As 2022 comes to a close, the Sequence team is reflecting on this year of transition — when IRL events returned in full force, when attendees’ goals and priorities evolved, when budgets and supply chain challenges changed the way many event professionals work.
Here, members of our team reflect on the many lessons learned this year — and how we’ll carry them into 2023 and beyond!
1. Live events have a new focus on community and connection.
Overall, our team observed a renewed focus on building connections at events — particularly in person. “With so many months in 2020 and 2021 focused on virtual events, the increase in live events this year proved to be an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues, with causes, and with attendee's communities and physical spaces,” says Sequence Account Lead, Lindsey Smith.
Danielle McSherry, Creative Production Manager at Sequence, adds that this desire for community — along with attendees’ shorter attention spans — is ultimately leading to some format changes. “We're seeing the old event formula (cocktail hour, sit-down dinner, speeches) fade away as folks are valuing the time to make meaningful connections rather than listening to talking heads,” she points out. “This has allowed event professionals to explore new ways to structure the flow of events, utilize exciting themes and interactive components to cater to the demand of attendees, and keep events feeling lively and fresh.”
Sequence’s Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder, Lizz Torgovnick, agrees. “Attendees seem to be appreciating the focus on experience impact; connection with their colleagues, clients, and industry; and ideally, getting away from the typical longer-form programming for more interactive and more streamlined formats,” she notes.
Guests are also becoming more selective about which events they’re willing to attend in person — and Lindsey finds that aspects like a unique location or unconventional format are enticing potential attendees. The most successful events, she found, “emphasized their opportunities to connect with attendees, whether it was through 1:1 networking, choose-your-own-adventure style agendas, or a combination of programming and more social-based activities or experiences,” Lindsey says, predicting “These themes of community and connection will continue to build in 2023.”
2. Hybrid events are the new standard.
Despite the renewed power of live events, the Sequence team predicts that hybrid events will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. “Many enjoyed the flexibility to attend events virtually,” points out Lizz.
Sequence’s Director of Technical Production, Vincent Morello, describes hybrid as “the new standard.” “The flexibility it provides to clients in generating program content, combined with the ability to reach audiences across the world, has become an essential production element for our clients — and it’s no longer possible to be competitive in this industry without being able to deliver meaningful and engaging experiences on both fronts,” he argues.
Danielle agrees, citing the far-reaching power of virtual elements. “We are able to reach a much wider audience with events than ever before,” she says. “Having some type of virtual element (whether it be an live-stream, or an interactive online portion), allows our clients and brands to continue to connect with audiences globally.”
3. Though there’s still a place for fully virtual experiences.
The team also notes that virtual-only experiences still serve a useful purpose, particularly as employees and companies continue pivoting to remote work. “Oftentimes streaming a live event virtually does not offer the same sense of community as a dedicated virtual meetup (and more than anything, can make the viewer have FOMO!),” points out Lindsey. “It is critical to offer both in-person and virtual events to engage unique audiences — but also consider producing events dedicated to being a fully virtual experience, or a fully live experience, in order for your audience to feel as engaged as possible.”
4. Tech is opening new doors on the design and production side, too.
Advanced technology has obviously made a huge impact on the way we produce events — and Vincent points out that the most cutting-edge features extend far beyond virtual and hybrid production elements. “The continued advancement of what’s possible to do with projection mapping blows me away,” he says as an example. “We’re in a bit of a golden age here. Projectors are brighter and clearer than ever before, and mapping software continues to push the limits on what’s possible.”
He continues, “When talented and creative folks really get to run with projection, it makes for some of the most awe-inspiring, immersive, and impactful visuals a guest might experience.”
5. Popular event trends are centered around unplugging and a return to nature.
On the flip side, though, many event attendees this year wanted an escape from their tech-driven lives. “I was surprised to see outdoor events take center stage this year, as well as the importance placed on ‘unplugging,’'' observes Danielle. “These two important values that we saw repeatedly throughout 2022 led industry professionals to consider unique and smaller venues, which allowed for more targeted event messaging and a more successful experience for attendees.”
