How are we already in summer 2022? It seems like just yesterday we were sanitizing our groceries and saying, ‘hopefully back in person in fall 2020!’
While our timelines may have been off (multiple times throughout the pandemic), we were rejuvenated this past spring when we finally found ourselves back at a full-day in-person Advisory Board meeting. While the convenience of virtual is undeniable, the benefits of in-person interaction, collaboration, and discussion solidify that in-person programs are unmatched through their ability to drive in-depth discussions through longer programs, increased participant attention, and active participation (i.e., no camera off options!). As well, being in each other’s company facilitates stronger and more meaningful relationships between stakeholders.
However, we aren’t out of the COVID weeds yet; and there remain some key considerations to take when planning the next in-person or hybrid engagement.
1. Partner with the right people: From logistical support to venue AV and every vendor in-between, ensure they align and practice the same health and safety measures as you and your attendees. Do this through clear communication on your expectations, detailed BEOs, and staying up-to-date with the constantly evolving guidelines and recommendations. The pandemic has taught us that things can change on the flip of a coin, therefore review your contracts and liabilities closely; ensuring they have stated Force Majeure, removing any penalties from you due to pandemic (or other) circumstances beyond your control making it impossible to host your event.
2. Define how the meeting is being offered: “Hybrid” has certainly become the go-to buzzword over the past year. However, this means different things to different people. If you are considering a hybrid meeting, ensure you and all stakeholders are clear on what you are offering. Is it a live stream of the meeting? Will the event be available post-meeting on-demand? A mix of both? Is there an online asynchronous component pre and/or post-meeting? Whichever model you choose it must meet your meeting objectives and scope, while providing a seamless, convenient, and engaging experience for the attendees regardless of how they participate. How is this achieved? Back to tip #1 – Partner with the right people!
- a) Use an intuitive and familiar platform. Attendees should be able to easily join or access the meeting components in one universal place (no changing sites or apps for polling, workshopping, etc.). Despite your clear direction, some will always need a bit of help – tech support must be easily reachable and responsive pre, during, and post-meeting.
- b) Work with a vendor that can help turn your live meeting into the same experience for a virtual audience. For example, a virtual attendee can’t just collaborate on a live workshopping session and feel equally involved and heard. During such breakouts, the workshop needs to be customized on a virtual platform and with a facilitator to help navigate the workshopping software and drive the workshopping objectives. While live and virtual attendees may not be working through the same exercise, the virtual attendees will have the opportunity to engage and contribute while providing their insight on the sought after objective.
3. Have a plan B: Even if you are planning for an exclusively in-person event, you need to be prepared to move forward with some aspect of virtual accommodations. What will you do if a key stakeholder is suddenly unable to attend in person due to exposure to COVID-19? Flexibility is imperative to ensure you meet all expectations and the scope of your program. So here we are back with tip #1 – partner with the right people! A reliable, flexible AV partner with easily accessible equipment is imperative to support your program’s flexibility in accommodating every last-minute technology change.
4. Plan early, get quotes, and budget accordingly: Prices aren’t the same as they were a couple of years ago – from increased food to gas costs, to venues simply needing to make up for two years of lost revenue, expect to pay more. While at one time it was second nature turning around a live event budget – you can’t just rinse and re-use the one from January 2020. Make sure you start planning early (because you aren’t the only one itching to get back live) and request quotes to ensure what you are budgeting is feasible within the new market. The earlier you start the process, the better chance you’ll be able to find a partner and negotiate your event needs and budget.
5. Take a breath – you’ve got this! While it might feel intimidating going back to in-person, remember, you accomplished #1 by partnering with the right people! You have a team of event professionals supporting you from A to Z ensuring your event is safe, engaging, and effective. Your attendees are excited to see you again, so focus on re-connecting with them. You have the support to manage the rest!
PARTNER WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE!