17 Dec 2021 Lessons Learned: Plan, Then Plan Again
Necessity is the mother of invention, and 2021 was a case in point. As in-person events made their uneven return and virtual events continued to bridge the gaps for remote groups, 2021 became the year of enormous creativity in the events industry, especially in new tech innovations and advanced health protocols. Even as the industry faced curveballs, innovators forged ahead and found solutions to big challenges. Here are our top event planning lessons learned from a year of persistent uncertainty and unwavering hope.
Safety first, always
Health and safety has always been an integral part of planning in-person events, but as groups have made their way back to gathering face-to-face amid the ongoing pandemic, H&S considerations have taken on a whole new dimension. During the planning process, that means starting with state and city requirements, then considering venue requirements, and then peeling down to the expectations of the audience. Some people will still be reticent when in the presence of crowds – whether in a static situation or mingling – so what kinds of extra efforts must be taken to ensure their comfort?
Vaccination requirements are becoming the new industry standard, to the point where some organizers are not accepting negative Covid tests as an alternative. Masking is still present, but by no means universal at events nationwide. Social distancing is still common in room setups, but many participants are getting back to handshakes and hugs in their one-to-one interactions. One simple innovation we found interesting is color-coded wristbands indicating participants’ individual levels of caution: red for “no touching,” yellow for “elbow bumps,” and green for “bring on the handshakes.” However, even with innovation and safety protocols in place, the one thing that will drive them is enforcement. This is often lacking and the difference between window-dressing and action. It’s best to develop a plan and act.
Hybrid events: Industry buzz or the real deal?
The future of hybrid events remains to be determined. The potential of hybrid events built significant buzz in the first half of the year, but the workload and cost required to stage them deterred some event hosts from embarking upon ambitious hybrid event designs.
However, all types of events – trade shows, conferences, participant-driven unconferences, seminars, workshops, and meetings – can have at least one hybrid component. With all the new tech that has emerged in the events landscape, and with participants’ newfound expectation that they be able to participate in events remotely, we anticipate that hybrid elements will keep working their way into in-person events into 2022 and beyond. After all, our lives are hybrid; we seamlessly move between in-person and online experiences every day. We believe the future of events is no different.
Hybrid planning is also extremely handy in the face of continuing uncertainties. To plan for the “what if’s” with a hybrid event, we create a three-part plan: one plan for the in-person experience, one for virtual, and a third to bridge the two. We also look for ways to engage virtual participants to help them feel as much as part of the live event at those attendees who appear in person.
Immersive hybrid events are about much more than posting session recordings online. Our hybrid event designs bridge audiences by triggering the five senses. For example, we can harness the senses of taste, sight, touch, and smell by developing custom-curated experience boxes, complete with event swag that guests are prompted to unbox and use at specific times during the event.
Content Connection is king
Pre-pandemic, content was king. It was the value-add that got people to pay the price of admission. For some events, this is still the case; however, participants’ event-going habits have changed over the past two years. Collectively, people have a pent-up craving to connect with other people. They want to go to in-person events to see their colleagues, meet new contacts, and live shared experiences.
On the virtual side, over the past year it has become much more mainstream for event planners to be able to stream content with high production value and make it accessible on-demand. Creating engagement is the bigger challenge. It requires real expertise in event design, as well as an ability to listen and respond to clients’ specific goals and audiences. A skilled event planner can advise clients on how to create interactive sessions, source a platform with good networking tools, and craft communications that guide their attendees toward an event’s engagement opportunities.
We’ve also discovered the importance of coaching suppliers about what it means to participate in a virtual event. At JDC Events, we’ve moved away from talking about “exhibit halls” and “booths” for virtual events. That terminology automatically makes people think in terms of an in-person trade show experience, but a virtual event is completely different, with its own set of strengths and weaknesses. We have found it helpful to think of virtual “exhibit halls” instead as supplier showcases, in which the greatest opportunities are creating brand awareness, opening lines of communication to prospective buyers (through one-to-one messaging and chat), and sharing timely content.
Using the “Three Ps”
In the world of uncertainty that has challenged us all, we’ve found that maintaining a sense of flexibility to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances is essential. At JDC Events, we remain adaptable by relying on the “Three Ps”: positive, proactive, planning. In other words, maintain a good outlook no matter what comes your way (positive); consider the “what if’s?” when putting together the event (proactive); and, of course, prepare a detailed blueprint (planning).
Above all, it’s up to us to remember that events – and event planning – are incredibly enjoyable and rewarding experiences. Regardless of size, scope or format, we want people to feel comfortable and prepared to do what we’ve loved doing for so long: to come together in meaningful and memorable ways, through events that spark change in the lives of those who participate and benefit from them.