By Jewel Buksa, President, BUKSA / Conferences & Associations Inc.
We are one year into the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada and have a long way to go before developing a firm handle on the virus and our resulting interactions. Associations need to brace themselves for more uncertainty and policy fluctuations— the social experiment for our industry will continue, but much will be learned. At the end of the road there is the promise of a more resilient industry with improved experiences people will not hesitate to invest in.
Here are five predictions for the year ahead:
1. Technology will not get easier to manage. Over the next year, we will see the emergence of more virtual platforms — event and meeting professionals will need to be nimble at selecting, learning, and perfecting the few with impactful functions. This requires wariness about platform features — intensive research and testing is needed to navigate tricky backend settings — as well as an awareness of the necessity for layered platform set-ups to produce large-scale virtual experiences. That is why there is a unique skill set emerging for the tech-savvy planner.
2. Content trumps technology. Right now, there is a tendency to look to technology as the saving grace for the barriers to connection in the virtual world. Certainly, a user-friendly and reliable virtual platform is important — but virtual experiences thrive most when emphasis is on crafting bold content including impactful speakers, appealing slides, and interactive elements. In fact, even with the most basic of platforms, a virtual event is incredibly effective if designed and delivered well.
3. Engagement matters, but so does the environment. Currently, the competition for our online attention
has grown exponentially, not just for meetings but also for online shopping and networking. In fact, people now spend on average seven to eight hours online daily in addition to their time working. To counter this, organizations are sending packages to attendees with event materials, branded items, and treats to brighten their day. If we thought conference swag bags were a burden on the environment, the impact of packaging and shipping will be enormous for virtual events. The priority of health
and safety will win in its intersection with environmental sustainability — unless organizations are willing to adapt to find the balance between the two.
4. Hybrid meetings will not win the popularity contest. On the surface, a hybrid meeting sounds simple
and cost-effective — just livestream a mainstage speaker – but this idea forgets that a live event is a
performance, and performances differ based on their mode of delivery. In other words, hybrid events have two audiences, two strategies, and two budgets — and to excel at both takes more resources than a virtual or live event. To that end, most organizations will choose one or the other, likely alternating over time.
5. On-demand is in demand. The cost effectiveness of a virtual meeting is already apparent, and strong engagement rates are retained when these events are well-executed. As we navigate uncertainty, there is a strong pull towards on-demand content, allowing audiences to register for events without requiring scheduled, real-time attendance. In fact, the convenience of being able to consume content on our own time coupled with the option of re-watching important moments drives the momentum behind event
attendance. In the future, the industry winners will be the associations and planners who pay attention to content development, speaker coaching, and the user experience.
Many associations and meeting professionals are currently playing in the virtual event space as a stop-gap measure, hoping to ‘get through’ the pandemic and return to the old style of live meetings. The forward-thinking ones will boldly embrace the opportunities at hand to understand the customer journey, master the virtual space, and put sustainability at the fore — ultimately making meetings and events better.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of AB Meetings & Events