Take Your Event Online During a Pandemic?
Manager of The Temple of Babylon
The global pandemic has impacted us all, with lockdowns causing many companies to close down temporarily, and online businesses thriving as consumers moved to e-commerce.
According to CNBC, for 60% of all businesses that had to temporarily close down during the pandemic, the closure ended up being permanent. Obviously, not all efforts were met with success, but many brick-and-mortar companies quickly found ways to take their business online in order to stay afloat.
But what if your business model is based on physical presence, and face-to-face contact, such as dance events or trade shows? For the event industry, an online transition seemed near impossible to pull off.
Let’s take a look at how some event companies took the challenge head-on, successfully transforming the way they do business amidst restrictions and lockdowns. And if they've kept any of these new strategies post-pandemic.
The Gardens of Babylon - Organizer of international music events and spiritual retreats
Combining the best of deep house music with spiritual elements, The Gardens of Babylon organizes festivals, events, and retreats across the globe.
Highlights include the Monastery festival in Germany, and showcases in Mexico, India, USA, and more. Villia de Koningh is the coordinator of The Temple of Babylon, the branch of the company that organizes the workshops and retreats.
Of course, at these events, being present to dance and participate is what it’s all about. So as the virus spread from country to country, events planned by the Gardens of Babylon had to be canceled one by one.
For the dance events, envisioning an online shift took time, although fortunately, the Temple of Babylon’s program moved online pretty quickly.
Low investment to take retreats online
Villia: "During the first lockdown, people all went inward, so we wanted to create something to support that deep dive. People were yearning for something spiritual without leaving their homes.”
Taking the retreats online didn’t involve much financial investment, it was mainly sorting out the technicalities. They had teachers from all over the world to host the online classes, and not all of them were tech-savvy.
The team was dealing with bad connections and microphones that didn’t always work, but by the third retreat, they'd managed to make everything seamless and professional.
Villia: "By the third online retreat, we knew what the best settings in Zoom were, and we required certain technical minimums from teachers to ensure professionalism. Our retreats were far from seamless in the beginning, but participants were very forgiving. They were just very glad they could do something, showing up early in the morning for programs that went on all day.”
Demand for online retreats soared, then declined quickly
The Temple of Babylon organized quite a few online retreats during the lockdown, some lasting a whole weekend or even 4 days.
Villia: "We had so many participants, and even though it was all online, people would still open up and share interesting perspectives with each other. The best thing about going online is that we now have people from all over the world participating. In a way, this really made the world smaller.”
While restrictions lasted longer than expected, The Gardens of Babylon also sought ways to bring their dance parties online. There was a huge demand from their community, as other event organizations were already offering live-streamed music.
So, the team organized 2 huge online music events, offering live streams with a full lineup of DJs from all over the world.
People dressed up to dance in their living rooms, waved at each other, and connected with each other just like they did at physical events. Many sent happy messages in the group chat. It was a great success.
However, as restrictions were slowly lifted and travel opened up again, demand for online activities quickly declined.
Villia: "People had been forced to do everything online for so long, they all really got fed up with it. We started offering hybrid events first, eventually moving back to completely physical events when we noticed nobody logging in anymore.”
Are they keeping any of the new online strategies?
Once the world opened up, both the dance parties and full-day retreats quickly went offline again.
Villia: "Face-to-face is always better, so we won’t offer our events online again unless we are forced to. But if that happens, at least we now know exactly how to do it.”
However, some of the shorter, one-hour online workshops are still going strong.
Currently, the company still offers an online mantra singing class, two online yoga classes, and two online HIT sports sessions per week, and participants from all over the globe are still logging in.
Logic Locks - Interactive escape room
Becoming popular in the 2010s, escape rooms are physical team games that require participants to solve puzzles in order to break free from locked rooms.
Alexander Gierholz is the Creative Director of Logic Locks, an award-winning escape room company in Amsterdam. He is involved in the conceptualization and design of the rooms.
