Meeting Planners Stressed After Delta, Struggling with Hybrid

Two new surveys find the uptick in coronavirus cases has increased anxiety and burnout among meeting professionals. In addition, planners are trying to get a better handle on designing hybrid events.

Ever since COVID-19 forced schools and businesses to shutter and limit gatherings, meeting planners have been challenged to come up with ways to meet virtually. With vaccination, the meetings outlook was brighter in June, but after the Delta variant caused an upswing in cases, it’s led to more uncertainty about holding events, according to a new survey of meeting planners from PCMA.

The group’s latest COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard [PDF] found that meeting planners were thrown for a loop by Delta, sucking the optimism from June away. When polled about their feelings, planners—who could pick multiple options—said they were anxious about the future (47 percent), doing their best to get by (38 percent), and exhausted and burned out (31 percent). Even fewer felt hopeful (27 percent) or inspired and creative (7 percent).

“What we were seeing was just this sense that COVID cases were rising in different parts of the country and around the world, and it didn’t seem prudent to plan an in-person event based on what they were thinking back in June,” said Michelle Russell, editor-in-chief at PCMA. “They recognized that things were very different than in June when it looked like we had the coronavirus more under control.”

The PCMA survey also noted that the jobs of meeting planners have changed significantly since the pandemic.

“For a year or more, planning those face-to-face events had not been possible, so they’ve had to pivot to figuring out how to keep their community together, how to provide education, and for an online conference, to be fully digital,” Russell said. “That requires different skills than what they’ve had before and different measurements for success and all of those things.”

Hybrid Event Challenges

The PCMA survey, as well as a July 2021 Northstar Meetings Group Pulse Survey [PDF], also looked at how hybrid events fit into the new meetings environment.

According to the Northstar survey, 40 percent of meeting planners were planning a hybrid event, and 21 percent were considering one. Of those planning hybrid meetings, 62 percent said the reason for doing so was either to allow those who can’t attend in person to participate or to expand the participation base to those who were unlikely to attend in person.

The Northstar survey also shared the top reasons why people weren’t planning hybrid events. Among them: they were taking a wait-and-see approach for the moment (26.63 percent), they had no interest (17.16 percent), or they didn’t have the budget to add a digital component (16.57 percent).

Meanwhile, the PCMA survey, conducted about three weeks after the Northstar one, showed 49 percent of planners were opting for hybrid events. It also revealed that there was uncertainty related to budgeting. The survey found the biggest financial challenges for planners were figuring out how to budget for hybrid (31 percent), setting budget expectations for face-to-face meetings (30 percent), expenses related to hygiene and sanitation (9 percent), and what to charge digital participants (9 percent).

“What we heard from our respondents was that [hybrid] is not so easy to do,” Russell said. “It’s like planning two events at the same time. There are lots of extra costs for the digital, lots of uncertainty about how many people to expect for in person, and all those contractual obligations. So, the role is really rife with a lot of uncertainties and trying to figure out how to mitigate risks and all those things that they didn’t have to concern themselves with before.”

(Jay Yuno/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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