Positives from the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions imposed to help stop its spread have prevented the meetings and events industry from doing business in the usual way. Nevertheless, the industry has adapted, embracing hybrid and using the time to experiment, reflect and rebuild for the future. While the industry looks towards the return of face-to-face events, The Meetings Show asked members of its advisory board to identify some of the positives from the pandemic they have learnt and plan to take into the future.
Diane Waldron, Director of Sales & Marketing at The QEII Centre, London: 'Face-to-face events will have to deliver an experience that virtual or hybrid can’t'
“I think that people are undoubtedly keen to meet up face-to-face, but organisers will need to produce an agenda and face-to-face networking opportunities that will allow the delegate to justify attending in person – from a cost, time and sustainability perspective. Meetings will need to bring about real change through working together to come up with creative, actionable solutions rather than being talking shops.”
Nicole Leida, Head of Conference and Events, National Cancer Research Institute: 'The industry is resourceful and will adapt and come back stronger'
“Many of us working on the creation of events have had to come up with new ideas and solutions to deliver content in new and more engaging ways. Venues are coming up with solutions to support hybrid models as I think they are also clear that it’s going to take a long time before things go back to how they were.
The part that I think we haven’t quite nailed yet in the virtual environment is the serendipity meetings that often happen at these events and that in our field can facilitate big discoveries. Putting random people in a zoom call to network is not quite the same and you have to be a certain type of person to feel comfortable with that. I’m an introvert and find virtual networking sessions painful, but I’d happily chat to people in the coffee queue at a face-to-face event.
A lot has changed and a lot is changing still – I think we are resourceful people as an industry and therefore I have no doubt we will adapt and come back stronger in what I think will be quite a different world.”
Steven Jenkinson, Events and Venue Services Manager, RCN Events, Royal College of Nursing: 'Digital has enabled us to broaden the reach of our events'
“As a membership organisation representing over 450,000 members across the UK, the pandemic has forced us to rapidly expand our digital events and engagement. A positive change of using digital is that we have been able to broaden the reach of our events and content to a wider audience who may not have previously been able to travel to a physical event, or been able to take time off work to attend an event in person.
Providing virtual events has allowed us to reach a new and wider audience and I think some element of digital will now forever remain as people have become used to watching content ‘on demand’ to suit their busy lives or fit around their busy jobs. Whilst people are most definitely missing the face-to-face element of events, a hybrid option allowing others to join remotely will no doubt continue to be an option going forward.”
Therese Dolan, Director Association Management and Consulting Services at MCI UK: 'Clients are eager to engage on redesign of hybrid'
“In many ways the pandemic has facilitated positive change. Prior to the pandemic, our customers were content to continue with traditional engagement techniques, but they are now willing, and open to embrace digital solutions that provide them with enhanced engagement options, particularly in education.
Operating in the digital space is empowering associations to develop a much more agile way of working. Virtual meetings are attracting those who would never have been able to participate at a face-to-face meeting, so our customers are seeing considerable growth in international customer engagement. Looking to the future and hybrid being the meeting format of choice, where in its previous iteration some clients would have been reluctant to even consider the format, now they are eager to engage with us on the redesign of their hybrid meeting.”
Leigh Cowlishaw, Managing Partner at Black Box Partnerships: 'Delegates will question ROI of attending meetings and events'
“One of the positive changes to come from the pandemic is that delegates will be attending meetings and events with very clear key measurements of the success factors they will need to achieve. They will question the return on investment of their time and money as well as the experience (value, networking and content). We have recognised that our personal time has become much more important to us and the pendulum has swung the other way in life/work balance.
Attendance will not only be considered from a wellbeing perspective in terms of not wanting to miss out on family/personal time, but also from a sustainability perspective. There will be so many measurable factors that the quality of overall experiences and content will be inevitably be raised. Events technology has been expedited and therefore this will only enhance delivery and enrich outcomes.”
Fiona Macdonald, Senior Manager, Business Events VisitBritain / VisitEngland: 'Event planners should reboot, refresh and reimagine'
“Despite the vast challenges of the past year, enormous innovations have emerged from the events industry as it’s adapted like never before. Many venues across the UK have reimagined their offering and turned to hybrid event technology, to not only future-proof themselves for years to come, but also ensure that planners have advanced technology solutions for greater reach and engagement. As part of this innovation, VisitBritain is encouraging event planners to reboot, refresh and reimagine the future of events in the UK with its ‘Events. Reimagined’ campaign.”
Juliet Price, Consultant Executive Director, HBAA: 'Continuation of collaboration'
“I sincerely hope that we’ll see the continuation and expansion of collaboration across the industry that we’ve experienced over the last 12 months. It’s been so refreshing to see the sharing of knowledge, resource and expertise between businesses from individuals and organisations who have recognised when to put aside competitiveness in order to strengthen the sector and support its survival. We must also acknowledge the positive and universal move toward taking care of our most valuable asset, our people, through better awareness and support of mental wellbeing; this is something HBAA members have long recognised and it’s great to see this high on the agenda for industry recovery.”
Patrick Delaney, Managing Partner, Soolnua: ‘Crucial role for The Meetings Show’
“We’ve realised that The Meetings Show is more crucial than ever before, because COVID-19 has brought into relief more clearly that a modern and sophisticated trade show, which combines a marketplace, great educational content and networking cannot be delivered in a more effective or cost efficient way.
Technology can provide the content piece really well and, to a degree the networking piece, but only in a limited way. An effective marketplace, where relationships and transactional business takes place is still lacking, so The Meetings Show provides the ideal platform for all three.”