How the world of events is changing as it’s forced to move online

Salma Hayek and Colin Firth at Eco Age 2020

Due to the pandemic, the days of IRL events, networking and capturing exclusive content may be behind us for some time

Remember the days of attending events? Attending a real, physical experience where you could meet with brands, PRs and marketing departments. You could chat to your peers over a plastic cup of tea or glass of warm Prosecco, and bag some delicious content for your platforms while you were at it. But now, events are essentially big throbbing hubs of germs, and everything is being forced to move into an online, virtual world.

How are events unfolding now, and is there any point in hosting them at all if you can’t experience them in real actual life? InChief spoke to Elle L after she attended Eco Age’s Green Carpet Fashion Awards to find out what she thought.

The event was hosted by Robert Downey Jr and guests watched via live stream. Usually held at the end of Milan Fashion Week and scooping up all the famous types already in the city, this year it didn’t matter where the guests or speakers were located, as it was all broadcast onto our laptops. But how does that work out for you when you’re a creator who needs to network and create content?

Hi Elle, so firstly, tell us about this outfit. You submitted it as part of the green carpet for the event – but did you actually wear it to watch the live stream?
Yes! This year, I wore a dress from one of my favourite independent designers EKI On Silk both before and during. The look was part up-cycled and inspired by nature from a new collection entitled #RESET. For my contribution to the digital activations around the green carpet I had to submit the look before the actual event, but I also wore the dress during the event as I wanted to feel authentic. I purposefully chose a look I’d be comfortable in so I could wear the look at home without feeling overdressed. I think I would have felt strange if I was in my pyjamas, though I was watching the live stream on my TV, so nothing would have stopped me from doing so.

How did the event play out, then, did every guest get the same streaming feed?
The event itself had multiple ways to watch and at various times. Sky Arts were playing it, we had The Fashion Channel on YouTube live streaming and Now TV offered On-Demand, but only if you have a subscription to them. Different platforms were offering a portal to the event depending on which territory you were tuning in from. I think for people that didn’t have that information directly from EcoAge, it may have been more challenging to keep up. I watched the stream of it on the TV with my boyfriend who would have been my plus one. Being a plus one at a digital event is definitely not the comparable invite to attending in person. It’s not yet an interactive experience for guests.

How did you feel it compared to the IRL events?
The challenges, I think, are that it’s hard to feel as connected as you would if it wasn’t happening virtually. There was great outreach from the EcoAge event team to keep us up to date on activations that we may not have realised were happening otherwise. That takes a lot of time and will have to be factored into new event strategies, but I think we’re really just at the beginning of this. It’s also more inclusive because a previously exclusive event is now open for anyone who can live stream it, so on a global perspective it’s definitely more inclusive, but I think it feels less inclusive for those who are actually due to attend as you’re not actually there witnessing everything unfold first-hand. 

What kind of content were you able to get from it, seeing as you were on your sofa and watching the same thing as the other guests?
I think it was also a learning exercise for me in a strange way because I posted my look on the day, but I think what I found challenging is that I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and the idea of self creating content is great when you either have a budget or you have time to do your absolute best, and this didn’t really lend itself to that but I’m glad I could contribute. I think especially for a project like EcoAge who are advocates for change and celebrating personalities leading the way, it’s so important to support however I can.

What about networking, could you meet anyone new or say hi to people at all?
When I posted the look I got lots of DMs both from people I know and don’t know, which was great as the purpose of these types of activations is often to ignite a conversation and intrigue. I think when you can’t network physically, your presence on social media is even more important. The conversations that you can have may not be with people who would have attended the event but they are with people who share a passion in the same space as you and want to connect.

When you network at an event there’s that amalgamation of people that you’ve not met before, or that you know a little bit and would like to get to know a little bit more. That didn’t happen. But what did happen is that there seemed to be a much bigger pickup in the bigger conversations happening. There were definitely more people than usual buzzing in my digital network.

How do you see the world of virtual events unfolding as it continues?
We’re at the beginning of this, and this isn’t an art form that has been nailed just yet. I think it’s a very interesting development to be at the early stages of the evolution of how we are going to witness events going forward. I think they will continue to be streamed on platforms like Sky and on YouTube. I believe those partnerships will continue to grow, become more dynamic and I hope more interactive too. I also think there will continue to be digital activations that will manifest and be an important player around the events themselves, but I do think the existing physical event is still relevant. Though we may expand to allow a window in these events and in doing create a more inclusive platform for many to attend digitally, I think the real event is not to be forgotten about.

This new-age that’s been accelerated and somewhat forced by the pandemic, leaves scope to be even more thoughtful on the physical side of things, that could be an opportunity to create even more intimate and personal experiences for those in real attendance. I don’t think the element of real life should be forgotten and if it’s able to come back safely it can work in harmony with digital technology for a more immersive experience. I think we have to utilise the moment to re-build more creatively and also greener… It’s in many ways more eco-friendly to not fly so many people around the world to events, so that is also a silver lining and something that may, I hope, come more into play in the future too.

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