Business News

The Surreal, New Feel of In-Person Events

Skift Take

For the time being, one of the biggest challenges hosting in-person events is selling the value of the masked, socially distanced experience. Live events have changed. To shed some light on what these events are like, Kagwiria Kimathi shares her experience.

While the early efficacy data around a number of Covid vaccine candidates has given hope to many that the end is in sight, now is not the time to let our guard down.

Unfortunately, where compliance is required, this can present a significant challenge even for event organizers who take their responsibility seriously. And where an event organizer has ensured a safe event, the next challenge is to deliver an experience worth attending.

Speaking at our State of the Event Industry virtual event, Nick Borelli put it this way:

“If you’re doing it right, I don’t want to go because you won’t be able to provide me with the real advantages of face-to-face events […] And if you’re doing it wrong, I really don’t want to attend, because I don’t want to infect my family and be part of the problem.”

– Nick Borelli, President of Borelli Strategies


To shed some light on what in-person events done right (read: safely) look like, Kagwiria Kimathi, CEO and principal planner at Kenya-based event company The Nitty Gritty Limited, recently shared her experience at a safe, socially distanced event — republished here with her permission.


Sad to say but in-person events no longer feel the same

Kagwiria Kimathi

I was recently invited for an events stakeholders meeting. This was the first meeting in this new dispensation and era (I cannot mention that C-word) to attend as a participant rather than a planner. I was excited at attending a rare face-to-face meeting which meant donning a power dress and heels, as well as the expected mask. I was curious to know who would be there, to participate and network with colleagues in the industry. I got to the venue and sat on my seat. It was a whole rectangle of a table with one seat only which was lonely. Careful measurements ensured that other meeting attendees sat at least 1.5 meters away. I still could not remove my mask, even if those around were a safe distance away. This would just look totally irresponsible.

Unconsciously, I created my own safety bubble a 1.5m radius around my seat. To boot, I sanitized the water bottle, notebook and pen that were on the table. When a sanitized microphone was brought to me to ask a question, I found myself re-sanitizing it. During the tea break we could not hang out in groups because we had to remove our masks to eat. We made our way back to our quiet lonely tables, sat pensively and ate, all the while throwing a wistful eye to a colleague in lieu of holding a conversation. This was very odd. In the past, an event like this would have resulted in at least 10 new contacts. Now you felt like an invader in one’s safety bubble, and you wanted to keep your distance.

Let us examine the case for virtual and hybrid events. If this had been a virtual event, I would have at least made 20 new contacts worldwide. We would all have been very comfortable, at ease and participating in the meeting from home or office with no mask on. The half day strategic meeting would have taken no more than 3 hours because you cannot hold people’s attention for long when online. The attendee numbers potentially would have been larger. An online event would have been cheaper. Finally, the anxiety we felt would have been kept to a minimum.

There are those who say that virtual events will never be as engaging as in-person events because of networking opportunities, the speakers’ ability to read non-verbal audience cues, and so on. This event taught me that we must recognize that the current environment has completely altered the in-person event experience. I have created and attended high impact virtual events. Attendees felt the content was rich, the engagement with global attendees made the event borderless and exhibitors got valuable leads that have generated sales. There are also opportunities for interactive entertainment for the attendees to break the monotony of the event.

Having a creative and well thought out online event design creates opportunities to grow networks and business in a far more reaching way than in-person events.