Grounding the event in a sense of place is important even if the format moves away from face-to-face.
Q: My meeting moves to a hybrid format next year, but I want to keep the destination front and center to anchor attendees in the event’s history and keep them excited about an in-person future. What are some ways to do that?
A: Mike Detling, director of event sales and services at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
While pandemic circumstances have required many events to move to a hybrid or fully virtual format, the destination still matters—a lot—for the reasons you note.
For events annually held in the same place, the host city is the source of attendees’ magical memories year after year, both purely professional and social too. And it’s also the place where in-person events will welcome attendees back when it’s safe. So having a sense of place maintains and builds on the enthusiasm for the future.
You can achieve this sense of place through large-scale gestures—say, a dramatic drone flyover to open the conference—or even by way of subtler, smaller, and budget-friendly details. For instance, we offer a trivia game during breaks, and the prize is a gift card from our museum store. Other destinations might focus trivia on regional history, sports teams, cuisine, or personalities, and reward winners with prizes that tie back to the local theme.
Destinations Drive Engagement
The key to everything we put together for groups is engagement—that’s the component that stops you from getting up to unload the dishwasher during the break. All the testing and research that we did before we launched our virtual offerings underscored the importance of engagement.
Your program has to be something that the guests can participate in, that they feel connected to, and allows them to take away something unforgettable from the experience. One of our experiences asks attendees who they think should be inducted into the rock hall and why; you can argue that point with your colleagues or other people in the breakout session. It’s super memorable, introduces friendly competition, involves a topic a lot of people feel passionately about, and gives attendees something to take away from their participation. That’s what’s going to keep them attending.
Host Cities Generate Excitement for the Future
Many people were disappointed that the live event couldn’t happen; going to the museum is often a highlight of their trip. So this way, we can still bring them a piece of the museum, and get them excited to plan another visit for the future, whenever the conference can return in person.
Overall, playing up the host city really helps to draw attendance. Think of it the same way as choosing to host an event in a generic hotel ballroom that could be anywhere, or in a unique and enticing venue. When you do this, you present a distinct and special sense of place that keeps people connected. And hopefully it gives them enough excitement about it that they just have to come back.
This Q&A column is brought to you by Destination Cleveland. Keep an eye out for more meeting planning tips as you continue to navigate the new environment. And to learn more about Cleveland, visit www.thisiscleveland.com/meetings.