In the wake of a global pandemic, the meeting and event industry has shown its resilience and resourcefulness by changing how people gather. For the majority of 2020 and 2021, face-to-face meetings and events were put on pause, forcing event professionals to opt for safer virtual events. With cautious optimism, in-person events began their reemergence in the summer, with a larger uptick in the fall and winter of 2021. To help us ensure we're getting the most out of our 2022 meetings while keeping our attendees safe, we sent a survey out to some of the top meeting and event professionals (who also happen to be our clients) with some questions about their predictions for 2022, how to prepare, as well as some tips and tricks they picked up when hosting their hybrid and virtual events. It’s our hope that the information here can equip you and your team with the power to prepare your 2022 event schedule as painlessly as possible and the confidence to seamlessly pivot to a hybrid or virtual event should the need arise.
Forecast for 2022
We expect the continued emergence of in-person events. The 2022 American Express Global Meetings and Events Forecast reports 81% of meetings in 2022 are expected to have a face-to-face component. Meeting and event planners across the country have plans to continue hybrid and virtual events while also ramping up small, internal team training seminars and smaller events. These smaller meetings are poised to make up almost half of the in-person meetings for 2022 and serve as a great way to keep audiences engaged until larger events are possible.
What to Expect
Meeting and event planning has always come with its own unique challenges, and the last two years have been no exception. With health and safety and duty of care concerns, there are new factors and challenges to consider when planning your next event in 2022 and beyond. Let's take a look at some of the new factors and considerations when planning events moving forward.
It should come as no surprise that safety protocols, duty of care, and COVID restrictions continue to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. In fact, a recent survey shows that attendee health and safety was the most important factor for event planners in regarding returning to in-person events. With state and local municipalities often dictating event sizes and testing requirements, your event’s location and the specific venue you choose are more important than ever. If possible, consider keeping travel to a minimum as airfare, especially internationally, is predicted to remain difficult for Q1 and possibly into Q2 of 2022.
In addition to travel, COVID has also disrupted many of the industry's supply chains as the lead times for raw materials increased, and labor pools have decreased. To limit this impact on your event, the planners we spoke with recommended trying to source meeting materials (such as promotional items and signage) earlier than in years past, looking for items that are in stock and/or produced domestically. A few suggested taking it one step further and choosing dynamic products that can be used both onsite and virtually. For example, think banner stands that can be repurposed as in-home backdrops or wall decals that work in any situation. Products like these ensure you optimize budget dollars and prevent a situation where you’re stuck with the bill for items you can’t use.
Many states and municipalities have COVID restrictions in place, and venues are no different. To accommodate social distancing and other restrictions, the number of attendees a venue is able to accommodate has decreased from pre-COVID levels. Coupled with the unique requirements demanded by hosting a hybrid event, many event planners are finding that what they’re looking for in a venue has changed dramatically in the past 2 years. The planners that we surveyed said the top two factors in selecting a meeting space in 2021 were the size of the meeting space (to accommodate proper social distancing) and the infrastructure to host hybrid meetings - things like including WiFi bandwidth, onsite A/V staff, and safe storage/display space for A/V equipment. Determining what’s important to you in regards to your specific event is likely to change from meeting to meeting as variables like size, what type of content you’re providing your attendees, and what protocols you’re implementing, but planning your priorities ahead of time can help you streamline the process of selecting your meeting space.
Food & Beverage
With the number of live events expected to increase for 2022, and safety protocols a major priority for planners, historical approaches to food and beverage are being revisited. In the past, buffet-style self-serve food and beverage options were an easy way to appease a crowd, but now most planners are offering more single-serve or made-to-order options and fewer buffets. This eliminates any unnecessary contact with food outside the person it’s intended for while still giving attendees some autonomy over what they’re eating.
Hosting a Hybrid
If there is one thing the past two years have shown us, it’s that event planners are extremely adaptive, resourceful, and creative when it comes to planning events. Having to make the transition into planning virtual events (something many planners had no previous experience with) gave way to a lot of innovation and a level of confidence that makes navigating any potential future volatility much easier. We asked the top planners what they felt was most important to remember when it came to planning hybrid or virtual events; here are some of the recurring skills and tricks they offered:
Invest in Dynamic Solutions
This idea goes hand-in-hand with the concept of flexibility we mentioned earlier. With supply chain disruptions continuing to be a concern for many suppliers, investing in signs or banners that are reusable across multiple events (whether with general branding or the capability to have graphics replaced). This ensures you’re less dependent on the supplier’s capabilities or stock and can more easily transition between whatever type of event you may be hosting.
