Some Gratitude for Meeting Pros During an Unexpected 2020

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, it’s a good time to express gratitude to association meeting teams who have done great work to keep conferences and other events moving along despite significant challenges.

The past eight-plus months have been hard both personally and professionally for pretty much everyone. And while it’s OK to feel sad or overwhelmed or anxious, a good friend reminded me the other day that it’s just as important to celebrate your successes and express gratitude.

If I’ve taken away anything from listening to and speaking with meeting professionals since March, it’s that while they faced a lot of challenges, they tackled them head on and learned lessons along the way that will make association events even better in the future.

So, with Thanksgiving less than a week away, I figured it’s a perfect time to highlight the great work that association meeting teams have done since the start of the pandemic and some wins they should celebrate—because I know their colleagues, as well as attendees, are grateful for their efforts. Here are three:

Embracing the pivot. Although the word may be overused, “pivot” definitely describes what meeting teams had to do. They had to pivot from planning in-person events to planning virtual ones; they had to pivot from offering traditional sponsor opportunities to developing new ones for the online space; they had to pivot from creating face-to-face networking options to building virtual activities that would still appeal to attendees who wanted to connect. I’m sure if someone told you a year ago that this was on the horizon, you would never have believed them and would have been terrified at the thought. But, good news: You did it—and you did it well. You may also have inspired colleagues in other parts of your association to be more comfortable trying something new.

Reaching new audiences. There was an upside to many virtual conferences being offered for free or at a lower price point than traditional in-person events: more attendees. For example, while its annual meeting typically attracts 3,200 to 3,500 people, the American School Counselor Association drew 5,300 attendees to its ASCA@Home virtual experience. The American Society for Neuroradiology (ASNR) also saw a boost in attendance numbers. Bringing these new audiences into the fold could benefit other parts of organizations moving forward. Maybe nonmember attendees will join the association or participants will sign up for future programming.

Learning new skills. As the ASNR team put it, “When you take a crash course in doing something new, you don’t have an FAQ to follow.” That means that many meeting pros had to take it upon themselves to quickly learn everything from video editing to how to best deliver online education. A lot of associations credit this learning mindset among their teammates as the reason their virtual conferences were such a success. “We were all figuring out things together in this new world—staff, vendors, speakers,” said ASNR Program Chair Dr. Joshua Hirsch. “We had to have patience and work to find mutually workable solutions.”

Ultimately, this hard work and risk-taking will mean better events in the future—whether in person, virtual, or hybrid. Now it’s your turn: What are you thankful for when it comes to your 2020 events or your association’s meetings team? Please share in the comments.

(skodonnell/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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