Reinventing live: 2 case studies in post-pandemic events

Alex Sword


The Financial Services Forum

During the pandemic many organisations, including the Financial Services Forum itself and its parent company Incisive Media, were able to rapidly pivot to an almost entirely digital event programme.

In the aftermath, attendance habits for in-person events have changed considerably as remote working looks set to remain one of the lasting impacts. While there had been hopes of combining the benefits of in-person and digital events, in reality, the high cost of hosting a hybrid event to a standard that would actually induce people to tune in has given organisers pause.

The FSF spoke to two organisers of upcoming events about how they have reinvented events for the new era.


Money 2020 – Proudly in-person

Money20/20 was founded around ten years ago as a large-scale event to bring the fintech ecosystem together, from banks, venture capitalists and regulators to start-ups.

The event eschews a hybrid approach. Tracey Davies, President of Money20/20, argues for the importance of having people in the room for an event. The brand has other ways of doing digital outreach, including its Web3 report and its podcast MoneyPot.

Like Mobile World Congress for the telecoms industry, the event prides itself on not just on its content but on being a place where deals get made.

“You’re in the room or you’re not there,” she says, arguing that meetings, both planned and serendipitous are crucial. “We can do a lot digitally, but you can’t replace human connection, which is a very important part of deal-making.”

After being forced to cancel its planned 2020 programme due to the pandemic, the organisers ran two events in Europe and Las Vegas during the autumn of 2021. Tracey says the events were “a little smaller but not much smaller” – attendance at the Europe event was down from 6000 to 4000, while in Las Vegas it was down from 10,000 to 8,000.

What people actually do at the events has noticeably changed. There was a huge surge in the number of meetings booked through the official event app, increasing from 1500 to 7000 at the Europe event.

Tracey says that more people were “snacking” on content, standing at the back of rooms and watching for a while to decide whether they wanted to come in.

“What we don’t know is whether this is a blip or a trend,” notes Tracey. The plan is to redesign stages slightly accordingly, providing space for both people who want to sit or stand.

Engagement via live Q&A app Slido had increased, and Money20/20 focused on choice by offering more medium-sized stages as opposed to one big stage and several little ones. There were new formats allowing people to get closer to the speakers, as well as secret stages.

“People expect [the content] to be wrapped up in a fun and creative way, with a lot of format experimentation.”

The days of the humble PowerPoint presentation are dead, she says.

“You’ve got to think about different ways to engage – you’re in competition with a mobile phone.”

While Tracey says there isn’t a TED Talk-type formula for speakers, the organisers engage heavily with speakers to make the sessions as engaging as possible. For example, sessions are kept to a 20-minute maximum. Money20/20 also used the same application process to find panel moderators as it did for speakers, meaning it was “inundated” with applications.

“We wanted to widen that pool. We also wanted to find some specialisms – you do need to really know the topic to get good content out of a panel. You can get groupthink.”

Tracey emphasises the importance of labelling sessions well so that it’s clear what people can expect. The main stage focuses on thoughtful and inspirational content from which any attendee could take learnings, while the planetarium stage focuses on a deep nuance of fintech such as blockchain.

2020 was obviously a tough year for the event industry as a whole, but Tracey says sponsors were supportive. As for the future, Tracey stresses the importance of the show continuously evolving. The show offers a new updated look each year and there is more of an effort to engage people all year round with a range of content.

Money20/20 takes place from 7 to 9 June 2022 in Amsterdam.


Fintech Week London: Partially hybrid

Innovate Finance’s Fintech Week London ran its first event in June 2021. The event included some sessions that were hybrid and some fully digital. CEO Raf De Kimpe says that it was clear even immediately after the pandemic that “people needed to be together to network, to discuss and to let things happen by accident”.

Looking ahead to this year, FWL has rowed back from the full hybrid model, however. Raf estimates that it may have cost twice as much as a purely in-person event to run.

“Everything last year was offered equally both in person and online, because it had to be given the nature of restrictions to travelling and numbers attending,” says Raf. He says that creating a full hybrid event with the same quality for both audiences is “almost like producing two events at the same time and can be quite challenging from an operational and budget standpoint.”

“Fully hybrid events aren’t sustainable for the industry as a whole, especially if you want the quality in production to remain as good online as if they are in person.”

This year, Raf says: “Fintech Week London will be focused on being a live, physical event but with a virtual offering with video on-demand containing the prime content and event highlights.”

While he believes people are keen to attend in-person events, there is a demand for better quality.

“It’s evident that people are demanding better quality because we all value our time more now and giving up this time, travelling and associated expense, has to be really worthwhile. I would even dare to say there are more people excited about attending events now than pre-pandemic.”

Raf argues that “there was a little event fatigue” prior to the pandemic.

“Not every event in the fintech space attracted the high quality of both attendees nor speakers and some were becoming too commercial,” he adds.

He says ticket sales figures for the July event are positive so far. His prescription for an event that people will want to attend is ultimately high quality content and networking opportunities. He believes this should include not only space for networking but also the opportunity to meet speakers, ask questions and learn from peers.

One example is Fintech Week London’s ‘Dragons Den’ opportunity, which allows five selected companies to pitch to Angel investors in front of a live audience.

There is also a focus on ensuring panels include genuine debate rather than simply an “infomercial.”

“Remember that people really need a valid reason for leaving their own house versus going to an event. What attracts people is the things you cannot plan from computer, such as the adhoc meetings and introductions. It’s important to make sure the event programme breathes and allows for the serendipity encounters that people are looking for.”

The event will be dealing with six key themes, including open banking, digital sovereignty and the relationship between big tech and big banks.

Fintech Week London takes place from 11 to 14 July in London.


Image: Sushiman

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