The Virtual vs The Physical: which event is best?

07 October 2021

Rachie McCarthy

3 mins


Christmas is swiftly approaching yet again, and we all know what that means; the dreaded office Christmas ‘do. Whether it’s dreaded for the awkward icebreakers with co-workers you don’t really know or dreaded for how you’re going to feel the morning after, they’re sure to be memorable. But last year’s parties looked a little different, didn’t they? Forced to isolate from everyone and spend our days online made virtual events the only way to get our social calendar fix. But now that the world is opening up again, will virtual events become a thing of the past? There’s no denying that there’s nothing like the atmosphere of a live event, but the ease of going virtual can be equally appealing. Let’s take a look into virtual vs. physical events, and why there should be a perfect balance between the two.

First and foremost, let’s look at what sadly everyone looks at first: money. It’s easy to guess which event option is cheaper. Not only might you have to pay for travel to physical events, but hiring a space, catering, music, entertainment and staff can quickly empty your coffers. Whereas with virtual events, not only do you avoid those costs, but you can funnel that extra dough into something equally important to boost your event; speakers.

Tying into travel too, with that spare money and the lack of need for travel for your guests, you have the opportunity to hire a much broader crop of impressive guest speakers for your event. Furthermore, with a physical event even the smallest thing can throw someone’s schedule off or stop them from making the event altogether. Bottom line, virtual can mean the difference between a low-profile name nobody has heard of, and a sector leader that will impress all your attendees.

But don’t you worry, this isn’t a blog post all about bashing physical events – they have an equal number of pros and cons as virtual events. Let’s flip it now and see a reason why a physical event could work better for your organisation than its virtual counterpart. The biggest, and will likely remain that way, benefit of a physical event is the interaction. Nothing beats face-to-face, even if you’re staring at someone smiling at you through a screen. After many hours of emails and phone calls, finally being able to shake a contact/lead’s hand is the final step to solidify the beginning of a relationship with that person, be it a long term or short term one. You can only get to know someone so much through a computer – even a video call maintains a certain rigidity and artificiality to it. The atmosphere of being in a room full of exciting new connections simply can’t be replicated through zoom or skype.

Another pro of virtual events is the flexibility. I already talked about how going virtual makes travel restrictions a worry of the past, but the flexibility they allow extends far beyond that. People from different time zones can take part in the same event, and if it’s at 4am where they are, nearly all virtual events can be recorded and watched at a later time. This means that no one misses out, and they can all watch it when they want. Not only that, but the fact that all virtual events can be recorded means it can be accessible all year round. You can even offer it as a package deal with other events, turning them into a webinar series (get that extra ROI!).

Physical events present not only an opportunity to form face-to-face connections but allow a much easier way to spread information and branded merchandise around than in a virtual event. When you’re on zoom, either everyone is talking at once or a designated speaker is doing their thing with the rest of the attendees muted. Essentially, there can’t be any crosstalk, or everyone’s audio will become a total mess and no one would get a word in edgeways. It doesn’t exactly create a relaxed environment that encourages the mingling that networking so desperately loves. If you are in a physical event however, the number of different conversations you can have in one day/night increase tenfold. You can choose who you want to talk to, then 20 minutes later walk away and start talking to someone else, or a group of other people. In the end, you’ll walk away with a lot of new connections, each remembering you easily due to the full interaction you had. Chances are if you’re in a virtual conference with a bunch of faces you’ve never seen before, they’ll remain just that. Faces on a screen. However, if you do want to follow up with them you can always jot their name down and give them a call, so all is not lost.

Yes, the pros and cons of physical and virtual events is rather a long list. But as we go on opening the world up once again, some of us are reluctant to let virtual events go due to said pros. Enter the glorious solution: the hybrid event. Like Hannah Montana herself, you can truly have the best of both worlds by combining the two to create an event that’s accessible to as many people as possible, whilst still maintaining the same level of interaction and connectivity that a physical event brings. A hybrid event usually consists of a live conference or talk, where attendees can watch remotely as well as attend in person. This not only has the same travel restriction, time zone benefits of a virtual event, but also opens up the amount of people that can attend the event. Hybrid events are perfect for those that want to keep virtual events in a way that also returns the world to normal a little.

So, there we go – are you going to host a physical, virtual or hybrid event? Undoubtably each has its positives and negatives, but regardless of which you choose, each will build meaningful connections to further your organisation. What I’m trying to say is, it’s time to party!

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