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The Return of In-Person Conferences, Tradeshows and Events

By Christy Uher Ferguson | December 29, 2021 | 4 Comments

TradeshowsTech and Service ProvidersEvent Marketingdemand generation

Technology marketers optimistically budgeted for the return of in-person events in 2021. In the latter part of the fourth quarter, Gartner saw the slow return of this delivery model, however, the impact of the last two years will permanently shape the future of these marketing programs.

Businesspeople wearing masks for safety


In spite of Omicron and potential exhibitor cancellations, conference and event hosts are committed to hosting in person events in 2022.   As in person events return, technology marketers will complement these events with digital components in addition to stand alone virtual events.  By  2024, Gartner predicts that 30% of technology providers with at least $100 million in revenue will extend their reach to additional audiences and roles by shifting to a “virtual-first” event model for both first-party and third-party events, compared to less than 5% before the pandemic. 

The transition to hybrid delivery is likely to dominate event strategy discussions in 2022.  To improve the impact of these events, agile event strategies must be developed that anticipate and plan for quick pivots as warranted by external market forces.  These strategic discussions must include a roadmap to shift to 100% virtual delivery models if in-person event cancellation becomes necessary. Before hosting in-person or hybrid events in 2022, technology marketers should also consider:

Regional Status and Ongoing Management of the Global Health Pandemic

Technology marketing teams may be inclined to rely on regional protocols, however, don’t overlook the criteria attendees will use to determine if your event is worth the risk to them.  Speak to your attendees or conduct a survey to find out what protocols they’d like to see in place before attending a conference. And, consistently communicate these requirements to ensure all invitees, registrants and attendees are familiar with them through dedicated communications and webpages.

Lower In Person Attendance

Don’t conflate the desire to attend with the ability to attend.  Technology marketers must consider the target audience’s ability to obtain travel budget in addition to employer approval to attend in light of the current environment. 

Budget Impact

When hosting hybrid events, meal and offsite budgets may decrease, however, meeting room rental space and audiovisual budgets are likely to increase. Bringing digital and in-person audiences together requires not only the event technology platform to deliver content, but also the appropriate AV equipment to ensure that the on-stage, in-person content is captured and streamed as high-quality digital media.  This may also require renting space earlier than expected to allow for the AV team to access and set up the required equipment. 

Success Metrics

Often, event success is measured by volume; however, this must shift in 2022. Conferences will not look like those hosted in 2019, as attendance is expected to be lower, which requires technology marketers to redefine success metrics. New success measures may include level of engagement within target accounts, progression of pipeline deals and customer retention.

Over the next two years, event strategies are expected to evolve rapidly. Technology marketers must develop long-term agile strategies that reflect the impact of the pandemic on future events. 

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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  • You said, “Often, event success is measured by volume; however, this must shift in 2022.”

    Within the IT sector, I’m wondering if part of this shift will be significantly lower in-person event attendance by senior business decision-makers, while the majority of attendees will likely be lower-level technical influencers.

    What are your thoughts about attendee demographics? Do you see the forward-looking mix of attendees evolving for in-person events? Will the more senior buyers favor virtual online events?

    • Christy Ferguson says:

      This will likely depend on the context of the event. For example, clients tell us they are reaching new audiences with their virtual programs, expanding user conferences to senior level leaders and expanding business events to end users. As we look to the future, we expect that when hosting user conferences that draw end users, travel budget justification will be a critical element. We’d expect to see more robust justification marketing programs for this audience. Senior level business decision-makers may be more apt to obtain travel budget, however, the content relevance and desire to travel will be key.

  • Rob Mitchell says:

    I don’t frequent in-person conferences, trade shows, and events but its not for lack of desire. Its more about time, travel, and costs. Sure, the in-person experience is the “selling point” and measurements of that are the ROI.

    IMO, a very similar example than many folks have experience, is virtual/distance learning for younger students. It just doesn’t measure-up in value to being in-person with peers does it? Can technology help? As a techie, sure it can help but never really replace.

    IMO, one of the biggest detractors as a virtual attendee is that we’re treating like lower class citizens in mixed hybrid events. What I feel providers keep missing is the opportunity to provide quick/automated breakouts and rejoins as a serious ROI that even an in-person event cannot provide. My .02 is any company or mix of tech that can provide more personable experience that’s really tailored for subscriber, it turns a passive viewer to an active participant. One such model (still not great, but on the right track) is “live” TikTok or FB live events; they’re at least starting the n-way trend between viewers and presenter.

    As a Gen Xer, I still have old-fashion desire to attend in-person, but there’s just too many obstacle in the way and will resign to event recordings and occasional virtual attending (sigh).

  • Pete Stroman says:

    I’m very torn on this. On the one hand, after all the time in homeoffice and digital meetings I would enjoy an in-person event very much. On the other hand, I fell like it is still not completely safe to attend events again. However, I agree with you on the thesis that marketers (not only in the technology sector) need to adjust to the challenges of the pandemic rather than waiting for it to end, because I’m afraif the virus is here to stay.