Take These Four Winning Elements of 2020’s Meeting Successes Into 2021

As your association starts planning for 2021, check out some of the bright ideas that kept events—virtual, in-person, and hybrid—shining, despite the complicated year we’re close to finishing.

This year’s many challenges created a lot of pain points for associations that suddenly found themselves switching from in-person to virtual events … in many cases for the first time.

Although there’s optimism that things will change soon—a recent survey from Global DMC Partners predicted 63 percent of organizations will hold in-person meetings in the first half of 2021—virtual events will still rule well into next year.

With that in mind, it’s worth highlighting elements that have helped events excel in a nontraditional year—and where they might come in handy in 2021. Among them:

1. The capacity to switch gears, fast.

When COVID-19 concerns caused the cancellation of the massive Mobile World Congress in Spain, some took it as a sign that an immediate rethink was needed.

As Samantha Whitehorne wrote in March, at least three organizations—the ‌International Antiviral Society-USA, the ‌Consortium for School Networking, and the ‌Society for Public Health Education—decided to go virtual for events that had been scheduled as in-person gatherings that month. In the case of IAS-USA, it switched up its plans for the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) with just two days’ notice.

“We all have learned a lot through this process, and as we all do as scientists, we will analyze the data and outcomes we have observed and use the information to move CROI forward in the future,” the association’s organizers said in a news release.

2. A desire to design events without limits.

Zoom fatigue is a real thing, which means that virtual event designs that might have worked before the pandemic may not be good enough now. Creativity is a necessity.

And that creativity can take a lot of forms, something that we highlighted in October. One clever idea that could find a home at a lot of organizations comes from the National Speakers Association, which held a series of “digital dine-arounds,” virtual dinners where members could break bread with a top official from the association. It was a part of NSA’s INFLUENCE 2020 conference—and just one way that associations can excel in a virtual format.

An upcoming event outside the association space taking this truism to an extreme is December’s LinkUpConferenceShow. The for-profit technology conference aims to maximize virtual networking opportunities by pairing up attendees using algorithms and having comedians lead the networking sessions.

3. A willingness to stretch out the schedule.

In-person events have to navigate people’s work schedules, and that means planners often have to cram a lot into a couple of days.

That’s not so necessary in the world of virtual meetings, where learning opportunities can happen over an extended period because nobody needs to travel. This was an approach the Brewers Association used with its Craft Brewers Conference, which held events over five workweeks.

VidCon, which is known as the primary event for YouTubers and other streaming personalities, did something similar by extending the event over the entire summer (a format that worked particularly well for the conference—which is, after all, made up of video pros). According to BizBash, the event also innovated by mixing up the format, using a combination of video streaming tools.

4. The ability to look for in-person opportunities amid virtual norms.

It hasn’t been easy to do in-person meetings in 2020, even in a hybrid format. But some associations have found ways to pull it off in smaller forms, outdoors, or even inside on smaller scales.

Back in September, The Fertilizer Institute held its 2020 World Fertilizer Conference in Indianapolis, a two-and-a-half-day event that drew 50-plus people. In an interview with Associations Now earlier this month, TFI’s president and CEO, Corey Rosenbusch, credited the nature of the event for making it possible.

“This conference is really about providing attendees with opportunities to have scheduled, one-on-one business meetings and network with one another,” he explained.

Meeting Professionals International did something similar, reports MeetingsNet, by bringing in 644 in-person attendees and 1,090 digital attendees for its hybrid event this month.

“There is a great responsibility that we have in hosting this, and hosting it well, because the industry is looking to us,” MPI President and CEO Paul VanDeventer told the outlet.

(fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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