Game On! Returning to Face-to-Face

With many organizations actively planning for an upcoming in-person conference or tradeshow, now is the time to make firm decisions for your attendee-experience, staffing and safety plans.

We recently held a webinar featuring leaders from two large associations that have held face-to-face events in recent weeks. Here are five of the top take-aways that can help other associations navigate their new journey.

1. Increased and Transparent Communications

Most Q3 and Q4, 2021 conferences are reporting attendance numbers that are 40 – 60% below 2019. Events with greater international participation are seeing the steepest declines. Expositions, while attracting fewer buyers, are consistently reporting high satisfaction rates with the quality and interest of the buyers: quality over quantity.

The emerging best practice is to communicate lower attendance expectations weeks or months before the conference. Where you are able, also provide insight on the quality of attendees by job title and firmographics.

2. Hybrid, or Not

 We’re seeing a split down the middle for conferences offering a virtual, synchronous conference option. Just because the event media says the future is hybrid doesn’t mean that you need to go all in. Organizers are weighing cost vs. benefit options for hybrid. Nearly everyone, however, is finding a way to better capture and amplify the conference in other ways – recap videos, articles, podcasts and scheduled replays.

If you do plan for hybrid, make sure that you have dedicated staff and trusted vendors to focus on delivering that experience.

3. Business Model

Exhibit space is down 25% or more. Sponsorship revenue, however, is holding its own–and in some cases–growing. If you have not adjusted your sponsorship menu to include more thought leadership and attendee-experience elements, make it a high priority.

 4. Staff and Vendors

If your association is conducting board and committee meetings virtually, there is a good chance you can send fewer staff members to your large annual. If you’re like most, quite a few of your team members have not traveled since the beginning of the pandemic. They may have concerns regarding their personal participation. Be patient, listen to their issues and consider filling in with other staff members or experienced contractors.

Enhanced communication with your trusted vendors has never been more important. In some cases, they have experienced high turnover and may have fewer team members who know and understand your event. Plan for daily touch-base meetings or huddles with key players to ensure each day runs smoothly.

 If you plan on enforcing protocols, like wearing masks, it’s best not to put that responsibility on your staff. Instead, select a contractor or company that can focus their energies there. Work closely with your venue partners to explore options.

5. Observation

More than ever, track and monitor behavior activity on-site to determine the mood and vibe of your audience. Does it feel like a reunion? Is attendance on the show floor or in education sessions as expected? Are people utilizing the spaces you’ve created to network or have downtime?

Your audience may be excited or nervous (or both). So far, loyal attendees are appreciating and engaging in the familiar aspects of the event. They are also expecting you to offer new, fresh content and experiences. Don’t be afraid to take more risks. If you have small glitches, attendees will be more forgiving than ever…this time.

When are you planning your organizations return to face-to-face? What are your top concerns leading up to your event?

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