As Logic Locks was born from the idea of taking people out of the digital world, the whole team was quite resistant to going online during the pandemic. Initially, they took a break, but after a while, everyone began to feel bored. So they started playing around with ideas, inventing different online activities and testing them.
Little did they know, online escape rooms would eventually become a booming business.
The online rooms quickly became a huge success but required a lot of extra work
Going ahead with the online rooms was a very low-risk endeavor. A high financial investment wasn’t necessary, as they could design them themselves. The only thing it cost was time, and they had a lot of it.
Alexander: "The first experiments we did were so-so. But soon it became fun to work on better versions of the online escape rooms. It was something creative to do, and a collaborative experience with the team.”
When the online rooms were launched, they had an immediate positive reception. Now it was all online, people from other countries could play, and they had some very interesting groups coming in.
Alexander: "We join escape room conferences, as it’s a big international community. So, we had a lot of bookings right away. And yes it created more work because we had to plan extra shifts to match all the other international time zones. People were logging in from Japan, Taiwan, and the USA, people who would otherwise never be able to attend.”
Online escape rooms were soon booming. Even escape room owners were playing each other's games. Because of this, owners became more experimental with their own concepts.
Normally people only had small localized experiences. But now, people were getting inspired by so many different international concepts, and designers were exploring a wider range of rooms and getting new ideas.
Are they keeping any of the new online strategies?
In the case of Logic Locks, yes, for sure! Not only did they adapt their existing escape rooms to an online format, but they also created other online experiences that didn’t exist beforehand. Even after the lockdowns and measures, these games remain very popular.
Alexander: "We have a few different online experiences now, such as a game show called “No Pants Required” and an online game called “The Verdict”, in which players interview a suspect to determine if they are guilty. You then discuss as a jury to decide upon the verdict.”
These games definitely have a future, as they are such unique experiences.
Alexander: "Worklife has really shifted since the pandemic, with people working more remotely, or a combination of both. Companies still want to have options to do team bonding, so our online games are perfect for this.”
CloserStill Media - Organizer of global business exhibitions
Based in the UK, CloserStill Media organizes worldwide business exhibitions, primarily for the learning, healthcare, technology, and veterinary industries.
Christina Zoccoli, Group Event Director at CloserStill Media, has been managing the company’s US portfolio of veterinary conferences for over 3 years.
Most of the veterinary conferences her team organizes are CE-based events, meaning that veterinarians participate in order to receive credits for their continuing education.
Getting thE certification for online learning was a huge hassle
Pre-pandemic, the conferences were completely in-person. After all, the point was to meet people. All the content was built around the exhibition floor, and the agency regulating the CE certification originally didn’t allow online learning at all.
Things got very messy when the team tried to get online courses approved for their vet conferences across the country. While the certification agency started to come up with new guidelines for online learning, the requirements were completely different per state.
Sales demos made online providers look easy, but they were not
Then there was also the whole technical aspect of things. The team had looked at a lot of different online providers, thinking they had found one that was pretty intuitive.
Christina: "I feel like all the platforms looked really simple when demonstrated by salespeople, but they really weren’t that easy to use, it took us a lot of figuring out.”
Once they did, their online webinars performed really well. In the sense that they quickly shot up from 30 viewers to thousands of viewers at a time.
Christina: "First we thought, wow this is easy! You get a lot of people to attend. But there was no aspect of managing a booth, or a way to attract sponsors to it. So that challenge remained.”
Are they keeping any of the new online strategies?
After two online editions, the company switched to organizing hybrid events later in 2021. In general, the team noticed that attendees were tending to switch to online, while exhibitors would still rather see the attendees in person.
By offering the program online, the sociable, networking elements are taken away, so after May 2022, the events will return to being fully in-person.
Christina: "All of our events will go back to the face-to-face format. However, I don’t think we will ever get rid of webinars. Some of our clients still have a lot of success with them, getting the exact turnover or conversion they want. The webinars are here to stay, but as an addition to what we have. We use them to give people a sneak peek of what is coming next at our event.”