The shift to digital that many event planners had to undertake accelerated a revolution that experts call “Events 4.0.”
In the early months of a new year, it’s easy to get swept up in anticipation of what the coming months will bring. However, after getting through last year, which was difficult for everyone but hit the events industry particularly hard, it’s no wonder that event professionals feel some trepidation sprinkled over that enthusiasm. 2020 was a roller-coaster year of cancellations and adaptations. While the industry was put through the wringer in many regards, it also saw some massive changes and advancements that are full of promise.
Meet Dr. Gerard Ryan
To get a more thorough understanding of Events 4.0, I interviewed Dr. Gerard Ryan, Event Management Specialist and author of Managing International Events. We discussed Events 4.0 and what it means for the industry moving forward.
Dr. Ryan, or Ged, has been involved in the events industry for over 40 years, starting off at the young age of 14, playing music in a band before becoming a professional musician. After graduating from university, Ged ran the Merseyside Music Development Agency, a music agency in the Northwest of England, which later became the CreativeBias Agency.
“Then I was offered a position to manage the Cavern Club in Liverpool. It was one of those offers you don’t really turn down if you’ve got any sense. I ran that for about four years. During that time, I was getting invited into the academic world as a guest lecturer.”
After making his foray into academia by being a guest lecturer, Ged completed his doctorate in Events Management Education. An academic career means writing and getting peer-reviewed articles and chapters published. “After that, I wrote the book, Managing International Events, and focused quite a lot on the tech side of things ensuring not to leave behind the operational side of events delivery. We can’t let that disappear, even though the industry is moving towards technological delivery and digital communication”.
This dual focus on the operation side of things, which Ged explains to mean anything to do with the delivery of an event, from the planning phases right through to the legacy phases, and the focus on the digital side of things is precisely what Events 4.0 is all about.
Events 4.0 Is A Vehicle For Further Advancement
Ged says that Events 4.0 (E4.0) was borne out of a model created in Germany in 2011 called Industry 4.0 (I4.0). Event professionals were inspired to use that model because they’d already gone so far towards digitization in the industry. “We’ve moved into a new age as far as events are concerned, so E4.0 is essentially a metaphor for the digitization of the events industry,” Ged affirms.
According to Ged, there are four levels of E4.0 that event planners can work on simultaneously. It’s all about encouraging more and more engagement with the digitization of events because of the immense value it brings to the industry. “Event companies working with little tech (level 1) can engage satisfactorily with companies with a fully digital approach (level 4). The people at level one can get just as good of an experience from it. For example, many people go to conferences and exhibitions and have little idea that they’re actually engaging with so much technology.”
This engagement goes far beyond getting lots of attendees to enjoy an experience. There’s a lot more that technology brings to events now, Ged says, that is provided within events themselves. “It’s not like going to a football match and seeing your team win three-nil. That’s not what it’s about; there’s just so much more. It’s all about your experience of the whole event, from the booking of the ticket and beyond leaving the event. This is what organizers have to realize. Where is the event? What’s the connection with the infrastructure, with the sponsors and supporters? How are you maximizing that?”
Ged went on to give me the example of an exhibitor who is disappointed in the number of people coming to their stand at a trade fair and how data can help them fix that. “It’s all about how we can improve connections throughout the whole experience. The key is communication. It’s the engagement that’s monitored in real-time, and therein lies the benefit. It helps everyone, even sponsors, because they’re seeing more of the value of the event. That’s what makes these online platforms so much more realistic when it comes to future events on a virtual or hybrid level.”
Hybrid Events And Digital Maturity
Ged was quick to point out that E4.0 is not about taking all events to the virtual realm and keeping people at home. “That’s never going to happen,” he confides. “People still want to meet face-to-face and travel — it’s part of the experience. We’re still human, and at the end of the day, we’re social animals.”
The opportunity comes, Ged explains, when you can bridge the gap between the virtual and the real event. “That’s what E4.0 is helping organizers with – it’s maximizing the potential that we have within the events industry. It’s about letting people know that they are tech-savvy already; they just need to do a little bit more self-realization to get even more out of it.”
Embracing A Digitally-Enhanced Experience
Modern football games are a perfect example of the hybridization that E4.0 embraces. “I used to get up on a Saturday morning and go to the match, but now, the experience starts the week before. You get your tickets on your mobile phone, you get invited to go to the shop through your mobile phone, you can even order drinks at half time. It’s a completely different experience and a completely different level of engagement because of these technological capabilities. That’s where the key engagement is. And event organizers realize that this is the way to maximize their event for the experience of the participant – the audience, the delegates, or the fans,” depending on the type of event, Ged notes.
