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More than three-fourths (76%) of corporate executives say they currently are using or plan to use virtual events to replace their physical events in 2009, and most predict a steep decline for in-person trade shows, conventions and training seminars, according to a survey by ON24, Inc.

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The survey of more than 10,000 enterprise execs asked about planned 2009 use of traditional, in-person events vis-a-vis virtual events such as webinars and virtual shows. Results show a significant shift from physical to virtual events. ON24 said this is likely because of the sagging economy, but also because respondents say online participation offers more convenience, flexibility and additional capabilities.

Regarding the shift from physical to virtual events:

  • 42% of respondents expect participation in physical trade shows to be down by as much as 50%.

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  • 64% expect to have fewer physical sales kick-off seminars – or none at all.

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  • 60% expect training, management and other internal events to be down 20% – 50%.
  • 76% said their company has already begun using virtual events (53%) or plans to begin using them (23%) to supplement some of their physical events in 2009.

Vitual Events Convenient, Flexible

Cost savings aside, the survey finds that while 61% of respondents say they would miss seeing people in person, less than half would miss traveling to other locations (34%), enjoying the social activities (36%), or seeing speakers in person (20%).

Moreover, they note a number of advantages to virtual events in terms of convenience and productivity:

  • 75% appreciate that there is no travel required.
  • 64% like the fact that they can attend the virtual sessions on their own time schedules.
  • 58% found it useful to be able to “forward” to their colleagues virtual sessions that they thought would be of interest to them.
  • More than one third cited the social networking benefits of virtual events, including the ability to see a list of all attendees in advance (35%); to contact other attendees online throughout the event (40%); and to get information on people (32%) and companies (34%) they meet electronically.

“While physical events will always be an important part of a company’s overall marketing, training and management strategy, virtual events have definitely reached their ‘tipping point’ in today’s business world,” said Denise Persson, ON24’s CMO. “The current economy makes online events alternatives very compelling, since they usually cost only a fraction of a physical one. But an equally important trend is that many employees are already participating in online social networking groups. They are as comfortable developing relationships online as in person, and they prefer the greater amount of information and sharing that online events provide.”

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