Segment Your Content
This concept is used as a way to incentivize physical attendance to hybrid events. The idea is that only a portion of the program is offered to virtual attendees or broadcast at a later date, while in-person attendees are able to receive all content at the time of the event.
In meeting planning, communication has always been key! As we explore and experiment with the new world of virtual/hybrid it’s important to stay on top of what’s happening and be sure to communicate it. Keeping open lines of communications with suppliers, venues, and virtual platform support teams helps keep the planning process on track in a time of universal delays. Additionally, sending updates to members, subscribers, and would-be attendees makes sure they feel engaged in everything you do.
Be Patient, but Proactive
Understanding that many industries have been affected by COVID - whether it means reduced staff or supply chain disruptions that ultimately affect stock and production times means that things, unfortunately, aren’t always happening as quickly as they were pre-pandemic. Getting a head start on things to ensure everything arrives when it’s supposed to is imperative, and can ensure items arrive with ample time to spare and can help reduce your stress.
Utilize Your Sponsors
Sponsors are there to help you offset costs, and using them to help approach some of the newer event demands is a great way to help keep budget dollars where you need them. Having sponsors contribute to things like COVID testing, better WiFi for virtual broadcasts, sessions, and branded giveaways or engagement boxes to virtual attendees (to replace the on-site swag bags) are all some ideas planners have used to keep all attendees at their events both safe and engaged.
Of course, the things we listed above are just some of the elements to consider when hosting a hybrid or virtual event. There are a lot of free resources for meeting planners to use, one planner navigated AV issues by enlisting the help of Facebook groups of AV enthusiasts happy to answer their tech questions. Additionally, if you're interested in reading a bit more about planning a successful hybrid event or tips for engaging your virtual audience, be sure to check out some of our other blogs:
Tips and Tricks for a Successful Hybrid Event
Tips for Engaging Attendees Through Virtual Events
New Year, New Challenges
Our survey asked planners what were some of the biggest challenges they faced when planning a hybrid event, and our hope is that understanding and expecting obstacles can help you prepare for them in planning your next event.
COVID has understandably caused severe disruptions in regard to airline travel. Between reduced airport staff resulting in delayed or cancelled flights to international travel restrictions sometimes preventing travel altogether. Understanding how and where your attendees are getting to your event plays a large role in determining your event’s host city. Keeping events local to a region or offering hybrid solutions for international guests can help mitigate some of the issues travel disruptions can cause.
Reduced staff at suppliers and venues means that many people you’re used to working with have likely taken on additional responsibilities within their company or perhaps are no longer there at all. As a result, planners are experiencing increased delays in responses to customer service inquiries. The planners we surveyed said that understanding that this is an unfortunate reality until industries are running at full capacity again, and getting an early start to planning can help keep your planning process on track, even amidst the delayed response times.
While things like social distancing and mask mandates are nothing new in 2022, the specific restrictions as far as safety protocols can often vary from state to state, city to city, and even venue to venue. Keeping track of all various restrictions in your event’s venue and city means a significant increase in communication - both from the venue to planners, planners to their attendees, and, inevitably, attendees to planners with questions regarding the venue’s protocols. Many of the meeting professionals surveyed said that making frequent use of templates when communicating to your attendees or providing PPE equipment onsite to guests can help streamline this process, prevent any confusion, and save you some time by eliminating unnecessary communication.
Venue limitations often make social distancing during food and beverage service impossible. When both chairs and tables are spaced six feet apart, even hosting 100 people at a formal awards dinner can present a challenge. Since people have to remove their masks to eat or drink, outdoor seating and spaces can be a great option for making your attendees feel safe while interacting with and enjoying spending time with each other. Establishing outdoor seating areas, providing chairs/tables, and planning for inclement weather are all things to consider if outdoor meals are going to be a reality at your event. Enjoying the outdoors and the benefits it offers to social distancing and safety protocols doesn’t have to be limited to dining. Check out our blog How to Bring Components of Your Event Outdoors for tips, tricks, and advice on bringing registration, keynote speakers or session, entertainment, and of course, food and beverage outdoors.
Enforcing Safety Guidelines
With safety at the forefront of everyone’s mind, establishing and enforcing the rules for events is one more onsite responsibility to work into your regimen. Determining the specific rules for both vaccinated and unvaccinated attendees is a delicate task, and many planners may find that erring on the side of caution and having comprehensive protocols applicable to all attendees is an easier solution. Once these restrictions or protocols have been established, be sure to communicate to the attendees and staff prior to the event and on-site and have on-site or venue staff working to enforce the guidelines and protocols at the event.