Ged says that it’s this widespread use of mobile phones and other technology that event planners need to pursue. “It’s all about using technology to link people. We can look at the pandemic and say that the only way we’re really going to get over this is through mobile phones and other technology. We need to embrace 5G when it’s rolled out because of the benefits it brings us, both socially and business-wise as well.”
Digital Maturity Is Inevitable
Digital maturity – being knowledgeable about which digital platforms are available and appropriate – isn’t something that people can choose to adopt or not. With the way the industry is going, if you’re engaged with events, you will naturally become digitally mature. Ged says this is a good thing for the events industry. “The more digitally mature event planners are, the better it is for their clients.”
COVID-19’s influence on Events 4.0
While COVID-19 has undoubtedly accelerated the E4.0 revolution, Ged says people were already looking for opportunities to become more digitally mature. The technology was already available before the pandemic hit. “It was just waiting to be taken up, waiting for more businesses to realize that that’s what they needed. The great thing about the events industry is that it was ready to take that on and tap into all of those wonderful opportunities because it was already waiting for us. The explosion of E4.0 has been a combination of the pandemic and the technology that was already there. It’s allowed us to develop areas that might have been a little bit slower to be widely adopted. The pandemic has just made us improve even more. The explosion is not just one-directional. It’s in the uptake, but at the same time, it’s all about the development of potential. We find a niche, and then we work on that and develop it. We’re just improving the events experience again. That’s all we’re doing – trying to make it as real as possible.”
Luckily, Ged doesn’t see any facets of the event industry phasing out in the wake of COVID-19, despite the many changes that have taken place over the last year. Instead, he’s more concerned about the number of event planners who have had to find other jobs and the loss of experience and knowledge this could spell for the industry.
“Most of the people who work in the events industry are self-employed; look at the work of #WeMakeEvents to see the devastating effects the pandemic is having on individuals. If a technician, for example, has had to go and find a job elsewhere, they might weigh up the fact that they get sick pay and annual leave, and the money doesn’t make that much difference at the end of the day. For some people, they might just say they can’t be bothered going back.”
Another way the pandemic hit the industry hard is through the businesses that work closely with event planners like restaurants and venues. “I’m hearing stories about businesses that have closed down in the broader hospitality industry, not just the events industry. Just look at destination management or think of the restaurants that exist in certain places that are closing down now. That’s going to affect the events industry because these cities rely on this infrastructure to attract the best events. It’s all about rebuilding. I don’t think anything is going to dissipate in the sense that it will never be again, but of course, things are going to change and get left behind.”
It’s one of the reasons Ged feels so strongly about the work that #WeMakeEvents does. He asked me to highlight their efforts to get the less glamorous jobs in the events industry properly recognized at Government level. This is certainly a benefit for the industry moving forward and out of lockdowns.
Entertainment events around the world have been devastated, from major festivals, tours and landmark theatres, to grassroots venues and business events. Without major immediate support from national governments, the entire supply chain is at risk of collapse.#WeMakeEvents
Taking The Reins With Enthusiasm
Thankfully, Ged says he is very optimistic about the event industry’s future thanks to their ability to adapt and embrace things like the shift to E4.0. “That’s one of the great things about the event industry – we’re totally open. We literally absorb everything from other industries. The manufacturing industry might have started the 4.0 movement, but we’ve adopted it because the goods that we use have technology embedded in to them. I don’t see any areas that the event industry would ever consider not of value, particularly if it speeds things up, makes things smaller, lighter, cheaper, and more reliable, and has so many other benefits, too.”
Sustainability Is The Next Challenge
In fact, Ged is so assured of the event industry’s coming success with the move to E4.0 that he’s looking forward to the next challenge that the industry should take on: the environment. “We have to fix the environmental issues that surround events, which for me is the elephant in the room. We keep pushing the environmental thing under the carpet. We keep hiding it. We need to use as much effort as we can to fix this for the industry – we have to come up with a solution for that.”
If Ged’s predictions for how well the industry will adapt to The shift to digital that many event planners had to undertake accelerated a revolution that experts call Events 4.0. – this bright new world is anything to go by, I feel confident that event professionals the world over will soon be thinking of innovative and exciting ways to deal with this issue. I’m sure some already have, and I’m thrilled to be a part of such a dynamic, ever-changing industry. The future is ours, and it’s sure to be bright.
Related: 6 Tips For Planning A Green Event