6. Diversity and sustainability are more important than ever.
Another welcome trend this year? More and more clients are prioritizing “a more inclusive, diverse, equitable, and sustainable industry,” notes Lizz. “I hope that everyone will see the value of these things beyond the bottom line.”
Lindsey adds that while seeking sustainable practices and finding less wasteful ways to break down events can take some extra effort, “the impact can have ripple effects across industries. When we've implemented sustainable practices such as donating, storing and reusing, returning unused items, or packaging our event supplies in reusable cartons, our clients, vendors, and venues have commended SEQ for our efforts,” she says. “The more we lead by example and encourage our partners to evaluate their waste, the more impactful these practices can become.”
(Bonus: Read more about Team SEQ’s favorite sustainability hacks here!)
7. Shorter timelines and higher costs continue to impact the industry in major ways.
While live events have returned with a vengeance, the effects of the pandemic continue to create unique challenges like rising production costs and supply chain shortages, notes the Sequence team.
Lizz emphasizes the particular challenges of shortened lead times. “RFPs are coming in last-minute, we have less and less time to turn those around and make them stand out,” she explains, adding that labor and supply shortages and budget challenges have also added to the challenges. “Vendors cannot discount, they cannot honor past pricing, and many are turning away work — so we just don't have as much ability to ‘make it work’ as we once did.”
Danielle notes that those challenges “forced us to think creatively in entirely new ways. … These hurdles forced us to reexamine how we plan an event, and the type of partners needed to ensure flawless execution,” she says. “The biggest lesson to come out of 2022 is: COVID is not gone but we have evolved with it — and that means our budgets and strategies have evolved as well.”
8. Tempered expectations and strong vendor relationships are key.
Despite the challenges, the Sequence team finds that honesty and transparency are always the best policy. Lindsey notes that educating clients on the current reality — from higher venue and hotel expenses, to staffing issues, to increased timelines — is essential. “Level-setting with clients and partners about these increases was a really important exercise this year, and will likely continue to increase into 2023,” she predicts.
Vincent, meanwhile, emphasizes the power of strong vendor partnerships. “When events came to a halt in 2020, many smart, talented folks who made successful careers as production freelancers suddenly found themselves without work, and without a clear indication as to when things might return to normal,” he points out. “When things did finally start to come around, many of these skilled folks had physically relocated, established themselves in other industries, or flat out retired. The result was an increase in labor rates, availability, and, in some cases, productivity.”
The solution? “Building and maintaining close relationships with seasoned, professional vendors has been more important than ever before,” he stresses.
9. There will always be a place for live events.
Despite the ongoing challenges, the team is optimistic about the future. Personally, Lizz thinks that the lessons learned from virtual, particularly around attendee engagement, can only improve gatherings of all types.
“Ideally this experience just serves to broaden our horizons for in-person and appreciate what can be done [IRL] which can't be done virtually — and vice versa!” she says, adding that in 2023, she hopes clients will either spend more money on fewer, more impactful experiences — or, do the opposite and thoughtfully use resources to reach people more intimately where they are.
“I think the key there is strategic thought and a more intentional focus on the ‘why,’” she explains. As for the Sequence team? “I want us to keep growing the team, keep learning, keep improving our systems, keep creating work we are proud of, and keep getting the amazing opportunities we seek from the amazing clients we love to work with,” she says.
When Vincent reflects on 2022, he’s most blown away by the resiliency the event industry has shown. “To say it’s been a difficult period for production would be an understatement, but our human need for connection and experience saw demand for a return to live events with a tenacity that was unlike anything in recent memory,” he says. “We’ve not cleared every hurdle, and there may yet be some rocky roads ahead as we continue to navigate the emerging post-pandemic reality — but live events aren’t going anywhere.”