The Evolution of Meetings: Lessons for Navigating a Hybrid Future

A vector image of two people holding briefcases and laptops.

Editor’s Note: As part of Back Light, a series of articles sharing illuminating insider observations, we asked Geoffrey Wellen, chief customer care officer of 6Connex for lessons learned from two years of virtual and hybrid events.

If there is a silver lining to the pandemic for the meetings industry, it’s this: The pandemic accelerated the evolutions of meetings. Like the typewriter, print publications and fax machines, the fully in-person meeting would have eventually become extinct.

Perhaps, with the pandemic easing, the industry is just learning this now. After an almost two-year hiatus, planners and event organizers who have moved ahead with physical-only events have been disappointed with attendance. They misread the room and assumed that pent-up demand for in-person business interactions would result in a flood of participation.

For sure, there are a significant percentage of meeting attendees that can’t wait to participate in person; but organizers and planners found out during the first several months of 2022 that a sizable audience of previous attendees were more than happy to participate virtually. Either they found comfort and convenience in the virtual format or they’re still nervous for health reasons. Either way, meeting planners need to organize with both online and physical attendees in mind.

Read MoreTech Tips From the Top: Breaking Barriers and Defining Hybrid

Included below are several key takeaways from pandemic-era events that meeting organizers will want to strongly consider as they plan the remainder of their 2022 events.

Pick the low-hanging fruit. Just because you’re hosting a trade show in an exciting new hybrid format doesn’t mean you can’t rely on traditional virtual event elements. Use what’s already out there and what has proven to work.

For example, PDF flipbooks have existed for a long time. People know how to use them, and they make great meeting programs. Consider that virtual photo booths may not be new to the scene, but they’re still a good way to engage event attendees by allowing them to take pics, add backgrounds and overlays, and post them to social media. Instagram and Facebook, depending on the age of your audiences, are well-established favorites; take advantage! And speaking of social media, don’t overlook this now-old friend. Run social media campaigns to promote meetings and compile hashtags for attendees to use.

Continue to train staff on hybrid meeting planning. From camera operators to event hosts, make sure that each team member who has a hand in launching a meeting is fully trained on the technology and any applicable apps, understands what the goals are, knows the end-to-end agenda, and is invested in seamlessly connecting the virtual and live components. Preparation matters. Have stakeholders demo the technology and practice dry runs. Go so far as to anticipate where potential hiccups could occur and have plans in place to recover.

Account for accessibility. One of the big benefits of hosting a hybrid or virtual trade show is that it’s easy to increase accessibility. Think through every step and use of a meeting and explore how to ensure the event will be enjoyed by those who are hard of hearing or speak another language or have a disability. Leverage the meeting technology to reach these attendees by including features such as live translation and closed captioning.

Personalize the meeting as much as possible. Every individual attending a meeting has an agenda. It may be listening to a certain speaker, visiting a particular sponsor, connecting with colleagues, or attending a new product demo. Take time to understand what these agendas could look like and then explore ways to make them happen—and to make them personal.

For instance, if a meeting includes an awards ceremony or appreciation dinner, send the awards to recipients attending remotely in advance and have them pre-record acceptance speeches holding the award or ask them to upload photos so everyone can see all the recipients with their honors.

Be sure to partner with sophisticated virtual meeting technology vendors that feature AI-based tools. These allow organizers to leverage registration and behavior information to recommend activities and content to each attendee both before and throughout the meeting, sending push notifications and personalizing the experience to increase engagement.

Ensure cybersecurity. Meeting organizers need to secure attendee information, and all the data they’ve collected throughout the event, to the highest standard with end-to-end encryption and no local applications for hosts or attendees to install.

Read More8 Engagement Tips for Your Next Hybrid Event

Leverage meeting analytics. One of the selling points for virtual meeting and event technology is the considerable amount of data that can be collected on attendees’ behavior. Meeting planners will be able to track which PDFs were downloaded and how many times. They can capture the virtual activities that were most enjoyed, and the average length of engagement. They can identify which user profiles attended which presentations. All this data allows meeting organizers to continually improve and to deliver the exact content to audiences.

In closing, sometimes evolution is painful and not always met with a welcome reception. The reality of 2022, however, indicates that hybrid meetings are better attended and more inclusive, irrespective of distance or other factors. This could also be true in 2023 and beyond so now is the time to prepare.

Geoffrey Wellen is chief customer care officer of 6Connex, a provider of event and conference meetings technology.

 

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