OK planners – are you ready for the future? Caution: it’s not going to be a return to the good old days of 2019. You’ve heard this – and want to dismiss it as futurist saber-rattling. Those of us old enough to remember the uptick of “video conferences” in the late 70s and early 80s know we survived that fad, and many such since. And despite it all, we continued to rent our ballrooms, manage our room blocks and set our F&B guarantees. Yes, we moved registration on-line, upgraded our a/v equipment and perhaps reduced the trees we kill with the move to mobile apps. However, we also effectively skirted innovation and any wholesale change to the way we do business. Until COVID.
For meeting professionals across the country, our 2020 livelihood was dependent on environments in which content can be shared. We shifted to alternate delivery methods, including webinars, Zoom calls, and virtual meetings and exhibits. We strategized with stakeholders and clients to redirect how communications generally delivered at a meeting were shared. We adapted what we
know about sharing content and adult learning, changing the pacing of meetings from multi-day gatherings to digestible digital servings. We took time to optimistically and critically rethink our meetings, including challenging their essential components, what may be dispensable, and what we’ve been missing. All the while, we worried that virtual had finally overtaken us, but were reassured by talk of pent-up demand for face-to-face gatherings, with their energy, spontaneity and the joy of human interaction.
In a word, we have been forced head-first into a new career path. Face-to-face events are starting up again. Do we return to them joyfully, and ignore what we learned about the digital substitutions of the past year? Are we obliged to embrace the mixed audience model of hybrid events? Can we just settle back into our previous roles?
Let’s look at this question from a different perspective.
Not why we can’t go back, but what’s the downside of continuing to include digital components into our in-person meetings?
“Hybrid is more expensive.” There’s an increased cost to produce the equivalent of two meetings (one in-person, the other for a remote audience).
“People won’t attend.” The audience will be diluted: if we give them the opportunity to stay at their screens and not have to travel – they’ll prefer that option.
“How will my meeting make money? Won’t participants and sponsors want the digital experience to be free?” What other financial models are out there (versus the standard registration and sponsor budget buckets)?
However, this is exactly the self-talk of an industry determined to stay mired in the past.
Change is hard and innovation may require investment, both of money and time. All of the above points demand we provide in-person experiences that are worth the expenditures of travel and time to attend, and digital experiences that engage at a similar or higher level expected from attending in-person.
The past year, advancements in the virtual space accelerated at supersonic speed. As things settle down in to a more comfortable pace, it is our responsibility to leverage the best of technology and the virtual experience at our events – greater reach and longer impressions – with the experiences we know and love with in-person events – comradery, connectivity and cheer.
We have learned too much to ignore our new skills and we have come too far to go back now.
The future of events is an exciting plan and I’m glad to be along for the ride.