Event professionals know that IMEX America is an important show. Whether you're able to attend or not, everyone knows it’s one of those industry-defining landmark events, the kind where literally everyone gets together to do business.

Needless to say, this year’s edition of IMEX was even more important. After two years of cancellations, it was the very first large gathering of the global event industry to collectively ponder a scary yet exciting future.

Bottom line? Events have changed. 

Event planners become experience creators

By the spring of 2020, “the new normal” was thrown around haphazardly. But as far as events go, there really is a new normal.

Event organizers are embracing every tool available as a way to connect people — whether it's digital, pre-recorded, in-person, or hybrid. And with the pandemic still happening with different levels of intensity in many parts of the world, the concept of planning events has never been more fluid than it is today.

The event strategy playbook, it seems, is being rewritten. For some, that’s a scary proposition. But for an industry that’s traditionally struggled to break the mold and showcase its creativity, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

This paradigm shift has been made possible by tools organizers and planners can use to power shared experiences we couldn’t dream of two years ago. As industry legend Corbin Ball said to me, “We have gone through the most explosive period of innovation that I have ever seen in the 24 years I have been watching event technology full time.”

Goodbye FOMO, hello event communities

Everyone wanted to discuss community and what it means to be inclusive. Many demonstrated their approaches — including Hopin, who participated in online-only sessions with a dedicated host and live-streamed programming from our booth for people who couldn’t attend.

It was evident that the digital revolution has created more exciting opportunities for attendees to engage with events. Before the pandemic, the typical event lifecycle was basically some social media buzz and a big event. That’s it. After the excitement faded, everyone would wait for next year’s event to start the cycle over.

Now, thanks to event platforms like Hopin, there are many more opportunities for engagement. Attend in-person, join remotely from home, follow the chatter on social — it doesn’t matter. This will not only create a stronger sense of community for your attendees but lead to economies of scale for creators everywhere.

This new normal is exciting for many reasons but the ultimate benefit is our ability to reduce FOMO (fear of missing out).

Over the past two years, FOMO has become a mental health issue (something we take very seriously at Hopin) and the digital tools our industry relied on during the pandemic will help us manage the stress it creates for our communities. Attendees can freely choose a level of engagement they’re most comfortable with, one that works for their needs and fosters belonging. 

Cool stuff, huh?

We’re not out of the woods yet — and that’s okay 

The future of our industry is full of possibilities but let’s be clear about one thing — creating shared experiences today is far from straightforward. Many planners and organizers I spoke with anecdotally reported their recent event attendance was 50-60% of what it was before the pandemic.

If we’re going to come back stronger than ever, we need to be strategic about our approaches in-person and hybrid.

I spoke with two leaders in the event community at IMEX to understand the thinking behind critical decisions they made and turn them into practical solutions for you to implement today.  

A blueprint for in-person events during a pandemic 

In-person events are making a comeback. But with the pandemic still happening at various levels of intensity in different parts of the world, event professionals have to carefully consider the risks and plan against uncertainty.

That’s what SaaStr Senior Vice President and General Manager Amelia Ibarra did in September. Long before the agenda, her team focused on the health and safety of their community.

“There wasn’t a blueprint,” Amelia said, “But in the end, the community responded well.” And indeed they did. The annual tech conference was the largest event in the San Francisco Bay Area since the start of the pandemic.

But when billion-dollar startup founders and tech giant CEOs with massive social media followings and mainstream media coverage attend your event, the margin for error is razor-thin. So I asked Amelia to tell us what event professionals should know if they want to follow her lead:

  • Recognize there will be challenges: After reading the research saying transmission risk was lower outside, Amelia opted for an indoor/outdoor venue. The solution, however, introduced new challenges for her team, who had to figure out how to build trade show booths that can withstand the elements and get WiFi coverage for the parking lot. 
  • Establishing health and safety protocols: In the months leading up to SaaStr Annual 2021, the rules to follow for health and safety kept changing. Restrictions were lifted then reinstated. Local policy modifications and exceptions were being made frequently. Unable to keep track, Amelia and her team established health and safety measures to guarantee compliance: masks mandatory indoors, vaccination checks, and rapid testing.   
  • Setting and managing expectations: Every event needs to set and manage expectations for attendees, vendors, sponsors, and more. But with the thoughtful preparations to assure the health and safety of their community, SaaStr Annual 2021 was going to be very different. 

Hybrid is powerful, but it requires strategy

More than standalone hybrid events, organizers are embracing the concept of a hybrid event strategy — one that mixes in-person and virtual and then synchronous hybrid, whenever needed.

Gitlab Director of Corporate Events Karen Hartline learned a lot about hybrid event strategy over the last two years. When I spoke with her on the show floor, she was adamant, saying “Hybrid is something everyone should be aware of right now because it is the future.”

When it comes to hybrid, however, Karen encourages event professionals to be thoughtful in their approach. Her advice? Think of your hybrid event as two distinct experiences. Each experience requires a separate strategy, budget, and staffing. “If you’re doing a simultaneous event,” she says, “do you have your customer service person who is in the booth also managing online customer service? Probably not.”

The future of events is the freedom to choose

IMEX was the first opportunity for many of us to understand what the new event industry looks like. We got the message loud and clear: Creating shared experiences is about freedom, freedom to engage our audience however we want.

Attendees are also vocal about their freedom to attend any event — however, whenever, and wherever they want. And with a partner like Hopin, you can say we hear you and we can’t wait to make it happen.