If crystal balls could talk, I think they would say, "proceed with caution and develop new skill sets." The impact of Covid-19 on the meetings and hospitality industries has been crushing, but what remains is the can-do spirit and tenacity of workers.
As a meeting professional, I have worked in large and small non-profit associations before starting my own company in 2007. Despite the recent devastation, we remain hopeful for a comeback, as the industry has done time and time again.
The reality of our new normal is yet to be defined, though plans are emerging. If one thing is clear, it is that virtual meeting expertise is and will continue to be an essential skill for planners. Below are a few way event professionals can enhance their virtual meeting skills and set their business up for success.
1. Start with the RFP sooner.
This is critical as many companies are so busy that they are not accepting new clients through 2021. Send the RFP early and make sure your contracts have been adapted to Covid-19. Advice on new wording for force majeure clauses and what to add to insurance policies can be found here.
2. Establish your virtual event goals and objectives.
What are your attendees’ needs, and how much time will they invest in the event? Poll your attendees and solicit input from your team and exhibitors/sponsors to determine your target audience and program goals. This will likely differ from an in-person event, and the agenda will need to be adjusted accordingly.
3. Train staff, speakers, exhibitors and sponsors.
Everyone involved in the event will need to adjust their role to the digital setting. This includes training staff in key positions such as serving as an engaging and knowledgeable host/moderator, monitoring Q&A and chat rooms, and providing overall technical support. Meanwhile, speakers will need to be trained to use the virtual event platform and might also benefit from coaching on how to make their presentations more engaging for remote audiences. Exhibitors and sponsors will need to understand the opportunities as well as the limitations of virtual events, and the ability to convey the ROI will be a key factor for staff and exhibitors alike.
4. Learn from industry professionals and get certified.
I was fortunate to enroll in the inaugural class of the six-week certificate program of Meeting Professionals International’s partnership with the Event Leadership Institute, "Virtual Meeting and Event Management." This course was eye-opening — just when you thought you had a handle on web streaming techniques, these new platforms have expanded beyond our imaginations.
Industry certifications like this are increasingly valuable as experts predict virtual is here to stay. These programs are designed to help professionals new to virtual events effectively plan, produce and measure results of virtual meetings and events. Now is also a good time to pursue other industry certifications that can improve your career. Many, including the Certified Meeting Professional and Certificate in Meeting Management, have added new remote proctoring options and now offer year-round testing.
5. Stay connected and make the best use of your relationships.
What we have all learned from the pandemic is the importance of staying connected to our industry partners. Convention and visitors bureaus, hotels, restaurants, audio visual vendors and general service contractors have all been impacted by Covid-19. But many were quick to add new services to their offerings and have become a key resource for learning the latest updates.
The Visit Alexandria team, which represents Alexandria, Va., quickly pivoted to provide meeting and event planners with up-to-the-minute information on the city’s actions and phased re-opening plans. Other CVBs have added virtual site tours and are partnering with local health networks to bring events safely back to the city. Event professionals should be sure to tap these resources when planning current and future events.
Lauren Kramer is the CEO and virtual strategist for Meeting Priorities, an event management company. She is an award-winning independent meeting professional based in Virginia. Kramer and her Meeting Priorities team have planned meetings of up to 30,000 attendees and have pivoted to become virtual meeting and event planners.