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The new normal for Holyrood conferences and events

Holyrood Connect awards dinner - Image credit: Holyrood

The new normal for Holyrood conferences and events

Since mid-March all events have been postponed or cancelled.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only touched us all personally and professionally, but it has changed the way that events will be developed, managed and attended for the foreseeable future, and potentially forever.

Holyrood is thinking about what the ‘new normal’ is for events – with a focus on creating engaging and interactive virtual and hybrid experiences and preparing for when we can see each other in person. 

Lots of people have taken part in virtual quizzes with family or friends during lockdown but video conferencing and virtual event technology has moved front and centre to the world of business events too, enabling people to connect, share best practice and continue professional development.

A recent survey of 533 of our past delegates found that 88 per cent of respondents had attended a virtual event during lockdown. 

One virtual platform company apologised for a delay in replying to an email by explaining that they’ve had a 300 per cent increase in enquiries since April.

With this explosion of interaction with events from the comfort of your own home, some people are quite rightly asking whether the in-person event – with travel time and costs – is a thing of the past. 

However, we believe that there will always be a role for in-person events that convene people to discuss topical policy issues and network with like-minded individuals.

Although very good, a virtual event can’t offer the same experience – yet.

More than half (58 per cent) of our past delegates agree with this sentiment, whilst just 19 per cent remain undecided.

Holyrood has invested in virtual technology to allow us to run webinars and virtual conferences and these new virtual and hybrid formats are here to stay.

They will be continually developed to ensure that we are offering the same high-quality content that our events are known for.

But just because it’s virtual, does it mean there is less work involved in the research, the planning and the delivery?

The answer is no. Ensuring the same quality of speakers and agenda content is a time-intensive and skilled process, with different, but equally challenging, types of operational logistics e.g. managing 15-20 speakers remotely with all their needs and presentation materials.

How do you place a value on this? Currently most virtual events are free-to-attend, but if they are to become a mainstream format, commercialising them in a way that provides value for money whilst recognising the development time and commitment to high quality is essential.

Our plans for a return to in-person events will be led by the progress made against the Scottish Government’s route map out of lockdown and the current public health guidance that is issued. It is flexible and may change.

When it is permitted, our approach is to reinstate smaller policy events first. 

These will run with delegate caps and will be subject to thorough assessments and mitigation plans against any spread of the virus. 

We’re thinking and changing the logistics, event format and on-the-day experience of these events to offer the most comfort and confidence. We already have track and trace in place via our normal registration processes.

All our larger conferences scheduled until January 2021 have been moved online. 

This approach was shaped by the levels of confidence that we measured in our delegate survey (issued between June and July, with most responses received before Scotland moved to phase three of the route map out of lockdown on 9 July).

With 62 per cent of respondents telling us that they would feel confident to return to attending events within three months of moving to phase three of the route map, with most confidence in event sizes of 30, this has informed our planning for an exciting conference schedule.

The survey results and our current plans are available to view on

We’ve also gone back to past delegates to see if their levels of confidence have changed as Scotland has made significant progress in suppressing the virus and moved into phase three.

Until the time is right, we will continue to plan, consult and develop our virtual events offering.

Our approach will be flexible, and it will be led by the guidance we receive, emerging evidence of best practice to mitigate the spread of the virus, and the insights that we gain from our delegate surveys. 

During lockdown we’ve planned some exciting event series that will discuss Scotland’s economic recovery post-COVID-19 and Scotland’s climate emergency, in the run up to the November 2021 COP26 summit in Glasgow.

We’ve also got three Holyrood Connect virtual conferences taking place in September and October. 

The future of events is exciting and positive, and we look forward to sharing the improved delegate experience with you.

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