To gather or not to gather? That is the wrong question to ask
As curves flatten and restrictions ease, many training providers, event planners, and program managers are asking: Should we go virtual or wait to run the event in person? This is such a limiting question. Let's look at a much better question - one that opens up a wide realm of possibilities.
The right question to ask
The question you want to ask is...what is the best way to achieve our purpose for our participants? This question leads you to design and produce experiences that surprise, delight, reward, engage, and adequately equip participants.
The key is to be specific about the purpose and the outcomes you want for your people.
Declaring networking as a purpose is too generic. What do you mean by networking? What do your participants really want? Do they want to glad-hand with as many others as possible or do they want to make meaningful connections and start forming long-term relationships?
If your purpose is to inform, consider why your participants want the knowledge. What do they want to do with it? Why is it valuable to them? For example, if they need it "on-demand" to do their jobs, hearing it once from a sage on the stage probably won't do. They'll need time for some forgetting, rounds of active recall, and practice recognizing the moments it's needed and applying it appropriately. Some may need it as a reference - so having it curated and easily accessible would be of the most value to them.
If your purpose is to motivate, consider to what end? Do you want to motivate participants to act, adopt new mindsets; or are you providing a "reward/recognition" for their achievements? Is the motivational speaker the gun going off at the start of the race or the icing on the cake after? If the former, will a single dose be enough, or will they need boosters throughout the year? If it's attitude adjustments you seek, perhaps daily nudges and cues are in order?
If your purpose is to build skills, think about what it will take for participants to gain sufficient competence and confidence. How will they use those skills? What are the stakes if they are not fully capable? Answering these questions gives you the real-world context you will need to simulate as well as the amount of rigor, repetition, practice, and feedback you will need to provide.
Think And not Or
Chances are your purpose is some combination of networking, informing, motivation, and skill-building. So, pick the right means for each aspect of your purpose and weave together a phenomenal journey for your participants. Instead of thinking you have to have either an all virtual or all in-person program, consider the possibilities of a hybrid. Some outcomes might best be achieved through virtual components available to the broader audience while smaller in-person gatherings accomplish local relevance, real-world application, and foster community.
What you craft could be a blended journey that adds far more value than a one-shot event.
Improve Your Offering and Expand Your Reach
Taking a step back and reimagining your offering might shine a light on some of the shortcomings you hadn't realized about your in-person event. What an incredible opportunity to create an even richer more impactful experience for your participants!
Get excited! By asking the right questions and planning for purpose, you could come out of this with a new offering! This might be the time you expand your reach - impacting more people from around the world than you can pack into a single venue at any one time. Move off the mindset that what you create now is temporary. When travel and gathering restrictions are lifted, you can go back to your "old way" PLUS have new ways to meet the needs of your participants!