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2022 is the Proving Year for Events

Beth Surmont

My new fear is that in 2022, we will experience a good year. The pent-up demand to gather will lead to people coming back to events. There will be energy and excitement. And we may think we have returned to normal.  

I’m worried that 2022 is going to give us false hope and will keep us from making the needed changes for our events and organizations to survive.

An important part of my job is interviewing attendees and exhibitors across multiple industries and professions about their participation in events. What I’m hearing is that budgets are smaller, it’s harder to get approval, it’s more difficult to prove ROI, and footprints are shrinking. And the value of traveling to an event is in question.

So, in 2022 the booths will be smaller, and we might be missing some companies and attendees. But in the excitement of in-person events, it might not even be noticeable, except to the bottom line.

Then 2023 comes around and budgets have permanently shrunk and metrics for success have changed. So, the show is a little bit smaller. And attendees are questioning why they are getting on a plane for an experience they could have largely gotten over Zoom, so fewer come.

And now it’s 2024. We’re making less money, we’re attracting fewer attendees, exhibitors have smaller footprints, and we are realizing that we couldn’t just go back to how things were before. And by then, it will be too late.

What scares me is that we’ve all changed in the past two years, but our approach to events has not.

As I’ve been traveling to events this year (10 since June!) I’m not seeing any significant changes to how they are organized. It’s the same general session. It’s the same overwhelming number of concurrent sessions with big rooms and only a handful of people in each. It’s the same tradeshow floor that has buzz on day one and is largely empty by day three.

Tradeshows were broken before, and the pandemic has accelerated their decline.

For many industries, we’ve gone for two years without tradeshows, and exhibitors have experienced new ways of doing business that they like better. They are finding that spending the time and money to go direct to the buyers for a one-to-one interaction is cheaper, more efficient, and provides a better return on investment than standing in a booth. It also gives them exclusive access without their competitors present.

2022 is going to be a proving year. Events need to be modernized, customized, and deliver more value.

So, what to do? Here’s my advice for what you should start doing today:

  • Look at your pre-2020 data, are you showing any declines in revenue, attendance or Net Promoter Score (NPS).
  • If you aren’t measuring NPS for your attendees and exhibitors, start doing it now.
  • Use our free tool scoremyevent.com to get a sense of how your show is performing.
  • Take a consultative approach to your exhibit sales. Instead providing a menu of options, start with talking to your exhibitors now about their plans, how their approach to their business has changed, and how you can help them meet their goals.
  • Look at your audience with fresh eyes – do you understand what job they expect your event to do for them?
  • Don’t be afraid to invest. For-profit event and media companies are investing time and resources into capturing your audience. This is the time to reimagine and reinvent your show, so you aren’t left behind.