Events 2020/21 - Lessons We’ve Learned


As we approach the first anniversary of the strangest year of my existence, I thought it would be a good time to look back (not always advisable!) and consider some of the amazing advancements the events industry has made to combat this global pandemic. As we cagily move into 2021 we’ve already seen shows like CES going fully virtual and still managing to produce headline moments and innovative ways to engage audiences and showcase the worlds hottest new tech. With vaccines being administered across the UK and some areas globally there is hope for the return of large scale gatherings in 2021, its simply a matter of when…. I put my crystal ball into storage back at the end of last year so if you’re here for mystic Arch you’re going to be disappointed.

The Home “Office” Culture…
Going to tackle this one first up as it’s something I have been discussing a lot recently with both businesses hiring at the moment and job seekers. Having spent the majority of the last year working from home I have found it certainly has its pros and cons. Being a recruitment professional, by nature, we love that office interaction and sales floor buzz. It keeps us going! However, when it comes to event design and delivery, I know that having the flexibility to work from home allows that creative, strategic or logistical thinking space. The agency “family” culture is still vitally important for building comradery amongst your workforce but giving your employees the trust and empowerment to WFH is a popular one amongst the job seeker community. 

With the likes of Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Google Hangout, the ability to liaise with colleagues is a mouse click away. Wifi dependent this is just as productive. Demanding your staff to attend the office full time is a thing of the past. MustardXP covers clients across the UK, Middle East and Europe, who are opening up their talent pools regionally and globally for this very reason. Exciting times for those looking for work as you shouldn’t be restricted to your geographical area!

The Emergence of Virtual Communities
The headspace and time were given to innovation and producing highly integrated platforms and forums within the virtual events space have accelerated quickly. Speaking to those businesses creating virtual platforms, they are telling me how amazing the reach will be for brands moving forward for those looking to attend the event but even more exciting is the ability to engage with visitors and those new connections made long term. The ability to develop long-standing relationships through these platforms is a huge breakthrough and not one to take for granted. Targeted social campaigns within these groups and an opportunity for brands to get even better value from the events they attend or organize. 

I can see small, medium and large scale events embracing this level of aftercare for their attendees and delegates. Creating virtual communities before, during and post-event is the future. Fully branded with engaging content empowering consumers to communicate and collaborate well after the event has taken place.

Gaming Technologies in Events
AR and VR… Nothing new here as events have been incorporating these kinds of experiences to engage delegates and visitors for quite some time now. Bit of a gimmick in my opinion. However, since this rapid shift into virtual, it has enabled shows like CES to allow visitors to “experience” what is traditionally an interactive and hands-on show. After all, currently, any visitors to these shows, now in the comfort of their own home, have the choice of closing their browser and heading off to make a cup of tea and respond to a few emails. Finding ways to engage is key and this is just one of them.

My team and I have been working with several design studios creating virtual realms for attendees to immerse themselves and walk around, attend meetings, webinars, demos or participate in games. Taking gaming engines like Unreal Engine and Unity into the events world is only the beginning. I’m referencing CES a lot here but given it’s the largest digital event ever hosted (so far…) it has a few worthy case studies to draw upon. Sony has attempted to revolutionise the live music/performance experience virtually. I enjoy attending gigs and music festivals so it certainly doesn’t replace the real thing but pretty cool nonetheless. This kind of tech is being used in movies too so a natural investigation from the events world was incoming. Fans will be able to view the Immersive Reality Concert Experience on PlayStation VR and Oculus VR, and as an immersive 2D experience. Scary or cool? 

Mental Stability and Wellbeing
I thought I would touch on this as I am sure we’ve all had some moments through this year where the walls have closed in on us a little. Personally, I’ve found getting outside for a walk a few times a day is a powerful remedy for this. The pandemic has brought new stress factors, including health risks, unemployment or economic hardships, isolation, upended routines, and demands for new roles and skills.

How is this relevant to events you ask? Well, as part of virtual experiences organisers have begun to incorporate break out sessions for yoga, brainteasers and meditation classes. Most shows or events attended in person can last a full day so expecting attendees to sit in front of a screen for the same period is unrealistic. Encouraging or offering these kinds of relaxation periods is a great way to reflect on learning but also to take a step away from digital content. Upskilling is something we encourage on XP, any guidance from organisers too is a must to best position yourself whilst job seeking. The emergence of job titles like “Virtual Event Producer” or “hybrid Event Manager” and “Digital Production Manager” spring to mind. It’s important to get yourself exposed to current virtual trends so get attending.

Through the voices of Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough, the global climate issue is now front and centre when it comes to planning for the future. The events industry has struggled with its image on this topic over the years, however, over the last 12 months, we’ve heard and seen how the future looks bright for events and falling more in line with sustainable processes for design and delivery. Hosting events digitally has a close to zero environmental impact, however what about when we can all run and play outside again? Here are just a few ideas…

1. Restrict the number of attendees. Virtual events are here to stay for a while now and given the global travel restrictions in place, this will have to be implemented. Brands and businesses will have to seriously look at whether they feel their delegates should attend physically or virtually and be held accountable.

2. Material selections. I have been fortunate enough to work with a B Corp business who’s aim is to design and deliver fully sustainable event spaces using recycled materials. The last year has enabled greater research and understanding of what materials can be used and recycling / reusing old spaces.

3. No paper! With developments to apps and platforms now, there isn’t a need for paper handouts and forms. These can all be done online and communicating through virtual communities.

4. Eco-friendly swag! Less of the pens, rulers, rubbers and stress balls, please!

I’ve only touched the surface on a few lessons we’ve learned here and they could, of course, be vastly expanded on. However, I think it is clear to me now that all the hard work, resilience, dedication and entrepreneurial spirit event professionals have brought to global experiences this year, gives me confidence and hope that the industry will thrive once again. With the desire for physical interactions higher than ever, I believe all of those that have been left without work for this period, either through redundancy or furlough will be back to working on physical events in the future. Fingers crossed it’s this year but only time will tell.

This blog was written by Archie Harvey, Associate Director - mustard XP. For all things Exhibitions, Experiential, Events, Museums - Live & Digital, Archie can be contacted on either 0117 284 0071 or at 

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