In-Person Meetings & Events Are Back… But Look a Little Different

A few short years ago, many of us in the industry would have seen eyebrows raise at the mention of a virtual event. While we’ve executed various iterations of hybrid experiences over the years, we all were thrown into the virtual deep end throughout 2020 and 2021. We love designing and producing shared experiences – virtual, hybrid or IRL, but let’s face it, we’re really loving being back to business as usual. 

While it seems the in-person meetings and events industry is back to pre-pandemic output, we’ve all had to adjust to a new dynamic. A few of our resident experts offer thoughts on what they’re experiencing and how best to navigate… 

Everyone is Short-Staffed 

This summer alone, the U.S. Dept. of Labor reported staffing shortages of nearly 5.5 million open positions. The meetings and events industry has seen this up close and personal. Hotels, airlines, transportation logistics, talent, food and beverage, and a long list of supporting vendor partners who each impact your event are experiencing staffing issues, some more significant than others.   

Everyone is in the battle for talent, and not just finding the right people for the right seats. For some, it means scrambling to simply find warm bodies to keep the lights on. This can have a big impact on your next meeting with properties, restaurants and various vendors filling in gaps with temporary, inexperienced staff. 

“One thing we’ve learned is we have to anticipate more blind spots, especially while onsite,” says Brian Kroupa, executive producer. “This may mean more of our team to oversee areas that may not have needed oversight in previous years due to staffing issues with a property or vendor. Even with a staffing plan in place that offers coverage, personnel testing positive can mean leaning on backup leads to fill roles.”

The supply chain of our industry has also seen challenges due to staffing shortages. Longer lead times for print materials, shipping and fabrication mean planning further out and making adjustments to meet deadlines.  

In short, contingency planning is now paramount for each project to pull off a successful in-person meeting. 

Costs Are Up, Time to Rethink Everything

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but costs are up everywhere. Staffing shortages, inflation, supply chain, you’ve seen the news and the invoices. But the show must go on! And this means getting creative on how to execute your in-person meetings and events. 

“Education is key, along with being transparent about pricing and what to expect,” says Sharon Reus, president. “One of the main points we cover with clients when getting a project off the ground is emphasizing that the very same event budget from a couple of years ago is going to likely be 20-30% higher now.”  

So how do you manage rising costs? Start by looking at what your driving factors are – room nights, F&B, production, travel, number of attendees – and prioritize. This of course should be strategically driven by the metrics and desired outcomes you’re looking to affect with the experience itself. 

Many groups get caught by, “well that’s what we’ve always done.” It’s time to rethink everything. In today’s environment, there should no longer be any sacred cows, and if there are, lean on your partners to help – your agency partner, hotel CSM, CVB, local DMC. Don’t be afraid to challenge those around you to support your event goals. 

Lastly, managing expectations with your internal customers and influencers is critical. Need finance or the C-suite to write the check? Get them engaged earlier and more often. 

Event Design in the New Era 

Whether it’s a blessing or a curse, the new paradigm we’re all working in is your best opportunity to challenge your own status quo. Experiential design now requires flexing new muscles to maximize budget, personnel, and most importantly, your event objectives. 

Rethink Your Agenda

Does it really need to be five nights? Do you have to have breakout sessions on Tuesday? Maybe not. Many areas of your event agenda affect cost. It can be a challenge to design an entirely new format, but making small adjustments that offer efficiencies without compromising your goals is the best place to start. This also means expecting travel delays and planning your agenda around that. 

Content is King

Always has been, always will be. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be offered up in a marathon general session. Attention spans took a steep nose dive over the course of the pandemic. Shorter, more engaging sessions are key to maximizing attendee learning and making your content more memorable.

“This is something we’ve long counseled many of our clients on, but we’re now seeing the biggest opportunity to shake things up,” says Neale Rebman, executive producer. “People are eager for face-to-face connections, but their time is valuable so we need to design towards that.”     

Measure Everything

Measuring ROI in the event industry has long been a challenge. Surveys are still one of the best tools for the job, but it’s important to go beyond understanding feedback on the property, food, speakers, etc. Our team works with clients to understand the sentiment and how to measure that over the course of a meeting to get to the heart of measuring your return on emotional investment from attendees. Only then can you best design towards maximizing that, and making your experience even more meaningful. 

Attendees are Ready! 

Ready to meet, learn, engage, re-connect and network. This is a critical component of your experiential design. Meaningful content is key, but so is offering up blank space in your agenda. Attendees are eager to make connections, and at their pace. They now crave networking and free time more than ever.

So, what now? Just like in the spring of 2020, we’re again at an inflection point in our industry and have an even greater opportunity to demonstrate what all of us have known for a long time – that IRL meetings and events are a powerful tool for connection and a true change agent to affect behavior, increase productivity and engagement. 

If you’re designing your first event or your 1,000th and have questions, ideas or simply want to learn more, let’s chat. See you out there.