The eleventh-hour cancellation of HIMSS20 made a big splash throughout the healthcare IT industry. Exhibitors, attendees, and HIMSS were all scrambling for a Plan B to mitigate the loss. Now, months later, with more event cancellations, postponements, and moves to virtual venues under our belts, 2020 is shaping up to be a very different sort of year.
This sudden shift in focus has forced us all to reallocate the budgets, staff time, and lead generation plans that would have consumed the spring. It turns out, much of this can be seamlessly transitioned online. Indeed, the majority of events, focus groups, and pre-scheduled meetings that this medical coding company had planned for have all moved online with relative ease and little disruption.
Questioning the future of trade shows
Given the rise of customizable online marketing and the ease of using social media and video conferencing, there has been speculation for years about the future of trade shows. Yet despite a constant stream of think pieces on the topic, in-person events were growing an average of 3.5% a year before COVID-19 hit, with projections for that growth to remain steady through 20231.
What a difference a few months can make.
New thinking, new opportunities
This year’s pandemic-driven hiatus has given event organizers the opportunity to explore virtual platforms, invest in online educational content, and figure out creative ways to host focus groups and roundtables over the internet. And on the attendee side, virtual events have created new opportunities for those working in the busiest of organizations, and those constrained by smaller budgets. Whether you view an educational session before your workday starts or peruse the online exhibit hall over lunch, more people than ever have access to the benefits these online events can offer. Content also gets to live longer online. In-person sessions are often an “attend live or miss it” scenario, while virtual platforms allow presentations to be viewed for as long as the organization wants.
The challenge of making real connections
What has been hard, or plain impossible, to replicate are the networking opportunities that come from being in an active exhibit hall. We all realize that social events and team meetings on Zoom are less satisfying than seeing friends or colleagues in person. Similarly, meeting new peers in a random coffee line, or approaching them because a graphic in their booth caught your eye, are tangible, in-person interactions that all the technology in the world cannot replicate. And that influx of LinkedIn requests that came at the end of March? They may have resulted in a solid connection or two, but these approaches to relationship building often feel “salesy” in a way that live interactions do not.
We fully expect that in-person events will eventually come back, but the virtual platform is here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, visit our Ideas blog to watch recordings of recent IMO webinars on topics like streamlining surgical workflows and getting the most out of your EHR investment. Anytime. No mask required.