virtual event as it is for a face-to-face one — potentially more so given that they may be required to interpret audience feedback and receive questions from multiple channels, including private messages within the live streaming software, social media, group chats, etc.
The MC helps to stitch together the information delivered during the different sessions, preserve the flow, and keep the energy high. They greatly reduce the risk of disjointed sessions undermining engagement in a context where the audience can simply tune out if the transitions are clumsy or add friction.
The move towards virtual events represents a sizeable challenge for many event planners. New functions and roles are emerging to tackle this important shift in the events industry.
Even if the situation returns to ‘normal’, we think that the move towards virtual events is going to solidify the importance of online engagement as a feature of all events, and many of the new roles that emerge to handle that will persist in one form or another even after lockdowns and travel restrictions.