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Matt Franks, director of events at DRPG

Changing value of face to face communication

by Matt Franks, director of events at DRPG (pictured).

The release of the government’s roadmap has been a talking point with the vaccination programme, prompting a catalyst for the return of in-person experiences. A big focus is on festivals, exhibitions and events.

What we’ve seen is the appetite to attend such events. For example, Live Nation sold over 170,000 tickets for 2021 UK festivals within three days, and we continue to see interest peaking in other events and gatherings.

So, is this just a result of being cooped up for so long and everyone is desperate to do something, or does it signal the value of face to face and in-person experiences?

For me, it’s the latter, and this is key to corporate events and experiences. Whether it’s a conference, exhibition or brand experience, the need for such face-to-face interaction is vital.

People are typically social creatures who are hardwired to connect with others. Research by neuroscientist Matt Lieberman finds that when people’s minds are at rest, they default to thinking about other people and relationships. If the feelings of isolation and being physically distanced in recent months have brought anything into sharper focus,  it's that people miss feeling connected to others.

The opportunity for face-to-face interaction is one of the most compelling reasons people choose to participate in events, exhibitions and experiences.

These experiences enable us to learn, exchange ideas, innovate, challenge the status quo, and most importantly physically interact with the experiences which in turn has a great impact on our thoughts and feelings. Leveraged correctly all of these points provide us with the opportunity for great ROI.

While there is likely to be an appetite for face-to-face experiences, there will also be more expectations and more challenge.

I would predict audiences will want to understand from the outset what is expected from them and what they will get in return for investing their time. Questions that need to be answered include: what’s the benefit of being there in person? Why can’t I watch/join remotely?

The landscape has changed, and therefore the way we design experiences needs to change. We refer to it as the ‘Precious Gift of Time’. From the outset, we need to value the importance of time in every direction, e.g. the time for a business to release employees, the time invested by the individual. By treating it as a precious gift, we are more likely to be respectful and design our experiences to use it wisely.

Pre-pandemic, we saw the rise of autonomy, and this has magnified with the desire for personalised learning experiences will be greater than ever. Humans have a natural need to feel in control of their surroundings and what happens to them, and by giving autonomy we increase motivation and the desire to participate. The key will be when designing events and experiences, no longer including a rigid event agenda. We need to allow an opportunity for people to make choices. It will be a balance of essential ‘must do’ experiences and enhanced user selected opportunities.

So while we need to embrace the return of events, let’s create more meaningful experiences that people crave to be part of, even when the novelty factor has worn off.

As we sit today, we are experiencing an increase in enquiries, yet there is still hesitation on when to commit. Based on what we are seeing and hearing the likelihood is corporate experiences will give breathing space from the magic date of 21 June to early September, which is when we’re likely to see higher confidence in and a greater appetite to engage in corporate experiences.