The Future Shape of Live Events - Latest Research Reveals what will work and who will attend

7th August 2020

-       Slight reluctance to travel internationally

-       Males most likely to attend

-       Pre-event communication is top priority, 

-       Face coverings are in and hand shakes left to personal choice.


The question on all clients’ lips is even if live events are planned for 2021, will people want to attend?  Who will attend? How will hosting an actual live event reflect on a brand’s reputation? 

The research team at Identity, an award-winning events agency and MEI member, surveyed potential attendees to establish the latest mood and expectations around live and virtual events



The survey conducted in the last week of July [2020] in the UK, spanned respondents from several industry sectors with 40 percent of respondents from the advertising and marketing sector, 25 percent from entertainment and leisure, and the balance from manufacturing, government, business support, tech & telecoms, and ultilites, energy and extraction sectors. The majority of respondents identified as executive or C level job positions. There was a male bias of 58 percent in respondents and a quarter of respondents were in the 18 – 35 age bracket, a further 25 percent were aged 51 – 64, and almost 36% of respondents were in the 36 – 50 age group.



Almost 80 percent of those surveyed, said they are keen to attend live events in person within the next 12 months. However, nearly half (47 percent) said these events would be within their own country of residence only. Just a third of respondents said they would willingly travel internationally to attend a live event within the next 12 months. While an overwhelming majority, (84%) disagreed with the statement ‘I will only attend virtual events from now on’, a similar number agreed that all events in the future should have both a virtual and live offering.

When asked to consider what measures they expect to be operational should live events return almost three quarters said they would expect social distancing measures to be in place, while two thirds of respondents consider wearing face coverings at live events a necessity, but only 10 percent consider it a necessity to hold live events outdoors.

Four fifths of respondents expect live events to have a cap on the number of attendees but when it comes to hand shakes, the responses were divided  - with over 36% saying that to shake hands or not should be a personal choice, particularly if hand sanitiser is available. Nevertheless prohibiting handshakes was considered as ‘necessary’ or very necessary’ by over 60 % of those questioned. Overwhelmingly, 96 percent of respondents considered pre-event communication regarding health and safety measures as ‘very necessary’.

However the approach to hosting and/or attending a live event, to include conferences, product launches and so on, differs somewhat depending on age group. Those in the 64+ age bracket are less likely to attend or host conferences, summits or any large event in person within the next 12 months, while 90% of those in the 18 – 50 age group are keen to attend.

This highlights the difference approaches that brands must consider depending on the segment they are targeting. There also emerged a slight male/ female divide with men more likely to attend live events, once they return, than females.



When asked what would make them more inclined to attend events, almost all said advanced clearly communicating about health and safety measures in place was key,  68% said face coverings but only 10% said that the events should be outdoors. 

Charlie Hepburn, client strategy director of Identity Group said: “This points to the ultimate importance being placed on advance communication, keeping attendees well informed and ensuring they are aware of the expectations and restrictions in place before committing to attend the event. Interestingly, the idea of hosting events indoors, as opposed to outdoors, does not seem to provoke any reluctance to attend.“

A further two thirds of respondents said they expect to be offered free cancellation on tickets. 

“Whether this can be achieved for all live events remains to be tested, ” commented Identity


The Future of Events

When considering the future shape of live events, respondents were very vocal with their opinions, with hundreds of additional personal thoughts being shared. Nevertheless the over riding output was the feeling that virtual events could never replace live events. 

When asked whether all live events should have a virtual offering too, only 10 percent agreed. While almost 80 percent said they would expect to pay less to attend a virtual delivery of a live event, and only 8 percent said they ‘expect to pay the same to attend the virtual delivery of a live event’. 



While over 70 percent of respondents agreed that ‘virtual events can be exceptionally creative’, over 80% said that they ‘cannot replace live events.’ with 84 percent of those questioned agreeing that engagement at live events is superior.  Nevertheless over half (56%) consider the future of events as offering a blended or hybrid delivery, with 79 percent of respondents said that brands need to offer both live and virtual attendance options for all events.

One respondent said: “Hybrid is the way forward but live will always be top in delivering memorable experiences’’, while another respondent said “ I’m yet to see a virtual event I have been inspired by’, and another saying; ‘the Covid situation has created a realization that virtual events can replace at least SOME live events’ 

Hepburn said: “It appears that people really do miss live events. The reality is people miss meeting up and no amount of creativity can replace that.

 “That said it is important to point out that clients can get extremely accurate digital statistics from a virtual event, in terms of click off rate, heat maps engagement time, viral sharing and so on.”

When asked how they feel about a brand if it hosted a live event post lock down, like a conference, product launch or exhibition, 22 percent said they were neutral, 65 percent they would have positive feelings towards the brand, while 11 percent said it they would have negative feelings.

Delving further into the reputation of a brand or organisation hosting an event post-lock down (with health safeguards in place) 58 percent considered it ‘progressive’ with just over half of respondents agreeing that it would give the brand increased exposure. Less then 10 percent felt that such a move was ‘irresponsible’ or could ‘damage the reputation of the brand’.

“There is a hunger for the return of live events. In part this is because it would herald a return to a life pre-Covid, but the results also underline the importance to real life meetings and engaging with each other. Don’t we all miss it? 

 “When live events do return the take-aways from this survey might help somewhat in preparing for and understanding the expectations of potential attendees,” concluded Hepburn



Identity, based in Eastbourne, East Sussex, is a highly creative full service live and virtual events agency. It delivered the UK’s biggest and most prestigious events of 2019, to include international events for the Canadian and UK Governments, the NATO Leaders Summit, the Get Ready for Brexit campaign among many other high profile events. It was awarded the UK’s most prestigious accolade with a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade due to its incredible international successes. Identity delivers events, live and virtual, for blue chip brands and companies around the world working with likes of Harley Davidson, Google, New Balance and Siemens. By constantly pushing the creative and innovative boundaries it has continued to grow international sales and expand its enviable client base.

 It also achieved a ranking in the latest Sunday Times Virgin Atlantic Fast Track 100 table – the league table that ranks the top 100 British companies with the fastest growing sales. Identity has its HQ and 30,000 sq ft of production facilities in Eastbourne, East Sussex.