The show must go on — even if virtually!

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on July 23, 2020

If there was one industry that was written off when the Covid-19 crisis began, it was the events industry. Every year there are thousands of meetings, conferences and summits. Last year, in India alone, the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions) business was pegged at ₹25,000 crore with a growth forecast of 8 per cent year-on-year.

Of course, with cancellations galore till early next year, the forecasts are no longer true. But don’t write off the events industry. They seem to be regrouping fast using technology and new digital tools. Virtual events complete with meeting rooms, auditoriums, expo hall are the new norm. With each day, the digital shows are getting more razzmatazzy, as witnessed at the OnePLus Nord launch event, with augmented reality coming into play.

The fact that new players like B2B listing platform TradeIndia are jumping into the virtual events fray shows the opportunity and potential.

From August 5 to 7, TradeIndia is organising a three-day trade show, Covid-19 Essential Expo India. Exhibitors — mainly SMEs and MSMEs — will showcase a range of Covid essentials, from masks to PPE kits, to sanitisers to AI solutions for social distancing and cleaning robots. Sandip Chhetri, COO, TradeIndia, is ambitiously expecting one lakh visitors to the virtual trade show, which will have around 60 exhibitors.

As he points out, virtual events have expanded the reach and scale of trade shows. There is no cap on the attendee numbers. Noticing the upsurge in listing from SMEs on the platform during the last three months, TradeIndia decided to jump into organising an event. The reason for the growth in listings, feels Chhetri, is that many small enterprises with practically no online exposure have been forced to digitally transform and board virtual marketplaces.

Ranjit Raina, CEO of Geometry Encompass, WPP’s experiential network which is into events, experiential marketing and brand activation, insists: “We are resilient.” As he points out, live virtual plays have taken place during the lockdown, as have digital concerts, virtual townhalls and conferences. “School teachers have become performers,” he exclaims.

Engagement quotient

Isn’t it tough to keep audiences engaged virtually as opposed to during live events? “You can weave in spot polls, insert film clips, and do so many things through technology to increase engagement,” he says.

The virtualisation of events has led software firm Zoho to revamp Backstage, its offline event software to manage digital shows. “When the event industry first started going virtual during the lockdown, a lot of the needs were met by meeting software,” says Praval Singh, VP, Marketing and Customer Experience, at Zoho. But very soon needs escalated and Zoho realised different events needed different solutions. So it now has a range of offerings, from Zoho Meeting and Zoho Showtime to Backstage. The latter has end-to-end capabilities starting from pre event (including sending out invite mailers, doing registrations, checking in people and sponsor management) to post event (analytics and follow-ups).

“Used in tandem with other Zoho products, we can even hand out e-certificates to attendees,” says Singh, describing how at a recent event for veterinarians where registrations came from 60 countries, customised participation certifications were created at the click of a button.

Of course, there are lots of other virtual event solutions in the market. As Raina points out, “Virtual events are not an invention of the Covid-19 era. They have been around for long.”

However, the new needs have led to more innovative tools and solutions and a better experience.

Published on July 23, 2020

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