Try Early Adoption for More Innovative Events
Vice President of Event Operations Joe Sorrentino foregrounds new technologies to improve customer experience at the North American Veterinary Community's flagship event.
Joe Sorrentino, vice president of event operations at the North American Veterinary Community (NAVC), is our fifth planner of productivity. NAVC, an award-winning, Florida-based nonprofit, publishes five trade magazines, coordinates continuing education for veterinary professionals, and, during the pandemic, expanded media outreach to connect consumers with accurate information about COVID-19 and pets.
Sorrentino, an MBA and certified meeting professional with eight years at NAVC, coordinates its annual Veterinary Meeting & Expo, a lynchpin event for the veterinary industry and, with around 18,000 attendees and 700 exhibitors, one of Orlando’s top 25 largest events. This year, Sorrentino incorporated technology and learnings from 2020’s virtual VMX event to capture a global audience and innovate attendees’ overall experience.
VO: The Veterinary Meeting & Expo is a globally relevant event in the animal health space. Tell us a bit about what makes VMX unique.
JS: VMX is a forum for veterinary professionals to learn from the world’s most renowned experts in veterinary medicine, network with colleagues, see new products and innovations showcased in our Expo Hall, and enjoy top-flight entertainment from Grammy- and Emmy-award-winning artists. It’s definitely high-energy and exciting, but we also provide places for conference attendees to take a break. We work in fitness and mental-health breaks with our 5K run, as well as puppy Pilates and goat yoga. Attendees can relax with live kittens at our Cat Nap Café or adopt a puppy. We also provide excursions and behind-the-scenes tours of Orlando’s theme parks.
VO: How do you define innovation, and what are you doing to infuse this into the live meetings you plan?
JS: For me, innovation is about using the latest available tools to provide a better experience at our events. What was particularly exciting this year was the flexibility and choice we offered attendees in Orlando. They could join a session in-person at the convention center, on their laptops in their rooms, or on their mobile devices from one of Orlando’s awesome parks so they didn’t have to miss out on family fun. Our mobile app enabled attendees to access information about sessions or events—live or virtual—all in one place.
VO: How have such innovative approaches allowed for greater productivity in these live meetings?
JS: Having a hybrid event allows doctors from around the world to engage with us and our speakers wherever they feel most comfortable—at our live event in Orlando or virtually from anywhere else. Making our virtual sessions and virtual expo hall—which attendees can visit and revisit all year—available to our live conference attendees definitely increases productivity because they can [participate] at a time and place that best suits them. Virtual learning also opens up many more options for veterinary professionals to receive their required continuing education.
VO: The past year has forced planners to be more creative to capture and keep attendees’ attention. How do you plan to use these tactics in live settings moving forward to achieve success?
JS: We are now taking a lot of the learnings from some of the unique things we offered for our virtual audience—like making our “waiting rooms” engaging and fun—to the live event. We are thinking about adding fun videos, contests and quick wins for our audience to enjoy before or between our live sessions. We are also considering adding more exclusive experiences to the live event to drive attendance, such as raffles to win backstage meet-and-greets with artists, front-row seats to shows, and more. The goal is to create a great experience that makes members mark VMX on their calendar every year as an event they won’t miss.
VO: What advice would you give to peers who want to not only meet expectations but surprise and delight attendees year after year?
JS: Work with your vendors on new ways to elevate the attendee experience by understanding new technologies and products. For example, streaming to personal devices means people don’t have to go to the dreaded “overflow” room for a popular session but can instead join from a place of their choosing —like outside in the Florida sunshine. Always remember, too, that when people come to a live conference in Orlando, it’s not just about sitting in a room listening to a lecture. It’s about experiencing a great event in Florida, from enjoying award-winning entertainment to cuddling with kittens and puppies—or adopting one!—to enjoying Disney or Sea World.
VO: NAVC has been based in Florida since 1982. In addition to proximity, what keeps you coming back to Orlando for the VMX event?
JS: There are not many places that can compare to Orlando in January. Our attendees and their families love it, as do we. As one of the top tourist destinations in the world, Orlando knows how to welcome and take care of its guests, so I honestly cannot think of a better place to host our events. I love both Café Tu Tu Tango and ICON Park. I’ve celebrated both of my daughters’ birthdays at Tu Tu Tango; they love their unique atmosphere. As for ICON, during our event in June, I went with some staff for dinner and live music at Ole Red. Some of us ended up riding the 450-foot high Starflyer. It’s like going to a small amusement park.
How specifically did the Visit Orlando team support you throughout the planning process, from your first site visit to post-event debriefs/activities?
Visit Orlando has always been an integral part of VMX each year and a great partner to us. VMX 2021 took that partnership to a whole new level as Visit Orlando worked with the NAVC every step of the way from planning our event during a pandemic, to contingency planning for a possible date change to helping us work with hotels and other partners in putting the new date into place. Their work with us to put new safety protocols into place for the pandemic are particularly noteworthy: they brought Orlando Health to the table which reviewed and provided input to our health and safety plan. The first-of-its-kind partnership between Orlando Health, Visit Orlando, and the Orange County Convention Center to provide 24/7 access to a board-certified doctor through the Orlando Health Virtual Visit App. Visit Orlando also creates a VMX-branded website each year where our attendees can find everything they need to visit Orlando, enjoy our great events and restaurants and get some special discounts too.
This article has been provided by Visit Orlando.
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