Are we ready for the return of face-to-face events?

Written by Caroline James

14 October 2021


Caroline James, responsible for Client Engagement, shares what happened when we tried to bring back our Storytelling Academy in person this month, after 18 months of virtual events.

The Government’s ‘work from home’ message has ended, and many of us are dipping a tentative toe back into the workplace.

The consensus on the PR grapevine, social media, and the press is that it’s time to return to a new kind of working normal.

That’s certainly true at Berkeley Communications, where have moved to a hybrid working model as of October, making flexible the ‘norm rather than the exception.’ We are starting to see evidence of a return to work already, with busier trains and roads and more cars in the carpark.

Until COVID-19 struck, our Storytelling Academy ran regular workshops, which we’re proud to say, even had a waiting list.

Chris Hewitt, our CEO, and Chief Storyteller ran a series of virtual events during lockdown, but as anyone who attended our pre-pandemic Academy will tell you, there’s nothing like meeting face-to-face, bouncing creative ideas off each other, and leaving four hours later with a big smile on your face because you’ve bonded and made new friends.

Just ask Gillian Thompson, Channel Marketing Manager at Epson. “The event was very enjoyable and made me think how I could incorporate stories into my work to make more compelling business presentations and propositions. Chris was very engaging and an entertaining teacher, bringing his insight and wealth of PR experience to the training course.”

But what happened when we put on our first in-person workshop?

Last month, the Storytelling Academy put out new dates for September to be hosted in our Reading HQ, London, and the US.

Spaces for our Reading workshop filled up almost immediately, but when the team confirmed with our clients two weeks before the event, this number had dwindled to two, something that had never happened before and took us by surprise.

My first thought was that everyone was too busy after the summer holidays. Then I got to thinking, perhaps being forced to work from home during the pandemic had made us all realise that we could do what we had previously thought was impossible and have a work/life balance.

The demand for online events isn’t over

Now that we can go back to our offices, the seismic change has left many of us questioning why we would want to do long commutes, to the office, or to events, when the time could be used to improve our lives by spending more time with families, pursuing interests or other personal commitments.

It turns out I wasn’t too far wrong. After making a few calls to clients, the feedback was that they had little appetite for a live event. Despite living within an hour from the office, they had grown accustomed to online events and felt no urgency to take a half-day off to attend in person.

But in-person meetings still have fans

As it turned out, after a few more calls, we still had a few people happy to fill the empty seats, and it was with great pleasure that we welcomed six clients back into the office last week. As always, the Storytelling Workshop was a big success, with attendees excited to learn new methods to tackle challenging situations through storytelling and swapping contact details.

Chris Hewitt, our CEO, said: “It was fantastic to run a live Storytelling event and meet our clients in person again. One person did not attend the workshop due to a cold, which is something that wouldn’t have happened before COVID-19.”

One of our new team members, Gaynor Pengelly, a Senior Content Writer, was excited to attend the workshop. She said: ‘It’s when you enter the room at a live event that you realise how important it is to meet in person. The buzz, creativity and getting to know people leads to wonderful energy and a vibe that’s difficult to replicate online.”

So, why so much apathy when it comes to leaving our home desk to meet face to face at a live event?

Could it be that we are working harder than before?

Are we concerned about the virus and cautious about attending live events?

Is there a wealth of online events at our fingertips, and we no longer feel the need to travel?

Or could it simply be that the traditional working week has gone, and we are embracing a new hybrid normal?

Answers on a postcard please.