Platform Learning Curves
With the new planning demands hybrid events bring to the table, new software has arisen to help streamline and organize the process, which also means having to learn the ins and outs of a new tool in your planning toolkit. While much of the software is intuitive, learning a new program from scratch can be a time-consuming endeavor. Try to budget time prior to planning to familiarize yourself with the software you plan to use. Additionally, finding out what software, if any, the companies you are coordinating with for your event are using and how seamlessly it can be integrated alongside your own ahead of time can prevent any delays during the actual planning process.
Keeping Audiences Engaged
This is, by and large, the most common response we received when we asked planners what the biggest challenge of a hybrid event was. While physical attendees benefit from onsite activities and networking with fellow attendees, keeping virtual guests engaged and trying to provide a similar experience to both live and virtual attendees is a continuing battle. Just as no events are the same, there’s no universal answer to keeping virtual guests on the same wavelength as physical attendees. The top two suggestions we received from planners were:
- Providing “engager boxes” with branded giveaways and snacks local to the event’s city and mailing them to virtual attendees to enjoy throughout the event.
- High-quality live broadcasts of speaker events and interactive virtual forums that facilitate networking.
A/V and Technical Limitations
A/V broadcasts are a great way to ensure that virtual attendees have access to the same quality of content as those attending the event in person. For these broadcasts, ensure that your venue has or is capable of housing the necessary AV equipment, as well as a reliable, high-speed internet connection. While planners, unfortunately, have little autonomy over virtual guests’ internet capabilities at home, the survey responses showed that ensuring remote guests have access to all the necessary links ahead of time ensures there are significantly fewer day-of complications in regards to firewall restrictions or lack of access.
Fundraising without Material Incentives
While sponsorships are a great way to offset some of the costs of an event, some planners are finding it difficult to sell sponsorships on virtual events due to the lack of material incentives or brand visibility the sponsor would typically receive in return. The “engager boxes” we mentioned previously have been a successful workaround for many of the meeting planners we surveyed, as they ultimately take the place of a traditional onsite attendee swag bag. While a little more legwork is required to procure all the addresses these boxes may need to go to, these kits can help make selling sponsorships for a fully virtual or hybrid event a little easier for planners and a little more enticing for prospective sponsors!
A Return to Physical
While virtual and hybrid events create a few unique and interesting challenges to consider when planning your meeting, they’ve also facilitated a lot of creative innovations that planners are looking forward to continuing even as the industry begins to transition back to live events. With 67% of planners believing that in the next one to two years, live event meeting levels will return to their pre-pandemic numbers, we asked our planners what aspects of virtual events they and their attendees enjoyed and which ones they planned to carry over when they return to live events.
More Creative Presentations
Virtual events presented the interesting problem of keeping remote attendees engaged during presentations. It’s easy to get distracted by an inbox, other tabs, or even housework when you’re not actually in a breakout room listening to a speaker. The solution? More interesting presentations! The survey responses found that planners made liberal use of more engaging slides, voiceovers, music, and increased audience participation and found that both physical and virtual attendees benefited from these changes, so continuing this trend even without remote guests just makes sense.
As we’ve mentioned a few times above, providing virtual attendees with an in-person experience was one of the most important challenges planners faced when preparing their meetings these past 2 years. Engager boxes that act as a substitution for the in-person swag bags typically distributed at events have been a great compromise as it also serves as incentives for sponsors to brand particular items included in the box. Some meeting professionals are planning to continue using these engager boxes, not only for international attendees who may not be able to attend an otherwise fully in-person event due to travel restrictions but also as a pre-event prep package or a post-event “thank you” to attendees.
More Breaks, Less Screen Time
Another big challenge when planning a virtual event is how much screen time remote attendees are experiencing just to have access to the same content that live attendees do. In trying to keep all guests' health and safety as the first priority, planners began implementing more frequent breaks into their event schedules and have found that virtual meetings usually have higher levels of engagement when they’re built with several structured breaks in between presentations. This facilitates a break for virtual guests and an opportunity to decompress or network for physical attendees which has prompted a lot of positive feedback in post-event surveys. So much, in fact, that planners are preparing to build in more planned breaks between content at their future events.
Let’s Get Started!
Aside from utilizing the tips and tricks other planners have found success with, our Customer Relations team has worked closely with these planners throughout the pandemic and is here to serve as a resource for you. Whether it’s determining which type of backdrop might work best for a virtual presentation, procuring and kitting engager boxes for your hybrid event, or simply recommending some of the best PPE items to keep attendees at your next physical event safe and healthy, we can help! Feel free to contact us and set up a meeting to discuss your particular needs.