Derrick M. Johnson, II, CMP, DES
Chief Diversity Officer & Director of Event Strategy, Talley Management Group
While the COVID-19 pandemic impacted every aspect of our lives, the business events industry, also tied to leisure travel, was the most brutally hit. Meetings and events support over 26 million jobs, and customer-facing workers in hotels, restaurants, airport convention centers, etc., all lost employment because of the pandemic. This $841 billion industry stopped, forcing an environmental scan that led to the reimagination of business events. Enter the virtual meeting.
The business events industry is one of the most dynamic professions in the world. It has the power to drive global, social, and economic transformation within communities by connecting people, however, to realize that north star, there are skeletons in the closet the industry must confront — professional events of the past excluded people.
Business events were very time- and location-bound, often requiring many resources — including money and personal time — to participate. Attending meetings helps people solve problems by learning, networking, and sharing ideas. Organizations were unconsciously limiting who could attend, which fostered systemic practices of inequality.
A better approach
Event strategists should constantly reevaluate their approach. While trying to sustain organizations and their meetings, strategists discovered something interesting — virtual meetings diversified their attendance. This event type allows participants to access content remotely, lifting the obstacle of travel previously required to access.
The opportunity gave all organizations a global footprint. As organizations identify new stakeholders, they must ensure the design, marketing, and execution of meetings focuses on removing any barriers or deterrents that were once in place so each participant can feel welcomed and ready to actively participate.
Now that many strategists and organizations have mastered the virtual meeting, it is time to reintroduce the in-person element in the planning process — enter hybrid meetings. Though many strategists and suppliers within the business events industry are anxious for in-person meetings to start again, the experiences must include a scalable virtual element. Hybrid is the new industry standard, and organizations need to continue dismantling the barriers that once existed.
In the early 20th century, you needed to go in-person if you wanted to watch a football game. It wasn’t until 1939 that we started watching football on television. Today, you can experience football in person, watch it on television, or access a recording whenever you want.
Virtual components did not cannibalize the in-person event. The experience and accessibility changed. Hybrid meetings require a uniquely similar approach, strategy for execution, and engagement of all potential stakeholders.
Business events have shifted from logistics to human-centric design. Strategists and organizations must consider everyone to ensure inclusive experiences are the new normal. Time does not go backward — we are never going back to how things were pre-COVID-19. It is essential to learn from the past and embrace the liberated future for business events.