What is in Store for the Meetings Industry? Four Experts Weigh In

In 2020 and so far in 2021 the meetings industry has taken a huge hit. Just as things start to look rosy (i.e., the COVID-19 vaccine), there are now new coronavirus variants. 

To gain some perspective on what 2021 may look like for the industry, I polled two national speakers, one DMC Executive Director, and an industry consultant. Below is a compilation of what I learned. 

The Three Meeting Types and The Best and the Worst of Them

It was not surprising that virtual meetings were front and center, representing a whopping 84 percent of the sessions, followed by an unexpected 13% face-to-face events with only 3% being hybrid. 

When I asked why the hybrid was such a low number, Jon Petz, a motivational keynote speaker, shared that reaching a virtual audience is not merely aiming a camera at your conference speaker and calling it good. “Much more thought needs to go into connecting with the virtual audience to keep them engaged,” Jon said. 

Here are the best and worst each of my participants and I have experienced with each option. 

Virtual Event Experiences

Best:

Virtual events are a great way to get the audience involved in a program of interest to them. Two examples: Meetings Michigan Executive Director Kim Corcoran hired a mixologist to share all the Michigan ingredients and spirits used to make each unique cocktail. 

Bob Pacanovsky agrees. His best virtual event was when he did a live cooking demo and interacted with his audience along the way. 

The event planner treats the virtual event like a TV show and hires a production company to add music, voiceovers, and lively introductions. The most successful sessions are when event organizers spend roughly the same amount of money for AV and production as they do for a live event. 

Worst:

Virtual events aren’t without their shortcomings; when the technology fails, i.e., the screen freezes, the internet cuts in and out, or the program tries to update — you can lose your audience.

Some virtual event hosts make the mistake of treating this session just like another Zoom meeting with little thought about timing, schedule, or production. I recently experienced two examples when the panelist twirled her hair every few minutes, and other panelists constantly swiveled his chair from side to side. 

Another instance we had was having people jump off the session early and not knowing why they did so. 

Face-to-Face Meeting Experiences

Best:

Face-to-face meetings can still have a positive outcome when everything is planned, down to the very last detail to ensure all involved safety. 

Including social distance seating, disinfecting between speakers, and having multiple microphones and clickers, so presenters did not have to share. 

Having the event outdoors, socially distanced, and with constant mask-wearing is an excellent place to start. 

Worst:

When an event organizer, venue, or both don’t follow through on their website’s safety guidelines, a lot can go wrong. If individuals are seated too closely together for dinner, and mask-wearing is not enforced, you could be in serious trouble. 

Another problem is dealing with issues like when it started to rain at an outdoor event. 

Hybrid Meeting Lessons

Best:

When an event planner understands that each audience’s needs were different and allowed the virtual attendee to experience something unique, hybrid meetings can be productive. 

When Jon Petz emcee’s a hybrid event he always includes exclusive content and surprises for the virtual audience. Simply adding a camera and streaming the event doesn’t make it an engaging hybrid experience. Instead, add more, with pre-records, VIP interviews, infographics overlays, and chances for the speakers to connect “one-on-one” with the virtual audience.

Worst:

On an appointment at a tradeshow, the vendor met with two planners simultaneously – one in their booth and one virtually. The supplier had a hard time connecting with both planners in this format. 

“As a virtual participant, it was almost impossible to read the body language and interest of the people in the room, partly because they were social distanced and partly because the camera didn’t react fast enough to show the person who was speaking,” shared Dave Lutz, President of Velvet Chainsaw, an association consultant. 

With Virtual Meetings Representing Almost 85% of All Meetings, How Can They be Better? 

Include purposeful, small group discussions of six or fewer individuals every 90-120 minutes of a full-day conference. Share the results on a real-time basis. 

More interactive meetings with movement breaks 

Treat virtual meetings with the 3 Ns – Novelty, Normalcy, and Necessity. Everyone has adapted to Netflix and YouTube. Their numbers are up 30-50% since the start of the pandemic. So it’s not that people oppose sitting in front of a screen, but rather your message must be attractive and necessary to your employees, association members, or prospective clients.  

Get and keep your audience engaged in the content through polling, music, or breaks. 

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Will Live Meetings Return in 2021? 

Maybe. Much will depend on how many people are vaccinated and the comfort of the participants. 

As Kim Corcoran sees it, hybrid meetings will be with us through the end of this year. 

Jon Petz thinks outdoor meetings are the way to go, especially in warm weather climates like Arizona, Southern California, and Florida. He also believes the vaccine will not solve everything because there will be a subsection of the population who will not participate in the vaccination. 

Bob Pacanovsky already sees an uptick in live meetings. He is scheduled to present at a conference in May. However, he believes the meetings that will be the most successful will continue to follow CDC guidelines, including mask-wearing and social distancing. 

Dave Lutz believes we will have to hit the herd immunity mark of 75 percent as attendees, speakers, and exhibitors will not feel safe until the COVID-19 numbers have significantly gone down. He believes the same as Bob that throughout 2021 we will continue to wear masks and social distance at live events. 

Two Quotes Sum It All Up

“The appreciation for attending live events will grow significantly. Mediocre virtual experiences have reminded us that we miss the interaction of others that only a face-to-face meeting can bring,” stated Dave Lutz. 

“Meetings mean business! Let’s get back to business and fuel the economy with human interaction. Don’t hold the industry back any longer,” said Kim Corcoran. 

Many Thanks to My Research Participants

I couldn’t have written this article without the insight from Bob Pacanovsky, Jon Petz, Dave Lutz, Managing Director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, or Kim Corcoran, CMP, Executive Director of Meetings Michigan. Many thanks to these hard-working and resilient professionals! 

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About the Author

De-de Mulligan is a digital marketer, blogger, and President of Mulligan Management Group, a full-service boutique marketing agency. A former meeting planner who received the MPI Ohio Chapter’s Planner of the Year award in 2006 and 2012, she brings a unique perspective to her blog posts, including for Rentacomputer.com. You can connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

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