Swag Ideas, Trade Shows

Founder and CEO of The Vendry Talks Trends in the Virtual Event Space

The global pandemic of 2020 has changed the way event professionals are creating engaging experiences for their clients. We spoke to Daphne Hoppenot, CEO and founder of The Vendry, about how event planners have responded to changes in the industry, and which trends are likely to continue into 2021.

Tell us about The Vendry! Who makes up The Vendry community?

The Vendry is a professional network and marketplace for the corporate events and experiential marketing industry. We support event pros in the day-to-day of their job with the latest industry news, job postings, resources, and online forums where they can engage with their peers. When they’re actively planning an event – whether it’s in-person, hybrid, or virtual – we offer them resources to find inspiration and a marketplace where they can source the best venues, agencies, and vendors.

Clearly COVID has had a big impact on the events industry: what have been the biggest changes you’ve seen in the last 6 months? 

Obviously events going completely virtual has been the biggest change. It’s been really exciting to see how much investment has gone into the event tech sector, allowing people to still gather, share experiences, and exchange ideas virtually. 

One change I’m seeing right now is that companies are ramping up their budgets for virtual events. When the pandemic hit, there was so much uncertainty around the timeline for a vaccine and the return of in-person events. It felt like all events teams were either put on pause, with their budgets frozen or re-allocated, or their execs expected them to put together a virtual event for little to no cost. 

Now, we feel like we have a sense of how much longer the pandemic will go on, and companies are also putting together their 2021 budgets. They’re feeling the need to engage the clients, prospects, and employees they haven’t seen in months. Corporate teams on The Vendry are telling me they’re being given more budget and permission to think big and try to replicate that wow-factor that they’ve always had at live events, but in this virtual world.

What are people doing to make virtual events engaging? What are some creative things you’ve seen?

For the most part, I’ve seen virtual event engagement fall into three categories:

  • Meet and greets with someone special. This is usually a celebrity, but it can also be someone interesting from another country, industry, etc., that the audience wouldn’t easily be able to interact with in-person.
  • Edu-tainment offerings with an instructor teaching the audience a new skill set like “learn how to play poker from a pro.”
  • Shared sensory experiences. Virtual tastings, meditations, musical experiences, and more.

Related: Ideas for Planning a Virtual Halloween Party

What was your favorite virtual event / experience from the last year? Why?

To be honest, it was probably our first team experience at The Vendry doing a virtual cocktail making class. It was fun, and it was still novel. Like “wait wow, this is fun even if it’s over Zoom.” 

In general I find intimate virtual events and experiences more rewarding. You still get to look people in the eye as you engage and you are forced to put down your phone and stay present. The challenge now is to continue to dream up new, creative ideas that maintain that feeling of novelty when the barrier to entry is so low. Anyone in the world can visit a winery in Napa, which is awesome, but it also means that soon it becomes old news and we need to find the next cool virtual experience. Virtual events are highly accessible, and events have historically thrived on offering something that feels unique and exclusive to their audience.

Related: Virtual happy Hour Ideas

What do you think the event planning space will look like one year from now?

I’ve been trying to follow what behavior has changed that will continue in a post-COVID world when these artificial constraints on the industry are removed, and I have a few thoughts. 

  • People are used to consuming content virtually now more than ever. When in-person events come back, they’ll need to have a strong experiential or networking factor that can’t be replicated from the comfort of a sofa, or else their value proposition won’t be attractive. The days of me taking a subway just to watch an interesting panel and then subway home are over. 
  • The line between in-person and virtual is more blurred than ever. When in-person events come back, it’ll be totally normal for a high-profile guest to livestream in to an in-person event to give a talk or join a fireside chat. That line between in-person and virtual only blurs further with more events using augmented reality to layer a digital experience over the real world. 
  • Work is going to go more remote. New, permanent work from home policies that major companies have adopted are going to trickle down as other companies try to compete to keep the same talent with the same level of location flexibility. What that means is that there will be more internal events, both virtual and in-person to help employees develop the social bonds that are so critical to team culture, communication, and motivation.

How have you seen people incorporate swag in creative ways into their virtual events?

I thought Allied Experiential wrote a wonderful piece about how important it is for virtual events to maintain a consistent aesthetic for their speakers, and offered their advice on incorporating swag and other branded elements into the background to give the audience a continuous feel throughout the event.

I also love when swag becomes experiential itself. Something as simple as sending branded wine glasses for an at-home wine tasting to sending employees a tie dye kit with branded white swag and having an instructor walk the team through the process together.

Last but not least, I love seeing swag used to gamify the attendee experience. You can give away swag to people who ask the best questions, or get the most retweets about the event, or visit a certain number of virtual trade show booths.

What are you doing to make virtual events more engaging? Reach out to blog@swag.com for a chance to be featured!