Eva Talk

The Growth of Hybrid Events With Merijn van Buuren

The event industry is becoming increasingly aware of the need to be inclusive and to ensure every attendee has the same quality of experience.

Hybrid events are designed to meet the needs of two different subsets of people – those who seek out in-person experiences, and those who prefer to attend an event remotely. In addition to increasing attendance and offering valuable data insights, hybrid events also reduce travel costs for attendees and improve accessibility without any additional cost to the organizers. 

As hybrid events continue to gain traction, flexibility will likely be a key theme in 2023. With the advancements in coming-of-age technologies, hybrid events are expected to grow rapidly.

As part of the event experts series, 10times asked Merijn van Buuren, CEO, Event Mender to share his expert viewpoints about hybrid events, event technology, and the trends shaping the events industry right now.

Additionally, he discussed various marketing and production tools that event organizers can use to create seamless hybrid experiences.

About Merijn van Buuren

Merijn’s first steps into the world of work landed him in the hospitality and events industry. Prior to the pandemic, van Buuren worked for an events company that focused on in-person events, which produced around 22 events a year, with his own focus being on the opportunities and value add for sponsors.  

Currently, he is developing a tool that takes out all the guesswork for event organizers. This tool will be a fully customizable one-stop shop for organizing wildly successful and profitable events. From speaker acquisition and marketing to AV services and virtual platforms all in one central place.

* Could you please walk us through your professional journey? What attracted you to the events space in the first place?

It all started with music. I’m a big lover, but since I didn’t like the pauses after a song ended and started again, I started to experiment with DJing – mainly for myself – and this eventually resulted in my circle of friends and family requesting my music services at any ‘event’ where music was needed. 

At the same time, I worked a lot in hospitality. I started in restaurants cleaning the dishes, got to be a waiter, worked in the kitchen, and eventually also ended up working at different venues and festivals.

Whilst I enjoyed this work very much, I always was looking for ways to start my own business, and due to that reason, I ended up studying global/international marketing and sales in Rotterdam. I embarked on being a marketing/sales consultant working in various industries.

After doing this for a while, I found myself working at a physical event company, finding ways to improve sponsorship packages, pretty much taking them from a cost-based approach to a value-based approach.

I really enjoyed working with them, but when the pandemic happened, it, all seemed to come to a stop. Nobody knew what to do other than postpone all their events. Luckily I had previously helped a company to figure out a way to facilitate investor meetings online using Zoom. 

This allowed me to suggest finding virtual solutions to still host their events. The biggest event of the year was due in two weeks at that point, and with a green light from the management, I pulled this off, retained 2 million in sponsorship value, and realized this must be the future of the industry.

The management didn’t feel the same. They believed everything was going back to in-person the following week. Good thing another event-organizing company reached out and asked me if I could help them transition all their physical events to virtual.

Here I made the decision to go all-in, start a new company branded Virtual Positive, and help event professionals to transition to virtual during the pandemic. This was a fantastic journey, but after helping event organizers during the pandemic, I realized there was a cap to how many companies I could help.

I decided to find another, more scalable approach. After expanding my network and talking to many event professionals in different parts of the world, it became clear that I wasn’t the only one that struggled to sort all the different event platform solutions and narrowing them down to the one(s) that were a perfect match for the events I was helping. 

This is the reason why since Jan 2022, I started to build Event Mender, a platform with the goal to make the whole decision-making process a lot easier and transparent, whilst at the same time connecting the event industry as a whole. 

* How do you see events and venues changing post-covid?

Like many say: the industry right now is kind of a pendulum swinging between virtual and in-person events. This is definitely the case. During the pandemic, we all went virtual, directly after the world opened up a little bit most went back to in-person, and we now see a (small) decline in in-person events again. 

This will eventually get to an equilibrium, where a combination of both will be the go-to solution. In-person will stay for the foreseeable future, but having to pivot to virtual during the pandemic opened the eyes of many event professionals in terms of: inclusivity, additional reach, sustainability, and more.

In regards to the impact on venues, you already see that many venues have enhanced their technical capabilities to ensure they can facilitate all the needs for this. At the same time, both venues and event professionals have seen that the expectations from the audience are much higher than ever before. A generic setup in a “boring” environment is no longer going to cut it.

Both parties will therefore have to keep innovating in terms of event design and experience to keep attendees coming back to in-person events and simultaneously to make sure their virtual attendees feel like it’s worth their time. 

Long story short – the quality will increase, events will be more and more outside of the box we have been in for way too long, venues will become more exciting, and most likely, this will also result in more exclusive/intimate settings with a higher quality audience attending them in-person, and the broader spectrum of participants join them online/virtually. 

* While planning hybrid events, what should event planners focus on?

We actually wrote an article together with 55 event professionals to get this question answered from all different perspectives and backgrounds in the industry. It’s still relevant to this day, so I highly recommend reading it: here

I learned from hybrid events and the input of this article that the most important part of hybrid is realizing that you have two different types of attendees – virtual and in-person. And you have to find ways to engage/interact with both audiences so that everybody feels included/part of the event and valued the same as the other type of attendees.

It’s two different storylines within the same book. You go through the same steps, but just from a different perspective. As many know, this doesn’t have to be simultaneous (although I would highly recommend it), but however you approach it, you have to consider the journey of both characters/audiences. 

* What do you see as the biggest trends defining the events landscape right now?

The biggest trends are: Taking action on DEI and Sustainability whilst embracing Technologies to do this. 

* If you could give event planners one piece of advice, what would it be?

Events are the core of our global economy. We bring people together, foster relationships, and build new business connections. Right now, we have the possibility to redefine how we execute this and the willingness of many event professionals to actually make this happen. 

Please don’t fall back into “the old way” of doing events “back to how it was.” You have shown how resilient you can be and beat all the odds by coming up with creative out-of-the-box solutions that improved the quality of your events for all involved. 

Don’t let go of this power, stay creative, keep innovating and let’s take the event industry as a whole to the next level together!

For more in the Events Industry Experts series, check out our interview with Jen Salerno, CMP, DES, Harris Schanhaut, CMEJanice Cardinale, Courtney Stanley, Helen Moon, Danica Tormohlen, Ashley Brown, Jason Allan Scott, Brandt Krueger, Corbin Ball, Will Curran, and Stephan Murtagh today!

Are you interested in sharing your insights or viewpoints with the events industry? Join the Eva Talk.

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